Friday, February 5, 2010

Monsters! Aliens! Bizarre Creatures!

If that four-word slug has any particular meaning to you, then you, gentle Jarhead, are old. Or at least old enough to remember the humble, haphazard beginnings of Fangoria magazine - launched in 1979 with The King of the Monsters himself in all of his train-munching majesty on its cover. But not even Godzilla could rouse the curious to pick up that periodical from the newsstand and carry it to the checkout with intent of purchase. (A frank confession - I was one of those who remained skeptical about the latest product from the friendly folks at Starlog, and did not pick up that charter issue. And one of the reasons I did not was that, everywhere I went, the issues I found were well-worn, bruised, printed with the marks of thousands of thumbs. I was, and still am, kinda anal about my magazines. And it looked as if a lot of fans were curious but unconvinced. It was 1979, the economy was a bitch, and I was struggling just maintaining my steady diet of Marvels and Warrens.)

The magazine struggled as well through its first year,
and not even covers featuring Mr. Spock or the droids of Star Wars could entice enough readers to sign on to make Fangoria turn a profit. It was the grim visage of Jack Nicholson from The Shining, casting a baleful gaze from the cover of issue #7, that turned the terror tide in the summer of 1980. By the time issue #9 hit the stores, I was starting my freshman year in college. I had recently given up Forry Ackerman's Famous Monsters of Filmland - essential for my pre-teen years, and never recalled with anything other than great fondness, but I was a Man now, baby, and time to put away childish things. And there were many things that you could say about the dada-esque image of Rory Calhoun sporting a swine's head and brandishing a chainsaw, but "childish" would be damn near the bottom of the list of adjectives that came to mind. Issue #10's cover was pure Money Shot - the tragic consequences of an invasive mind probe from a Class A Scanner - and I was hooked, snapping up subsequent issues with glee.

In my mind, Fango established itself as the natural successor to FM, and when issue #25 allowed a forum for Ackerman to publish the censored editorial that was to have marked the end of his involvement with the magazine he launched over twenty years earlier, it not only turned a spotlight upon the ignominious treatment Forry was dealt at the hands of a new regime at Warren, it also served as a symbolic passing of the torch - as well as a source of pride for us Fango fans who secretly feared that the new mag might be presenting itself as the cooler, hipper model of FM. Instead, it proudly celebrated its debt to Ackerman and its determination to be the new voice for Horror in Entertainment. Over at FM, the usurpers' days were a numbered few.

Over the next three decades, I was a somewhat unfaithful reader, but probably wound up buying about 75% of Fango's run to date. ("Gee, do I really need an issue that highlights another crappy sequel to Child's Play?") I was working in radio when Fango hit #100, and had the pleasure of conducting a lengthy interview with editor Tony Timpone at a time when the outlook for cinematic Horror looked pretty bleak - and, by extension, Fango's chances of survival. But just as Horror waxed and waned, so too did the magazine, remaining a constant, comforting fixture on the racks. If there was Horror, there was Fangoria...and vice-versa. (And another frank confession - The magazine always kinda scared me a little. As their editors sought to publish only the grisliest, bloodiest pics they could find from the new releases, I was that rare reader who would have preferred a bit of restraint on their part. Seeing the graphic stills before seeing them onscreen diluted their impact for me, and allowing me the opportunity to view them at length in vitro made them less effective when seen in vivo. Am I weird that way? It's a rhetorical question, gentle Jarhead.)

The Interweb is rife this week with stories about Fangoria's apparent, or imminent, demise. I'm not going to recount the elements here, nor am I privy to any insider information. I can report that a trip to four area bookstores this afternoon revealed that, not only was Fango missing from their shelves, but, ominously, so too were the most
recent issues of competitors Rue Morgue and HorrorHound, leading me to believe that newsstand sales have been so poor that stores and distributors in the Milwaukee area have reached an unpleasant decision on the profitability - or lack thereof - of stocking the Horror trades. Many are tsk-tsking these developments, saying that they are simply the natural outgrowth of the difficulties all magazines are facing in this Interweb era. Count me among the fans hoping for Fango's survival. (I'd love to see a re-working similar to what Newsweek has done, with more analysis and features tied less directly to individual releases, but I'm sure THAT would last all of one issue. However, the covers have got to be re-worked, and fast. I know enough about magazine publishing to see that these lookalike "big head" wraps violate a primary rule - Make sure your new issue looks noticeably different from its predecessor, so regular readers can clearly see it's time to pick up the latest.) If Horror loses one of its biggest and most-recognizable champions for over thirty years - at times it's only champion - the genre will be the poorer for its absence.

And not all the bloggers in the blogosphere can or will make up for that loss.


Jeff Allard said...

Great write-up, Senski! It's been reported tonight that writer Chris Alexander will be Fango's new editor by May - what changes he'll make is anyone's guess but I expect that as he's a longtime reader, fan, and contributor that his vision of what needs to change will be sensible. And I totally agree with you about the covers of late - they need to be improved on, and fast!

kindertrauma said...

The new covers really are dreadful. I went from not buying Fango to not even bothering to look inside it.
I still treasure my old issues but at some point the magazine just seemed to stop caring about it's subject and it showed. I hope they can turn things around!-Unk

Unknown said...

This was a really great read and a nice trip down nostalgia lane (aka, constant heartbreak).

I remember getting in trouble in first grade for bringing some Fangos to school and sharing them with friens at lunch.

I lost a lot of my old issues to to a messy divorce between my family, but I someday hope to replace them. I really loved when they added the pull out posters and I had a great Aliens and The Fly, Nightmare on Elm St, and Day of the Dead posters above my bed.