FILE UNDER COMIC KILLERS:
A Death in the Family
By Scott Licina
Well, I had my first blog all set to go, full of so much controversy, cover blowing and justifiable character assassinations it made this past general election look like a 1969 Haight Ashbury love-in (oh God, why did I just think that? Now I can’t get the horrific image of a love-beaded Obama/Pelosi/McCain sandwich outta my head!). But then something happened, an event that touched me so deeply, it forced me to put aside my maniacal manifesto (and thankfully, also removed the offending Summer of Love elephant/donkey show visual from my cranium and let me keep my lunch) and really consider the truly important things in life and how quickly it all parades by.
This past Thursday, my Uncle Forry passed away.
Growing up, my family lived in a pretty brutal area and we didn’t have a lot of money. At a very early age I found my escape from these merciless surroundings, which was the love of reading. It all started with comic books (the AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, to be exact) and those twelve-cent, four-color tales of wonder and adventure paved the way for an avalanche of booklust to follow. I devoured everything I could get my hands on, from the used pulpy dime store novels my much older siblings left behind on their way to college to the limited supply of well-used and page torn children’s books at my elementary school to the plethora of old Sports Illustrated and National Geographic periodicals my dinky but inviting public library so courteously provided. Basically, if it had words in it and could whisk me far away from the barbaric world outside my window I would swallow it whole and happily ask for another. But comic books were my first love, and also became the catalyst for my junkie-like addiction to “the hunt”, which leads me to the core of my tale.
Something you have to understand is that this was before the age of comic shops, so all of my comic book purchases were generally made at grocery, dime and drug stores. There were usually only a few comics to pick from on any given visit to the old spinner rack, or worse yet, you had to deal with the “comic vending machines” which doled out the comics like a candy machine. This invention was akin to a modern day torture device for children, because even though you saw the latest ish of Amazing Spider-Man three titles back, if you didn’t have enough money to buy the first two as well you had to settle for what was at the front of the queue (Damn you, Millie the Model! Oh, the nickels and dimes I wasted on you, trying to reach my beloved Gwen Stacy!). All of this led to us crossing over to collect different titles (completing a run of anything was almost impossible, unless you could find a buddy to trade with who would part with what you wanted), and also to exploring the magazine racks for easier illustrated paper prey.
And it was on one such occasion that I first laid eyes upon what would soon become my bible and forever more turn my passion to the dark side. I still don’t remember exactly which issue it was, but it was late 1969 and I was becoming more and more obsessed with the soap opera DARK SHADOWS. You see, I was raised by my aunt and uncle (gee, now I wonder where my affinity for Spidey came from?), and my aunt was a soap opera nut. She was a housewife who believed that cleanliness was truly next to godliness, and would spend her entire day cleaning while the tube blared out the latest trials and tribulations of the poor unfortunates on DAYS OF OUR LIVES or ONE LIFE TO LIVE, and of course the aforementioned SHADOWS. Well, I went nuts over the greasily coiffed vampire Barnabas Collins the first time I saw him trying to put the bite on poor Maggie Evans, and soon after my uncle and I were building Barnabas model kits and playing the Milton Bradley board game whenever I could coerce him to.
And then one day at the drug store, having given up on the comic selection currently in stock on the spinner, I turned my attention to the magazine rack. Lo and behold, sitting there before my eyes was a mag displayed backward, which featured an ad for Barnabas novels! I quickly scooped up the prize to gaze at the photos of my anti-hero baring his Lee Press-on fangs and clutching his incredible wolf’s-head cane, and then flipped over the book to see what glorious publisher had given me such a present.
If finding Barnabas on the back was thrilling to me, then you can only imagine the earth shattering shock I succumbed to seeing the horrific creatures that stared back at me under the title FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND. My jaw dropped and my eyes popped out like something out of a Looney Tunes cartoon, and I quickly started to flip through the pages. It was like nothing I had ever encountered before- here, in my trembling hands, was the stuff I had only heard whispered of by the big kids. This was the REAL monster deal. My beloved soap opera horror show now seemed very tame, and I quickly came to the realization that it was time to step up into the big leagues.
After begging and pleading with my uncle to buy it for me (hey, this was no 15¢ comic I was asking for, this was half a dollar!!!), he finally agreed under the condition that my aunt would NOT see this thing in the house, and if she did find it, I was on my own as to where I got it. Unc was the coolest guy ever- he always treated me like a big boy, and let me do and see a lot of things that would have probably landed him in divorce court if Auntie had ever found out, so I can’t really blame him for covering his ass.
I got home with my illicit booty hidden under my jacket, and immediately took off for the basement to peruse my newfound bestfiend. After what seemed like a glorious eternity reading about all of the incredible movies I never even knew existed, I was finally called to supper. So I carefully hid my new obsession behind my uncle’s tool bench and went up to munch with the rest of the mere mortals, but promised I’d creep back down as soon as I could to get another fiendish fix of FM.
After this monumental discovery, although Spidey and all his comic pals were still a huge part of my life, the monsters had taken over. I soon learned of a brand new TV program on WGN here in the Chicagoland area entitled CREATURE FEATURES, where they showed all the movies so gore-geously covered in Famous Monsters, and another on WFLD called SCREAMING YELLOW THEATER, which was hosted by a corny, creepy hippie named Svengoolie. And instead of the usual super-hero and car models Unc and I would build on Friday nights I began to only ask for the Aurora Monster Scenes and classic monster model kits for birthdays and Christmas. And in addition to discovering great horror comic mags like CREEPY, EERIE and VAMPIRELLA, I also got turned on to new pubs like THE MONSTER TIMES and the barrage of early ‘70s Marvel titles including TALES OF THE ZOMBIE, TOMB OF DRACULA and VAMPIRE TALES.
But it was really all because of one magazine, and one brilliant man in particular that my lifelong journey into the macabre began. It was he who first showed me the fang-tastic fearful features that were being created in Horrorwood, and through the magic of the printed weird ushered me into a world of fantastical creatures and horrific scenarios that not only entertained and fascinated me, but also became a calling. It was his unknowing long distance encouragement that led me down the path which would one day take me right to the very crypt I now call home, Fangoria Entertainment, a place that I feel so honored and blessed to be a part of, mainly because of the love for the genre that he instilled in me through the wonderful pages of Famous Monsters. A place that would not even exist without all of the groundbreaking work he so lovingly executed, crafted and nurtured over the decades, long before Fango’s inception.
My Uncle Forry.
Forrest J Ackerman (also known to his millions of adoring “nieces and nephews” as Dr. Acula, 4E, 4SJ, The Ackermonster, FJA, Mr. Sci Fi and his personal favorite, Forry) died of heart failure on December 4th at the age of 92. In addition to being the original “pun”-dit of horror via the pages of FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND, Uncle Forry was also credited with launching not only the first fan magazine devoted exclusively to science fiction (the Time Traveler), but also the career of one of sci-fi’s most noted authors, Ray Bradbury. And not only that, he coined the very term “sci-fi” itself!
Forry was a creator, writer, editor, literary agent and actor, having played numerous cameos in genre films like THE HOWLING, DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN and SCHLOCK, and was even featured as a popcorn-munching patron in Michael Jackson’s mega-hit video THRILLER. He was truly a renaissance man, and beyond that, one of the nicest people ever to grace the face of this planet. I had the honor of not only meeting Forry on numerous occasions, but was also given a private tour of his home (the original Ackermansion) back in the early 90s, complete with running dialogue and education on every piece in his amazing collection. He was an incredible man, with a wit and intelligence that would keep you enrapt for hours, and was so kind and gregarious, in fact, that even though he grew tired and needed to take a rest while I was there he insisted that I stay while he rested so that we could continue our visit and he could show me the rest of his vast and seemingly never-ending catalog of terrifying treasures.
I told him on that visit how much his contribution to the worlds of horror and sci-fi meant to me, and how much he had influenced the life I had chosen for myself. I’m so glad that I had that chance, and know how lucky and fortunate I was to have been granted the opportunity to do so.
You will be sorely missed, Uncle Forry, and the world just won’t be the same without you. The bright side is that it wouldn’t be what it is if you hadn’t graced it with your shining presence in the first place, and I surely wouldn’t have been able to enjoy the wonderful life I’ve been blessed with. For that alone you have my eternal gratitude, and my undying devotion.
And to the Newsarama readership, many many many thanks for reading my first blog. Hopefully everybody had enough tissues handy for my weepy trip down memory lane to lament the loss of one of the greats, but now it’s time to cowboy up, ditch the Kleenex and get yer mop and bucket ready, ‘cause the next entry is gonna get real messy as I return to that ego mangling, industry crushing, toe-stepping vibe that I was brought here for. I assure you, boils and ghouls, it’s gonna be one gore-iffic, comic killin’, hell of a good time!
Your bud in four-color blood,
Scott Licina is the Grand Guignol Poobah of Fangoria Graphix, the severed Head of New Media Development for Fangoria Entertainment, maniacal manager of Alder County Entertainment LLC and overall just an incredibly opinionated prick working in the entertainment industry (gee, the world just doesn’t have enough of those bastards around now, do we?!?). His deranged commentaries and volatile expressions of thought are his and his alone, and do not reflect the opinions of Newsarama, Obama, Pelosi, McCain (hey, how those three spend their private time is no business of his) or anyone else either living or dead.