Category Archives: monster magazines

Monster World memories: Captain Company

How many of us monster kids, living in the heyday of the Monster World in the 1960s, saved up our nickels until we could stop thumbing through the pages of Famous Monsters of Filmland and actually order something from those Captain Company ads?

It appears there isn’t a definitive history of Captain Company online, which is too bad. I’d love to know more about the mail-order company, which was purportedly based on the East Coast and was the mail-order sales division of Warren Publishing, which unleashed Famous Monsters, Creepy and other mags on the world.

Looking around the Interwebs, though, I see a few people with some of the same memories of Captain Company.

Especially the Captain Company ads: Like their comic book counterparts for X-Ray Specs and the like, the Captain Company ads were a riot of amateurish drawings, over-eager copy and outright misrepresentations.

I ordered back issues of FM through Captain Company as well as a few other items, the details of which I’ve long forgotten. It’s possible I bought some of those little 8 millimeter films — digest versions of classic Universal horror movies — through Captain Company.

I believe Captain Company has been revived, in some form, as a merchandising arm of the new Famous Monsters. It’s not the same, of course, but neither are we.

Here are some ads, many of them collected by http://www.diversionsofthegroovykind.blogsppot.com

 

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The documentary about our monstrous childhood

I’ve mentioned before in this space what I call “the monster world” and what others call the “monster kid” phenomenon. It was that golden period from the 1950s until the 1970s when a lot of us kids were obsessed with all manner of spooky, geeky stuff: Old Universal Studios monster movies, monster dragsters, monster comics, Aurora monster models … you name it.

Part of the impetus for the monster world was the release to television, in the 1950s, of the classic Universal Studios monster films from the 1930s and 1940s. After years of re-releases to theaters, the movies finally found a place on TV.

Late night Fridays and Saturdays and on Saturday afternoons, local TV stations that had purchased the Universal movie package — often referred to as the “Shock Theater” package — aired classics like “Frankenstein,” “Dracula” and all their sequels and spinoffs.

Often local stations created horror movie spoof characters — like Sammy Terry on WTTV Channel 4 in Indianapolis — to host the broadcasts.

At the same time, magazines like Famous Monsters of Filmland, The Monster Times, Castle of Frankenstein and many more began publishing.

All of a sudden, the denizens of the monster world found each other.

Today I heard about “That $#!& Will Rot Your Brain,” a documentary from Bob Tinnell that looks at the monster kid phenomenon. Through interviews with everybody from Bob Burns to Tom Savini (if you have to ask …) the documentary looks at what it was like growing up in this golden era.

Tinnell and his partners are seeking donations to help raise $10,000 toward the cost of the film. This website has details.

Donate if you want. No sales pitch from me. I mention it only because, as a former denizen of the monster world, it’s pretty cool to see devoted fans putting their fantasies in action this many years after the fact.

Have the nerds inherited the earth?

It wasn’t that long ago that fans of comic books, monster movies, science fiction and other nerdy stuff had to be fairly closeted about their pop culture choices.

I still remember the look on a guy’s face who, when I was a teenager, looked at the paperback book in my hand and read the title: “The Martian Chronicles.” This was Ray Bradbury. The author was — and is — considered a literary lion, for pete’s sake. But the guy glanced from the book cover to me and looked as if I had been perusing the latest issue of “Nuns and Nazis.”

God only knows what would have happened if I had been reading the latest issue of Famous Monsters magazine.

So I still feel a little lightheaded over the rise of geek culture. Not just the number of big-screen, big-budget movies based on comic books. I’m kind of getting accustomed to that.

No, I’m thinking about the TV shows — at least one of them based on a Podcast — that are not only devoted to a celebration of geek culture but even feature honest-to-goodness, real life geeks.

These shows portray the real-world versions of geeks like those in “Big Bang Theory” — without the Hollywood veneer. More about “Big Bang” in a bit.

Here’s a run-down of the geek and nerd equivalents of Johnny Carson:

“The Nerdist:” Back in the day, Chris Hardwick was that snarky guy with the big voice on “Singled Out,” the MTV game show. A couple of years ago, Hardwick began “The Nerdist” podcast, an online audio look at geek and nerd culture featuring not only fans but celebrity guests.

Hardwick and “The Nerdist” — which also features genuinely funny geeks Jonah Ray and Matt Mira as regular panelists — got somewhat wider (or different) exposure when BBC America tapped the three to appear on a “Nerdist” TV series.

Only a handful of episodes have appeared so far, but they feature Hardwick, Ray and Mira chatting with geek culture demigods like Wil Wheaton and Nathan Fillion. The shows — available On Demand and no doubt online — are breezy and silly and don’t have any more substance than your typical talk show. They are, however, about the kind of geeky stuff that your parents used to hate.

“Talking Dead:” Hardwick packed up his geek shtick — but unfortunately not his sidekicks — and hosted this AMC talk show that followed episodes of the channel’s hit “The Walking Dead.”

Although the focus is narrow — it’s all about “The Walking Dead” — the show is entertaining and offers some insight into the series. The episode following the season finale of “The Walking Dead” featured the show’s creators announcing the actress who will play Michonne but also included one of the show’s funniest bits: An “In Memoriam” video montage of zombies killed off during that evening’s episode.

“Comic Book Men:” Somehow AMC has become the channel for nerd talk shows. Airing on Sunday nights along with “The Walking Dead” and “Talking Dead” is “Comic Book Men,” a series set in director Kevin Smith’s New Jersey comic book store.

Smith makes appearances but the series is focused on Walt Flanagan, manager of the store, and three employees/layabouts, Ming Chen, Mike Zapcic and Bryan Johnson.

All four guys are opinionated and entertaining. Chen, the low man on the totem pole, is like the Gilligan of the series.

It is Johnson, sporting a wild mane and wooly beard, who is the show’s highlight, however. Johnson’s online bio indicates that he has acted and directed in projects associated with Smith.

In “Comic Book Men,” Johnson is portrayed as an archetype familiar to anyone who has spent time at a comic book store or convention: The guy — usually older — who always seems to be hanging out, offering up sarcastic comments and withering put-downs. Johnson makes that stereotype immensely likable, however, through his genuine wit.

If “Comic Book Men” has a fault it is that I don’t think it realistically portrays a comic book store in one respect: Nobody ever buys anything! Most of the interaction between the employees and the public comes when people come in hoping to sell old comics or “Catwoman” Barbies. It’s like a nerd version of “Pawn Stars.”

Not even a roundup to non-fiction geek talk shows would be complete without a mention of “Big Bang Theory.” One of the most popular shows on TV, the CBS sitcom is about four geeks who hang out together, playing online games, going to a comic book store and obsessing about sex.

There’s a pretty divisive view of “Big Bang Theory” online. A lot of geeks consider it patronizing and shallow. It is, of course. But it’s no more patronizing or shallow a look at a group of friends than … well, “Friends” was.

And “Big Bang Theory,” like its real-life counterparts, offer a view of geek culture that not even Ross in the depths of his museum-geek persona could reach.

 

 

James Bama: Artist of a thousand faces

For a compulsive credits-watcher like me, the revelation was dumbfounding: One artist was responsible for some of the most memorable pop culture images of my childhood.

James Bama is a well-known Western artist. For me, he’s always been the man who painted photorealistic but slightly surreal covers for the 1960s paperback reprints of old “Doc Savage” pulp novels.

Since I obsessively checked movie and TV credits and artist and author credits of books, magazines and comic books, Bama was a familiar name to me.

His drawings of pulp hero Savage no doubt helped sell a new generation of fans on the Depression-era adventure stories.

How could young readers not be interested in a hero and an adventure that looked like this?

But when goofing around on the Internets the other day, I realized that the Bama of “Doc Savage” fame was also the artist who painted the cover of  an early “Star Trek” novelization. It’s one that’s still on my bookshelf.

When I realized Bama had created that art, I began looking around and discovered that Bama had also painted the monster art used on 1960s Aurora model kits I loved as a kid.

How is it possible one man created so many pop culture — geek culture — touchstones?

Bama, a commercial illustrator for decades, gave up that life at his peak and left the fast lane behind to become a Western artist. He’s still going strong, painting and selling his art through a variety of galleries and websites.

He’s not drawing the colorful characters of my childhood anymore. But that’s okay. His classic work is already the stuff of pop culture legend.

The heyday of the monster world

I grew up with monsters. The good kind. Frankenstein, Dracula, the Wolf Man, all  lurching around in foggy black-and-white graveyards and misty moors. The kind that were celebrated in Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, shown by TV horror movie host Sammy Terry and frozen in time in Aurora model kits.

There’s a lot of Internet space used to describe the “monster kid” phenomenon. It’s the loosely defined generation of us — mostly boys — who grew up right about the same time classic monster movies of the 1930s and 40s were sold for airing on local TV stations in the 1960s.

Pop culture aimed at kids and kiddish hobbies permeates our culture today — entire TV channels are devoted to science fiction, young people and geeks, for pete’s sake — so it’s hard to figure out how monster kid culture became pervasive when I was growing up. Without benefit of cable TV and the Internet but thanks to magazines and late-night movies, we somehow knew everything about these old monsters.

We knew which movies featured Boris Karloff as Frankenstein’s monster (easy) and which featured Glenn Strange. We even hollered and pointed when Strange showed up as the bartender at the Long Branch saloon in “Gunsmoke.” Here was a rare moment of our monster world intersecting with the real world and we wanted the grownups to acknowledge it.

For a big part of my childhood and young adolescence, I immersed myself in monster world. I loved to draw back then and, using movie history books for reference, lovingly recreate the Universal movie monsters I love.

I collected not only Famous Monsters magazine but Castle of Frankenstein, the Monster Times and lesser-known publications. Sometimes my need to create led me to, foolishly, cut up those now-valuable magazines and reassemble the pictures into scrapbooks that looked like magazines.

My friend Jim and I even created our own monster magazine he sold at his school. It was painstakingly — and somewhat hilariously — written and illustrated by the two of us.

I haven’t drawn much in a few years and — after having paid to recreate my collection of Famous Monsters magazine, then subsequently selling it — don’t buy monster magazines anymore. The closest I get to publishing a fanzine about old Universal horror films is when I mention them here.

My Aurora model kits — my Wolf Man, Dracula and Mummy — survived my childhood and gathered dust on a shelf until about 20 years ago, when, in a whirlwind of clearing out stuff before moving, I put them in the trash.

I don’t want to recreate those models — although you can buy a vintage 1963 Aurora Mummy model on eBay for “only” $124.95 — and I don’t want to recreate those times.

But I don’t mind dipping into the monster nostalgia once in a while.

 

 

 

 

iPhoneography: Latest Halloween pics

You know the drill by now. I check out Halloween stores for masks, costumes and spooky decorations. I take pictures with my iPhone. I post them here.

We’re still about three weeks out from Halloween, but I’ve explored most of the Halloween stores in these parts.

Anybody else remember those Don Post Studios ads in Famous Monsters and other old monster magazines? The masks were head and shoulders — no pun intended — above the beloved but cheesy Collegeville and Ben Cooper costumes most kids wore.

Here’s a Don Post vampire mask:

Each year some of the most popular masks are those depicting political figures. There are a couple of really good ones among these, but what’s the deal with Hilary Clinton near the upper right corner? Her face is so red it looks like she’s going to explode.

Personally, I think the Bill Clinton mask is great. And look at the nose on Nixon, down on the bottom row. Nice.

Costumes for kids are fascinating to me, although I think many of them are too gruesome and otherwise “edgy” for most kids. Not to mention for their parents.

Here’s one for the sports enthusiast: The zombie referee.

There are so many inappropriate costumes out there for young girls. This one isn’t scandalous but sends a strange, mixed message with its name alone.

‘Nuff said. That’s all ’til next time.