Tuesday, January 11, 2011
INSIDE THE TOMB: AN INTERVIEW WITH PETER NORMANTON (PART 1)
I love horror comics. I can't tell you the thrill that I had when I first spotted Warren's CREEPY #1 on the stands, or, for that matter, EERIE #2 and even VAMPIRELLA #1 (and I can tell ya', that was a different thrill altogether!).
I cut my comics teeth on typical "funny books" of the day. I remember there being a HUGE box of comics in the garage that took just about all of one lazy summer to read. Titles like RICHIE RICH, SAD SACK, SUGAR AND SPIKE, and of course, the ARCHIE line. There were also a few super hero books, too -- mostly DC titles as I recall. I remember particularly enjoying the madcap adventures of SUPERMAN'S PAL, JIMMY OLSEN, even though he really wasn't a super hero.
It wasn't until later that I was introduced to horror comics, through the Dell and Charlton titles of all things. I don't recall knowing anything about the EC line of comics since they had become extinct around the time of my birth.
I more than made up for it, though, in later years, when I grabbed up just about everything that I could lay my paws on in the way of EC reprints and the current line of horror comics.
Then, years later, along comes a magazine that specializes in the classic period of horror comics, right up through the Warren years, the Skywald era, and whatever else is worth mentioning about these creepy little historical ephemera. And, then, lo and behold, I start a blog dedicated to monster magazines, including vintage and modern horror comics magazines. To top it off, I interview the bloke who publishes the magazine that specializes in the classic period of horror comics, Mr. Peter Normanton!
This is one of my favorite chats so far, folks. Peter is one helluva nice guy, and as you can see by the length of his responses, the man is serious into the subject. It's also very cool to learn about some of the Brit perspective on horror comics, monster mags, and monster movies.
Well, enough of my gab, let's listen to Peter Normanton, editor and publisher of FROM THE TOMB.
MONSTER MAGAZINE WORLD: Who is Peter Normanton and why does he publish a magazine called FROM THE TOMB?
PETER NORMANTON: Peter Normanton is just an ordinary fellow from the north west of England with a passion for old horror comics. He has been happily married for the last twenty-one years to his wife Mary who has to claim responsibility for getting him into reading Stephen King (tsk, tsk naughty girl!). When he’s working on the Tomb there’s usually the pounding of Hawkwind or Led Zeppelin in the background, or maybe Pat Metheny or Tangerine Dream. When he’s not in the Tomb he can be found reclining (some unkind people call it slobbing) on the sofa reading, at the moment it’s Harlan Coben, or engrossed in a film, not just horror, he loves film noir, the work of David Lean, and both French and modern German cinema – these guys know how to tell stories. In his more energetic moments he enjoys walking the moors which sit right in front of his house, but this he confesses usually involves a pub or two and a decent pint or three of ale. His love of 1970s rock music and off the wall jazz takes him to the rock and jazz venues of Manchester where just now and again the crowd numbers more than 200! He calls it being discerning.
From the Tomb was simply a kid’s dream, never destined to last more than a couple of issues. I had written and drawn my own hand-made comic related magazines as a youngster and then as a teenager and when I was fifteen bought my first fanzine, a UK publication by the name of Comics Unlimited. There and then I was hooked; I wanted my own comic book fanzine. Fifteen years later sprawled in front of the fire one Boxing Day I was pouring over Ernie Gerber’s Photo Journal Guide to Comics. It was on that afternoon the seed for From the Tomb was planted. Initially it was to be an EC tribute, yes another one, but by 1993 it had evolved to become a fanzine dedicated to those esoteric comics of the 1950s. Over an eight or nine year period I built up an extensive collection of notes and accumulated so many comic books along with books and fan related publications given to this decade. It was only when I started writing a piece on the Skywald Horrormood for Calum Iain MacIver’s H.P. Lovecraft ‘zine strange Aeons it finally dawned on me my roots actually lay in the 1970s; poor lad, I’ve always been a little slow on the up take. From the Tomb has been my chance to express my love for those diabolical old comics and their creators.
MMW: How would you describe your magazine to somebody who has never seen it before?
NORMANTON: From the Tomb, I like to feel, is a celebration of the last seventy years of horror, crime, science fiction and odd ball comics. While it is informative it has never dared take itself too seriously and even though it is an amateur publication it has managed to attract contributions from such luminaries as Al Feldstein, Pete Von Sholly, Maelo Cintron, Alan Hewetson, Jamie Delano, Alan Class, P. Craig Russell, Eric Pigors, Joe Sinnott, B.K.Taylor, Terrance Lindall, Gary Reed, Ronn Sutton and The Gurch. Thanks to contributing writers such as Frank Motler and Barry Forshaw, the ‘zine has been able to throw light on a period of comics about which only the few have ever been truly knowledgeable.
MMW: You obviously have a love for the genre, and especially monster and horror comics. Given what you know, would you say there was a “monster craze” in Great Britain in the 60s like in the states?
NORMANTON: There was a monster craze of sorts over here in the UK, but it was by no means anywhere near the scale of that which swept across the United States. Famous Monsters of Filmland was getting into the country, but not on a massive scale, I think there may have been a version published exclusively for the UK. From what I can recall there was only the one shot Certificate X released by a UK based publisher in the mid 1960s, it wasn’t until the 1970s with the advent of World of Horror, Monster Mag and of course House of Hammer the monster craze really got going. Back then we only had three television stations over here, BBC1, BBC2 and ITV; so monster movie showings were few and far between. For the life of me I cannot recall any hosts dedicated purely to monsters or horror. Quatermass and Doctor Who did enjoy huge success across the UK as did the late night showings of The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. On the comic front Creepy and Eerie were getting into the country as were certain of the Eerie Pubs and we had our own TV21. Alan Class’s black and white reprint series was going strong reprinting post-Code Atlas, Charlton and ACG stories as were Miller’s titles which gave their young readership a glimpse of what their American counterparts had been subjected to a decade before in the ghastly guise of pre-Code terror. If I cast my mind back there was a fantastic bubble gum card series called Krazy Kreatures From Outer Space around 1968 which generated quite a bit of excitement amongst the kids at school. Both Hammer and Amicus did much for the horror movie genre and should be considered essential viewing, but as the 1960s progressed they became more of a cult phenomenon with box office success gradually proving elusive. There was a fascination with monsters, but never ever on the scale as that witnessed in the U.S.
MMW: What were some of your favorite comics and ‘zines while you were growing up?
NORMANTON: As a kid I was a big fan of TV21, particularly those issues with Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlett and the Zero-X strip. I also loved one of those classic British humour comics of the day – Sparky, Beano, Dandy, Beezer, Topper, Cor, Whizzer and Chips and Knockout were all wonderful reads, usually sent on by friends and neighbours. As early as seven or eight years of age I had a passion for comic books, but living in the north of England I knew precious little about Marvel or DC. I was nine years old when I found a pile of Alan Class reprint comics in a junk shop on a family day out. My Grandma treated me to a couple of them, worrying they’d give me nightmares. I read them and read them again and again; tales of imagination from the post-Code years with art by John Forte, Joe Maneely, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. The nightmares my Grandma feared never came but these two comics left an indelible impression, one that lasts to this very day. Every once in a while an American superhero comic would fall into my hands, maybe a Batman, Superman or Legion of Superheroes. These were like gold dust back in the 1960s and early 1970s and like gold were treasured and hidden away from prying eyes. Towards the end of 1972 Marvel UK came into being. Their debut title was The Mighty World of Marvel, which featured The Incredible Hulk, Spiderman and Fantastic Four. As you can imagine this became a firm favourite. I loved the superhero stuff, but still had a craving for the science fiction and strange tales found in those Alan Class titles. It was on a very warm afternoon in the August of 1974, trying as ever to avoid the neighbourhood thugs, I spied the lurid cover to Nightmare #17. It wasn’t the scantily clad woman that grabbed my attention; rather it was the beast looming in the background. I just had to have it. I scurried home and knew all too well I would have to ask permission to buy this magazine. Thankfully my Mum agreed without too much of a fuss. And that was it, horror became my thing and as the months passed I had the good fortune to pick up a few issues of Monsters Unleashed and Tales of the Zombie. Before the year was out Marvel UK had bestowed upon us Dracula Lives, a black and white title reprinting Tomb of Dracula, Werewolf by Night and the Monster of Frankenstein, and every now and again one of these old monster tales from Marvel’s early sixties catalogue. By the January of 1977 I was spending all of my pocket money on Marvel comics; every last penny of it!
I started reading fanzines in the January of 1977, the Christmas edition of Alan Austin’s Comics Unlimited, number #42. It is hard to describe just what an impact this amateur publication was to have on me; the result was to follow twenty three years later with the appearance of my own malfeasant offspring From the Tomb. Over the next eighteen months I was to discover several other UK fan publications, Fantasy Advertiser, Bemusing and The Panelologist. Each delighted and entertained in their own special way, these were the work of fans not profiteers. So many comic readers are inspired to become pros, me, I wanted to be like these guys scribing away on my own fanzine.