Sunday, February 21, 2010

Jim Harmon 1933-2010

Jim Harmon remembered stuff. Fun stuff. Sure, he got his start as a SF author, with over four dozen tales to his credit appearing within the pages of all the classic digest mags - Galaxy, Amazing, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. But in 1967, he published one of the first volumes of Old Time Radio nostalgia, The Great Radio Heroes, which led to subsequent releases The Great Radio Comedians, Jim Harmon's Nostalgia Catalogue, eventually transitioning into titles on film and television, including a personal favorite. 1986's The Godzilla Book.

But for the purposes of The Jar, let us remember when Marvel editor Stan Lee hired him to be the West Coast editor of Monsters of the Movies, The House of Ideas' cheeky answer to Jim Warren and Forry Ackerman's Famous Monsters of Filmland. Launched at a time when Marvel felt audacious enough to give B&W industry leader Warren a run for its money, a direct competitor to FM, Warren's flagship title, was truly a declaration of war, and of the handful of mags that Stan launched in 1974, MotM was probably the one that really raised Jim Warren's ire - and judging from the editorials and full-page attack ads in Warren's pages, hoo boy, did it ever.

It would be tempting but wrong to say that Harmon was meant to be MotM's "Uncle Forry," as the Marvel title was clearly more adult-oriented and text-based, with lengthy interviews being the magazine's stock in trade. Such features were also a mainstay of the other Marvel comic mags; they were publishing at least two full magazine's worth of cinema-based features every month, spread out over their half-dozen or so titles. MotM was a consolidation of sorts, and tucked between covers by Luis Dominguez and the incomparable Bob Larkin (just look at that front for #8 - who wouldn't want to read that issue?) was a pretty classy periodical, one that treated its subject with enthusiasm and respect.

However, it sometimes felt as if Marvel's Bullpenners were bringing the enthusiasm, and Harmon provided the respect. After all, comic scribes like Tony Isabella, David Kraft and Chris Claremont were fanboys right down to their marrow, but Harmon lent his gravitas, connections, and the simple blessing of geography - he was where the movies had been, and were being, shot. In those pre-Interweb, pre-fax days, creating a bi-coastal movie magazine could not have been easy, even for a company with Marvel's experience. Tensions mounted, mis-communications began to abound, and after eight issues and an all-original Annual (with a Star Trek cover that had to be a big seller), Marvel called it a day. While some have attributed these difficulties to MotM's demise, the cancellation occurred within months of the company canning almost every one of their B&W mags, so a grain of salt might be required here. For Horror movie fans, it was a great loss at the time, and those nine issues are definitely worth seeking out on eBay (and their theme issues might be a template for, say, a Fangoria looking for inspiration for a re-boot).

Harmon continued to produce volumes of material on the media of days gone by, and came to richly deserve the nickname "Mr. Nostalgia." Among trivia-holics, his books are essential reading.

Harmon died on February 16th of a heart attack.

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