Friday, May 02, 2008

A Life in Four Colors (Part Sixteen)

Now that I had a comic book buddy at Elm Street, I felt more at home. As it turned out, though, there was more than one comic book fan at Elm Street, although it took me a while to learn about the others. And as it turned out, we would have more than comics in common...

Phil and I were great friends, alternately spending the night at one another's house, trading comics, and swapping stories (along with doing all the other things that boys do, like riding bikes all over the neighborhood, playing in the nearby construction area near the water tower that was only a few hundred yards from Phil's house, and wandering through the woods near my house, where we had discovered a wonderful creek with a steep bank perfectly suited for playing army or superheroes or any other games that helped us to while away the afternoon). For some reason unclear to me now, it seemed that I could have only one good friend at a time. Since Phil was my best friend in the fourth grade, my acquaintance with John Ball and Gary Steele remained more casual. It would be two more years before John and I would become comic book buddies, and almost four more years before Gary Steele would become one of the closest friends I would ever know.

Phil and I enjoyed talking comics with both Gary and John, but we didn't spend any time with them after school. I never traded comics with either of them during my Elm Street years, either; it seemed that each of us had become collectors at about the same time, and that meant that none of us had any comics we particularly wanted to trade. The collecting bug had hit all of us at the same time, I guess.

During those conversations, it was Gary Steele who first made me aware of another collecting bug that would perfectly complement my interest in comics. Our conversations had turned to monster movies, which I had discovered thanks to Bestoink Dooley's Big Movie Shocker every Friday night at 11:30 pm on WAGA, Channel 5, out of Atlanta. I loved the old Universal films featuring Bela Lugosi as Dracula; Boris Karloff as Frankenstein and the Mummy; and Lon Chaney Jr. as Larry Talbot, the Wolfman (I even loved the later films, with Lugosi or Chaney or Glenn Strange filling in as Frankenstein's monster).

"I got a Frankenstein model kit," Gary told us. I didn't know what he was talking about, but I wanted to know all about it. I had never owned a model kit, and wasn't sure what it was--but it involved monsters, so it had to be something good.

And Gary Steele turned me on to Aurora monster models--and from there, into Famous Monsters of Filmland and Topps' monster trading cards. It was a good thing that my allowance had increased somewhat, because I now had new passions to consume my disposable income.

Aurora's model kits were iconic representations of some of Universal's greatest monsters, cast in appropriate colors of plastic--Dracula in black, Frankenstein in muted gray-green, the Creature from the Black Lagoon in an instense sea-green, and so on. Each depicted the monster in a dramatic pose; once assembled, they could be painted to convey the full intensity of the horrifying creature. The kits were relatively simple, the manufacturing was adequate enough that all the parts more or less fit together, and they were small enough to make them perfect for decorating a young boy's room. And of course, I had to have them all.

Even better, there was a magazine devoted to the monster movies--and to those like me who loved them. Jim Warren was the publisher, and Forrest J. Ackerman was the editor; Forry, as he was known, approached the horror classics with an irreverent, pun-heavy wit that was instantly addictive. He loved all the films--the obscure and the famous, the classics and the low-budget duds--and he devoted space to both films and television shows like The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone.

Topps' monster cards had the same sort of irreverent wit, adding clever captions to stills taken from some of horror's best known films, along with a shot or two from some lesser efforts. The cards seemed to perfectly complement the magazine--and both of them were perfectly suited for comics readers like me who still enjoyed monster and SF stories in the pages of various comics from ACG, DC, Charlton, and even Marvel.

Phil was as taken with monster models as I was, and before too long we were all engaged in friendly competitions as we purchased the same kits and each of us painted it to the best of our nine and ten year old abilities. But it wasn't a competition as such; it was sheer joy, bringing black and white horror classics into full color three dimensionality, and I could spend hours painting and repainting my model kits, trying to perfect each one (and hoping to match the level of sophistication and customization I saw in some of the photos in Famous Monsters, where Forry would occasionally showcase a reader's monster model efforts).

Model kits, monster magazines, trading cards, comic books... it's a wonder I ever had enough money to support my growing number of collecting habits!

1 comment:

Lanny said...

I came to the "monster scene" (pun intended) a bit later than you, but I can completely relate.

I had the ALL of the re-issue Aurora kits with glow in the dark parts. I painted them with gloss enamel from the local drugstore. I didn't know of or have access to anything else. I did have flat black, white, and a color I used for flesh, so that helped a LITTLE. Ah yes... memories of shiny green enamel grass...

Famous Monsters was my favorite magazine. I still remember the King Kong poster I ordered from Captain Company from the back of one of those magazines.

I just got a book about Basil Gogos who painted so many of those wonderful FM covers.

Great memories.