Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Cloverfield Rap,
More Swamp Thing Cover Roughs
& More on the World's First (?) Monster Zine...

  • First, a moment of silence for the late, great Steve Gerber.
  • I'm sorry to hear of his passing; his comics had a great impact on this reader, and I wish the industry had treated him kinder (but I can say that about almost every comics creator, pre-1985).

    I've yet to make the time to complete my detailed overview of Cloverfield, which I'll eventually be posting here -- but in the meantime,
  • if you've the time and interest, you can listen to me blather about Cloverfield and its many precursors today -- here's the link to the Nine Panel Nerd podcast, compliments of Dave Kraus.

  • This the second episode of Nine Panel Nerd's overview of the film, which is fading from area theaters hereabout this week to make room for the Thursday influx of Valentine's Day fluff. Episode 11 is all me and Dave chatting about Cloverfield; as Dave ballyhoos, "In part 2 of our monster show, we sought out some help to get some perspective on the films that influenced Cloverfield. So we turned to monster expert Steve Bissette. Is the monster of Cloverfield the new Gojira (a.k.a. Godzilla) of the 21 century? Steve has a lot to say about what Cloverfield and it's creature mean and represent."

    Check it out, your perfect audio coffee mate -- and enjoy.

    More Swamp Thing Salad Days Cover Roughs

    Also heralding from south of the border (Massachusetts, that is), Mark Masztal brought this auction to my attention, providing yet another peek at my past Swamp Thing cover process... actually, the auction misidentifies the covers these were roughs for (yep, two covers came out of these two pages of roughs, folks).

    These roughs actually yielded the covers for the Alan Moore/Rick Veitch issues of Swamp Thing #55 (December 1986) and #56 (January 1987), though judging by a glance at the auction art, it looks like #56 emerged from a cover concept I might have initially proposed to editor Karen Berger for #55.

    But before I get to that, the auction --
  • Here's the auction, if you're interested.
  • Good luck, if you choose to bid; there's nothing in it for me, folks.

    Now, about the covers: these are two of my all-time favorites among the many covers I drew for Swamp Thing. I was feeling confident with my sense of concept, composition and moving freely from 'realistic' cover images to more abstract, design-oriented concepts that conveyed that issue's concept to the reader in symbolic terms -- and these cover roughs succinctly offer an ideal snapshot to both approaches. They also are among the few cover roughs that almost perfectly match the final covers (which I'm posting images of below), with minor tweaking of the elements for the sake of more balanced final compositions.

    * The cover for ST #55 was a simple image of grieving, and one for an issue in which Alan was playing the narrative card 'is Swamp Thing really gone?' -- for the second time in his run on the series (the first was "The Nukeface Papers," Saga of the Swamp Thing #35-36, April and May, 1985, with Swamp Thing's rebirth in #37, alongside John Constantine's first full appearance, noting John Totleben and I first sneaking Sting -- soon to become John Constantine -- into the background in the final pages of #25, "Sleep of Reason"). As for #55, "Earth to Earth" was the story this issue, setting the stage for Alan and Rick's science-fiction Swamp Thing run of issues, tailor-suited to Rick's preference for sf over horror as his genre of choice. I really like the drawing for this cover -- one of the few, in my personal estimation, that works as a drawing, period -- and that's my first wife Marlene (then Nancy) O'Connor who posed for Abby, with her (Marlene's) then-long hair flowing in the breeze. She chopped it all off a few year later. Still, a good cover, I think, on all levels.

    * As noted, I think the final accepted design for #56 came out of the cover roughs submitted for #55, which would have made this the easiest of all Swamp Thing cover pitches. Again, we were all playing the shell game of 'is Swamp Thing really dead?,' a game readers always recognize as a cheat -- I mean, the series would have ended, were it true, and even then, such demises are only "real" until the publisher sees a possibility of squeezing more revenue out of a defunct concept, character or title in need of revival (if only for trademark purposes).

    This issue, "My Blue Heaven," was a gem, the first full-blown Moore/Veitch sf issue, a run I still think merits assessment for its unique attributes. It was also a sort-of Crisis on Infinite Earths cross-over issue, sort of, and the letters pages included Alan's own response to letters about our notorious #40, "The Curse," the female lycanthropy issue that emerged from a story suggestion by yours truly linking lycanthropy with a woman's menstrual cycles (a concept I had floated to Heavy Metal's art director John Workman years earlier -- in 1979-80 -- as part of a pitch of a fictional article on an imaginary sf writer, Curtis Slarch, that my old Kubert School classmate Rick Grimes had contributed ideas to as well; more on this later this year, here on this blog!). I really like this #56 cover, too, and it presented the most elegant use of color and basic design skills in my entire cover run.

    OK, that's that, folks -- hope these Swamp Thing cover reveries are of interest to somebody out there. I never know, and if you don't say so, I'll never know....

    More on the World's First Monster Magazine -- Or Is It?

    Front cover of Cinema 57 #20, 'Numero Special' for July/August 1957 -- is this the world's first monster magazine? Some say 'no'!

    Hooooooooooooooooooowwwwl! Part 2:

    This past Saturday, February 9 (scroll down two posts), I wrote briefly about my recent purchase of a copy of Cinema 57, purported by many to be the world's first monster magazine. As a diehard collector and conniesseur of the genre and its critical writings, this long-sought after gem was a keystone in my collection, and an essential link in understanding the gradual awakening of critical writing about horror, fantasy and science fiction cinema.

  • Online dealer Patrick Giraud (of Versailles, France, at eBay as 'Pgmovies') is offering a copy of this mega-rare genre classic on eBay, and it's still available as of this morning -- here's the link.

  • My post has kicked up this discussion on the Classic Horror Film Board (thanks to Tim Lucas for bringing this to my attention), which is well worth a read, including folks like Bill Warren weighing in.

  • Back cover of Cinema 57 #20; its all-genre contents, from cover to cover, makes this a unique item in the evolution of genre studies in any format.

    Why the interested parties don't post comments here, I'll never know. But let me use this blog to post my end of the discussion, since I started it -- and I'll ask that nobody cut and paste my comments here to the Classic Horror Film Board; please link to this blog, to bring me some new pairs of eyes, please, just as I've hopefully brought some new eyes to the board with the link provided above.

    OK, first off, this is definitely a magazine -- note Tim Lucas's assertion on the discussion board that, due to its page length, this might be considered a book rather than a magazine. Nope, no such thing -- it's indeed 144 pages, plus covers, but it's digest-size, identical in format (though on much slicker paper) to most of the American sf pulp zines of that time.

    The zine itself measures 7 1/8" x 5 1/4", and at 144 pages it's most definitely a magazine, not a book. I'm not sure what conceptual yardstick Tim was using when he posted that comment to the Classic Horror Film Board (and I'm not being 'snippy' here; Tim is a dear friend, I'm just clarifying the specs to reply to his point) -- I mean, the sf pulps in my collection dating from the 1920s to the 1980s are on the average 98-140 pages in length, and I have on hand here a stack of Look magazines from the 1950s-60s, and those are all 124 pages in length every single week! 144 pages for a digest-size zine was a standard format in 1957, nothing unusual in that.

    Secondly, it just so happens I do have the so-called "first book" (which I believe it is) on horror films in my collection, too -- Le Fantastique au Cinema by Michel Laclos (Jean-Jacques Pauvert, editor; Societe des editions, 1958) -- which I purchased from Forrest J. Ackerman himself, at one of three conventions I attended with Tim and Donna Lucas (Tim, do you remember which show that was? It wasn't the Chillercon we were all at, it was one of the other two). Ackerman had a table (with another dealer -- Dennis Billows? I can't recall) and was selling off, according to Forry, 'doubles' and 'extras' from his collection, and having read about the Laclos book, it was one of two goodies I purchased from Forry that day. He personally told me about Cinema 57 during that conversation, a zine he had referred to elsewhere in print before that conversation; that, in any case, is what put Cinema 57 on my mental 'want list.'

    I don't think I'm stating anything revelatory here, nor do I think I've mispresented anything. However, the zine is not widely known, and is still quite a rarity. A cursory glance at The Collectors Guide to Monster Magazines (by Bob Michelucci; 1977) turns up no mention, nor does a furtive pouring through the pages of its second edition The Collector's Guide to Mnster, Science Fiction and Fantasy Film Magazines (1988, Imagine Inc.) turn up a listing; Mark Sielski was seeking copies of Cinema 57 in his ad in the same book (pg. 148), but that's all I see in that tome.

    It is listed in Michael W. Pierce's Monsters Among Us: Monster Magazine & Fanzine Collector's Guide 1995 (self-published, 1995; I purchased my copy from Michael personally, which he inscribed) -- on page 136 -- where Cinema 57 was priced at $300 in good condition, $400-600 in very good/fine, and $800-$1,200 in mint, making Patrick's eBay pricing incredibly fair and arguably a bargain 13 years after the price guide's publication. That listing simply notes, "This was the inspiration for Famous Monsters of Filmland."

    But here's the real meat and potatoes. In the second edition of Michael's book -- Monster Magazine & Fanzine Collector's Guide #2, co-authored by John Ballentine (P&B Publishing, 2000) -- Cinema 57 has the same listing, and had only slightly increased in value (good condition copies list at $350; very fine/near mint at $1,000-1,500). Ronald V. Borst offers a more definitive statement in his introduction, "Which Monster Magazine Was Truly the World's First?" (pp. vi-vii), which remains the most comprehensive discussion of the subject to date. Borst notes, "[Famous Monsters of Filmland] Editor Forrest J. Ackerman has always maintained that the only publication that he ever saw prior to his own which was totally devoted to fantastic film coverage was Cinema 57, a French digest-sized magazine which was actually that magazine's whole issue Number 20 for July-August, 1957. Normally, this publication covered all film genres eventually doing a special number on western films as well." Borst also notes the UK one-shot Screen Chills and Macabre Stories, which based on the evidence of its contents hit British newsstands sometime in 1957 -- perhaps simultaneous to Cinema 57, though nobody knows and no definitive record has ever turned up to confirm 'which was first.' As noted on the Classic Horror Film Board, Famous Monsters of Filmland remains the first ongoing periodical monster magazine, which is true -- as Borst notes, "FM was the first professionally published magazine totally devoted to horror/sf films if only because Screen Chills also contained non-film articles (i.e., fiction by Robert Bloch) and Cinema 57 was a specialty number, hardly a 'monster magazine'..." Borst goes on to nominate the 25-50 copies printed fanzine Science Fiction Movie Review (five issues, 1938) as the first "all-movie horror/fantasy/science fiction periodical... [not] featuring fiction alongside the film articles," as the first. 'Nuff said.

    Now, I've got lots of movie fan magazines, science-fiction pulps, popular science magazines and various oddball newsstand and subscription magazines from the 1920s and up that feature articles, photo-stories and even covers and cover-stories on horror, sf and fantasy films. That's another topic all together, I think, and only obfuscates the point. Points of interest, for sure, and cool items and collectibles in and of themselves, but those don't count as 'monster magazines' or genre magazines by any stretch of the definition. I also have the Curtis Harrington articles Tim mentions in my collection, along with almost all the British film magazine issues (Sight and Sound, Films & Filming foremost among them) featuring genre essays, articles and interviews (always superior to anything in US publications of the '50s and '60s, until Castle of Frankenstein's heyday) -- all crucial and of interest, but nonetheless, Cinema 57 represents the first single-issue, single-volume offering of serious genre analysis, period.

    Nevertheless, content, not status, interests me above all. Without a doubt, the content of Cinema 57 #20 and Le Fantastique au Cinema offer the first adult critical assessment of the genre; the first in magazine format -- a one-shot special, yes -- the second in hardcover book form. Both are handsomely illustrated, and are a major cut above anything available until the maturation of Castle of Frankenstein on newsstands and the arrival of Carlos Clarens' marvelous An Illustrated History of the Horror Film (G.P. Putnam & Sons, 1967), which changed my life forever and marks the first English-language genre book worth reading.

    More tomorrow, including a table of contents listing for Cinema 57 -- have a great Tuesday!

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