Writer: Alan Riefe (a.k.a. Barbara Riefe?)
Publication Date: 1965
Publisher: Herald House, Inc., New York
Color cover/ B&W interior
68 ppg. (including covers/no pagination)
Cover price: 50 cents
Estimated collector’s price: $23.00 to $35.00
“Gag mags” have always been popular, but probably never more so than in the 1960s. MAD was enjoying brisk sales, and CRACKED and SICK were stepping on Alfred E. Neuman’s raggedy shirt tails attempting to capitalize on its popularity despite the imitation and outright swipes that unintentionally made it even clearer as to who was the top dog in humor magazines. There was even a LAUGH-IN magazine, based on the irreverent and ever-hip TV show of the same name.
Another popular type of joke format of the day was taking photos from the movies and news stories and adding satirical captions or speech balloons to (hopefully) instill in the reader a few laughs. Since politics and pop culture often collided, the two subjects became cannon fodder for joke writers of the day. Some were more successful than others.
The first attempt at mass-marketing monsters in a full-length gag mag was Stan Lee’s MONSTERS TO LAUGH WITH (later retitled MONSTERS UNLIMITED, then again MONSTER MADNESS). Regrettably, the handful of issues produced no lasting testament to that canon of literature devoted to humor and satire. It would even be a stretch to say they collectively contained more than a handful of laughs. Even at the time they were published the jokes seemed to be more juvenile than sophisticated, even when taking into consideration the target audience. Moreover, if MAD, with its hilarious spoofs and parodies was still considered low-brow humor, then the Marvel monster joke books would have to be relegated to “mono-brow” humor. After all, one could only get so much mileage out of parodying TV commercials of the day.
Surviving for three newsstand issues was another humor magazine that used speech balloons on current political photos and classic, well-recognized monster movie stills. It was titled TALKING PICTURES. TP was written (and presumably edited) by one Alan Riefe. While my cursory research yielded no conclusive evidence, I am guessing that this was the same Alan Riefe who wrote numerous “dime novels” of the period such as HIGH SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL, as well as cartoon scripts and other media. This would also be the Alan Riefe who used Barbara Riefe as a pseudonym for other mass market paperback series.
The first issue of TALKING PICTURES was a “Special Beatles Issue”. Unfortunately, the jokes were of the usual, pedantic and unfunny sort, relying heavily like MONSTERS TO LAUGH WITH did on spoofing popular TV commercials and products. TALKING PICTURES #2 was a “Special TV Issue Featuring The Addams Family and The Munsters” and was incrementally a little more humorous overall.
Then came TALKING PICTURES #3, a “Special Headlines Issue”. In other words, instead of utilizing the customary word balloons, newspaper-like headlines were used to convey the gag. In many instances, Riefe's writing hits the mark and works very well, in my opinion. Numerous examples illustrate just how an image that was commonly recognizable as one thing could be ironically – even quite sardonically in many cases – be turned into something genuinely funny without being insipid or goofy. Included are photos from KONGA, along with HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER and INVASION OF THE SAUCERMEN.
After multiple readings, I must admit I still find many of the lines funny and laugh out loud at the sheer audacity and ridiculousness of some of them. But, like many other topics, humor can be subjective. For that reason, I’ve added a few non-monster pages that I found further conveyed the writer’s wit, and to a certain extent, rough comic genius. As with other similar publications of the day, some of the jokes would not be considered politically-correct by today’s tolerant and sensitive standards, but they are included as historical artifacts, so there.
In many respects TALKING PICTURES is superior humor to MONSTERS TO LAUGH WITH and its familial progeny. I think you’ll see what I mean after reading the following examples. So, can TALKING PICTURES be considered high brow comic brilliance or just more cheap, low-brow joke slumming? I’ll let you know as soon as I stop laughing.