“Monster and horror movies and stories of all types …. once were hard to come by. For a time, vampires and werewolves were taboo in comic books.” Author Robert Cotter here explains the long journey of the monster magazine and the story of its fandom over the decades in this noteworthy book.
While the so called “monster magazine” could be both a mag that would feature the latest news on horror films, or a magazine that would look almost like the standard comic book that would not feature superheros, but monsters, werewolves and strange creatures instead. Another aspect of those publications was the black and white style. So there are basically three groups of works investigated here: black and white magazines, comic books and movie monster magazines.
As similar as the three media sound, there were differences. Monster magazines generally were read by teenagers, students or grown-ups. While comic books were for kids, and monster movie magazines were the (logical) next step after comic books, says Cotter. And they sold extremely well to young readers and teenagers, which may surprise today’s audiences.
One of the largest sections in the book, due to its strong influence once, is devoted to the “…brief-but-fertile Marvel Monster Group, that name that the comics giant gave to its line of magazines when it ventured into the field created by James Warren and plowed by various groups and levels of imitators.”
Nevertheless, not all monster magazines concentrated on ghoulish creatures exclusively; also Conan the Barbarian – as well as various other sword and sorcery stories – or Martial Arts series appeared there. (Which will raise the protest of some fans).
The book covers “the rise and fall of these magazines, the concept of which was born in the ‘50s, nurtured and grew in the ‘60s, came to a peak, and crashed, for a period, in the ‘70s, when Star Wars, the resultant mania for science fiction and demand for slick color magazines and ever-gorier horror films made the black-and-white magazines seem as anachronistic as the black and white horror movies of which most of them extolled the virtues.”
Many different American publishers were into this genre at one time or another, but just a few could survive for various reasons such as too much competition or the comics code that prohibited extreme gore and violence, corruption of policemen or judges, the triumph of crime over the law and so forth. (The sole magazine of former EC Comics, home of Tales from the Crypt, among others, that survived this literal “witch hunt,” was MAD magazine, by the way.)
The origin of the horror fandom lay in the many productions of the late 1930s, when American (mostly Universal) and British film companies, released the classic monster tales such as Frankenstein, Dracula, the Mummy series and many others. That movie genre is actually also very old: “… [T]he second theatrically released film was a monster movie, a version of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hide .”
After WWII horror comics were strongly censored with respect to the Comics Code Authority, or rather, they censored themselves in order to escape possible banning from the newsagents’ shelves. This was in some manner strange, as the horror American GIs had experienced abroad and the newspaper coverage of war photography was far worse than vampires or monster comics.
In the aftermath of the A-bomb, those remaining comic book monsters became even worse and more powerful as radiation – in real life and the comic book world – altered growth and fostered mutation. Much in horror comic and magazine publishing changed, for years new ideas, stories and layout styles were tested. A lot happened, though this was only realized by the die-hard collectors and fans. “The book describes the rise and fall of these magazines, examining the contributions of Marvel Comics and several other well-known companies …. It identifies several sub-genres including monster movies, zombies, vampires, sword-and-sorcery, and pulp-style fiction. The work includes several indexes and technical credits.” Many of Marvel’s superheroes actually were monsters, such as The Thing or The Hulk.
The survey starts with a very good 24 page introduction, then devotes less than 10 pages to the monster movies. Step by step, the different magazines and their contents, editors and specialties are introduced. This may take two pages, or just a ¼ page.
Sorted by publisher, each time the listing depicts the magazine cover, contents, movies reviewed and articles included (at times giving details of each volume published in one series). Cotter then covers the topics “Invasion of the Vampires…,” “Conan the Franchise…,” “Thrilling Savage Adventure Tales…” “Crazy Kung Fu Apes Fight Space Wars…,” and finally “The New Breed: Illustrated Horror…”
This definitely is the work of a passionate collector and expert and the approach is not academic; the general features, advantages, inventions and unique style of each reviewed magazine volume are observed critically, both the long-running titles and the rather short-lived series. Due to the sometimes extremely varying length of some texts devoted to the individual publications, some readers may be disappointed if their favorite mag does not receive more than half a page. And maybe a conclusive final chapter would improve the overall impression of the title.
Robert Michael “Bobb” Cotter is a graphic designer and has published several books on (horror) film and comics. (This review covers the new 2019 edition of his book that was originally published in 2008).
Review by Dr. A. Ebert © 2019
Robert Michael “Bobb” Cotter. The Great Monster Magazines. A Critical Study of the Black and White Publications of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. McFarland, 2019 (2008), 238 p.