Tuesday, October 07, 2008

31 DAYS OF FRIGHT: Famous Monsters and Their Friends

Halloween is almost here and every cool ghoul's head is dancing with visions of shape-shifting vampires and chainsaw-wielding killers. Cable channels are crammed with monster mashes and slasher flicks, sending fright fans to their favorite web sites looking for insight and advice on what to watch or skip.

Today's terror lovers can thank Philadelphia-area publisher Jim Warren for his role in bringing the world of monsters, ghosts and ghouls into the mainstream and influencing some of the biggest names in the genre in the process.

Impressed by the empire being built by Playboy publisher Hugh Hefner, Warren borrowed $9000.00 to start After Hours, a low-budget knock-off of the more polished men's magazine. After Hours, which featured cheesecake photos of such future stars as Tina Louise (Ginger on television's Gilligan's Island) and pin-up queen Bettie Page, only lasted four issues, though near mint copies of the full run would bring close to $1000.00 today.

The fourth and final issue brought Warren into contact with Los Angeles-based writer and horror fan Forrest J. "Forry" Ackerman who penned a few pieces for the publication's swan song. Sensing a market for a monster magazine that didn't take itself seriously, Warren borrowed another $9000.00 and with Ackerman as editor launched Famous Monsters of Filmland and a publishing empire.

Published in the winter of 1958, the first Famous Monsters found its way into the hands of every monster-obsessed adolescent around the country, including such fans as Steven Spielberg (JAWS), Joe Dante (GREMLINS, MATINEE) and author Stephen King. Prices for this prized issue in any condition typically range from $100.00 into the thousands, while a near mint copy sold in recent years for $5655.00, a new record (at the time) for the title.

Warren published Famous Monsters from 1958 until the early 1980s and copies of the magazine's first 30 issues are the most sought after, with prices ranging anywhere from a few dollars into the hundreds of dollars depending upon condition.

Keep your eyes peeled for the ultra-rare fourth issue featuring a sticker promoting the 'Ghoul's Eye' ride at Willow Grove Amusement Park. Copies of this issue in near mint condition can bring $750.00 alone.

Thanks to over-zealous parents and teachers, many early copies of Famous Monsters found their way into the trash, opening up an opportunity for Warren to reprint articles in annual yearbooks ($50.00 to $250.00) and paperback collections ($40.00 to $125.00), all of which remain popular with collectors to this day.

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Warren and Ackerman should feel sufficiently buttered up. The success of Famous Monsters didn't go unnoticed, and by the early 1960s newsstands were flooded with competing titles such as Castle of Frankenstein ($75.00 for debut issue in near mint condition), Chilling Monster Tales ($45.00), Fantastic Monsters of the Films ($100.00), and Horror Monsters ($100.00), not to mention hundreds of fan publications being churned out in basements and garages around the country.

Warren even attempted to imitate its own success, launching magazines like the short-lived sci-fi themed Spacemen ($10.00 to $50.00 per issue) and Monster World ($1.00 to $10.00 per issue). Other Warren efforts, like the comic oriented Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella are also popular with collectors with on-line auction prices starting at a few dollars for common issues and topping out in the hundreds.

On Halloween night, when the lights are turned down and you're munching popcorn as Dracula stalks another victim, thank Jim Warren and Forry Ackerman for seeing money in monsters.

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