Thursday, November 15, 2007
Of Gods and FAMOUS MONSTERS
Recently, Arbogast posted an image of the 100th issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland. The cover elicited an unexpected wave of nostalgia, a recollection of the August day back in 1973 when the 11-year-ol’ me was able to scrap meager resources together (a whole buck-twenty- five!) and finally buy an issue of the mag.
Up until then, I’d seen it on the shelves of the quaint country store near where I was being brought up, but could only thumb through the magazine and inhale the pulpy newsprint as my mother went about her shopping, reluctantly putting it back on the rack as we prepared to exit.
But then the day came with the 100th issue, and I was finally allowed to take one home with me and devour it at my leisure. Heeding the advice that it was a Collector’s Issue, I tried to keep the magazine in optimum collector’s shape, but repeated returns to the pages inevitably took its toll. By the time the magazine (and the ensuing issues) and I parted ways, it was one sorry lot of pages struggling to stay hooked to the staples.
The nostalgia had a bittersweet taste, a recollection of the quaintly-sated desires of youth and of a month (or two or three) of anticipation finally fulfilled. The store would only stock a couple of issues, so if my timing was off, I was out of luck and had to wait through the cycle until the next issue came out. But if my timing was good, my stomach would lurch happily at the sight of the freshly printed magazine nestled between such incongruous companions as Field & Stream and Hot Rod Magazine.
In the days before the growing popularity of Stephen King made horror -- while not entirely respectable -- at least tolerated as something other than a mark of possible deviance, Famous Monsters of Filmland became a textbook.
And the ubiquitous Forrest J. Ackerman became the mentor.
Serving the function of all good childless uncles, Uncle Forry slipped us forbidden goods while the parents’ attention was elsewhere. Long before the advent of the internet existed to assure an off-center Ohio farm boy that there existed others with the same perplexing obsession, Famous Monsters provided a lifeline. In its pages were letters from other young boys (long before Anne Rice created her gateway for the girls to join the gang) swearing fidelity. Those names would over the years move on from the back of the horror magazine and gain a currency of their own; on the dust jackets of novels, at the bottom of film posters and in the credits of the movies themselves.
Never being a letter writer, my name never graced the pages. But the continued ministrations of Uncle Forry nurtured me through the dark times of pre-adolescence and darker obsessions. Of course, all tutelages come with a price and to this day I cannot shake my predilection for bad puns.
But in all familial dynamics inevitably comes the breach, the point where the son recoils from the shared ritual with father as he strikes out to indulge in his own personality. With the advent of STAR WARS, the covers and pages of Famous Monsters began to exhibit an unhealthy (at least to me) obsession with same. It was called Famous Monsters, for Cripe's sake. My dedication with the magazine waned and ultimately was seduced away by the slicker promises of Fangoria. And while Uncle Bob was fun for a brief period, ultimately he proved to be no Uncle Forry.
But once the contact is broken, the rift -- while not irreparable -- is never the same again.
It’s been near twenty-five years since I snatched that hundredth Collectors Issue from the magazine rack, and November 24th marks the 91st anniversary of the birth of Forrest J. Ackerman. 91 years since a boy was born, to become a toddler and to rise up to become the first fanboy.
The boy to be the man who walked amongst gods and monsters.
The Ackermonster’s influence on the horror and science fiction scene is incalculable. In the decades before the genres became actual commodities, he moved among the monsters and their makers and provided a link between the unholy celluloid sciences and the hungry fanboys.
Before Stephen King changed the face (and value) of horror, he interned with the rest of us by studying the black-n-white pages of Famous Monsters of Filmland through his adolescence before turning to his own blank pages, to fill them with shared nightmares and dreamscapes.
Joining him would be such names that graced the letter pages as Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante, Peter Jackson, Rick Baker, George Lucas and… well, pretty much any other name of a certain generation (or two) who continue to make their own contributions to the rich, dark tapestry.
A little early, but Happy Birthday, Uncle Forry. And… thank you. I axed for it, and I got it.