Monday, March 23, 2009

Early Influences: Part Two - Famous Monsters, DC & Marvel Comics

My favorite magazine of all time... Famous Monsters of Filmland
Around the time I was eight or nine years old, my interest in monster movies began to branch out to other forms of creature-loving enjoyment, including horror-oriented literature. No, not Poe or Lovecraft, Shelley or Stoker... those would come much later, in my teenage years. I was beginning to read ravenously at that time, in my quest for pre-teen knowledge and literary stimulation. The elementary school library had these little pocket biographies of every famous person imaginable and I believe I read all eighty-two in one year's time. But the life histories of Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln simply couldn't hold a candle to my favorite source of reading material... Famous Monsters of Filmland Magazine!
If you've read my blogs within the past year, you know that I have a great love and respect for Famous Monsters and its founder/editor, the late Forrest J. Ackerman. This periodical with its wonderful full-color monster covers, its wealth of rare black and white movie photos and corny puns, as well as those wonderful ads in the back selling horror-oriented merchandise, made FM a favorite among boys my age, especially ones with morbid interests like mine. I remember buying Famous Monsters almost religiously between 1968 and 1973, around the same time I generated an interest in those great Aurora monster models. Watching monster movies, putting together the models, and devouring Famous Monsters was pure heaven for me at that young age. I thought nothing could muscle in on Frankenstein and the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Then along came...
DC Comics
Around the time I was ten years old, I started becoming extremely interested in comic books. I believe I started out buying alot of the DC horror comics at first... House of Mystery, House of Secrets, The Witching Hour and, later on, Swamp Thing. Then I began to gravitate toward the super-hero comics. I bought Superman, Action Comics, Batman, the Brave & the Bold, The Flash, and, of course, Justice League of America, the best deal a comic-loving kid could get, since it featured all of DC's best between two covers.

DC's heavyweights... The Justice League of America

I had my personal favorites among the JLA's ranks. I'd been a collosal Batman fan since the Batman TV series staring Adam West and Burt Ward, so putting the Dark Knight at the top of my list was a natural. Then I'd say the Flash was my second favorite. The thought of a super-hero who could travel at incredible speeds captivated me in a way Aquaman or the Green Lantern never could (besides, I loved the way his compressed costume came leaping out of his ring whenever he changed into the Flash... although I could never figure out how he got it folded back down to that size afterward). Next was the Atom. I don't know what it was about the Atom... he didn't seem quite up to the challenge of the other Justice Leaguers -- he strank down to microscopic size (or smaller) and retained man-sized strength, but he seemed to have much more personality than some of the others. I remember a Brave and the Bold story from the 70's that still sticks with me after all these years. Batman is shot by some thugs and is literally "brain dead". The Atom shrinks down, enters Batman's brain, and brings him back to life, like some caped and cowled zombie, by jumping on key pressure points of his cerebellum. Batman battles and defeats the thugs who "killed" him, then is returned to his former mental state after the Atom repairs the damage done to the Caped Crusader...from within. It was a strange and almost grisly story that appealed to my horror-loving side. I wish I knew which issue that was; I'd sure like to wrangle up a copy of that one and read it again. (If there is anyone out there who has the answer, there's a signed copy of Flesh-Welder in it for you).

Marvel Comics

During that time, there were pretty much two camps of superhero fans; those loyal to DC and those loyal to Marvel. I began in the DC camp, thinking Superman and his peers had no match. Then, around the time I was twelve, I began buying The Incredible Hulk (mainly because he was like a cross between Frankenstein and Mr. Hyde), and then began to add the Amazing Spiderman, The Invincible Iron Man, and The Fantastic Four to my list of favorite titles. It wasn't long before I was hooked by Stan Lee's incredible characters, although I still continued to buy the DC comics.

Members of the Marvel Universe... Nuff Said!
Marvel's superheroes were different. They seemed to be based on a more complex emotional level than DC's heroes. They had nine-to-five jobs and personal problems galore... something I found appealing as I came to age, transending from my childhood and into my teenage years. Also the villians seemed much more interesting and more menacing than what DC had to offer. Of the Marvel heroes, The Hulk was my favorite of the bunch, followed by Spiderman, Iron Man, and the Fantastic Four. I always loved those no-holds-barred battles between the Hulk and the Thing and I remember that long run of Spiderman featuring storylines like Harry Osborne's drug abuse, the death of Gwen Stacy, and the introduction of the Punisher. When the new breed of XMen came upon the scene, Wolverine and Nightcrawler joined the ranks of my favorite heroes.
I also found myself buying the Marvel horror comics, too... sticking true to my first love. Comics featuring Ghost Rider, Dracula, Frankenstein, and Werewolf by Night. I also read Man-Thing, although I never liked it nearly as much as DC's Swamp Thing. I guess the stories were a little over my head at the time and, besides, I loved ST's incredibly detailed Berni Wrightson artwork. That was another thing that gravitated me toward an interest in comics, I suppose... my interest in art. I'd always had a talent for drawing and painting, through my elementary school years and on into high school, when I was the cartoonist for the school newspaper. I even aspired to be a comic book artist during my sophomore and junior years, creating dozens of my own comics featuring my own stable of superheroes (heroes like the Adversary, Glassman, Amphibi-Human, and the Rebel, to name a few). I even collaborated with my best friend at that time, Lowell Cunningham. He wrote the scripts and I did the artwork (until I went solo and began to write my own stories). Incidently, Lowell went on to create the famed Men In Black series, while I went on to specialize in tales of Southern-Fried horror. Just two unpopular, nerdy boys from Tennessee. Who would have ever thought it?

Coming up next: My desire to become a comic book artist is derailed when I discover a couple of old-time pulp heroes -- one sporting rippling muscles of bronze and the other a face as pale and emotionless as that of Death itself -- and I am bitten by the notorious "Writing Bug"!

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