Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Monster Mags of My Youth

So one of the pleasant surprises of this Halloween season has been rediscovering some of the lost pleasures of my youth, or seeing those old items in a new context, whether it be old Dr. Demento songs about Martians or spooky magazine ads.

For instance, I've mentioned several times that I read Famous Monsters of Filmland as a kid. And as with any Warren magazine, you would always get several pages of ads in the back. And tucked in among the ads would occasionally be an offering of a collector's edition magazine featuring "Fantasy Fandom's Famous Femme" Heidi Saha, who was (according to the ad copy) well-known on the sci-fi convention circuit for her amazing costumes. Or you could buy a poster, if you were so inclined.

Now I'd never heard of Heidi Saha, but in the issue of Famous Monsters pictured above, there was this picture of Heidi in a really good Vampirella costume. I thought she was pretty hot, but I still didn't see any reason to order the magazine. What I didn't know at the time was that she was only 14 1/2 in the picture, that there had been a small controversy surrounding the costume, or that the Heidi Saha magazine was... disturbing. You can find more details here and here, if you care.

For all the issues of FM that I have, I wasn't the hugest fan of the magazine. Forry's tendency toward awful puns sometimes struck me as puerile, and while he would sometimes reprint some amazingly rare behind-the-scenes pics, often the articles were total fluff.

Better was Castle of Frankenstein, which would print some nicely detailed articles. Each issue also had a ton of capsule reviews covering an amazing range of movies. For instance, the issue pictured here, with the awesome "Golden Voyage of Sinbad" wraparound cover, featured capsule reviews of movies as widely varied as the hard-core porn classic "The Devil in Miss Jones" starring Georgina Spelvin and the Disney comedy "$1,000,000 Duck" starring Dean Jones and Sandy Duncan.

The two main problems with CoF were that it got poor distribution (at least in OKC--there was only one convenience store I could find it in) and that it often featured tits, in the same occasional and random manner that Time magazine also did at the time. As a Pentecostal teen, I often felt vaguely guilty reading it.

I much preferred Monsters of the Movies, published by Curtis Magazines, which was the magazine arm of Marvel Comics. Marvel writers and editors Marv Wolfman and Roy Thomas edited the mag, which unfortunately only ran 10 issues. It ran more in-depth articles thanFamous Monsters, but was more family-friendly than Castle of Frankenstein. I'm not sure why it didn't last.

One interesting artifact from the issue pictured here is this ad headline. Stephen King argued in Danse Macabre that horror is one way society has of working out the things it's really scared of. So for instance, "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" in the 50's was an expression of Cold War paranoia, the giant bug movies of the same period were post-nuclear terror, and "The Amityville Horror" in the 70's was an expression of economic angst. And here, in a monster magazine from the mid-70's there's this ad, which is just as relevant today, although you'd need to jack up the numbers by a fuck-ton.

One other curiosity from the Vault is this obscure monster mag I picked up at a convention somewhere. Modern Monster was one of the flood of Famous Monsters imitators that sprung up in the mid-60's and disappeared quickly. It only lasted 4 issues (changing title to Modern Monsters with the second issue), but it was pretty well done. It featured the usual range of feature articles, but the first issue also had the first chapter of a haunted house fiction serial, as well as a color fold-out poster of King Kong in the center (my issue does not have the centerfold--I think I took it out myself--I have never been very good at the "preserve in mint condition" part of collecting).

One interesting thing that jumped out at me in this issue was the back cover...

I wonder what was happening in the business at the time that prompted such an impassioned defense of the "corner news dealer." I know that one of the things that prompted the infamous "DC Implosion" a decade later was major changes in the business of printing and distribution, but this one strikes me as strange. Especially given how many magazines try to get you to bypass the newsstand by buying subscriptions. I don't know how many magazines really make a lot of money from subscriptions, but it seems such a basic part of the business model that it really jumps out at me when it's not there.

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