Monday, April 10, 2006

Going, Going, Gogos! High Alert to all Basil Gogos and Famous Monsters Fans...

My fave new book of the year thus far is Famous Monster Movie Art of Basil Gogos, most lovingly "compiled and edited" by Kerry Gammill and J. David Spurlock, who have essentially self-published this knockout book via their own Vanguard Productions imprint.

I've been a frequent purchaser of the Vanguard line, which includes exquisite books on Hal Foster, Jim Steranko, Roy G. Krenkel, Curt Swan, Nick Cardy, Carmine Infantino, Joe Simon, Paul Gulacy, Frank Brunner, Michael Kaluta, J. Allen St. John and others, over a half-dozen lavish paperback sketchbook collections (Wally Wood, Al Williamson, Neal Adams, Jeffrey Jones, John Buscema, John Romita) and thus far eight graphic novel/anthologies (some reprints, some originals). Check 'em out at
  • Vanguard's Website...
  • ...but wait, read the rest of this, first! To my mind, their latest book -- the Gogos retrospective -- is their finest to date.

    But first, a bit of background on why Basil is so essential to me.

    Along with the works in childhood reach of Sam Glanzman, Rudolph Zallinger, Charles Knight and Joe Kubert, Basil Gogos was among the first artists whose work impressed me so much that I labored to imitate it.

    At the tender age of six, I beheld my first Famous Monsters of Filmland (#28, with the Basil Gogos portrait of Bela Lugosi as The Sayer of the Law from The Island of Lost Souls) and immediately began drawing madly, struggling futilely to recreate the cover image and photos throughout the zine with my wretched little chisel-point pencil and yellow lined pieces of paper with what seemed to be chunks of wood shavings fixed in the surface.

    [Note of revision: co-author & cartoonist/artist extraordinaire Kerry Gammill just emailed me and wrote: "The cover of Famous Monsters #28 which you mention a couple of times, was not by Gogos. Gogos did every FM cover from #9 (his first) to #24. Then for some reason (which he doesn't remember) he didn't do any more work for Warren until issue #56 when Karloff died. I thought #28 was Gogos too until recent years when I studied it more closely. Of course I checked with Basil too just to be sure. It's not credited but my guess is it was Vic Prezio." Thanks, Kerry -- indeed, checking my actual copy of #28 and the rest of my collection, it's obvious to me now that the first Gogos art I laid eyes on appeared on the covers to the back issues Mitch Casey and I ordered from that copy of #28 -- the mail order coupon for FM #28's back issues ad is missing from my dog-eared old copy still. So, it's my guess it was FM #23 that sported the first Gogos cover I ever saw. I also recall vividly #16, #18 and #20 being in our childhood collections, too, though all of those were acquired after our first issue, FM #28, was in hand.

    For the record, publisher Jim Warren and editor Forry Ackerman thereafter reprinted Gogos art for the covers of FM #47 (the FM #10 portrait of Claude Raines as the Phantom), #50 (Gogos Gorgo from FM #11), #51 and #53, with the first new Gogos -- Boris Karloff as Frankenstein's Monster -- on FM #56, as Kerry notes. There were lots of stellar Gogos covers thereafter, though FM itself declined as I outgrew it, and it became increasingly a reprint-driven zine. My own subscription ended shortly after FM #100, though I occasionally picked up issues from the newsstand afterwards, sometimes
    only for the Gogos covers. Again, thanks, Kerry, for the correction, and pat yourself on the back for such a fantastic book -- great piece of work! End of revision/addendum insert; I've corrected any erroneous references to FM #28 in the rest of this post, following. -- SRB)

    My next door neighbor and then-best friend Mitch Casey and I were soon making our own hand-drawn monster magazines, and every cover was an impoverished attempt to capture in some meager way the mesmerizing power of those Gogos FM covers with our own made-up cyclopean giants, Frankensteinian faces and fanged bloodsuckers. The earliest extant drawing I still have (compliments of Mitch's mom Geneva, who still lives in Florida nearby where my parents live, and whom I still see every couple of years) is a careful pencil rendering of Boris Karloff in the 'baked Frank' makeup from the early scenes of The Bride of Frankenstein, and I see the attempt to emulate Gogos vividly there, though it's a tiny, fragile thing in black, white and gray.

    My own later experiments with color painting fell so brutally short of the Gogos palette that I rarely even tried, though on the bookshelf to the left of where I now sit typing is my most successful ode to my heroes Gogos and Ray Harryhausen: a sculpted clay bust of the 7th Voyage of Sinbad cyclops from my own "7th voyage" (seventh grade at Harwood Union High School) art class. The decision to make this instead of an ashtray (as most of my classmates busily did) was a conscious effort to somehow fuse the power of Gogos's FM covers and Harryhausen's dimensional monster models, shaping it all into clay and baking it in the kiln alongside the afore-mentioned ashtrays and such. My art teacher was confused by my reaction when one of the pointed ears of my cyclops broke off in the kiln: he thought I'd be bumming, but instead I seized the opportunity to paint the area an odd mix of purple and yellow. "Hey, that's good, it looks really bruised" was his observation, but no -- it was a chance to justify some Gogos coloration on my otherwise naturalistic cyclops coloration (emulating that fleshy-orange of 7th Voyage's cyclops). It still looks pretty cool, my only successful pre-college flirtation with making like Basil when I hadn't the skill to even wash a paintbrush properly.

    I also believe it was Gogos's paintings that made my earliest exposure to Mario Bava's films so immediately accessible and urgent -- the color! Bava used color the same way Gogos used color! -- and informed my subsequent years in technical theater, happier working with stage lighting and design than acting onstage. The McCandless Theory of Lighting the stage codified primary components of both Gogos and Bava with remarkable fidelity, and working as a techy in college theater gave me opportunities to further explore and expand my own color education. Thus, my own approach to working with color in my art evolved, though my own color work is forever touchstoned with those formative experiences pondering the Gogos cover art of my youthful monster magazine mania.

    Thus, my boundless enthusiasm for this book, Famous Monster Movie Art of Basil Gogos. Here are all the legendary FM covers and much new work, all of it as dazzling as that of the FM era. In fact, Gogos's re-engagement with the portrait gallery of rogues and monsters only reflects his maturation: since the Monsterscene covers of the '90s, Gogos has brought an even richer eye for color, texture, and (appropo to the best monsters) age to his more recent paintings. The man not only hasn't lost the Midas monster touch, his skill has increased exponentially, and this book is all the more dear for offering such a generous selection of work from the last decade, much of it new to me.

    Unlike many fans, I'm overjoyed to see all the archival examples of Gogos's non-genre illustration gigs, primary among them the men's adventure zines of the '60s, which I inevitably link with the zines my Dad kept hidden (chuckle) in his dresser drawer. Gogos's men's zine art embraces the iconography of that genre with glee, meshing fire-illuminated war machinery, glistening skin, torn fabric, grit teeth, and various stages of agony and undress as passionately as his FM covers illuminated monsterdom, though it's easy to see why his monster paintings have outlived his other commercial jobs. There's nothing as akimbo or excessive as "Weasels Ripped My Flesh!" among Gogos's men's zine art, and though his work therein is as accomplished as any other illustrator in that field, Gogos's men's zine art doesn't knock one's eyes out the way his FM cover portraits did -- and do.

    A new generation has embraced Gogos's work thanks to the 'monster kids' of yore growing up and providing fresh venues for the grand old painter of primordial pustulence: The Misfits, Electric Frankenstein, and most prominently Rob Zombie (who provides the intro to the book) have resurrected Gogos's stature via a new body of work as resonate (but not yet as mythic) as the old, and for that we're all thankful. But Famous Monster Movie Art of Basil Gogos lives up to its title by reserving the lion's share of the page count for Gogos's monster art -- and it's all ravishing, just unbelievably lovely.

    The text, peppered with congratulatory quotes from a wide array of celebrity Gogos fans, is informative throughout, but the real meat is in the art -- almost half-a-century of work from one of the iconic genre painters. This provides the finest imaginable 'home gallery' of Gogos art between two covers, with over 150 color reproductions (from originals and magazine sources, including those beloved FM's, natch) and over fifty more black-and-white pieces (including numerous studies of Gogos's favorite monsters and a tidy selection of Gogos's rarely seen 'men's magazine' illustrations from the '60s).

    I could go on and on, but I won't -- look, just get the book. J. David let me know up front they prefer not to deal with credit cards (they make a bit less on those orders), suggesting I mail my payment to Vanguard Productions at 390 Campus Drive, Somerset NJ 08873 (if you're like me, though, you'll email in advance to to check on availability). The book itself is 160 pages (softcover, hardcover), 176 pages (deluxe hardcover), and priced at $24.95 (sc), $34.95 (hc) or $59.95 (dx hc) plus $6.95 shipping -- and worth every penny of it.

    Don't wait! Order now! After placing my order, I asked Vanguard publisher J. David Spurlock about the current situation of this remarkable tome's availability, and he wrote:

    "...the comic shops, Diamond, Amazon, [and] bookstores
    are pretty much sold out. The last wholesale order we shipped was to Bud Plant. We have all editions (though they are going fast), Creepy Classics got 40 SCs lately and we have been holding a few back for a possible signing in LA. Other than that, we don't expect to sell any more at wholesale til the 2nd printing (in the works in time for San Diego). When Bud sell out, we'll be the only ones to have it..."

    So, unless you're up for waiting for August, I'd urge you to drop whatever you're doing and get your mail order check out today. This is a must-see collection and the definitive book on Gogos and his remarkable body of work. Famous Monster fans, don't hesitate -- you need this treasure.

    But don't take my word for it -- check out Tim Lucas's Video Watchblog review (with a shot of the cover at)
  • Tim Lucas on the Michelangelo of the Macabre!
  • I haven't seen the deluxe signed edition, but Tim has, and he writes, "...a deluxe edition limited to 600 slipcased copies, signed by the artist, adds an additional 16 page portfolio in color. Some may quibble that the portfolio contains a repeated image from the main pages, but it is substantially enlarged, further enhancing one's appreciation of what went into it. According to publisher J. David Spurlock, the deluxe edition was an instant sell-out with retailers and is now available only from Vanguard,while supply lasts. Those able to afford (and find) the limited edition are advised to shoot for the moon."

    Your call, based on whatever you can afford in these tight times. I had to settle for the softcover edition, but couldn't be happier with the book.

    Highest recommendation!