The magazine was published out of Philadelphia by Jim Warren
(that’s him under the Frankenstein mask above), who built a small empire with his Captain Company, a publishing and novelty outlet that sold everything from back date issues to Aurora’s plastic monster model kits, 8mm and 16mm horror movies, record albums, and Don Post masks
. But Mr. Ackerman’s was the voice of Famous Monsters
, a forum for his vast knowledge and an incomparable collection of movie stills.
This is where and when I received my elementary education in the cinema. Between its gaudy covers, Mr. Ackerman held a deep, resounding admiration for Fritz Lang, Boris Karloff, Ray Harryhausen, Bela Lugosi, makeup artist Jack Pierce, Lon Chaney, Vincent Price…and worked these names and the dates and titles of their accomplishments into my mind forever. In fact, other than Alfred Hitchcock, who made an industry of promoting himself in the ‘60s, Lang was the first director I became consciously aware of thanks to Forry’s love for Metropolis
Mom and dad, however, weren’t the least bit impressed that their seven-year-old son knew who Fritz Lang was. It was a time when horror movies were sneered at, when a kid’s rabid interest in monsters spelt trouble to parents who only knew life by the rules dictated by corporate America. How, they asked, could these weird obsessions ever lead to a decent job? Even though I was so young, their concerns weren’t entirely unfounded: as far as business and finance are concerned, I’ve come up woefully short, the dreamer they warned me I’d become.
By 1964, my weekly allowance of fifty cents went straight to the local sweet shop where I’d scour the magazine rack for the latest issue and any or all of the other publications that followed its lead. The gallery of covers posted on Monster Mags
is a trip down Memory Lane: the earliest Famous Monsters
I remember buying was #30 with its terrific Bela Lugosi cover painting by Russ Jones
; issues 31 and 34 summon up heady recollections of snug, cozy afternoons; shivering at the sight of #40, I can only assume it arrived at some personally vulnerable time, though I can’t remember what; around issue #92 I was involved with my first girlfriend; and #46 was delivered — under protest — by my parents when I was in hospital recuperating from surgery.
They winced when they handed it to me, asking if it was too graphic, too horrible for my young eyes. By that time, though, I was jaded and ravenous. Mr. Ackerman’s quick way with words complimented the large, clear photo reproduction. It was a magic gateway to Never Never Land, beyond a mundane reality where I never fit in or was not ‘good enough’ at school, in sports, or in thinking seriously about my future. To those first girlfriends, monster movies were about as appealing as spiders and snakes. But Mr. Ackerman showed me that it was alright to dream and imagine, that my artistic aspirations were worth something.
For nights on end I sat in the basement at a small drafting table my uncle had given me, scissor happy with the magazine, cutting out photos and rearranging them on sheets of paper and writing my own captions. Soon the captions grew into reviews and articles. By the age of eleven, I taught myself how to type on an old manual, using Mr. Ackerman’s simple style of prose as a guide. I’d gather up these sheets of photos, captions and reviews and asked my father to copy them in the machine at his office. The pages were then collated and stapled and thus began a publishing empire: The Creature Journal
, my first fanzine, lasted from 1969 to 1973.
Mr. Ackerman was an inspiration to me forty years ago, and continues to be a constructive influence. For someone so immersed in monsters and horror, he always kept things light, accessible and friendly. As he hits ninety today, I wish Mr. Monster a happy birthday and a debt of thanks.