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Enter the Crypt as John "The Unimonster" Stevenson and his merry band of ghouls rants and raves about the current state of Horror, as well as reviews Movies, Books, DVD's and more, both old and new.

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From the Desk of the Unimonster...

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15 December, 2007

Blood in Black Ink: The CCA & The ‘Other’ Monster Mags

While very few Monster fans of the ‘60’s and ‘70’s would list anything other than Forry Ackerman’s Famous Monsters of Filmland as the most influential magazine devoted to our favorite genre, it was far from the only one. Following the success of FMoF, dozens of Horror and Sci-Fi themed magazines sprang up virtually overnight. Most faded away just as quickly, titles such as Screen Chills, Modern Monster, and World Famous Creatures merely a dim memory in the minds of a few dedicated MonsterKids.

One of the best of these short-lived magazines was Fantastic Monsters of the Films, published by Paul Blaisdell and Bob Burns, two veterans of the 1950’s B-Monster culture. As Burns recounts in his excellent book, “It Came From Bob’s Basement!”, the experience was not a happy one, and ultimately ended with the Blaisdell’s utter disillusionment with the whole industry, and the end of their friendship. Unfortunately, its brief run ended years before I was born, and surviving copies are very difficult to find.

But nothing was going to supplant FM as the magazine of choice for movie information, at least as far as the young Unimonster was concerned. I was already getting the best movie news from Forry himself… Why would I need another “News” mag? No, my taste in monster mags went in quite a different direction.

I wanted stories to fire, as well as terrify, the imagination. I wanted ghouls, and vampires, and zombies rising up from the muck. I wanted blood spurting across the page… I wanted the legendary EC Comics I had long heard about, but had never seen. I wanted Tales from the Crypt and The Haunt of Fear, Shock Suspenstories and The Vault of Terror. But someone named Fredric Wertham had decreed, a decade before my birth, that such comics were “harmful” to the fragile minds of children. I learned at an early age an intense dislike for Wertham, the Comics Code Authority, and all they stood for.

Oh yes, there were horror comics to replace what had been lost, and I bought most of them, or as many of them as a dollar-a-week allowance would permit. (Remember, we’re talking 1973 or ’74, so that was quite chunk of change… at least, it was for a ten-year old Unimonster) DC had House of Mystery, House of Secrets, Tales of the Unexpected, and Ghosts. Gold Key had Ripley’s Believe it or Not True Ghost Stories. Marvel had… well, I was a DC loyalist, so I have no idea what Marvel had. Not that it would have mattered if I had, because all of these had one fatal flaw… they all fell under the watchful eye of that damned Comics Code Authority.

But I also learned that some publishers, not content to kowtow to the machinations of Wertham and the CCA, had figured out a way around the Code, and Dr. Wertham’s censorship. The CCA, they reasoned, applied only to Comic Books; therefore, don’t publish Comics, but rather Illustrated Magazines; oversized, printed in black & white rather than color. The first of these, not surprisingly, were the father & son team of William and Bill Gaines, the heads of the very same EC Comics that had started the controversy. Their breakthrough publication, Mad Magazine, soon inspired imitators throughout the industry.

Among the best of these was Skywald Publications, publishers of such magazines as Nightmare, Scream, and Psycho. Sticking closely to the formula that Bill Gaines proved successful fifteen years previously, their “Horror-Mood” group of magazines, with gruesome covers adorned with lurid titles such as “The Day The Earth Will DIE!” and “Monsters Battle Over The Blood Of ‘The Old Vampire Lady’!” never failed to grab my attention, though they were a rare sight in my neighborhood.

Another notable defier of the CCA was Warren Magazines, the home of Forry’s Famous Monsters. They began their battle in January of 1965, with the first issue of Creepy Magazine.

Creepy skirted the CCA the same way that Skywald’s Nightmare did, by not being a comic book. Their stories were as frightening, their artwork as gruesome, as the EC Comics I dreamt of reading, but these were free of that accursed stamp-like logo on the cover. Like Tales from the Crypt, it soon gained a host; a cadaverous old gentleman named, fittingly, Uncle Creepy.

Creepy was followed before 1965 ended by Eerie, similar in style and content, but never its equal in quality; at least not in my opinion. Both were good, and Warren got more than its share of my loot on both mags, as well as FM. Of course, Eerie needed its own host, a pudgy, Peter Lorre look-alike by the name of (go figure…) Cousin Eerie. Great imaginations, those people at Warren.

But one thing they did excel at was, quite simply, picking talented artists skilled at depicting the female form. And nowhere was this skill better utilized than on the covers and in the pages of Vampirella.

I don’t remember when I started buying Vampirella; I do know that it wasn’t as early as when I began buying the other horror mags in my collection. At that age, the adventures of a ‘girl vampire’ in a skimpy costume didn’t hold nearly as much attraction for me as did the zombies, witches, and werewolves of other mags. I do remember that there came a time when those Vampi covers began to look much more interesting, and soon, I was a regular reader. Thoughts of how Vampirella would have been impossible under the auspices of the CCA occasionally came to mind, and I was extremely grateful that there were publishers who resisted that faceless, bureaucratic, monolithic, bunch of… commies, who dared to dictate what I could see in my comics.

Well, I eventually learned that the dreaded enemy of my youth, the entity that I imagined hung like some great black cloud over the heads of the poor, oppressed writers and artists of the comics industry, was in fact that self-same industry.

Little had I known that this Stalinist figure I had imagined looking at each page of art before it went to press, tearing it to shreds in front of a cowering artist, was simply the industry’s effort to police itself to avoid stricter controls. And all the salaciousness that I thought had filled the EC comics that were the objects of my four-color desire would scarcely be noticed today, in these days of the Graphic Novel.

I had lost touch with the monster mags by the time I turned 17 or so. We moved to a small town in Tennessee, and I no longer saw them on the racks at the local store. College, and life, soon intervened, and I was completely unaware when Warren ceased publication in the early ‘80’s. All of my monster mags, all my comic books, everything that had filled my world when I was young was soon gone, seemingly lost into the void with my childhood.

But the memories remain… covers tight and glossy, pages flat and sharply white. My memories remain, unlike the real thing, always in mint condition.

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1 comment:

ServoCrow said...

It is so amazing I was out of the "magazine" element of the genre until I was WELL into my adulthood. I remember having Tales of the Crypt comic books, but we didn't (and wouldn't have been able to anyway) get any of that stuff until much later. It's amazing how much some of the early mags are worth now. Nice write up as always!! :-)