Wednesday, January 12, 2011


We continue today with Part 2 of the MONSTER MAGAZINE WORLD interview with Peter Normanton, editor of THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF HORROR COMICS and the publisher of FROM THE TOMB, deadicated to preservering the history of horror comics from pre-code to the present.

MONSTER MAGAZINE WORLD: Favorite monster movies?

PETER NORMANTON: I love the RKO King Kong of 1933, they really don’t come much better than this. If you are looking for atmosphere the 1957 Night of the Demon is a tough one to beat, although I confess to falling into the camp that wished the beast had never made it to the screen. When I was nine years old the 1959 version of Journey to the Centre of the Earth with James Mason was shown on Boxing Day morning; boy did this prove to be a revelation and was probably my first monster movie. Soon after came The Time Machine and Them. Each of these films made such an impression immersing themselves into my subconscious, and then I got to see Hammer’s One Million Years B.C. and for the very first time was exposed to the majesty of Ray Harryhausen. As the years went by I got to see those films for which the kids of the day hankered - The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, It Came From Beneath the Sea, Earth vs. Flying Saucers and 20 Million Miles to Earth, each and every one of them monster enthusiast’s dream. As an Amicus fan I have a soft spot for The Land That Time Forgot, again crammed chock full of dinosaurs. Maybe I should have been a palaeontologist. As far as the classic monsters go The Wolfman (1941) is an accepted classic, there’s simply no getting away from this and who can forget Hammer’s The Curse of the Werewolf and of course An American Werewolf in London. I haven’t even got to the Frankenstein movies, Frankenstein (1931) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935). Those monster movies remain firm favourites but the monster that tripped me over the edge at the age of thirteen was Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece Psycho.

MMW: Hammer or Universal?

NORMANTON: I have given this question much thought. My sense of personal nostalgia would go for the Hammer films. I started watching these with my Dad from around 1977, late on Saturday nights. It was a very difficult time for him having lost my Mum to cancer only a few months before and his coping with a debilitating illness. These movies gave us a chance to bond and maybe I was showing signs of beginning to mature, just a little. The film buff within me knows only too well the debt the film industry as a whole owes to those bygone Universal terrors. Part of Hammer’s charm will always be derived from their low budget props and special effects, but this lack of funding remains their inherent downfall. Although a small studio at the outset, Universal attracted a remarkable selection of actors, writers, directors, cameraman and technicians. These have each made their mark in cinematic history and bequeathed a legacy which will live on as long as there are people who want to bring life to the silver screen. At the last it is Universal who wins out, but if I was to pick a favourite film from these two companies it would have to be Hammer’s Dracula (1957).

MMW: FROM THE TOMB was on hiatus for a while and now it’s back. What happened?

NORMANTON: From the Tomb has struggled ever since the banks messed the world up in the latter months of 2008. By January 2009 I had been dropped by Diamond, as they were forced to move away from smaller publishers like myself as recession threatened. By the end of the year Borders Books had sadly gone under. This meant I had no distributor on either side of the Atlantic. I tried with Haven, but they could not generate any interest. Thanks to the work of Dan Royer I have been able to get the ‘zine out to people via the website he kindly created; this move has already had some success. At the same time an anonymous benefactor stepped in to fund issue #27, this allowed me to get issue #28 out in its wake. The last six months have been made very difficult because my job was placed under threat by the Tory-Liberal alliance currently in government in this country. The failings of the banks have resulted in unbelievable cuts in public expenditure. Thankfully I have managed to hold on to my job for the next twelve months, after that who knows? This means I can now look to getting issue #29 out; it is about two thirds complete with a really fantastic set of contributions.

MMW: So, is distribution forcing you to consider publishing options (format, schedule, price, etc.)?

This is the case. The schedule has had to be reduced and I have had to keep the page count to 68. I was running at 72 to 100 pages prior to the credit crisis, which made for the kind of publication I would have sought out. I have kept the colour pages to 36, this I just couldn’t resist. Together with John Anderson of Soaring Penguin I am also considering a hard back From the Tomb Annual, but this like everything else in life is dependent on funding. The print quotes for this venture are surprisingly favourable; I guess we will just have to wait and see what the year brings.

MMW: You offer an electronic version of FROM THE TOMB. Are you testing the waters of maybe going exclusively electronic, or just offering an alternative?

NORMANTON: The electronic version The From the Tomb Archive will hopefully be released in the next few weeks. I have sifted through the very early issues of From the Tomb, selected a few of the old articles and attempted to update them. These are now set alongside some classic pre-Code horror strips from that halcyon period of comic book publishing. Each issue will run to forty colour pages. If things go well it should raise the profile of the ‘zine and allow me to continue with the long standing paper version. It was Sam Park of Bela Lugosi’s Tales From the Grave who made me aware of just how beneficial an on-line version of From the Tomb could be. I am definitely old school in my preference for the paper product; the I-pad will never replace the joy held in the feel of a book, comic book newspaper or magazine. There are generation out there however whose viewpoint is somewhat different.

MMW: Describe for us how a typical issue is put together. What kind of software to you use for page layouts and do you still do any part of your magazine the old-fashioned way – by hand?

NORMANTON: From the Tomb is put together entirely by software; I stopped doing things by hand about twenty-five years ago when I accepted the fact I simply wasn’t capable. I had the vision but my ability just wasn’t its match. Adobe Photoshop is used to create many of the pages, scanning in the images, laying them onto the page and then trying to arrive at something that creates a sense of design. This isn’t always that easy as I have had no formal training in this field, it’s just a case of trial and error – well, too many errors over the years when I think about it! At one time I would have placed each individual image, whether a cover or interior artwork, straight into the Pagemaker document – Pagemaker is the software that allows you to create the actual magazine. These days I create each page in Photoshop with the images and blurbs and then place them directly into the Pagemaker document. It makes things so much easier. I then lay the text onto these pages using the Pagemaker software. Years of experience have taught me just how many words I can fit onto a single page.

It takes a few weeks working with an issue before I know how that particular edition is going to fit together; if I was a pro I’d more than likely know from day one, but I am a long way from being a pro. The cover usually arrives well before the issue is started on the PC; this gives me the time to research the lead article and assess how the issue could come together. It’s not often that I find myself waiting for articles from contributors; mine tend to be the last to be written up, often a little too quickly.

MMW: Are your writers on staff, or do you use unsolicited manuscripts?

In being an amateur publication I don’t have staff writers, but I do have a regular crew of dedicated contributors. A few unsolicited manuscripts do turn up on my doorstep, which tend to be from readers who have an appreciation as to the loathsome nature of From the Tomb. More often than not writers discuss with me their thoughts on these old comic books, often at length, prior to me receiving their work. This approach has resulted in some quite amazing pieces. I suppose have been very fortunate in this respect.

MMW: Do any of your graphics come from original art or is it mainly repros from comics?

NORMANTON: The graphics come from reproductions and scans of these comics.

MMW: What will you do with FROM THE TOMB to keep readers coming back? Special issues? New material? Expanded content?

NORMANTON: I hope to keep readers coming back with some fine articles and images you won’t find anywhere else. If the world economy improves I would love to go for special issues and expand the content. What was so heart breaking for From the Tomb was as Diamond brought down the axe some interesting new horror strips had been promised by some highly capable people. Who knows maybe if things begin to improve we will still get to see some of this work.

MMW: EC or Warren?

NORMANTON: I love Warren, they were the thinking man’s comics of my generation, but it will always be EC. Messrs Gaines and Feldstein put together some memorable stories and they had the finest collective of artists for which any comic publisher could have ever wished.

[Y'all come back tomorraw for the Kongclusion of the MONSTER MAGAZINE WORLD interview with Peter Normanton!]

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