Tuesday, August 31, 2010

MONSTER MAIL ORDER: BEFORE CAPTAIN COMPANY (PART 2)








In the last MONSTER MAIL ORDER POST post we saw how publisher James Warren didn't waste any time jumping on the Wolf-Man's Wagon of opportunity to cash in on the burgeoning monster craze. Kids, and yes, even adults, were crazy for creatures, rabid for anything and everything monster. And, like all great pop-culture phenomena, monsters were quite easy to incorporate successfully into all sorts of products.

In issue #3 of FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND, the product line first sold under the name, MONSTER MAIL ORDER, expanded from two to four pages. In addition, another company name was used in addition to the the original MONSTER MAIL ORDER name, this time called GENERAL PROMOTIONS CO. Now you could not only get the rubber masks and bats, but you coult purchase stationary to write to your favorite monster magazine! Note the "Hollywood Werewolf" autographed picture for sale. This was the image that was shown on the front cover of FAMOUS MONSTERS #2 (anybody have one of these?). Everything was shipped out of Philadelphia, the headquarters of Warren Publishing.








Sunday, August 29, 2010

MONSTER MAIL ORDER: BEFORE CAPTAIN COMPANY (PART 1)








It didn't take long after the first issue of FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND was published for James Warren to capitalize even more on what would soon be known as the "monster craze". If the magazine didn't have enough monsters in it to satiate the rabid fans, why not also use it as a sort of catalogue and sell monster sidelines as well?

Novelty items were a rather big business in the 50s through the 60s. Magic tricks, shrunken heads, "3D" glasses, and many other "gag" gifts were sold ubitquitously in comic books, so why wouldn't it work on the same demographic in FAMOUS MONSTERS, thought the always shrewd James Warren? As early as the second issue of FM, the faint beginnings of what was to become Jim Warren's mail order monster, CAPTAIN COMPANY began to show.

But it wasn't always known as that. In issue #2 there were two pages of ads for monster sideline products, such as masks, rubber bats, and, yes, shrunken heads! They were introduced by a blurb at the top of the page that made it sound like kids were already clamoring for this stuff, and so it turns out, indeed they were . . .

"In answer to the thousands of readers who would like to have their own monster masks and other monster items, FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND has created a mail order department -- featuring exciting  items for all monster-lovers, at low cost."

And so, MONSTER MAIL ORDER, which was later to be named CAPTAIN COMPANY, was born!




Saturday, August 28, 2010

LET'S MAKE MONSTER MODELS!


Last time I talked about the great Aurora monster model contests of the 1960s, I included an image of a store banner (see again below) that could be seen, taped up in the window of hobby shops all over the United States promoting participation in the contest. Its success spawned other contests that were organized during the 60s and the 70s. Along with print ads in FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND, Aurora Plastics, never missing an opportunity to market their wares, provided retailers with these window banners announcing the latest in the now-legendary line of monster model kits. The banners ranged in size, but were generally around 12 inches wide and up to 30 inches wide.

Now, thanks to the folks at MONSTERS IN MOTION (see the "Monster Model Korner" links on the sidebar to the right of this blogroll) and other retailers, you can have your very own, (almost) exact reproduction of six of the window banners that Aurora used in the 60s and 70s. The banners are photo repro'ed, photo enhanced, and printed on acid free poster stock.





Friday, August 27, 2010

MUSINGS AT MIDNIGHT: A CONVERSATION WITH GARY SVEHLA, EDITOR & PUBLISHER OF MIDNIGHT MARQUEE (PART 3)










With this installment the MONSTER MAGAZINE WORLD interview with Gary Svehla concludes. Gary speaks of MIDNIGHT MARQUEE PRESS and his book publishing, as well as discusses the trials and tribulations of both his career and publishing a monster movie magazine.

MONSTER MAGAZINE WORLD: When did you start publishing the MIDNIGHT MARQUEE line of books and what were the first titles that were released?

GARY SVEHLA: In 1995 MIDNIGHT MARQUEE became incorporated as MIDNIGHT MARQUEE PRESS, INC. to start our line of books, both hardback and trade paperback. We wanted to appeal to our niche clientele but we also wanted to offer more than fans were currently getting. For instance, McFarland Books never offered artistically rendered covers until MIDNIGHT MARQUEE appeared with full color covers. McFarland did not offer paperbacks for their film books until MIDNIGHT MARQUEE was on the scene with their trade paperbacks. I am proud to say that we made books affordable (our paperbacks do not cost $35 to $45 each) for the fans and fans responded by supporting our efforts. We are now the first small press book publisher to offer some of our books in FULL COLOR at affordable prices. Back in 1995 our initial books were BELA LUGOSI: FILM ACTORS SERIES; BITCHES, BIMBOS AND VIRGINS: WOMEN IN THE HORROR FILM; GUILTY PLEASURES OF THE HORROR FILM; MONSTERS, MUTANTS AND HEAVENLY CREATURES; CINEMATIC HAUNTINGS; BORIS KARLOFF: FILM ACTORS SERIES. Today, we have over 100 books in circulation and many more planned. We hope that people check out our website at http://www.midmar.com.

MMW: What has been your toughest challenge as a publisher? What’s in the future for MIDNIGHT MARQUEE magazine and your line of books? Ever consider publishing a book collecting your essays and articles?

SVEHLA: My toughest challenger as a publisher is trying to show horror movie fans they must think of their beloved magazines and books in an entirely new way, and to trust me that MIDNIGHT MARQUEE PRESS will not lead them astray. For instance, we presented issue 76 of MIDNIGHT MARQUEE as a digital PDF downloadable magazine in full color, over 100 pages long. For FREE! I felt it was one of the best things we ever published, both from the aspect of layout and design, but also from the quality of the writing. Fans immediately bitched. I do not own a computer. I want to download it to print out and bind, but in full color and with the cost of binding, it will be too expensive. It is too difficult to read online. So we decided to offer a minimal cost for readers to pay us to print out a copy that we had bound and would mail out. We then even went back and redesigned the entire issue as a smaller size black and white hard copy edition. You see, we were trying to drag fans into the 21st century, but they came back resisting, kicking and screaming, declaring that they must have a hard copy magazine that they can sniff, feel, turn the pages, etc. I understand this obsession, as I myself am a magazine and book collector. But times change and fans must change as well. The idea of e-book or e-magazine must not be met with burning torches and mob violence!

Fans must not only change by accepting digital magazines but they must change how they purchase their magazines. The days of going to a brick and mortar store and thumbing through a magazine before purchasing it are numbered. The ever-dwindling newsstand/comic/hobby shops carry fewer and fewer niche magazines. The fan must accept the fact he/she must purchase magazines directly from the publisher, that they must support the publisher without the interference of a middleman (a shop owner or distributor who takes a cut of the profits). Fans are becoming more and more afraid of subscribing to any small press periodical in fear that the magazine might fold before the subscription expires. And then these same people complain if their favorite magazine folds. And the magazine’s death, in their mind, justifies the reason why they failed to support the magazine by subscribing in the first place. It’s a vicious cycle.

Besides dealing with the increasing economic pressures faced by all small press publishers, our biggest challenge is encouraging an increasingly aged population to join the 21st century by buying and using a computer and to be more open to the ideas of electronic media, online publications and downloading text. This is a hurdle that might be the death of the so-called niche publications, but publishers cannot continue doing business as usual and hope to survive. The fan must be willing to change. But the Catch-22 is the fact that not too many younger fans gravitate to the classics (1930s-1960s), and that the aging baby boomers will most likely die off before changing their mindset about electronic magazines. But once the dinosaurs have passed, who will be left to care about Karloff and Lugosi, Universal and Hammer, and Val Lewton and Monogram? I wish I knew the answer to that question!

What’s in our future, as far as publishing? Just keep checking the website. We publish at least six new books per year, as well as revising and updating older titles (frequently adding new covers). One of our forthcoming tiles is THE SHREIKING SIXTIES, which is a history of British horror films of the 1960s. The text, written by multiple writers, is intelligent, insightful, witty and filled with Brit slang that makes the text endearing. I think it will be one of our biggest sellers since HORROR 101, which rocketed out of the ballpark. But this is only one title, of which many, many more are forthcoming. And as parents, please don’t ask us which one of our many children we love the most.

I have considered publishing a collection of my essays and critiques, but that is project to address in my retirement, which after 38 years of teaching high school English is not too far off hopefully.

MMW: So far in your career, what has been your most memorable moment?

SVEHLA: Speaking strictly from the career aspect, I would say when my wife Susan and I sponsored the 1999 MONSTER RALLY mega-convention in Arlington, VA (our first mega show after sponsoring the yearly FANEX film conventions since 1986). Of course Christopher Lee was the major attraction, a personal idol of mine since the first night I saw HORROR OF DRACULA back in 1958. To meet Christopher Lee and ride in the limo from the train station with Count Dracula was a very cool experience that I will never forget. Then I had the first private meeting, with he and his wife, alone in their hotel suite, chatting about the heritage of the Svehla name and other personal concerns. We published Mr. Lee’s American edition of his autobiography and fans lined up to have it signed. Even though we took a bath financially on that show and it set us back for a decade, artistically, it was a defining moment for MIDNIGHT MARQUEE and that weekend brings a glow of pride to both our faces. We carried it off and brought Christopher Lee to a fan convention in America, something no one has done since. But we also sponsored many other wonderful guests that same year as well. Sue and I still don’t know how we pulled it off!

MMW: If you could wave a magic wand and change anything you’d like with MIDNIGHT MARQUEE, what would it be?

SVEHLA: If I could wave a magic wand, I would change all the red print in our accounting books, over the years, to black. All our losses would magically become profits!

MMW: Lugosi or Lee?

SVEHLA: Christopher Lee is an International Star whose horror film contributions are remarkable, but Bela Lugosi is simply the most memorable horror film icon, and whether the movie was worthy of his talent or not, Bela Lugosi possessed the personality, the persona that made his performance memorable. Horror movies and Bela Lugosi are synonymous.

Lugosi is simply the heart and soul of horror cinema. But when it comes to the acting, the performances, give me Boris Karloff any day. Karloff’s performances as the pathetic monster in both FRANKENSTEIN and BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN are among the greatest performances in the history of cinema, period. Add to that Karloff’s superb subtlety in his performances from THE BLACK CAT, THE MUMMY, THE BODY SNATCHER, etc. Bela Lugosi might symbolize horror fandom’s heart and soul because we simply feel for poor Bela, but when it comes to acting credentials and iconic performances, I give the nod to Karloff.

MMW: Any words of wisdom for the aspiring monster ‘zine maker?

I just turned 60 last month, so I guess you can consider me a wizened writer, editor, publisher, more or less. My advice would be the challenge of creating a publication digitally, an e-magazine or something similar, a website, but something that can be done in such a way as to sustain the artist, the creator. Just like hard copy publications, the new entrepreneur must find a way to make electronic publishing profitable and worthy of one’s time and talent. Be creative, imaginative, passionate, and do whatever you do in your own style, your own way. Be influenced by and knowledgeable of the past, but cut your own path and be original. Do whatever you do for love and the money should follow. Keep your ego in check and listen to the thoughts and ideas of others. Respect those, either currently or in the past, who have traveled a similar path as the one you are now walking, and do not build yourself up by knocking down others. Remember, in failure there may also be success. Nurture and encourage those who will follow in your footsteps. Always remember to be kind.

MMW: Any last comments you’d like to make before we close?

SVEHLA: I want to thank those classic horror movie fans that have supported and followed GORE CREATURES/MIDNIGHT MARQUEE, both the magazine and our line of books, for 47 years. Please continue to support us by checking out our website and perhaps purchasing a book, magazine or DVD!

Thank you, Gary Svehla!


MIDNIGHT MARQUEE #50. A milestone issue and the first slightly smaller full-sized issue, printed by Kirby, our current book publisher.


MIDNIGHT MARQUEE #56. Thinking that the era of classic painted covers was passé, Sue Svehla started designing our covers using photos and Adobe Photoshop. While different from our painted covers, these photo-treated covers were extremely popular.

MIDNIGHT MARQUEE #59. Our first all photo issue, this time featuring rare photos and captions from classic Universal horror movies of the 1930s and 1940s.


MIDNIGHT MARQUEE #62. The sequel to issue #59, but this time we covered classic Universal movies from the 1950s and 1960s in photos and captions.


MIDNIGHT MARQUEE #65. The first of our 7 x 10 inch perfect bound issues and formatted more as a “book-a-zine”!


MIDNIGHT MARQUEE #73/#74. Sue continued growing as a graphic designer and she evolved from simply working with movie photos to incorporating photos and poster art into something quite visual and original.


Gary, Sue, Janet Leigh. For our megashow CLASSIC FILMFEST convention, held in Arlington, VA in 2000, we hosted stars such as Samuel Z. Arkoff, Roger Corman, Paul Naschy, Yvonne Monlaur, Kevin McCarthy and Janet Leigh. Here Sue and I pose with Ms. Leigh after she won her Laemmle Award at our awards ceremony the Saturday night of the convention.


Gary, Sue, Paul Naschy. For the same CLASSIC FILMFEST in 2000, we also hosted International horror film celebrity, Paul Naschy. Here Mr. Naschy poses with his wife and son as Sue and Gary look on.


Gary’s Bedroom. Again, 1966 when I was 16 years old. Notice the posters in the background. I have posters of CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON and CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE alongside current horrors such as MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH and BLACK SUNDAY. Strangely, the current and older posters cost about the same…about three dollars a piece, back then!


Gary’s Room July 1966. Here is my display of Aurora Monster Models that I displayed on a shelf. I was never very good at painting them up, but they were my pride and joy.


Rob Hancock, Omar Torres. Another shot from a LunaCon in the mid- to late1960s. Here good buddies Robert Hancock and Omar Torres are caught off guard by my snapping camera. Omar Torres, simply a fan of horror, still purchases books and magazines from Midnight Marquee Press even today. Horror film fans are usually lifelong fans.


Richard, Ann Svehla. Here, posing in our first home as a married couple, are my supportive parents Richard and Ann. The photo was taken during the Christmas holidays in 1985.


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

MUSINGS AT MIDNIGHT: A CONVERSATION WITH GARY SVEHLA, EDITOR & PUBLISHER OF MIDNIGHT MARQUEE (PART 2)









In this installment of MONSTER MAGAZINE WORLD'S interview with Gary Svehla, Gary talks about how he produces an issue of MIDNIGHT MARQUEE and his opinion of Universal's THE WOLF MAN remake.

MONSTER MAGAZINE WORLD: Tod Browning or James Whale?

GARY SVEHLA: Come on, not even close. James Whale!!! Whale was eccentric and artistically idiosyncratic in the best possible ways. He blended horror with dark humor and populated his films with interesting characterizations and incredible symbolism (making Frankenstein’s Monster a Christ symbol). For me FRANKENSTEIN and especially BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN became the two greatest classic Universal horror movies ever, and BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN and HORROR OF DRACULA are my two favorite horror movies of all time. James Whale created multi-textual cinematic canvases of such depth and beauty that he for me is the ultimate horror film director. I would rate Terence Fisher a close second.

To explain the failings of Tod Browning, all one has to do is compare the Spanish version of DRACULA to the same year’s Universal American version starring Bela Lugosi. Remember, Browning only directed the Lugosi version, and for my money, the Spanish version (with the exception of Bela Lugosi’s performance) is infinitely better directed and cinematically more innovative than the stage bound American version. Lugosi’s DRACULA is a classic horror film in spite of Tod Browning’s participation.

MMW: Who all is currently involved with the production of MIDNIGHT MARQUEE and what are their roles?

SVEHLA: Basically, my wife Susan and I do it all, with contributions from our dwindling writing staff (we are an open shop and looking for new writers to contribute articles… email me at midmargary@aol.com if interested in contributing articles). Sue designs the covers and I do the interior layout. We both copy edit. Sue prepares the files for the printer. I miss the active participation of my father Richard, one 90 years old and living in a nursing home, suffering from Alzheimer’s.

MMW: Gary, sorry to hear about your father's health and hope he is being made as comfortable as possible. What type of technology do you use to design and layout each issue -- computer, software, etc. -- and do you still do anything the old-fashioned way . . . by hand?

SVEHLA: Sue and I each own state of the art Macintosh computers and use Adobe’s INDESIGN layout problem to produce all our books and magazines. We copy edit articles in Microsoft WORD and import the text into INDESIGN. We illustrate the magazine with tiff files enhanced by Adobe’s PHOTOSHOP, where the photos and posters are tweaked for maximum effect. Everything is done electronically. We use to print up thousands of copies and store them at expensive warehouse storage places, but now in the new world of digital printing and print on demand, we can print as many or as few copies as needed, and by eliminating the warehouse storage, we keep our costs under control. No, after all those years of using layout boards, printing out justified text and using an Xacto knife to cut and paste, no, I do not miss the good old days at all. Technology makes it neater, faster and more professional looking. Unfortunately, electronic layout design programs allow novices and hacks to feel they are graphic design artists and that anyone can design their own book or magazine. It still takes imaginative, a good eye and know-how (in other words, technical skill) to design, lay out and publish magazines and books. Some self-published books look and read okay, but the vast majority would be infinitely improved if placed in the hands of a professional publishing company.

MMW: You went from a full-size magazine to a digest/trade paperback… why?

SVEHLA: John, remember, it is the other way around. GORE CREATURES started out as a digest size magazine and only went full size with issue #12, I believe. Beginning with issue 50 we went to a slightly smaller full size format, based upon what was most economic for us with the printer we were using at the same. Sometimes by trimming as little as 1/2 inch off the width or height of the magazine, the cost to us would be reduced radically. And we could pass on our savings to the customer. Size is all economics, nothing more. When we switched from the true magazine format to the trade paperback perfect bound format, it was because the printer was more a book publisher and he could offer us a better deal to go with that format than he could with a regular saddle stitched (fancy talk for stapled) format. Say if one printer charged us the same price to go with 5,000 copies of a full size 48 page stapled magazine or could offer us the perfect bound (square bound and glued) format, slightly smaller overall size, but 98 pages of that slightly smaller size, we would go with the 98 page format. Format and size were not as important to us as getting the most magazine for the lowest price. That’s why we are still around 47 years after the fact. Page count, size and binding are all based upon getting the best deal from a printer (who also provides the highest quality standards we require).

MMW: In MIDNIGHT MARQUEE #75, you were pretty vocal about the shortfalls of the Lon Chaney, Jr. version of THE WOLF MAN. What is your opinion of the Benecio del Toro remake? Although his costume and hairstyle more often appear to be reminiscent of Oliver Reed in Hammer’s CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF, he does have an uncanny resemblance in a couple of shots to Chaney. Would you agree?

SVEHLA: I must be honest, when we do those classic FORUM AGAINST ’EM group discussion articles in MIDNIGHT MARQUEE, I sometimes find myself purposely creating a slightly more extreme stance than I otherwise might take. I admit I have never been a big fan of the 1941’s THE WOLF MAN with Lon Chaney, Jr. Compared to the classic 1930s Universals, the ones directed by people who possessed a unique and personal visual style (James Whale with BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN; Edgar Ulmer with THE BLACK CAT; Roland V. Lee with SON OF FRANKENSTEN), George Waggner’s style is flat and generic in THE WOLF MAN. Yes, we have that fog-shrouded set and the Gypsy camp where that first wolf attack occurs, but the film has isolated sequences of interest without having its audience captivated throughout. Come on, can we believe that Claude Rains sired Lon Chaney! Also, what about the wolf transformations? We show human feet becoming wolf feet. The makeup and special effects improved as the series developed (and the quality lessened). Lon Chaney’s performance gets better with age, but it is still whiny and over wrought for my taste. It lacks the subtlety that a better actor could have brought to the role. I admit I like THE WOLF MAN the more I see it, and it is the best of the 1940s Universals, along with ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN. But when compared to the other iconic monster movies of the 1930s, its flaws become too apparent.

I wanted to like THE WOLFMAN, the Beneco del Toro remake, but at best I found it to be fair. Joe Johnson entered as the last moment as substitute director, and it shows. He focuses too often on the splatter and gore effects and not enough on the Wolf Man makeup. We have a quick cut here, and a pan there, but fans want to focus on the face, and we get precious little of that. And after Rick Baker’s wonderful work in films such as AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, I do not see any progression or improvement of technique over the past 30 years ago. The still photos of the Wolf Man’s face look tremendous, but as shown in the film, the face is not as effective. I think the makeup’s major flaw is the fact that, at the end, Anthony Hopkins’ werewolf is a more effectively executed werewolf makeup than del Toro’s iconic Wolf Man. I love the mood, set design and some of the performances, but THE WOLFMAN never catches fire. Perhaps the costumes and makeup make del Toro resemble Oliver Reed from Hammer’s CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF, but Roy Ashton’s makeup for Oliver Reed is simply superior to the makeup Rick Baker delivers to del Toro. Oliver Reed looks like he’s a human being who turned into a werewolf; del Toro looks like an actor wearing makeup. I cannot suspend my disbelief that he actually morphed from man into beast. The movie is too long and lacks the emotional empathy needed to make the audience care. It’s not bad; it’s not good. It is simply okay at best and that means THE WOLFMAN will be soon forgotten. A remake of a classic such as THE WOLF MAN must be better than adequate, if not, why even attempt a redo such iconic cinema?

MMW: In the same issue you had done a lot of research and presented your case for the “13 Most Influential Horror Movies” (for the reader, the films are: FRANKENSTEIN, THE BLACK CAT, KING KONG, FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN, CAT PEOPLE, THE THING, I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF, HOUSE OF DRACULA, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, BLACK SUNDAY, HALLOWEEN, THE EXORCIST, RINGU). Given the chance today, would you make any changes?

SVEHLA: In a word, no! I gave about a year of thought to my choices (even doing a panel at FANEX where I asked the assembled audience to challenge my list and make additional suggestions), and I still stand by them. Since RINGU is so recent, that is the one I have the most reservations about, simply because time hasn’t allowed me to view this choice with some distance. The so-called J-Horror period has passed, but I have not seen a new trend since, except the re-appearance of vampire cinema or zombie movies. But for the 1990s, Japanese horror was the cutting edge trend and its influence affects American made productions even today. No, no, I stand by my selection.

MMW: Has circulation increased or decreased over the last few years and what do you attribute it to?

SVEHLA: Oh my, just look around and look closely at the world of magazines and books. Kindle, e-readers and downloading of PDF files. The electronic handwriting is all over the walls. I love magazines, but about six of my favorites ceased publication in the past few years. Economically, skyrocketing costs and decreased sales have forced many mainstream magazines to fold. People today, for free, can surf the Internet and check out websites such as the Internet Movie Data Base for credits and reviews. Before, people had to purchase books to get the same information. Of course circulation is way down, not just for MIDNIGHT MARQUEE, but also for all magazines and books. Look at how the quality of magazines such as ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY has suffered over the past decade. Some magazines survive, but they are mere shadows of what they once were. I give tons of credit to all the specialty magazines that keep on keeping on.

Reasons? First of all, because of the cost of production, publishers have to pass on their costs to the subscriber, so people subscribe to or purchase fewer magazines. Secondly, with many magazines going online, at least partially, more and more people are getting their magazine fix electronically. They don’t need hard copies of their reading material. And for the small press publication, fewer brick and mortal stores are carrying the niche publications. Stores like Virgin Megastore and Tower have folded and Diamond Distribution has abandoned most small press magazines. For the magazine publisher, the days of hard copy publications are numbered and publishers must adjust or die. It is not that magazines will die out completely; they will simply have to reinvent themselves digitally or fade away. Just as my first carbon paper-copied issues of GORE CREATURES soon became hectographed, then mimeographed and finally offset printed, I too adjusted to the pulse of the times and changed whenever necessary. But in our 47 years of publication, perhaps the most radical change is the anticipated one from hard copy to digital. This is the one change that most older classic horror buffs resist the most.

(To be continued . . . )



MIDNIGHT MARQUEE #27. Famous graphic artist Bill Nelson joined our staff and did his first of several covers for us. Nelson’s work graced TV GUIDE and other nationally distributed magazines.


MIDNIGHT MARQUEE #30. This is my favorite Bill Nelson cover, depicting a werewolf from THE HOWLING. It remains one of my favorite covers.


MIDNIGHT MARQUEE #32. Bill Nelson tackles one of the mind-numbing creatures from John Carpenter’s THE THING.


 MIDNIGHT MARQUEE #37. Not my favorite Bill Nelson cover, but our giant-sized 25th anniversary issue, published by FantaCo Publishing, is considered to be a landmark issue in the annals of horror film magazines. It is perhaps our greatest issue and one that I am very proud of.

  
MIDNIGHT MARQUEE #39, #40, #42. With Bill Nelson now becoming too famous and too busy to continue drawing for us, we found one of the greatest talents of all time, David Daniels, who designed this cover from THE MUMMY, one of our absolute finest covers ever. He followed with tremendous covers of Christopher Lee from HORROR OF DRACULA and Bela Lugosi from MARK OF THE VAMPIRE.






Gary, Forry 1990s. I do not remember the exact year, but it is most likely 1989. When Forry was a guest at our FANEX convention for the first time, he agreed to attend a 16mm movie viewing night at my friend George Stover’s house. Just a few close friends and Forry. Here Forry and I relax as Stover snaps our photo in his basement theater.


Gary, Forry 1969. Again, this is a very special shot. Gary Svehla and Forrest J Ackerman, duel of the titans! Notice how Forry would always slide a current copy of FAMOUS MONSTERS above the fanzine he was asked to pose with.


Gary, Gale Anne Hurd. When producer Gale Anne Hurd was on a press tour for THE ABYSS in 1989, members of the FANEX staff, headed by Gary, traveled to the Uptown Theater in Washington, DC to see the premiere. Afterwards, Gale Anne Hurd and the group (wife Sue is snapping the photo) traveled to a restaurant across the street for a relaxed interview.


Gary, Keir Dullea 1968. When 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY premiered at The Town Cinerama theater in Baltimore, I met one of my oldest and best friends, George “Bloody Hunks” Stover (who snapped this photo). Just as important was meeting and having an autograph signed by the star of the movie, Keir Dullea.


Gary, Posters. Again, in the bedroom in 1966, I point to my two most important posters at the time. First is the insert of HORROR OF DRACULA, my favorite horror movie (along with BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN). Alongside is the insert from Universal’s GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN, the first classic Universal poster I ever purchased. GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN set me back $3.50 (when I bought it in late 1963).


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

MUSINGS AT MIDNIGHT: A CONVERSATION WITH GARY SVEHLA, EDITOR & PUBLISHER OF MIDNIGHT MARQUEE (PART 1)










Gary Svehla is the Methuselah of Monster Magazines, the Grandaddy of Gore(Creatures). Indeed, he is a singular individual in that he holds the distinction of having the longest running monster magazine on the planet. Begun in 1963 as a "scotch-tape and stapled" kitchen table fanzine called GORE CREATURES, the then 13-year old went on to become a professional publisher of not only the longest continuously published monster magazine, but a successful line of genre books as well. In this, the first installment of the Gary Svehla interview, he talks about the genesis of his life as a publisher. To paraphrase a certain Edward Van Sloan line: "Here you have his . . . mad dream!"

MONSTER MAGAZINE WORLD: You have been publishing since 1963. To what, or whom, do you contribute your long-term success?

GARY SVEHLA: Long term success… long-term devotion and passion is the better way to put it, but not necessarily success in the financial sense! The fact that my devotion has been a labor of love and something I just enjoy doing is what makes me continue. If my writing and publishing were based solely upon success, I would have ceased my fannish activity about 1964. I do it because I simply love the movies, love writing about them and love sharing my enthusiasm with the world by creating books and magazines.

MMW: When did the lightning strike your electrodes and you became a “monsterkid”? What was it like for you growing up during the era of the “monster craze”?

SVEHLA: In 1957, my father and brother took me (during a school night no less!!!!) to the Earle Theater, a neighborhood movie house, to see a double bill including BEAT GIRL (the movie they wanted to see) and THE MONSTER THAT CHALLENGED THE WORLD (the movie that I fell in love with). I never saw a monster movie before, and if you remember, the movie contains about 3 really scary jump-out-of-your-seat sequences, and I most certainly did react in that way. When we arrived at the part of the movie where we came in (in those days you simply walked into the movie, beginning, middle or end), I begged to stay until the end again. I was hooked. About a year later I saw Hammer’s HORROR OF DRACULA and that sealed the deal. For me my love of horror movies and monsters was mostly solitary, as most of the gang at school did not love monster movies. Remember SHOCK THEATRE on late-night television was just getting started. The monster scene was in its infancy. TV horror movie hosts were just starting to appear. There really wasn’t a true monster scene until the early to mid-sixties, and that involved mostly purchasing “bubble gum” cards and buying comic books and Aurora model kits. Of course “Captain Company” from the back pages of FAMOUS MONSTERS allowed us to purchase gag gifts, posters and those beloved Castle 8mm condensed versions of classic horror movies. I can remember waiting day by day for the mailman to deliver those sacred treasures, and when they arrived, it was like Christmas. But back in the 1950s, there wasn’t a monster scene per se.

MMW: What were your favorite movies and TV shows back then?

SVEHLA: First of all, I loved all those movies I saw with my father, even the ones that are not so fondly remembered today. But when you were only 7 or 8 years old, movies such as THE BRAIN FROM PLANET AROUS and THE VAMPIRE were great. Even RETURN OF DRACULA scared the hell out of me. But after the Technicolor world of Hammer exploded upon the scenes, with HORROR OF DRACULA and REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN, I was transfixed. I was so horrified that I became sick the night I returned home from seeing HORROR OF DRACULA and my mother told me no more horror movies for a year. I was devastated! But she meant it. I could not see another horror film for a full year, and Hammer’s THE MUMMY was the first film that I was allowed to see after my night of vomiting and tossing and turning.

Television was easy. THRILLER terrified me. I remember one evening I was watching The Hungry Glass or one of the classics during a raging thunderstorm. We lost our power and the house went completely dark, and rain was pounding on the roof and windows. That was a defining night of terror that has remained with me to this day. Of course I enjoyed shows like THE MUNSTERS and THE ADDAMS FAMILY, but nothing touched me like the real thing, the serious horror programs. Not too many shows offered that high ratio of scares. Shows like THE TWILIGHT ZONE and SCIENCE FICTION THEATER came close, but they were more imaginative or straight science fiction. Sometimes horror elements were included, but THRILLER was the one that chilled my imagination, and perhaps some episodes of ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS (such as Sign of Satan with Christopher Lee) managed to do the same.

MMW: You began publishing with GORE CREATURES. What type of material did you cover in the first issue and some of the other earlier issues? How many copies did you print, and how did you make and distribute it?

SVEHLA: I was 13 years old and loved reading CASTLE OF FRANKENSTEIN and FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND. In the back of these magazines, in the Haunt Ad section, they sold “fanzines” or amateur versions of these professionally produced magazines. I bought a few, but one, HORROR OF THE SCREEN, created by fan Alex Soma, was simply fantastic. It showed that someone like me could produce his own horror film magazine and sell it through the ads in the back of the monster magazines. Most listings were free or dirt cheap, even for a kid.

Richard, my father, encouraged me. He helped me purchase a hectograph printing machine (typing on ditto masters and placing the impression on gelatin sheets, where copies could be printed one page at a time, with each sheet curling up). GORE CREATURES #1 had a print run of 20 copies, the first one purchased by Forrest J Ackerman himself. It was such an honor to have my mentor buy our very first issue. As demand increased, my father helped me acquire a mimeograph machine that could produce a larger print run. Messy as hell, the cylinder would be cranked and the black ink inside would print text in a rather crude and messy way. This went on for a few years until we started experimenting with professional offset printing at the beloved Arcade Press, under the guidance of Tony Lorenzo and Bob Gehrig, who worked closely with me, teaching me the ropes. We sold the issues at first from the ads we placed in the professional magazines, and then, as more fanzines appeared, we were reviewed in other amateur monster magazines and word spread and spread. In the first few issues we pretty much reflected upon the current AIP Poe movies or Hammer horrors. Not much original copy at first, it was more rehashing what we read in the professional magazines. But as I got a little older, I become curious in the mythology of horror, the connection between the literary works and the movies and the symbolism that I saw in Universal and Hammer movies. As I matured intellectually, the magazine also grew up.

MMW: How long of a run did GORE CREATURES have and for how many years? When did the idea for MIDNIGHT MARQUEE come about and why did you change names?

SVEHLA: GORE CREATURES never stopped publication. In 1963 it seemed like quite a fine name, but by the early 1970s people began to comment on the childish or overblown image that something called GORE CREATURES conveyed. My fandom friend Ronald V. Borst razzed me all the time saying you should change the name, that GORE CREATURES is simply too juvenile. So in 1976, after we published GORE CREATURES #25, issue #26 was renamed MIDNIGHT MARQUEE, so it wasn’t the case of stopping one magazine and starting another. It was nothing more than a name change occurring between issues 25 and 26. Of course a few years later the “gore” scene was born and, had we kept the original title, it would have most likely been a cool title to maintain.

MMW You have been quite active in the convention circuit over the years. What was it like going to those early gatherings? Any favorites? Amusing anecdotes?

SVEHLA: In my social group, other than pal Dave Metzler and Dave Ellis, loving monsters and horror movies was a lonely hobby, other than the contacts made in the mail with pen pals and other monster magazines all across the USA. So going to small science fiction conventions that catered to fantasy and horror movies as a sidebar activity was like finding a strange new society of like-minded friends. My father and I trained up to New York City to attend LunaCons once a year, and there I met fans like Robert Hancock, Mel Sobel, John Soister, Angel Marcano, Omar Torres, Chris Steinbrunner, John Nyman, Gene Klein (Gene Simmons of KISS), Forrest J Ackerman and Calvin T. Beck. It was wonderful to see that real kids loved this stuff, and then to go into a room and watch 16mm feature horror films together was magical. And during convention hours we could venture into the dealers room and see actual posters and lobby cards for sale. Leaving these shows was so sad, knowing that I would not see my buddies for a full year, and I would have to go back to the kids at school who did not care about this stuff was quite depressing. However, we often kept in touch with our long distance monster fans by writing long letters and trading audio cassette tapes, where we could talk our hearts out and share current musical and movie likes.

It was amazing to meet Gene Klein who published his own fanzine COSMOS STILLETO. We had written letters and traded our magazines, both very simple efforts, but Gene always criticized me for charging money for my fanzine. He felt fanzines should be given away for free and that I was a moneygrubber for charging 25 cents, at that time, for the issue. Remember, this criticism came from the man who would supervise “The Kiss Army” and find any excuse to profit from the KISS image, even to this day. The late Robert Hancock took me once on a tour of New York showing me the park where a recent Clint Eastwood film was made. We were just kids having fun going to the movies or simply walking around going out for lunch. Hancock was always obsessed with buying orange juice that was not watered down or sugared up. He was also adamant that mustard went on hot dogs and ketchup went on hamburgers. In those days such conflicts fueled our conversations. The camaraderie of knowing you were not so weird for liking horror movies and that you were part of the pack validated our interests.

(To be continued . . .)


 GORE CREATURES #1. Since the first few copies of GC #1 did not have any cover at all, I used the covers for #2 on what was left of issue #1. So this was the cover of our very first issue.



GORE CREATURES #7 and #12. We were still digest size, but about this time we started using heavy stock covers printed to make the magazine more impressive and bulkier.



 
GORE CREATURES #23. Artist Dave Ludwig, who also drew under the penname of M. Squidd, created most of our earlier covers and he remains one of horror film fandom’s greatest artists. He had a unique and eccentric style.

MIDNIGHT MARQUEE #26. The title GORE CREATURES was no more! This was the very first issue with our new title MIDNIGHT MARQUEE. It was printed on glossy stock paper, something that I never liked and never used since.


Forry and Rob Hancock. When I went to LunaCons in New York City in the mid- to late 1960s, Robert Hancock, editor of MYSTICATION, another horror/s.f. movie fanzine, and I were the best of friends. Hancock, who died years ago, disappeared from fandom circles by the mid-1970s. Here I snapped a photo of Rob as he was waiting around to have Forry Ackerman autograph something for him.


Forry LunaCon 1966. It may have been 1967, but this was the first show where I actually met the Ackermonster for the very first time. It was like meeting Santa Claus up front and personal.


Gary and Poster. My bedroom, in my childhood home at 5906 Kavon Avenue in Baltimore City, was a Monster Kid’s dream come true. Here I ogle a new insert poster from Hammer’s CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN in 1966, when I was 16 years old. GORE CREATURES was in its third year of publication.


Gary and Stills. Again, from 1966, I stand below my ever-increasing black and white movie still collection, which I tacked up to the wall for an overwhelming display.


Gary Nov 1962. Here I posed with a “dummy” that sports the Frankenstein Monster’s head that I purchased from the back pages of an issue of FAMOUS MONSTERS. I was only 12, but this was a scant SEVEN MONTHS away from publishing the very first issue of GORE CREATURES.

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