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House of Hammer Volume Two

HoH 13 coverHoH 13HoH 13 back coverAnd on to Volume 2, or issue 13 as we all fondly remember it. This issue’s Plague of the Zombies adaptation was a 1968 Hammer film, shot back-to-back in Cornwall with The Reptile. So no surprise that John Gilling directed both and one of the female leads in both was Jacqueline Pearce (later to become a whole generation of boys’ fantasy as Blake’s 7 baddie Servilan).

Adapted for print by Steve Moore, Plague of the Zombies was pencilled by Trev Goring, a Brummie artist who was later to find fame in Los Angeles as a storyboard artist on dozens of fantasy films ranging from 2000’s Independence Day through to The Watchmen (2009). Pitching in as inker was one of Trev’s old friends, a meticulous artist who would also find fame in the States, Brian Bolland. The ever-reliable Brian Lewis provided art for both the cover and the back-up strip, Steve Parkhouse’s gruesome Curse of Cormac.

HoH 13 Plague of the Zombies p07HoH 13 Plague of the Zombies p10Van H issue 13 Lewis Cormac pg1

HoH gold stamped volume binder

Ah, the irresistible volume binder... gold blocked, of course!

As a bit of self-reassurance, I’d ran a poll a while earlier, asking the age-old question of readers favourite features, with a lure of free subscriptions for those getting closest to the final results. I’d felt that illustrated adaptations were the way to go as lead feature, but it never hurts to find out what regular readers think.

This issue’s Hammer Happenings ran the results, based on HoH #9’s content, with artist-to-be Steve Whittaker among the subscription prizewinners. Sure enough the adaptation came top, but it was also a pleasant surprise to find the Van Helsing’s Terror Tale came second.

Obviously our readers had no problem with comic strips in their magazines, a bit of knowledge I was to use on several projects in the future.

Another item of note in #13, amidst the reviews, previews, news and cover tie-in zombies on screen feature (Tise Vahimagi’s Dead that Walk) was a 5-page Alan Frank preview of Star Wars. Three months before the film would open in the UK, we were stretching our brief somewhat, including a science fiction feature in a horror film magazine!

Chris Wicking circa 1978

Chris Wicking circa 1978.

We also did a serious number of conventions and festivals back then. Representing Hammer Films, their script editor Chris Wicking and I flew out to Spain for the Sitges Fantastic Film Festival in 1978.

Hunt Emerson's Lucca cartoonThings were pretty casual in London in the 1970s, so we foolishly assumed it would be the same out there. While we had a great time, we were horrified to discover that for each of the new films being launched, evening dress was formal, suits and ties, not T-shirts and jeans.

So a fortnight later, when I flew to Italy for the Lucca convention, I threw a ton of ties, shirts and suits into my bag. They crammed their guests in hotel-wise, with comic artists Bryan Talbot, Hunt Emerson, Chris Welch and I all sharing a dorm-like room. But I’d got it wrong again and I don’t think they’ve yet got over my voluminous OTT wardrobe.

But the great Jack Kirby’s wife Roz admitted being very impressed by my purple velvet suit and matching bow tie.

Thankfully, I don’t believe there’s any photographic evidence of such in existence. Of course, the trouble with artists is they don’t need cameras, as Hunt Emerson’s visual (right) – immortalising the scene – aptly shows.

A young Jack Kirby self-portrait

A 40-something self-portrait of US king of comics Jack Kirby

Mentioning the US king of comics, Jack Kirby, one of the advantages of attending a European convention is that there is only a small group of first language English speakers there. So naturally, they congregate a lot of the time. And even if they don’t know somebody’s work, you’re a guest too so you become their equal. I’d followed Kirby’s creations at Marvel (Hulk, Fantastic Four, Thor, X-Men…) since I was a nipper while obviously he didn’t have a clue who I was. But following the opening dinner dance evening of the purple attire, Roz Kirby (with Jack in tow) would often seek me out over the four day event. This was fantastic! There I was, chin-wagging with a childhood hero (but not letting on, of course!).

On our third meeting, Jolly Jack asked me what I drew. “Very little,” I replied humbly. “I’m actually an editor.” He, of course, asked what I edited and I instantly pulled out of my bag the latest House of Hammer, issue 13. He was very flattering about the contents, both the photos and the art although he did admit to being more of a fan of the old Universal monster movies.

Then he took a look at the cover (all industry folk flick from the back) and sagely commented that maybe it would look “even better” if it had a bit more wham-bam to it, more cover blurbs and zap, while gesticulating with fingers outstretched, meaning those jagged edge boxes so beloved by comics folk. Hmph, thought I, he’s definitely spent too long working with Stan Lee. This isn’t a comicbook, it’s a magazine… far classier. Of course, him being over 30 years my senior, I didn’t say anything other than a considered nod.

HoH 13 coverPutting together this website, I thought it might be fun to visualise what he’d suggested, just to see how awful it would look. So employing the wonders of modern technology, while still trying to keep a 1970s feel to it, I did exactly as he suggested and reworked the cover “Marvel-style”, expecting the worst. But as it came together I slowly saw that… he was right! Damn, it DOES look better!

There it is again, on the right, as it appeared in October 1977. Must admit, I didn’t think it was one of Brian’s best even then, too much flowing yellow dress, and not helped this once by my deliberately restricted and reflective colour scheme for the surrounding text, bright yellow and lime green. And below, how it might have been had I met Jack three months earlier. The HoH purists among you reading this might not agree with “better” (I deliberately overcrowd it somewhat) but there’s no denying it would have been a strong eye catcher for potential new readers…

HoH 13 Kirby-style

You can’t believe the difficulty I’m having resisting the urge to “Marvelize” more of those old HoH covers. But I fight it and move on (but still find myself looking back in amazement at the difference, despite it being so over the top!).

Antwerp’s Festival of Fantastic Films/The Dominion Theatre’s Private Club

Fantoom 2 and 4

John Brosnan

John Brosnan, man in black and with a fine head of hair.

Gilbert Verschooten is a Flemish horror fan. He published six issues of a Belgian horror magazine named Fantoom between 1975 and 1980. He shares with me a love of Brian de Palma’s underfunded but brilliantly scored Phantom of the Paradise (Jessica Harper – ahh!).

He also invited John Brosnan and me to Antwerp to be on the panel of judges for its Festival of Fantastic Films in September 1977. It timed perfectly, we were off deadline, so we went out there for five days.

Printed copies of HoH #14 were due from Finland, so I asked the office to send some to Antwerp. And I was so proud of the end product when it reached our hotel. Brian Lewis’s cover was definitely a seller! Raquel Welch didn’t look quite right, but hey – dinosaurs and a cleavage? How hard sell do you want? I even pleased sales with a red and yellow colour scheme!

Phantom of the Opera ad 1930

Here's a tie-in... 1930's Phantom of the Opera, starring Lon Chaney, was launched at the very same Dominion Theatre... in 1930

Dominion Theatre London

The entrance to our regular evening haunt was tucked away under the foyer of this magnificent building, London's Dominion Theatre.

As festival judges, John and I spent our Antwerp afternoons and evenings watching tons of new horror films, from the wonderful to the downright weird. But we still had a great time. In London we’d spend many an evening over the pool tables of the Sportswriters Club, in the basement of the Dominion Theatre, Tottenham Court Road. A nice expansive venue, but you needed a National Union of Journalists card to join.

So one morning over a continental breakfast John was delighted to tell me he’d already been for an early walk  and had found a cafe bar with a pool table. We were straight over there and not speaking a word of Walloon, much to the amusement of the patrons made wild gestures to get the old bar lady to pull off the table’s dust sheet so we could have a morning game or two.

As she began to unroll it, we were a bit puzzled to see no pockets at the bottom end. As more was revealed, no middle pockets. Or any top ones. There were no pockets whatsoever! She gave us three balls, billiards-style with two whites and a red then left us to it. Surreal. We eventually discovered you could only score points by hitting the other two balls each shot. Hmm. Not wildly exciting. But it was Tuesday, and this was Belgium!

HoH 14In fact, there wasn’t a lot of wild excitement that week, other than meeting Gilbert’s beautiful wife Janine, who I fell madly in love with. Each morning I’d go down to breakfast and John would already be there, head buried in The Guardian, overseas edition. “Morning, John. Are we missing anything exciting in Blighty?” I asked the first morning. “There’s a giraffe at London Zoo which has fallen over. They can’t get him up,” he replied.

The second morning I was told the big story was that the giraffe was on its feet. Huzzah! And the third day? Obviously a very quiet news week, it had fallen over again! We also discovered Antwerp had its own wonderful zoo, although John found it hilarious when I threw some food to a female gorilla and its mate came over to challenge me.

HoH 14Ah, but HoH #14, what an issue! I’d always been a fan of the two-page spread (a stupid expression really, how can you have a three page spread? That’s a gatefold!). The Eagle and Swift had produced some wonderful two-page extravaganzas across its middle pages that had amazed me as a kid and even though we were only in black and white, I encouraged that issue’s artist, John Bolton, to do the same. Here’s what he delivered…

HoH 14 centrespread

Having added Jean-Marc Lofficier to the writing team, the magazine also featured a report on the 1977 Paris Fantasy Film Festival, with coverage of then-new movies including Dario Argento’s brilliant Suspiria (still a personal favourite, Goblin and Jessica Harper – double ah!) and Calvin Floyd’s Victor Frankenstein.

John Brosnan backed up the One Million Years BC adaptation with a look at Lost World Movies, Alan Frank interviewed John Carradine, a letter from horror author Michel Parry told us our magazine “gets better and better” and George Romero – interviewed by Tony Crawley for the issue – said he was a keen fan of House of Hammer! Definitely a high.

HoH 15 coverHoH 15HoH 15 back coverI absolutely adored the composition and colours for HoH 15’s Brian Lewis cover. But we sort of lost the two film review mentions. Should have changed them to yellow when I saw the proof, but I doubt if we lost many potential readers through such an oversight. Besides, a new set of film separations plus ozilid proof cost an additional £50 so we would have had to sell an extra 286 copies to recover that luxury. That’s why you have budgets!

But why I messily chose to run an adaptation of Hammer’s second Mummy film before the first is a real mystery. We usually had three or four adaptations under way at any given time and couldn’t always find shooting scripts for everything we wanted. But as we did finally get around to adapting The Mummy (in HoH 22), unless anybody reading this has an insight, it will remain a puzzler.

Mummys Shroud Belgian posterThe back cover (above right) was a strangely empty poster probably taken from a re-release double bill where things were often stripped back for clarity. In that pre-eBay era I couldn’t find the original although the superior Belgian poster (right) shows that full colour art had existed.

But ours had that brilliant catchline! If it was ever read out loud in the presence of Chris Wicking and I (something we were often prone to request), it would immediately reduce us both to fits of giggles. There was something about “Beware the beat of the cloth-wrapped feet” which just did it for us every time!

The contents continued our theme trend with mummies abounding! Alan Frank contributed a five page overview In the Shadow of the Sphinx while Messrs Brosnan, Crawley, Fleming and Vahimagi covered everything from Calvin Floyd’s Victor Frankenstein to our first ever in depth interview, six pages with Pittsburgh’s master of the Living Dead, George A. Romero.

HoH 15 features montage

Now that the title was a bona fide success, management even allowed me to add an art assistant to the team, so with Carol Suffling now on board and assistant editor Alan McKenzie handling much of the day-to-day chores, art editor Nigel Money and I had more time to spend on improving the layout of the pages beyond the basic half pictures half words look that our US counterpart Famous Monsters of Filmland had long favoured.

HoH 15 The Mummys Shroud p1HoH 15 The Mummys Shroud p7HoH 15 Wilber's Whisky p3

For the comic strip side, we introduced another new find in Cleveland’s David Jackson, amazingly producing his first-ever full length comic strip for us. No pressure there then! David became a regular member of my little team, adding a Gustav Dore influence to his style when he became the regular artist on Father Shandor for Warrior a few years later. For adapting The Mummy’s Shroud to comics, I was also pleased to be able to feature the work of Donne Avenell, a first rate writer who I had long admired at IPC.

The Van Helsing’s Terror Tale continued the issue’s theme as I sneakily reprinted a five pager from five years earlier (above right). It had originally appeared in a 1972 issue of Eureka, but as only 500 or so people had seen it, I was more than happy to pay for it to reappear here. The strip, Wilbur’s Whisky, is credited to writer/artist Dave G Chester but was actually by Dave Gibbons (whose middle name is Chester). He requested the pseudonym, feeling quite rightly that it didn’t represent the stage his art had reached by the time. True, but still amazingly solid stuff for fanzine work!

Feeling the Force, by George!

HoH 16HoH 16HoH 16 back cover 1977 Star Wars posterThen came a total change of pace. Not only did we run our first (and only) photo cover, but it was science fiction to boot! Dated January 1978, but on sale the month before, this issue coincided with the UK release of Star Wars, and sales soared.

The issue kicked off with a nine page John Brosnan overview of the film backed by a tie-in competition while the back cover featured the art from the original 1977 poster.

HoH 16 features montage

But for anybody who came on board simply for Star Wars, we certainly educated them into all things horror… John Brosnan and I interviewed Michael Carreras. managing director of Hammer Films across this and the following issue while Jim Carreras, Michael’s son, joined us on the picture research front. We also announced the BBC’s forthcoming Dracula with Louis Jordan, John Fleming reviewed the bizarre Homebodies, Tony Crawley looked at David Cronenberg’s Rabid, author David Pirie was added to the team to cover Tobe Hooper’s Death Trap and the four page Media Macabre section was chockful of the usual news and producer pipedream nonsense (in itself worthy of being collected into a book of Things Not to Come!). In addition the reader participation sections, Answer Desk and Post Mortem, each expanded into two-page spreads in an attempt to cope with the amount of letters received.

But for me the highlight of the issue was none of the above. It was Tony Crawley’s interview with Phase IV director Saul Bass, who was discovered to be the genius behind the Psycho stabbing sequence. Having been given Bass’s original storyboard for the sequence, we followed the interview with a painstakingly assembled frame by frame comparison between Bass’s artwork and the finished film. Arguably Alfred “One Take” Hitchcock’s most memorable scene in his long and distinguished career, we were revealing 18 years after the film that its true director had surely been Saul Bass!

HoH 16 Psycho feature

A month later John Fleming went to interview the infamous head of the British Board of Film Censors, John Trevelyan, something of an authority in cinema himself. John gave him the latest issue of HoH, number 16, to show his credentials and when he came across the Psycho feature Trevelyan admitted the extent of Saul Bass’s role was an absolute revelation to him and was so impressed that he immediately agreed to being interviewed.

The comics strip part of the issue didn’t skimp either! Developing characters beyond the Hammer films (always one of my main goals) we presented the second Father Shandor spin-off, co-plotted by me and artist John Bolton and scripted by Steve Moore. Again, I planned it to run across the centre pages so we could have another two-page extravaganza.

HoH 16 Shandor pg 1HoH 16 Shandor pgs 4-5

We also added a new artist to the team on HoH 16’s Van Helsing’s Terror Tale. The son of Carol Day newspaper strip artist David Wright and brother of a good friend of mine and comics historian the late Nicky Wright, Bardon Art’s Patrick Wright took a break from his Commando art chores to meticulously bring to life A Spot of Blood.

HoH 16 Van H pg 1 Patrick WrightHoH 16 Van H pg 2 Patrick WrightHoH 16 Van H pg 3 Patrick Wright

Spot of Blood author Donne Avenell had been considered “too clever” a writer for IPC’s dumbed down comics of the 1970s. So it was somewhat ironic that seven years after his HoH short, in the final issue of their Chiller-like weekly Scream (IPC finally realised that kids liked horror!) they ran a remarkably similar story (below). Legal letters were sent, but let’s draw a veil of secrecy over the identity of their Blood Track “writer” as he’s had his wrists slapped and is still a friend of mine.

Scream 15 coverScream 15 Blood Track page 1Scream 15 Blood Track page 2
Outside of such blatant swiping, Scream had been a groundbreaking IPC/Fleetway weekly horror comic, much in the vein I’d intended years earlier with my Chiller idea. But it proved somewhat short-lived. 15 weekly issues in, talks between management and the print unions broke down and the printers went on strike, abruptly affecting a whole range of IPC’s magazines and comics. Without warning that there may be a hiatus for some titles, a few continued through the strike (the most provitable, no doubt), some skipped a week but a couple were cancelled. Girls weekly Tammy and horror comic Scream being the casualties.

You often read on the internet about Scream being banned because of its horror content but that is nothing more than an urban myth.

HoH 17 coverHoH 17HoH 17 back cover Vampire Circus UK release posterSo with another stunning Brian Lewis cover, depicting a key scene from that issue’s film adaptation, issue 17 came rolling along – another blockbuster. As well as concluding the Michael Carreras interview, Columbia Pictures had turned up a wonderful bunch of old Ray Harryhausen visuals which we ran as a sketchbook, while John Fleming continued his look at the films of Michael Reeves with Castle of the Living Dead and in “Suffer Little Children”, Tony Crawley overviewed the cinematic spawn of Carrie with previews of Cathy’s Curse and The Child.

The comic strip adaptation was Steve Parkhouse and Brian Bolland’s reworking of Vampire Circus (below, left and centre) . Not exactly a problem-free job this time, we had a few eagle-eyed readers write in saying it had differed from the actual film. This was because we’d been handed the original film script, which inevitably had been amended while shooting with various changes made, most notably the ending!

HoH 17 Vampire Circus p1 BollandHoH 17 Vampire Circus p5 BollandHoH 17 Van Helsing p1 Goudenzi

We also suffered changes made when management said they felt the art was too gory. Probably much to the displeasure of artist Brian Bolland, a few last minute white-outs were made in-house to appease the powers-that-were. Can’t imagine how they got to see what we were up to, we usually hid our pages from them in case they interfered! Guess somebody in production must have told on us for being so naughty!

HoH 17 censorship

As can be seen above, frame two looks strangely empty on the back of the victim’s head. A bullet goes in, but doesn’t come out. Neither do the bits of flesh, bone and blood which Brian drew! Equally, in the far right frame, main villain Count Mitterhouse meets his end as his vampiric head is chopped off, but remarkably blood-free. I’ve contacted Brian to see if he still has his originals so we can at last show these deaths as they were originally intended. Watch this space!

The issue’s circus theme continued with Tise Vahimagi fleshing out the film adaptation with his “Fairgrounds of Horror” feature covering everything from Todd Browning’s Freaks (1931) to Black Zoo (1963). We even managed to tie in Van Helsing’s Terror Tales as new Brian Lewis-lite art find Sergio Goudenzi (above, right) drew up Steve Parkhouse’s Carnival of Fear.

HoH 18 Bill Phillips coverHoH 18 editorialHoH 18Two years in, we were all having a ball and the magazine was getting stronger by the issue. Little did we realise it was soon to go pear-shaped! I was so proud of our latest achievement that we gave a full half page over to the editorial, to announce our expansion into North America and the magazine’s title change.

And that wasn’t the only change. One of the tricks of staying on deadline with a magazine is to build up a good inventory. In case anybody assigned to an issue is running late, you always need back up material! So this issue we introduced a new cover artist in Bill Phillips and a major departure in our lead comic strip. Instead of an adaptation of a Hammer film, we ran an original Frankenstein, the Werewolf and Dracula story by America’s top comics duo Neal Adams and Dick Giordano.

HoH 18 Frankenstein splash - Neal AdamsHoH 18 Werewolf splash - Neal AdamsHoH 18 Dracula splash - Neal Adams

I guess I’d been influenced by personal preferences this once. Not only were Neal and Dick wowing America with their revamped realistic interpretation of Batman, but they were good pals of mine. Along with such creators as Bernie Wrightson and Jim Steranko, Adams had changed the face of US comics, dragging them out of their post-Adam West TV camp phase and revolutionising their look. Volumes have been written on their impact and I adored their stuff. But one aspect of Neal Adams that is rarely mentioned is his devilish sense of humour.

Neal Adams 2004

Laughing boy Neal Adams, at a 2004 American comics convention

Neal Adams saucy humour

An example of Neal' saucy humour

The year before, Neal and I had both been among the guests at one particular comics convention in Europe. As I’ve said earlier, European conventions have a lot of pomp attached and this was no exception.

At the event’s grand evening ball with full orchestra (no, really) all the local dignitaries were in attendance.

Of course a ball’s not much fun if you’ve nobody to dance with. So, much to Neal’s chagrin, I spent most of the evening whirling around the floor with his partner (I don’t remember for the life of me if they were married at that stage).

Eventually, as we returned to our table for refreshment, Neal pointed out to me an attractive young lady who he said had been watching me intently for quite a while and that I really should go over and get her to dance instead. Encouraged by his sincere sounding egging on, I went over and asked her.

Mistake! An arm came out, pushing her to one side, and I found myself nose to nose with a very large man with an equally large gold chain around his neck.

HoH 18 Van H 18 page 1 Ramon SolaI realised in horror that I’d just asked the Mayor’s teenage daughter to dance. A social faux-pas of the first order. Neal was almost wetting himself with laughter when I retreated to our table.

But I liked him and I liked his art. Unfortunately our readers didn’t. Letters came pouring in, telling me that American funnybook artists had enough pages of their own to fill and had no place in our British horror film magazine. I really didn’t appreciate until then just how passionate and protective about their artists these generally non-comic fan readers of ours were!

Article-wise both a new contributor and a regular new feature was launched in issue 18 as Ohio’s Bob Sheridan began his episodic History of Hammer – both as an overview of the company’s screen output (this issue its pre-horror films, 1935-1956) and the first part of an exhaustive month-by-month filmography.

We also finally got to interview Peter Cushing, courtesy of Alan Frank while Van Helsing’s Terror Tales featured Donne Avenell’s “Body Snatch” drawn by Ramon Sola (with a Brian Lewis head of Peter Cushing pasted on for consistency!).

Fantasy FilmCon 78 and 79

Artwork by Brian Lewis (left) and John Bolton (right). Almost a House-of-Hammer-con with extras, Maya Merchandising's Mike Conroy organised two very successful London events, which just happened to be heavily promoted in his associate's fantasy film magazines, HoH and Starburst (talk about a monopoly...). Below is a publicity flyer for the event and below that a review, from 1979 fanzine Dead of Night 1.

1978 Fantasy Film Con details

The Western Colonies: Shipping HoH to the Natives

HoH DIY

HoH D-I-Y? Can't see it myself!

As mentioned on the previous page, we’d not had much success with a French edition of House of Hammer, but suddenly we were getting interest from the States. Better yet, it was from a distributor so we’d still have control over all the editorial. In fact, as it would be in English, it could be the very same magazine… with 200,000 extra copies added to the print run of a little English 25,000 copy magazine!

The distributor showing interest in us was the massive New Jersey based Curtis Circulation Company, the country’s leading national magazine distributor. Far out, as we used to say! No stranger to comics magazines, their little CCC symbol had appeared on many titles, including the entire Marvel Comics range when they suddenly expanded their line in 1969.

But while they loved our magazine, Curtis had a problem with the title. They didn’t like the word “Hammer” and thought it sounded like a Do-It-Yourself magazine. Yeah, I know, but say what you will they were looking at taking 200,000 copies… that’s GOT to be worth compromising for!

A name change didn’t seem a big deal considering the benefits. I went for the obvious with House of Horror and the Hammer reference reduced to a corner tag. It would almost look the same and to all intents and purposes be the same, so why not?

HoH new logo

The Warren Connection: Another one for Jim’s dart board

HoH Curtis US wholesale flyer

Here’s another gem dug out of a filing cabinet, the initial Curtis wholesale flyer for House of Horror with the text “with the proper attention, HOUSE OF HORROR could become the Number 1 horror magazine in the U.S. and Canada, as it is now in Europe”

As it also states “A 100% distribution and display adjacent to Vampirella will insure our goal” that’s sure to have been a red rag to a certain US horror magazine publisher.

I’d first met Jim Warren two years earlier, in 1976. For a meeting with Hammer Films, he’d come over to London with his European business partner Josep Toutain (who I’d known at IPC as Jose Toutain, in those pre-liberated days when his Barcelona address was still Avda del Generalisimo before the Catalonian rebranding to Avda del Diagonal).

Vampirella UK 4IPC had a brief flirtation with Vampirella in 1975 when its Business Press division had somewhat kack-handedly produced four full colour British editions, much to the surprise of the comics division who knew nothing about it and were appalled by the entire ineptitude (we were proud of what we knew!). Now Warren and Toutain were back, this time to talk about a feature film for Vampirella.

Cinema 57Warren had started his publishing career attempting to emulate Hugh Hefner and Playboy with a short-run men’s magazine After Hours. But the only fame he achieved from its four issues was a Philadelphia Enquirer headline “Pornographer Arrested” accompanied by a photo of him in handcuffs! However one of his contributors, filling the gaps between the pin-ups with film features was ardent movie memorabilia collector Forrest J Ackerman. Forrie showed him a French horror film magazine, July 1957’s Cinema 57, which inspired the pair to try a similar oneshot of their own the following year entitled Famous Monsters of Filmland.

The oneshot sold so well that it continued to be published and became the backbone title for Warren Publishing, to be followed in the same magazine format by titles inspired by the 1950s EC horror comics anthologies in Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella. While the titles featured initially classic US artists’ work, a trade-off agreement was later created with Toutain’s Selecciones Illustradas that America would supply scripts and Spain would supply art. Warren published the American editions and Toutain the European ones.

Warren montage

Some of Jim Warren's early – and very red! – titles including the first Famous Monsters of Filmland with Warren himself behind the Frankenstein monster mask (and I worried about my first HoH cover!) and the hasty trademark grabbing ashcan for Eerie.

Because of our links to Hammer, following their meeting with Michael Carreras, Warren and Toutain had walked a few doors down from Hammer House to have an early afternoon meeting with our management about us producing UK editions of their titles. But nobody had told me, so I spent my lunchtime in the usual way, talking comics and films with Hammer’s Chris Wicking in the local pub. You can imagine my surprise on staggering back to be told I should join everybody in a meeting to discuss some new titles with Warren Publishing.

Toutain Vampirella and Warren

The ever-elegant Josep Toutain (1932-1997), the ever-sexy Vampirella by Pepe Gonzales and the ever-experimenting James Warren with a touch of the Elsa Lanchester Universal horror hair-do!

Now I must admit that the role models I’d chosen for my career in comics and magazines had been Stan Lee and James Warren. I’d liked the friendly “Uncle Stan” approach the former used to make his readers feel part of the family and I loved the painted cover magazine format Warren had adopted to elevate the medium beyond looking like mere funny books (albeit an approach Bill Gaines and EC had already had great success with for MAD almost a decade earlier).

But Warren had capitalised on the more adult format, creating a range of top-shelf comic magazines, something I could never understand Gaines himself not having done to keep his Tales from the Crypt and the like in circulation, outside of the draconian remit of the Comics Code Authority.

Warren 1970s titles

When Jim met Dez met Peter

When Jim met Dez met Peter. Browns Hotel, London 1976.

Unfortunately, when I first met Warren, I’d had a few drinks and my Yorkshire lack of tact was strongly in evidence.

As I walked in, my managing director John Burroughs and sales director John Gibbins were in the middle of discussing a UK edition of The Spirit with Josep and Jim. “No, that would never work. It’s American nostalgia, not British!” I blurted out. Not the best way to win friends and influence people. Looking back, much as I personally always loved Will Eisner’s work on the character, I do believe I was correct though. You should never let personal taste influence business decisions, even after a few cans!

But Vampirella, Eerie and Creepy? Now that’s a different matter. These were all wonderfully commercial for the UK I felt. The nostalgic old school US artists who had launched them had been excellent. But all three titles were now visually dominated by top Spanish art, something British readers were very familiar with through them also having produced lots of work for UK weeklies and picture libraries. Perfect.

Toutain had been charming throughout the meeting, but then he always was. And I think my enthusiasm for British editions of his “big three” titles must have won Warren over too, despite the dubious start, because at the end of the meeting he invited me out to dinner.

The venue for our second session was Mayfair’s prestigious Browns Hotel, very swanky. And as we discovered withing ten minutes of sitting down, it was also Peter Cushing’s London residence. Jim suddenly broke his sentence and, as Van Helsing himself walked across the room, called him over to join us. I was introduced and my first impression was how tall he was. When you are used to seeing Peter Cushing on the big screen playing opposite the 6′ 5″ Christopher Lee, you fail to realise that Cushing himself was almost six foot tall.

This was July 1976. The agreement with Hammer Films had been made, but the first issue of House of Hammer had yet to be published, although Warren had obviously been told about it, either by Michael Carreras or by my directors before I arrived at the meeting. I say “obviously” because I added to my introduction by mentioning to Cushing that we would probably meet again as I was now working with Hammer Films on a new licensed magazine. Jim quickly interrupted with a “But let’s not talk about that” and the subject was rapidly changed.

Once Cushing had left for his evening appointment, Jim Warren brought up the subject of House of Hammer once more. He was very complimentary, saying he felt I’d make a great editor for his British editions, but as far as the Hammer magazine was concerned, I was simply “number 27″.

“Number 27?” I asked. He then told me there had been 26 people before me who had copied his Famous Monsters of Filmland idea. Refraining from suggesting that his title had in turn only been “copied” from a French magazine, I maintained a discrete silence. But when he added that he stuck photos of the editors of “copycat” magazines on a dart board and regularly threw darts at them, I made a mental note to sometime in the future post him a photo of me along with the inscription, “From Number 27, another one for your dart board”.

Vampi in Vampires Special featureThe UK editions of Warren Publications didn’t go through in the end sadly. I’d have loved showing UK buyers some of their wonderful material and with the then nascent HoH as well, we’d have had a very solid group of titles to build upon. But then, the Hammer Films version of Vampirella never made it into production, despite Jim Warren’s 1975 ad (see below) confidently stating otherwise. I was recently asked to write a column for Future Publishing’s SFX Special: Vampires about my dealings with the darling of Drakulon, so rather than repeat myself, I’m running the piece here (right).

So the film of Vampirella joined a long list of 1970s properties (believed to be around 100) which never got beyond pre-production. This can be interpreted as a telling sign of the times when compared to the 60 or so Hammer horror films actually completed in the previous two decades – in itself almost 40% of Hammer’s total of 157 distributed features since its inaugural 1935 60-minute comedy The Public Life of Henry the Ninth (as Exclusive Films).

In fact I only wish we had been able to start our magazine a decade earlier, when Hammer was at its peak. As it was, the company succeeded in completing only one new horror film after we launched, the lacklustre adaptation of Dennis Wheatley’s To The Devil – A Daughter which we covered in issue two! I remember Michael Carreras, Chris Wicking and I going to view the first edit. Michael had advised me to say nothing in front of the crew when it finished and that we’d discuss it on the way back from the studio, while taking advantage of the chauffeur-driven Rolls’ cocktail bar.

To the Devil a DaughterWhen asked, I admitted I didn’t understand the ending. “Neither did I,” replied executive producer Michael Carreras. “Me neither,” added script editor Christopher Wicking. Odd state of affairs, thought I. when two of the key people hadn’t known what was going on in their own film until it was too late. You’d never get that in magazine production!

“Well we can’t reshoot,” said Michael, as the actors had already dispersed for frontiers new. “We need to do something though. It can’t go out like this,” said Chris. Not knowing my place, as always, I chipped in with “You can always throw a Biblical-style voiceover at the end to tie it up. ‘And so it comes to pass that he who would transgress…’ sort of thing,” I ventured. I never saw To The Devil – A Daughter as a finished release, but I think that’s what they did.

However, here are a few visuals of the ones that didn’t even get that far. The spiked or stalled projects which usually consisted of nothing more than a title (a trick that worked well for RKO’s 1940s horror films!) plus the inevitable lead actor or two and quite often a piece of poster art by the amazing Tom Chantrell. An actual script? Maybe, if there had been enough interest forthcoming…

Hammer non-Films 1 of 2

Hammer non-Films 2 of 2

Not too sure how many of them our fairly all-age magazine could have adapted. There’s a distinct lack of gothic horror but a frighteningly high boob count among them! Zeppelin vs Pterodactyls would have been a blast though.

HoH 1 US editorialHoH US launch issueHoH 1 USBut getting back to 1978, we put together our first House of Horror US edition with an editorial telling North American readers what clever clogs we already were in the rest of the English-speaking world and a double-take warning that next issue would be identical to the UK edition, thus numbered 19!

I also made sure the back issues page was included so completists could catch up. Although I really should have had it revised, the “45p each” must have confused them no end!

To bring new readers up to speed, the actual content of House of Horror’s first US edition acted as an introduction, with the #17 visual and new cover copy alongside a collection of previous hits led by John Bolton’s Curse of the Werewolf and features including John Brosnan’s look behind the making of this first lead role for Oliver Reed, Psycho Stabbing – The Truth, Witchfinder General, Karloff’s Frankenstein in Denis Gifford’s “Golden Age of Horror”, the George Romero interview and the first part of Bob Sheridan’s History of Hammer. A pretty good buy for $1.00.

…Except that I goofed! I’d regularly get phone calls from fanzine editors, knowing I’d be good for filling a page with news of what we were up to. So when Richard (no, not that one) Burton phoned looking to fill some space in his next Comic Media News, I proudly told him how we were about to conquer America with 200,000 copies of the retitled House of Horror. By the most unlikely of coincidences that very same issue also featured an interview with a certain James Warren, so Richard quite naturally sent him a complimentary copy.

Warren Publishing's HoH #1

Quickie cover: Visual + logo + two-word blurb!

Flash Comics - Fawcett and National

A classic 1940 title clash - Fawcett vs DC!

The first I knew of this coincidence was when we received a letter from Warren’s lawyers in March 1978, stating in no uncertain terms that in shipping copies for US distribution we would be infringing the copyright of their client’s “well established” House of Horror magazine on which a “considerable amount” had been spent on its launch. OK, a bit of a contradiction there, it was either well established or expensively launched.

But of course neither was strictly the truth. On seeing that Number 27 was heading into his own sandbox, Warren had smartly assembled an “ashcan” to establish copyright. An accepted US publishing tradition, an ashcan is a small print run edition of usually about 500 copies. Once they are seen to be on sale, that grabs the title for the publisher. Warren had done this a few years earlier, when Myron Fass looked like he was about to launch a comic magazine named Eerie.

But he’d successfully caught us out. And I learned a massive lesson, don’t boast about what you’re GOING to do in case anything goes wrong. Stay quiet until you do it! I was of course aware of the irony in all this… had we not changed the title from House of Hammer we wouldn’t have been caught out in the first place.

As it was we already had 200,000 of the launch issue nearing New York docks in a ship’s container and another 200,000 of the following month’s #19 already printed in Finland and ready to be shipped out (it takes around four weeks from print to warehouse by oh-so-cheap sea freight). We were snookered. Or were we?

Production editor Ron Letchford and I put our heads together over this. There was no way we were going to pulp almost half a million printed magazines despite Jim Warren having trumped us with a 500 copy ashcan (you’ve just got to respect his business acumen and tenacity).

I think the solution began almost as a joke, possibly while were were out socialising one evening (Ron knew all the best clubs and we were both batchelors!). I was chuntering on about the name change having stuffed us, so why not change it again? It was only that little one inch box with “House of” that was creating the problem. It could say anything! The word HORROR was the selling part of the title.

Wanting to retain the good old HoH name I threw in Hammer’s Highway of Horror (too long), Hamlet of Horror (too Shakespeare or a cigar ad), Hutch of Horror (beware the rampaging rabbits!), Hovel of Horror (shed of scares?), Halls of Horror? Yeah, that would work for me, Hammer’s Halls of Horror.

HoH Highway and Hamlet of HorrorHoH Hutch and Hovel of Horror

So Halls of Horror would be the new HoH name from the next issue produced. One new hassle-free title with only a minimal change needed to make it work. And provided I kept my mouth shut about it, no chance of a pre-emptive ashcan scuppering us this time!

And, in theory, a way to save all those title-infringing copies already printed. Production whizz Ron leaped into action with my comment of “It can’t cost much to overprint a little cover block with new words.” Within a week he found a New Jersey printer who could block out the “House of” wording and overprint “Halls of” on all the offending copies for under a thousand dollars. Brilliant. We would go to the ball, Cinders!

But there was an added twist to this tale. The message was sent to Jim Warren that we could pay a printer to change the title on the printed copies or we could give him that same amount of money to license the name House of Horror from him. Either way the magazine was going to be distributed.

He opted to take the money and license the name to us for two months.

Looking back I feel no animosity whatsoever towards Jim Warren over this. Sure, it created a great deal of confusion with our readers. But it’s tough for anyone to retain a niche market they’ve carved out for themselves and it’s a publisher’s duty to stave off any potential competitors, both for themselves and for those freelancers who rely on the title’s continuing success to provide their income. And for me it was a great learning curve!

In fact I was delighted to discover, while researching visuals for this little tale, that Jim – now aged 80 – is still out there delivering the goods (albeit some pretty weird goods!). Here’s his website.

1978 new projects memo

You'd think House of Hammer, MAD, Tarzan, Korak and Laurel & Hardy would be enough for our little team to handle, but as this March 7 1978 memo shows, there were a lot of other assorted projects being looked at... including a colour HoH Special (shame that one never happened!) plus an Abba film tie-in (whew. that was close) and a Doctor Who title – but it was almost another two years and a different publisher (lucky Marvel) before I could get that one under way!

HoH 19 cover - Ramon SolaHoH 19HoH 18 back cover The ReptileBeen playing again. We didn’t run a film strip tie-in cover for issue 19 but it’s only just occurred to me (duh!) that we could have easily adapted the back cover Hammer poster into an instant front cover image (see below). As it was, new art find Ramon Sola – who had drawn up the Van Helsing’s Terror Tale in the previous issue – had submitted a beautiful painting which didn’t have a home. I’d say it was a reject but I can’t imagine anybody rejecting this!
HoH 19 alternate coverHoH 19 Van H page 2 ParkhouseI thought it was too good to waste, even if it had absolutely nothing to do with Hammer.

So I sent a copy of it up to Steve Parkhouse with a note asking if he could write a Terror Tale around it. Sterling sort that he is, Steve didn’t disappoint and both wrote and drew a great little four pager. Page two is on the right.

The hero reminded me of Captain Kronos, a character not seen since HoH #3. So not only did Steve get four pages out of Ramon Sola’s oil painting, he also got to adapt the Kronos film for issue 20!

Brian Lewis made a long-overdue return with this issue, for his and Steve Moore’s adaptation of The Reptile, starring Jacqueline Pearce as the lizard creature. Relying more on mood than action, this wasn’t the easiest Hammer film to have drawn up, but as you can see from the pages below, whatever the wordy script asked for, Brian was a master of avoiding the dull “talking head” shot.

HoH 19 The Reptile splash - Brian LewisHoH 19 The Reptile p8 Brian Lewis

The features section was fair bursting at the seams again. Back in those pre-hack’n’slash days when horror films were more about fantasy than gory reality there was no end to the new offerings for us to preview and review. In addition to running a thorough Films of Peter Cushing checklist, we also welcomed Alan Bryce to the team for an interesting feature about collecting 8mm home movies (don’t ask, it was a clunky pre-DVD thing!).

HoH 19 features montage


Next section: The End of HoH!


Page modified by Dez Skinn on February 9, 2017