Thank you, Fangoria

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Back when cool, unique places were still allowed to exist, before they got steamrolled and paved over by big-box stores and chain restaurants, I used to visit an enticingly strange local market. Housed inside a long row of windowless cinder-block barracks, the market offered Amish goods on the north end and, in the south end where I hung out, stall after stall of shops selling kitschy collectibles, illegal fireworks, candy, knock-off electronics (Alpline car stereos, for example), junky toys, and more.

fm-fearbook-68My prime destination was the magazine shop. Rather than sell new issues displayed vertically as in a bookstore, the proprietor had old magazines stacked on raised plywood. My target: the Famous Monsters of Filmland back issues he sold for a quarter each (!). I’d chose the issue and hand him the 25 cents, and he’d berate me for seeking such mind rot. “No, you can’t have a bag. Now scram!”

It didn’t matter that the Famous Monsters he sold were from the 1960s because, well, Famous Monsters in the mid-1970s, when this story begins, ran the same articles. And I was all of 7 or 8 years old, so what did I care? They were 25 cents.

I ended up subscribing to FM during that Star Wars phase when it turned into a sci-fi rag. But in collecting the back issues, I began to notice those old Famous Monsters seemed to exist in an alternate reality where Bela Lugosi was a hot topic year after year and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre didn’t exist.

Late in 1979, 11-year-old me once more dropped by that old magazine shop. The old fella was still selling ratty Famous Monsters back issues, but he also had a new magazine called Fangoria. Issue #2, to be specific, with a slimy mutant bear on the cover and a sidebar about that movie Phantasm my older brother had been gushing about.

The Famous Monsters stacked next to it presented, in contrast, a painting of Mr. Hyde from 1951’s Son of Dr. Jekyll. A beautiful piece of artwork by Basil Gogos to be sure, but having collected about 50 issues by that point, this lad who craved info about Alien and Dawn of the Dead found it less inviting than usual.

fangoria-2You change a lot between ages 10 and 15, probably more than any other time in life. I loved Famous Monsters (and still do), but Fangoria blew FM away in my mind (and in everyone else’s, it seems, for FM folded not too long after Fangoria’s debut). Instead of yet another jokey article about Son of Frankenstein, Fangoria wrote about new movies like Ghost Story and Evil Dead and even put them on the cover. Perhaps it sounds silly now, but being on the leading edge of the new horror boom felt important.

[To be fair, Famous Monsters did start covering the likes of Maniac and Friday the 13th, but they continued to run those pieces alongside cutesy articles for trite films like Heartbeeps, which suggests a flailing effort to find an audience]

The mix of new, gory movies, coverage of the burgeoning VHS market, and quirky, modern humor made Fangoria indispensable for teenage horror fans of the 80s.  And of course, their star-making treatment of make-up effects artists like Tom Savini and Rob Bottin became the magazine’s signature.

Later, when I got a car and began earning money, I started attending the “Fangoria Weekend of Horrors” shows in New York City. Suddenly I was shaking hands with Christopher Lee, Roddy McDowall, Elvira, Lucio Fulci, Robert Englund, Clive Barker, Bruce Campbell, Tobe Hooper, and other genre luminaries. This is the stuff that shapes who you are and inspires your own creativity.

I collected Fangoria though most of the 90s and into the early 2000s, but, just as with Famous Monsters, it began to lose its luster over time. In those later years, I often opened the envelope, slid out the magazine, and eyeballed the cover only to see another superhero movie, artless remake, or forgettable direct-to-video knock-off being promoted … and then stuck it on the shelf next to the others, unread. The editorial style stopped being quirky and clever and punk rockish and had become over-polished and drab, much like the big-box retailers that wiped out the weird and wonderful market inside the cinder-block barracks. One day the subscription ran out, and I tossed the renewal card instead of returning it with a payment.

fangoria-16Fangoria is probably a victim of its own success and longevity, as a lot of new magazines have sprung up in the past 15 years or so that tap into the nostalgia we Gen Xers have for 70s and 80s horror in general, and the video store experience in particular, leaving Fangoria to cover newer films that target Millennials, who don’t buy magazines. Hell, I was born in the late 60s, and I learn about new horror and sci-fi films from Twitter and IMDB now.

It looks like the print version of Fangoria is done, at least in the newsstand form I grew up loving. This love story has the typically banal, real-life ending: We simply drifted apart. But I will never forget those early days when Fangoria was my gateway to all things awesome in horror and somehow found a way to put me in the same room with Christopher frickin’ Lee, a moment I shan’t ever forget.

By the way, I still have that second issue of Fangoria with The Prophesy on the cover. I think I’ll hang onto it a little longer, like a secret snapshot of an old lover.

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Note: Fangoria magazine has not appeared in print form since 2015 (though it still maintains a web presence). Reports say the publisher intends to bring it back. Perhaps a print-on-demand compromise is in the works? I wish them luck!

“Famous Monsters of Filmland” covers, Part three: Issues 11-15

To start from the beginning, click here.

Famous Monsters of Filmland #11

fm11For the first time since issue 4, Famous Monsters went with a non-humanoid cover monster, and the result is quite successful.

Basil Gogos‘ rendition of the Godzilla-like reptilian giant Gorgo is a seminar in blending texture, color, modeling, and composition to create a superior magazine cover. The lighting effects lend a three-dimensional quality to the image, and the pockets of shadow cast by the light playing across the creature’s bumpy skin effectively suggest size. The 1/4-turn pose, coupled with the extended claws, further activate the image by creating a diagonal plane running from upper right to lower left.

The graphics are wisely limited in color palette and the cover space they consume. The yellow lettering pops against the blue background yet does not compete with the cover subject. This layout is a win all the way around

Overall: 10/10


Famous Monsters of Filmland #12

fm12Out of context this cover might seem a bit odd, with it’s sparse image and graphics, but in terms of grabbing eyes form the newsstand and avoiding repetition from previous cover designs, it is successful.

Wisely seeing no need to deviate at this point, FM once again retained the services of painter Basil Gogos, who rendered a rather furious looking Oliver Reed from Hammer’s Curse of the Werewolf. With a modern eye, we may look at old Famous Monsters covers and think of the magazine as stuck in the old-school monster movie era, but it’s important to remember that Gorgo and Curse of the Werewolf were new films at the time they graced their respective covers.

Anyway, Gogos went with a limited (but not limiting!) color palette of black, red/orange, and yellow, and the minimal graphics match it note for note, save for the hint of green in the masthead. The floating head composition is somewhat weird and lacking in geometry, but the effect is striking nonetheless.

Overall: 7.5/10


Famous Monsters of Filmland #13

fm13Some online sources credit Basil Gogos as the cover artist, and other sources say the artist is unknown. I do not own a copy of this issue and cannot confirm either way.

If the artist is Gogos, it’s not one of his better works. The quality is rather more on par with that of previous cover artist Albert Nuetzell, which is to say it’s done in a respectable painterly style with good colors, but the composition is unremarkable otherwise. It’s recognizable as Frankenstein’s monster but seems slightly cartoonish, and the top half of the monster’s face is out of proportion to the bottom half.

The simplistic graphics do little damage to the overall effect, and the colors of the masthead connect well with the depiction of the cover subject. The font of the sidebar plugs is rather too large and clunky, though. Three plugs in a smaller font would probably foster a more harmonious balance.

Overall 4.5/10


 

Famous Monsters of Filmland #14

fm14This issue features another Gogos depiction of Vincent Price from an A.I.P. Poe film (see issue 10), though this one isn’t nearly as successful, perhaps owing to a wishy-washy color palette.

Regarding the positives, Gogos once again proves his skill as a portrait artist. This is definitively Price, right down to the musculature of the mouth and the wrinkled skin around the eyes. The slight head turn further livens the image by suggesting Price is reacting to something within his painted universe that we cannot see.

On the other hand, Gogos chose a fairly bland moment to depict. Furthermore, the colors are drab, and green and mustard-yellow lettering over the blue-green background gives the overall impression that the magazine is under water.

Overall: 4/10


Famous Monsters of Filmland #15

fm15There’s a lot to like about this cover art, and there are personal biases of mine that negatively influence my reception to it.

The painting by Basil Gogos is a portrait of TV horror host Zacherly, the second time FM used his likeness for a cover. The rendering is much more detailed than Albert Nuetzell’s schematic rendering from issue 7, and you either love the kitschy “detached head floating in nightmare ether” effect, or, like me, you think it’s weird. Perhaps it’s a reference to events on Zacherly’s TV show, but out of context I see it as goofy. I also question whether a regional horror host warrants two covers in a little over a year.

On the plus side, the red and white backdrop is eye catching, and the masthead stands out nicely. The color palette shared between the artwork and the graphic is pleasing and smartly chosen, and the layout is  uncluttered.

Overall: 6/10

See you next time!

[image source: comicvine.com)

“Famous Monsters of Filmland” covers, part two: Issues 6 through 10

I gave all the blah blah blah last time. Let’s get to it!

Famous Monsters of Filmland #6

Fm6Albert Nuetzell‘s third cover for Famous Monsters is a fairly steep drop from his excellent War of the Worlds alien portrait that graced issue #4 (see last entry), though the relative mediocrity here is not entirely on the shoulders of the artist.

On the positive side, he chose a strong color palette for his King Kong, mostly earthy tones with a touch of green for balance, and the reds highlights help sell the great ape’s fury. The overall technique, though, does not seem as refined as his previous covers and looks more cartoonish than painterly.

More offensive than the so-so artwork are the giant blocks in the sidebar. Instead of teasing the contents, they nearly push Kong off his own cover. No wonder he’s annoyed. Fewer plugs, with black and red text to match the masthead and no blocks of background color would have gone a long way toward improving the general design.

Overall: 3.5/10


 

Famous Monsters of Filmland #7

fm7James Warren and Forrest J. Ackerman brought Albert Nuetzell back for yet another cover, this one featuring a likeness of TV horror host Zacherly.

Again Nuetzell proves his strength at choosing a color palette. Against the solid black background, Zacherly’s yellow face with red accents pops out and was likely to grab the eye of someone browsing a newsstand. The light and shadow on the face is rendered schematically instead of modeled in a sophisticated way, but at this point in the short life of the magazine, they were about grabbing the attention of kids, not art critics. The composition is pedestrian but sufficiently lively.

The graphic artist did well in tying the yellow and green of the masthead to the highlights in the figure’s face. On the other hand, those giant blocks in the sidebar once again threaten to overwhelm the image. At least this time they align with the color palette of the figure, including the whites of the eyes.

Overall: 4.5/10


 

Famous Monsters of Filmland #8

fm8Albert Nuetzell’s minimalist cover for issue 8 can be appreciated or derided, depending on your view of minimalism. The stark, uncluttered composition is eye catching from a distance (or set among a bunch of other magazines on a newsstand), and the Rothko-like red-to-orange background fade is strikingly unusual. I do really like the patch of unbroken red in the upper right area.

That said, the figure itself is, to put it politely, primitive. Less politely, it’s not a very good illustration, at least not for a standalone character. It’s like they just went with a preparatory sketch instead of the finished product.

From a graphics standpoint, I still don’t love the sidebar blocks, but they tie nicely to the limited color palette and are appropriately sparse. The wavy shapes also evoke a ghostly quality to align with the overall cover concept. This would be a pretty knock out cover if the figure illustration weren’t so rough.

Overall: 3.5/10


Famous Monsters of Filmland #9

fm9If you are a Famous Monsters reader of even the most casual variety, you should still know the name Basil Gogos. This isn’t a biography story and space doesn’t permit anyway. Suffice to say, Gogos was born to paint monster magazine covers.

Gogos’ rendering of Vincent Price so captures the essence of his tortured “Poe” characters, it’s as if he had been on the set and had Price sit for him. Like with Nuetzell’s cover for issue 5, Gogos uses the hourglass form, but this figure dominates both in cover space taken up and gravitas.

Fortuitously, FM’s graphics took a great leap forward the same times as the skill of their cover artist. Gone are the sidebar blocks that vie for attention with the character image. Now they are merely lettering that shares a background with the figure, and the red and black color mix ties directly to the figure’s garment at the bottom, leaving the green-tinted gray face to captivate the viewer. The complete layout is geometrically pleasing and harmonious.

Overall: 9/10


Famous Monsters of Filmland #10

fm10For the fourth time in 10 issues, FM went with a red backdrop, although the choice was not ideal on this occasion, for the masthead gets fairly lost in the details of Gogos’ Claude Rains portrait, and the general feel is too busy.

That said, the artist’s beautifully modeled figure is mix of textures and stylish colors and, even without the eyes visible, conveys intelligence and purpose. Not quite as dynamic a pose as the Vincent Price portrait, this image of the Phantom is still somewhat activated by the wavy hair and lighting effect that prefigured Mario Bava‘s innovative cinematography for Black Sabbath by a few years.

Some black tracing around the masthead lettering and a simplifying or reduction of the sidebar plugs wold probably have limited the clutter and bumped this cover up in the rankings.

Overall: 7/10