|Author Mark Voger as he is today -- er, as he was as a Monster Kid in New Jersey.|
Those of you who haven't yet heard of the graveyard smash book entitled, MONSTER MASH: THE CREEPY, KOOKY MONSTER CRAZE IN AMERICA 1957-1972, you are in for a real treat. Those of you who have and haven't yet purchased a copy -- shame on you! Author Mark Voger has spent decades amassing a tome that represents the very best (along with nearly everything) that signifies the so-called "classic era" of pop culture monsters. Published by Two Morrows, this book is a must have for anyone who is interested in the "Monster Craze" and who wants to own the closest thing to a coffee table book on the subject. Without further ado, here's Mark Voger in his own words:
Photo collage Voger created for a
tribute to Bobby "Boris" Pickett.
MONSTER MAGAZINE WORLD: How did the idea for the “Monster Mash” book come about?
MARK VOGER: Thanks for your interest, John. I was born in ’58, and loved monsters for as long as I can remember. It was always in the back of my mind to do a book about the Monster Craze of the ’60s. As an entertainment writer going back decades, I would interview anyone I could about “retro” pop culture. Once, in the early ’90s, I interviewed Forry Ackerman over the phone, and he said he was coming to Manhattan – I’m in Jersey – and he invited me to meet him in the city for breakfast. We met and, over breakfast, he let me try on Bela Lugosi’s “Dracula” ring and Boris Karloff’s “Mummy” ring. Right there in the restaurant. He didn’t even know me. He just figured me for a true Famous Monsters fan, and he trusted me for those few moments. So I made it my mission to interview people like James Bama, who painted the exquisite Aurora box art, and Bobby (Boris) Pickett, who sang “Monster Mash,” and anyone from “The Addams Family,” “The Munsters,” “Dark Shadows.” It all added up.
MMW: How long did it take to write it and compile the graphics?
VOGER: I had been amassing the interviews and images since the ’80s. Many of the photos were taken by my late wife, Kathy Voglesong, who always accompanied me on assignments. We were a husband-and-wife, writer-photographer team, until the world lost her in 2005. But from the time I had contracted to do “Monster Mash,” it took 14 months to put the book into final form. I barely slept in all that time. It became a sacred mission.
MMW: Did you shop it around or was it a done deal with TwoMorrows?
VOGER: I took it to TwoMorrows first. I had a wonderful experience with them on my first two books, “Hero Gets Girl!” and “The Dark Age,” which are about comics. “Monster Mash” was a bit outside their wheelhouse, but they rolled the dice. I was thrilled when they told me I could do it in full color – a designer’s dream.
MMW: The image of the Topstone “Shock Monster” mask is iconic. Was the cover your idea?
VOGER: You’re the first to ask, and knowing Monster Magazine World’s “Topstone Tuesdays,” I’m not surprised. Yeah, it was my baby. When I set about designing the cover, I knew I needed a central image. It’s the first thing they teach you in Page Design 101. And that image must miraculously represent everything you want to say about a given topic. It’s a big responsibility for an image. Of course, I couldn’t use a well-known monster face like, say, Herman Munster. It would give the impression the book is about “The Munsters.” I needed something that was, not generic, but all-encompassing. The Shock Monster, by the great Keith Ward, seems to sum up the era. It has horror and humor at the same time, which is the point of “Monster Mash” – creepy and kooky. The artwork is cartoony, but when you really analyze it, it’s extremely gory. I mean, it’s a skull covered in rotted flesh, with one eyeball intact. That’s sick. And Keith Ward was a master at black-and-white linework. This image communicates, whether it’s on a postage stamp or a Jumbotron. I scanned it huge from an old Famous Monsters ad, and then painstakingly re-drafted it digitally. I colorized it using the same blue hair/green skin motif from the Shock Monster mask I had when I was a kid. At first, I used flat colors, like you would have seen back in the ’60s. But it just didn’t pop. I finally put in all the shadows and the mottled skin you now see, and then it popped. This was a bit counter to what I was trying to do throughout the book, which was to make everything look like it was produced in the ’60s. No modernity. But this is finally what worked best. For Christmas, my sister made Shock Monster hoodie sweatshirts for the whole family, in honor of “Monster Mash.”
A "Mummybilia" collage done when the Brendan Fraser Mummy
remake was released.
MMW: You are credited with the design of “Monster Mash.” How did you create the pages – digital or old-fashioned paste-up?
VOGER: I’m an old hand at old-fashioned paste-up. I can work miracles with an X-acto blade, a wax machine, a circle template, border tape, a triangle and a T-square. Oh, and a roller. But of course, I created those pages on a computer. There’s no other way these days, nor would you want to go back to the Stone Age. “Monster Mash” is design-driven; I generally designed the pages first, and then wrote-to-fit, not the other way around. That way, I could control the look and flow of the book. The images came from all different sources – flat scans, digital photos, even scans of negatives and slides. So this was a forensic exercise. I then perfected all the images digitally, and the design work began in earnest.
MMW: Usually, the interest in monsters begins early with a defining moment or two. Was this true for you?
VOGER: Sure. I remember, when I was really little, first seeing a monster face in a store. I immediately had that reaction of simultaneous attraction and repulsion. It was scary to me, but I wanted more. The first time I saw actual monster movie footage was on an old TV show called “Hollywood and the Stars,” which did a theme episode on monsters. I still can’t believe my parents let me watch it. I think I was traumatized. Well, here I am, a half-century later, still talking about it. Oh, and the Zanti Misfits on “The Outer Limits” totally traumatized me. I’m still scared of those horrible little alien bugs.
MMW: What were your favorite monster ’zines as a Monster Kid?
VOGER: Of course, Famous Monsters of Filmland and all the Warrens – Creepy, Eerie, Monster World, Vampirella. The first time I saw an issue of Famous Monsters was at a friend’s house; we were looking at his big brother’s copy of FM #34. That cover painting of Mr. Hyde by Maurice Whitman is indelibly etched. It had an article about “Horrors of Spider Island,” and the photos truly scared me. The first issue I owned was #52, with Barnabas Collins on the cover. It had a big piece on “Son of Frankenstein.” I was hooked. Then, not to sound like a globe-trotting bon vivant, but in 1969 when I was 11, I was walking along O’Connell Street in Dublin and I spotted a vendor selling back issues of FM. I’d never seen those covers in color before; I’d only seen them in the back-issue ads. Wow, were they stunning. I bought, with Irish coins, issues #40, 42, and 46. Back in South Jersey, where I grew up, there is a place called the Berlin Farmer’s Market that has a magazine vendor who sold FM back then. In those years, I bought issues #61, 63, 67 and 68, all first-run, more or less. I also have some guilty pleasures. I have a healthy collection of those terrible Eerie Publications comic magazines like Tales From the Tomb and Tales of Voodoo. When I was in grade school, I had an issue of the Cracked spinoff For Monsters Only, which I still have great affection for, even though it doesn’t hold a candle to FM.
|An illustration by Voger for an interview with Jim Warren.|
MMW: I was young enough during the first wave Monster Craze that you write about in your book to enjoy monster-related items like Spook Stories trading cards, Monster Old Maid, Marx monster figures (which I still have), even monster Soaky bath bubbles. What were some of the monster-related things you particularly enjoyed as a Monster Kid?
VOGER: My favorite was my Aurora “Hunchback of Notre Dame” model kit. My dad was a shipping foreman at an oil refinery in Philadelphia and a Marine during World War II. A tough-but-fair guy. Early one cold Saturday morning, he handed me a Hunchback model kit and said, “Here ya are. You go for this stuff.” That meant the world. I recall, with a twinge of guilt, wishing it was a cooler monster, like Dracula or the Phantom. But once I built it, I was in love with the Hunchback. An old schoolmate had an Uncle Fester hand-puppet, which was a really cool likeness, and a fellow Cub Scout had the “Monster Old Maid” cards. Those were the days. That’s great, that you still have your old Marx figures.
|A Quasidmodo collage done when Disney's "Hunchback" movie was released.|
MMW: What does your monster collection look like these days? Have you kept anything from years past, or did you have to pay “collector’s” prices in recent years?
VOGER: Mostly, I’ve re-purchased things as an adult, but I’m a shrewd and patient shopper. Believe it or not, I bought the Fester puppet and the “Old Maid” cards just to put them in “Monster Mash.” I received Castle Films’ “Doom of Dracula” as a birthday gift. In the past year, I added the Wolf Man and the Mummy Soaky to my collection, so Frankenstein wouldn’t be so lonely. The three of them are still waiting for the Creature. It’ll be a long wait; those things go for $200 at best. I have a complete set of “Dark Shadows” novels by “Marilyn Ross.” I had two Don Post Tor Johnson masks, but one was stolen. Never let a Tor Johnson mask out of your sight. And I love my reissues of the Marx monster figures. Those sculptures are righteous.
|Some choice examples from Mark Voger's monster memorabilia collection.|
MMW: Tell me a little about your newspaper career. Were you able to use any of your love of monster movies in any of your writing or was it straight news?
VOGER: I turned pro in 1978 when I was 19, as a “stringer,” a part-time municipal reporter, for The Gloucester County Times in Woodbury, New Jersey. It’s no secret that the newspaper industry is in turmoil, but I’m still hanging in there. I’ve always been a writer-designer. I write about entertainment topics with a retro specialty: classic TV, classic rock, old comic books, old sci-fi, old monster movies. As a for-instance, I just reviewed “The Brady Kids: The Complete Animated Series” for The Star-Ledger. Over the years, I’ve published a lot of monster stuff in newspapers – probably more than my editors would have preferred. I did a big Sunday splash when Boris Karloff turned 100 on Nov. 23, 1987, and a “Many Faces of Quasimodo” page when Disney put out a “Hunchback” musical adaptation. Stuff like that.
MMW: What’s next for you? Are there more monsters in store for us from Mark Voger?
VOGER: I’m neck-deep in my next project, which is most definitely a follow-up to “Monster Mash,” though it’s not about monsters at all. But being Irish and superstitious, that’s all I can say. We Irish believe, whole-heartedly, in jinxes. And singing, corned beef and fisticuffs.
MMW: Where can “Monster Mash” be purchased?
VOGER: Thanks for asking. You can find it at TwoMorrows.com, Amazon.com, BarnesAndNoble.com and all over the web. I was really thrilled to learn that “Monster Mash” made it into some legendary brick-and-mortar establishments, like Forbidden Planet in New York City, Fat Jack’s in Philly and DreamHaven Books in Minneapolis. And again, John, thanks so much for your interest. I love what Monster Magazine World does. It’s fun, informative and addictive. I don’t have to tell you that monster magazines were like the social network for Monster Kids back in the pre-Internet age. We would communicate through the letters pages, you could say. I have two journalistic colleagues who had letters published in Famous Monsters back in the day. The magazines, more than any other format, pulled the whole Monster Craze thing together. They had it all -- the Aurora ads, comics, coverage of the old movies, coverage of the TV shows, cool things to send away for. It was a sweet time.
MMW: A sweet time, indeed! Thank you, Mark Voger!