I wrote this article about The Monster Times for 70s Monster Memories, recently published in the UK by Eric McNaughton (of We Belong Dead magazine). If you're a monsterkid (or just want to know what was so special about being one) don't miss this wonderful compendium of memories, written by the talented contributors to We Belong Dead, who vividly recall a truly exciting time for horror movies and their fans before the Internet mucked it all up.
Come in, come in, plenty of room under the bedsheets for you. My, it’s a chilly one tonight, isn’t it? Nothing like paging through all these horror magazines with a trusty flashlight, right? Especially when the night is old and every odd sound makes you wonder. I hear the ghosts only come after you around 3 am, so we’re good until then, I’m sure. Let’s try something new, shall we? I just picked this up, down at the corner store. We’ll keep those issues of Famous Monsters of Filmland and Castle of Frankensteins for later, but now, why don’t we flip through this issue of The Monster Times. Wait a minute. Oh my! The bloody thing’s too big to fit under the bedsheet! I can barely manage to turn the pages they’re so big. What were they thinking?
The 1970s was a transitional time for many monsterkids. What Vampira’s macabre humor and Forrest J. Ackerman’s Famous Monsters of Filmland’s punning terrors had wrought, led to an army of creepy cool ghouls and horror hosts happily chewing the scenery while screening movies of the fantastic (and bombastic) to rabbit-eared television sets everywhere. Meanwhile, on the neighborhood candy store’s magazine racks a war was being waged for the attention and spending money of monsterkids, who were quickly mutating into multi-genre devouring zombies, fanatics eager to consume every comic book and horror magazine, excited to attend the growing number of comic, science fiction, and fantasy conventions, and eager to seek out merchandise they could sink their teeth into. Fanzines, cheaply printed, nonprofessional publications, written and produced by fans, grew in number and influence as more and more, both young and old, found their collective voice, coming together with like-minded companions and strangers, to rub elbows with the actors, authors, and comic artists of their genre favorites. The phenomenon of fan culture had begun.
It was a new scene, part old, part new, and filled with exploration and opportunities to share information and comradery among a growing fanbase that had no geographic boundaries It was a magical time for monsterkids, who didn’t realize then how much their love for the fantastique would help grow their relatively small and casual social gatherings into today’s commercially driven fan events for promoting movies, television shows, and the written and illustrated word.
The shift from the monster photos and gags-filled magazine format to a more genre-diverse and timely one was inevitable, and hit a high mark with The Monster Times. I discovered and rediscovered TMT when it originally launched in 1972 and again in 1981, when I began working at the Magic Towne House in New York City. I manned the small magic shop during the weekdays and did kids magic shows on the weekends. I recall my first brush with computing, using an Osborne 1 computer while working there, with its tiny monochrome screen. One day I was asked to ship hundreds of copies of The Monster Times, various issues, to some address I don’t remember. I don't recall why, either, but there were hundreds of copies. I paused now and then to read the issues I was stuffing into the shipping boxes and became a fan all over again. I still wonder what happened to all those copies I shipped?
Although folded so it could fit into the magazine rack like any other magazine, The Monster Times was the “World’s First Newspaper of Horror, Sci-Fi, and Fantasy!” Originally slated to publish biweekly, it strived to be a timelier periodical for the genre fan. Its newspaper tabloid size, printed on cheap pulpy paper, provided a unique format for articles and illustrations that covered movies, fiction and non-fiction books, and comic books. Originally designed by Larry Brill and Les Waldstein, the team who designed Famous Monsters of Filmland and other Warren magazines (they also had done the design for the weekly tabloid, Screw, according to Wikipedia, so TMT seemed a natural for them), and with a colorful centerfold poster in each issue, TMT was the cat’s meow and wolf man’s howl.
The biweekly publishing schedule lasted for the first 14 issues, then switched to monthly until 1975. By 1976, and issue 48, TMT had run its course. Three Monster Times specials were also published, Star Trek Lives! 1 and 2, and a World’s Greatest Monsters giant poster issue for monster kids who had lots of wall space and plenty of scotch tape (and understanding parents).
Perhaps the best and most innovative features of TMT were its Comic Con Schedule and Monster Times Teletype. Both kept fans informed with the latest news on upcoming movies and upcoming conventions. At a biweekly publishing schedule, and no Internet, these simple features came in mighty handy. TMT’s strength, however, was in its coverage of the comic book scene. No wonder, since Phil Seuling was an associate editor, and with artists like Gray Morrow, Jeff Jones, and Bernie Wrightson contributing their talents.
I knew Phil, often seeing him and his wife Carole at his comic book shop just off of 86th Street in Bensonhurst Brooklyn. I visited his apartment in Sea Gate, near Coney Island, where he developed his direct market distribution system for comics, and attended his annual comic art conventions in New York City. I was at the 1973 New York Comic Art convention when I watched him get handcuffed and arrested for selling an underground comic to a minor. He hadn’t of course. The kid and the cops involved had set Phil up, but the charge was eventually dropped. When he started seeing a younger girl, a student in one of his English classes I recall, his marriage to Carole didn't stick, either.
I miss hanging out at his comic book shop and hopping on my bike to get to it after school. I bought a complete set of Charles Dickens leather bound works there. I bought my first Edgar Rice Burroughs paperbacks, Savage Pellucidar, At the Earth’s Core, and John Carter of Mars there. I met Roy Thomas, Jack Kirby, and other great artists and writers there, even getting some autographs for my Warren magazines. And it was there I first found out that Jack Kirby was leaving Marvel for DC, and realized for the first time that nothing really last’s the way you want it to. You can see Phil’s English teacher influence in the "creative writing" styled articles that would pop up in TMT.
Here are highlights from the first 8 issues to give you a taste of the magazine’s flavor.
Issue 1 of The Monster Times, January 26th, 1972, hit the stands promising to deliver Star Trek, Frankenstein, Flash Gordon, werewolves, vampires, the horror comics of the 1950s, fan-happenings, and “wrenching reportage of general goings-on in the ever expanding cantankerous cosmos of the 20th Century’s Popular Arts Renaissance.” Such bombastic verbiage would become a TMT staple, but this first issue, sporting a Gray Morrow drawn King Kong cover, plays it classic with The Men Who Saved King Kong, which explores the much tougher than Skull Island journey Merian C. Cooper undertook to get his big ape onto the big screen. In Nosferatu…what ever happened to the vampyr? Dave Izzo laments the dearth of quality vampire movies in 1972. One wonders what he would have said about the Twilight franchise had it been around back then.
I grok Spock. So did TMT with issue 2, February 16th, 1972. Devoted to the growing Star Trek fanbase, this special issue shrewdly capitalized on the first Star Trek Convention, held at New York’s Statler-Hilton Hotel, by appearing on newsstands as well as at the convention.
Among the articles devoted to all things Trek, Len Wein writes about his challenges writing the Gold-Key Star Trek comics with the artist, Alberto Giolitti, who lived in Italy, and never saw the show, and didn’t know what some of the crew members looked like. Using the book, The Making of Star Trek, and making ample trips to the U.S. Post Office, Wein did his best to get the artist up to speed. Giolitti still drew the crew with “knapsacks on their backs and canteen belts around their waists” but Wein made progress. Wein also explains the need to ditch Spock’s nerve pinch for karate blows because pinching nerves just isn’t visual enough when drawn in a comic book.
William Shatner gets an interview while the rest of the crew doesn’t, and the AMT Star Trek Model Kits are taken for a ride by the TMT editors. A really bad photo-gag feature called Star Drek sullies an otherwise enjoyable read, but thankfully it’s only two pages long.
With issue 3, March 1, 1972, big bugs in movies and buggy superheroes in comic books (like the Green Hornet and Blue Beetle) get the magnifying glass treatment. King Kong also returns for Part 2 of The Men Who Saved Kong. The classic science fiction movie Them! gets a lengthy “filmbook” article. It's not a review but a detailed storyline of the movie, as told by a fictional newspaper reporter, including the dialog and events from the movie. It’s all very clever, very literary, and very boring if you've seen the movie. But of course this was written in 1972, when you couldn’t just watch a classic movie anytime you wanted to. So there. Yes, we are spoiled today, aren’t we?
This filmbook gimmick will be used again in future issues, with an odd variation that has Godzilla complaining about all the bad press he gets. Of political interest, the editorial for this issue takes on Nixon’s Administration for claiming there’s a link between TV violence and behavior, and that girls are more violent than boys. (But only when they let their hair down I presume.) And this was before Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad! So we’re spoiled and anti-social to boot.
H.G. Wells Empire of the Ants novel also receives a literary treatment, but luckily not the movie with Joan Collins. I dare you to see that movie only if you want your brain to turn to jelly as Joan Collins screams, again and again, in terror from the awful special effects.
On a comic book note, of particular interest is Dean Latimer's lambasting of A Marvelous Evening with Stan Lee, which took place at Carnegie Hall at $4.50 a ticket. He sums up the event: "The audience left in stunned silence, after often yawning louder than the fabulously fraught festivities."
Complementing The Monster Times Teletype and Convention Calendar is The Monster Market, making its debut in this issue with Care and Feeding of Your Pet Venus Fly Trap. Part review, part excuse to mention classic “vegetable films” like The Day of the Triffids and Little Shop of Horrors, the good tips for keeping your VFT happy and healthy are worth the read.
With issue 4, March 15th, 1972, The Monster Market provides a "reliable market-test to rely upon before sending money..." for the 7-foot tall Frankenstein Monster poster from Honor House. I'm sure TMT advertisers loved this feature, especially when the review wasn’t positive (which was usually the case, come to think of it). So what if the poster wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on? I still bought it in spite of its shoddiness. Of course, now it’s worth a lot more than the original $1.25 price I paid, being a nostalgic collectible and all that, so anyone who avoided buying it because of that review is pretty sorry now, I’m sure.
The Bride of Frankenstein is given the filmbook treatment and the bloody pulps get their due comeuppance with a review of the book, The Pulps: Fifty Years of American Popular Culture. It is the articles like these that make you wish TMT had been in color throughout. Wonderful covers from pulps such as Terror Tales, Horror Stories, and others are shown.
In Comix That Give a Damn! the Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams socially relevant storyline in Green Lantern Co-Starring Green Arrow No. 1 is praised. I remember the excitement I felt reading that issue, and the Spider-Man drug story issue that forced the Comics Code to drop its Seal of Approval. Funny how the times since then haven’t changed at all in that regard. The 10 Crumbiest of ’71 made its debut in this issue. Number 1 crumb is Moon Zero Two (hey, I’m just the messenger, okay?). Guess What Happened to Count Dracula tops off the list. More snarkiness would be tossed around in future issues, sometimes funny, sometimes unnecessary.
A rundown on Roger Corman’s Edgar Allan Poe movies is given, and the Tales From the Crypt movie is noted as getting its “World Screamiere” on March 7th in New York City. Its source material, the EC Horror Comics are mentioned, and they will be covered in more depth in a later issue. And last but not least, the usual centerfold poster is replaced in this issue by A Gnawing Obsession comic by Jeff Jones.
The Creature from the Black Lagoon makes a splash in issue 5, dated March 29, 1972. This is the first issue that debuts an odd but noteworthy article style that would devour the later issues: a first person narrative by the issue's featured creature. In this one, The Memoirs of Gilbert "Gill" Gillman come right from his gills. It's a bit fishy, but still informative. More MPOVs (monster point of views) would be written, but this first one is the freshest.
For the comics, Joe Kubert is interviewed regarding DC's Tarzan of the Apes, and Esquire magazine goes for the throat with their monster comix. For Humphrey Bogart fans (like me!) there's coverage of the only horror film he starred in, The Return of Doctor X.
TMT issue 6, April 12, 1972, is to die for with the first and last all-zombie issue. There’s excellent coverage on White Zombie and zombies in the 1950s horror comics. Of special interest is the Night of the Living Dead commentary, “a classic film…but nobody seems to realize it yet.” Well, we do now.
In issue 7, April 26th, 1972, Gary Gerani's Hot Prints Anyone? explains "how you too can own and show your favorite monster movie in your own home!" Imagine that. Viewing a complete feature film in the privacy of your own home, with or without buttered popcorn, any time you like. Wild. At the end of the article, Gerani peers into the future: "We of The Monster Times see a day when the studios change the law, allowing distribution of their product to private homes..."
Quite a blast from the past for monsterkids, right? How many of you remember scouting around at conventions and other, more sinister, places for full-length prints of your favorite horror films? If it wasn't for VHS, we'd all be in jail by now. Oh, wait, some of us did go to jail over VHS. Never mind.
Anyway, other notable articles in this issue include the Would you buy a used car from this Gorilla?, which wonders why the monster-sized Volkswagen 411 car television spot featuring King Kong came and went in the blink of an eye, and The Monster Market's entertaining Godzilla Model Kit review. The reviewer wasn't too happy with the glow in the dark parts and the Mickey Mouse glove-looking claws. The weak stickiness of the model glue used for assembly caused much grumbling too. Made less effective, no doubt, due to all those snifflers getting cheap highs back then. Now, of course, you can just go to Colorado.
A Special All-Hammer Horror Issue for TMT 8, May 10, 1972, brings us closer to the monsters and heaving bosoms to be found at Hammer Studios. The editorial states “this issue, an overdue salute to our far-away fiends across the Big Pond…Hammer Films of Great Britain.” Featured is Horror of Dracula, with the now standard filmbook style. Mark Frank pens Hammer’s Horror History, and Steve Wynn provides the Ye Olde Compleat Hammer Checklist of movies with his critical comments and ratings. Sir Christopher Lee gives an exclusive interview to Ron V. Borst, talking about the European remake of Stoker’s Dracula and its tie up in litigation. In the interview, Lee reveals his desire to do Dracula as Stoker intended, even if it were to cost “several million dollars and the film would run for two and a half hours.” He also mentions his favorite horror films and short stories, among them being Man Who Laughs, Nosferatu, The Fly, and the works of E.F. Benson and Montague Rhodes James. This issue’s centerfold poster is an illustration of Lee as Dracula in his coffin that’s well worth framing.
The Beauties of the Beast highlights the ladies of Hammer, but at only two pages, it’s a slim read in need of more depth. For The Monster Market, Dracula, The Original Classic Story, portrayed by Christopher Lee, from Stamford Records, is reviewed to the conclusion that it “is pretty darn good.” Special mention of the soundtrack’s music is made “which is very good vampire music…screeching, shrieking stuff…eerie violins and hurricanes of cacophonous cat-yelping orchestrations.” This issue also marks the arrival of Allan Asherman as the new editor.
End Note: Issue 14 of The Monster Times hit the newsstands a week later than scheduled, a portent of changes to come. (Well, that and the ill-conceived Godzilla as the “Rona Barrett of the Monster World” gossip article in that issue.) Starting with issue 15, TMT would hit newsstands monthly, then eventually go bi-monthly, then eventually go whenever, until its final 48th issue. The Planet of the Apes, classic and contemporary movies and books, comic books, superheroes, Hammer Horrors, and Star Trek would figure prominently throughout its run.
For older monsterkids, reading TMT now is a nostalgic remembrance of good times spent growing up during an exhilarating time of discovery. For younger monsterkids, it’s a window into a time before the easy access to popular culture we have today, and before the suited, more investment-savvy, fans drove up the price for memories.
Brill and Waldstein tried their luck again with The Dinosaur Times (its first issue coincided with Jurassic Park. But after a few issues it went extinct). In 2009, the Fangoria website posted plans to start TMT up again with new issues, while making the older ones available online for a fee. Of course, you can read entire issues online, for free, so that scotched one aspect of their money-making idea. The other was the website, as well as the magazine, went through a major reorganization shortly thereafter. The web page heralding TMT’s return had quietly been removed.
But then again, for many monster kids, TMT never really left, so it didn’t matter.