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Jump to… »Wot – me worry? Making 8 (US) into 12 (UK) editions with MAD
Jump to… »Magic, Quizzer and TV tie-in annuals
Jump to… »Open It Out If You Dare: Monster Mag
Jump to… »Page two: It’s Hammer Time!
Jump to… »Page three: House of Hammer Volume Two
Jump to… »Page four: The end of HoH
In 1975 Roger Cook, a top IPC humour comics gag-writer, followed in the footsteps of Valiant sub-editor Tony Power to a more adult side of publishing. The previous year, Tony had swapped Captain Hurricane for Paul Raymond to become editor of the relaunched raunchy Men Only. The eye and other parts opening first issue had been so over-the-top it was instantly banned, resulting in huge publicity for the title. The second issue, despite Tony deliberately “Tone-ing” it down (oops, sorry – Buster humour sneaking in!), was an instant sell-out.
Madly envious, Roger dropped Wear ‘Em Out Wilf and Wacky for a senior role in the Warner Bros publishing division, Williams, as editorial director of their own “adult” titles: Parade, Voi, Sensuous, Cinema X and their ilk plus Roger’s own attempt to do a Men Only in Game magazine (presumably as in “on the…” or “are you?”).
A quick aside: There still remains confusion over the name of the company responsible for all these titles, probably because they used so many! To distance its adult line, they were published under the GBD imprint (General Book Distributors).
Hardback children’s annuals carried the BrownWatson imprint while the imported US comics (DC, Marvel, Charlton, Tower, Archie – the lot!) all used the original Thorpe & Porter banner, a name going back to the days of its 1950s UK reprints when US comics were banned. Thorpe & Porter was also the name used as publisher for the Classics Illustrated series, which ran to 167 issues between 1952 and 1962.
Williams was the brand for titles being co-published with various European countries while Top Sellers seemed to get the rest.
Back to the main plot… Horrified he was still responsible for a raft of kid’s comics, Roger got me back on track when he offered me the chance to build up the company’s “Youth Group”, at the time the UK edition of MAD (using the Top Sellers imprint) plus colour titles Tarzan, Korak and Laurel & Hardy (all using the Williams imprint) and the strangely successful Funny Half Hour.
There was little I could do to put my stamp on the three colour fortnightlies as they were all part of a massive Euro-printing multi-language structure that Williams had set up and went through as a straight forward production job. The seaside postcard-style humour of Funny Half Hour was thankfully being editorially packaged by TV Times staffer Eric Linden so all I had to do was approve IPC comics letterer (and my good drinking buddy) Johnny Aldrich’s two covers a month for that one. But the monthly MAD Magazine was far more of a challenge…
Wot – me worry? Making 8 (US) into 12 (UK) editions with MAD
I’d been ecstatic a year earlier when a gag idea for a MAD cover I’d submitted was accepted for publication. That it appeared on a collection special hardly dinted my joy. Now here I was, suddenly in the driving seat. Wow!
A little history first. During the 1950s, when US comics were banned in the UK, several small printers and importers became publishers overnight by producing UK black and white editions of US titles. These included Len Miller & Son (best remembered for Marvelman and Fawcett western reprints), Alan Class (68 page horror reprints, including some pre-Code gory gems!) and Thorpe & Porter, with its own line of 68 page reprints including both Marvel and DC western, crime and science fiction titles. But what made Thorpe and Porter (or TP as their teepee/wigwam symbol humorously named them) stand out from the pack was their full colour line reprinting of Classics Illustrated and the monthly 32-page UK editions of the US 48-page 8 times-a-year MAD Magazine.
From its October 1959 launch, such was the popularity of the title that it ran for a solid 35 years before it was destroyed by the inane mismanagement of its final publisher, Egmont/Fleetway. All attempts to revive it (and there have been quite a few!) since 1994’s issue 381 have met with total rejection, bordering on disdain.
Despite its impressive run, the UK MAD had only three editors throughout its three and a half decades. TV comedy writer David Climie (father of the lead singer of the 1980s pop duo Climie Fisher) came first, although Marvelman’s Mick Anglo had offered a helping hand with the first few issues. Whether by instruction or personal belief, Climie took his Anglicisation of the title to extremes. In addition to US spellings being corrected, any reference to US sport, TV or politics was instantly revised. Baseball would become cricket (much to the frustration of the in-house art correction team!), US football became rugby and leading politicians would have quick face changes.
The in-house commissioning of cover art seemed almost a secondary consideration. With eight US editions a year but 12 UK ones, new art was needed on a regular basis but rarely if ever compared to the top grade work of the States. And, boy, did it show! The cover being the shop window for the title, this was the first thing I felt needed upgrading when I took over as editor from issue 166 (1976).
Proving what a small world British comics was back then, the already commissioned cover for my first issue as editor was by Steve Parkhouse, whose desk had faced mine when we worked together in New Fleetway House on Whizzer & Chips only six years earlier. I’d been in awe of Steve, who was among the first to break into American comics when he and Barry Smith had visited the States in 1969. That Steve had been thrown out of the country six months later for not having a work visa and was still owed money by Marvel merely added to my respect. But I believed the UK MAD needed fully painted art if new covers were to compete with the reprints. And I felt that Steve’s watercolour approach didn’t really fit (much as I’d loved his Doctor Who spoof in issue 161). This was possibly my first realisation that it can be a tricky balancing act when you’re friends with potential contributors! In fact, one well-known artist maintains we’ve only remained friends for so long because he never worked for me.
After an ease-in of two US cover pickups, I got my first stab at originated painted art through Roger Cook’s office sharing Gus Gorilla artist from our old IPC days, Alf Saporito, displaying a very different style for the Alfredstein monster (issue 169). But I still didn’t feel it was quite right. Again the shop window wasn’t showing off its wares. So for my next stab, with issue 170 I got Alf to duplicate the Rollerball poster, with Alfred E Neuman substituting for James Caan. The film’s director Norman Jewison liked it so much he asked for the original. No chance! Alf gave it to me as a present. Sadly, somebody “liberated” it, so should you ever see it for sale, you know who to contact! Of course quality originated art was a stretch of the budget, so my third original cover cost no more than a half hour’s thought and a typesetter’s bill as issue 175 announced “Only HALF wits would pay the cover PRICE for this outrageous ISSUE!” Nothing like insulting your readers!
But playing up the film spoofs was the ingredient I’d been looking for, so at every possible opportunity, I made a point of promoting such. It made far more sense to me to ride the back of the film company’s publicity campaign (or TV channels popular offerings) and get a share of their audience than simply run self-contained gag covers.
About the covers above: Harry North had been a “bodger” at IPC (yes, another case of the old pals act!). He was totally wasted as an art assistant on Valiant before becoming the only UK artist to work for the US MAD. So, naturally enough, I also got him to contribute to his native edition – although the end product (left) felt more like a coloured interior page than a cover to me.
Brian Lewis on the other hand (best known for the House of Hammer covers he was producing in the same period) seemed to fit the bill far better (middle) while ever-reliable Alf Saporito provided a quick last-minute fill-in cover for issue 182 (right).
As I mentioned, most directors loved having their films spoofed in MAD (for instance Richard Donner, who wanted the originals for The Omenous but instead we drew him a birthday card featuring him, The Omen’s Damien and Alfred E. Neuman as a consolation prize!).
But one who displayed a total lack of humour, specifically about our Borey Lyndon spoof, was director Stanley Kubrick. Working in the Columbia-Warner building had its perks. I was two offices away from Warner’s director of publicity Julian Senior and would often drop into his office for after work drinkies (they all had fridges in their offices in those days, Hammer, BBC, Colmbia, Warners… all of them!).
But one of Julian’s tasks was to look after Kubrick and I remember him saying to me one evening that if Kubrick knew the editor of MAD was only two doors away, he’d kill me! Never looked at Dr Strangelove quite the same after that.
If you need to be reminded of what we based our images on, here are two of the original posters. Dustin Hoffman’s Marathon Man was a natural! Outside of substituting “A Filler” for “A Thriller” (like I said, a natural) I had fun with the reason the poster title was repeated three times… nobody could spell marathon correctly! Pity I forgot to add the crossings out on the first three misspellings to make the gag more obvious. Not sure how we got so many colours the wrong way around either.
The visual (right) was a nice little surprise. Penned by David Robinson, a writer and artist who contributed to the 1980s MAD, it appeared in 1984’s 25th Anniversary Special. The sketch was by Mick Austin, who I didn’t get to know until that decade’s Warrior. Shame, he’d have made a great addition to the 1970s MAD team!
I should also mention that with the 1970s being a far more affluent time for comics, I didn’t work in isolation! I had an art editor on MAD, albeit his time was spent more on Parade – Nigel Money. Funny that, because the last in-house art/design person I’d worked with was on Buster, Yvonne Cash. So I guess I went from Cash to Money. Can’t be bad! Nigel, like ex-editor David Climie, also had a music link – his uncle was Zoot Money, of Zoot Money’s Big Roll Band, while one of the interior artists during my MAD days, Clive Collins, is brother to Phil Collins. Who says comics weren’t the old rock and roll?
While he had no music link that I’ve heard of, MAD’s editor-in-waiting was Alan McKenzie, who followed me to Marvel UK before becoming one of the distinguished line of Thargs at 2000 AD.
Magic, Quizzer and TV tie-in annuals
MAGIC! This was an odd fish I inherited when the original editor, a somewhat disturbed individual with a less than healthy interest in the dark arts, went AWOL. Hey – this was London in the 1970s, stranger things happened!
Part magic tricks, part spooky goings-on, it was given to me to attempt to make sense of. MAD Magazine seemed sane by comparison!
But it did feature some lovely artwork which more than made up for attempting to write copy describing how to entwine string into vanishing knots and make coins disappear. Fresh-faced John Bolton had a love for all things horror and probably got much more fun out of drawing the full page visuals than the prestidigitator’s twisting fingers!
About this time John was also one of the BrownWatson annual artists pool, working on Planet of the Apes and various other TV spin-off hardbacks. BrownWatson editorial was on the next floor up from our magazine mix mayhem with ex-IPC sub-editor John Barraclough (as line editor) and the Babani brothers (Brian and Peter) who ran the show.
John and I would often swap artists with each other when deadline pressures loomed. I remember being very impressed by John Bolton’s work and making a mental note that should the occasion arise, I’d be getting back to him with more commissions. Here are three of his interior pages…
A publisher who should remain nameless had the rights from Williams to continue their 1973-launched Quizzer title and by 1975 was looking for people who could editorially package Junior Quizzer.
When Stuart and I visited him to discuss it, he admitted the budget was small (our fee coming from the difference between what we spent on contributions and the total budget we were given) but to encourage us he offered a handsome share of the income from sales, if they went over 40,000 copies.
Remembering that IPC’s childrens fare sold far far more, we thought that was attainable… until he gave us a printer’s quote so we could write down the tricky spelling of the Finnish names. For some reason we continued and produced the launch issues, despite having read from the quote that the entire print run was only 30,000!
Regardless of this limitation, we managed to put together something similar to the IPC comics of the day with a mix of humour and adventure strips, albeit with a puzzle theme, including work by the superb Commando cover artist Ian Kennedy (picture 1, above right) and Rick Random’s Ron Turner (picture 3).
Monster Mag: Open It Out If You Dare!!
Something that was all the rage back then was the idea of poster mags as a new publishing money-earner. Felix Dennis, in the wake of the absurd Old Bailey trial over the Schoolkids issue of Oz, was producing Kung Fu Monthly as a poster mag. New English Library had an interesting (albeit short-lived) Andy Warhol’s Interview format poster mag in Science Fiction Monthly while a similar format was used for the even-shorter lived Sci-Fi Now.
Top Sellers had jumped on the bandwagon, with Cinema X’s Tony Crawley compiling a Planet of the Apes oneshot poster mag which was a strong enough seller that I was asked to come up with more!
My first (using the “Sci-Fi Series” corner box to establish that this was a series) sold well enough. This was The Six Million Dollar Man. But as I couldn’t even fill the seven editorial page side of the poster (which sat alongside the cover as the eighth page) with material on Lee Majors’ character, I hedged my bets by adding Doctor Who to the mix. My second in the series was such a huge mistake that it became my last! One of the problems of linking in with the publicity for new films was that you’d no idea which would bomb out. I looked at the facts and thought Doc Savage would be big. War of the World’s George Pal was directing, Ron (TV’s Tarzan) Ely was the star, and I’d always loved the books and pulps. Wrong. Total flop and the poster mag followed suit. Back to the drawing board.
I’d also tried a Supercops poster mag (focusing on then popular Kojak, Dirty Harry, The French Connection, etc) although my newspaper-style cover was considered way too clever to sell.
As Felix’s poster mag, Kung Fu Monthly, was published in 14 countries and 11 languages at its peak. I really should have set up a rival! Amazing that it never occurred to me, especially as Tony Crawley had produced two Kung Fu poster mag oneshots the previous year (one on the films, one on the TV series).
But instead I came up with Foul! as a football hooligan poster mag (no, really!). That didn’t fly either.
In desperation, I looked back at one of Roger Cook’s earlier efforts, Monster Mag.
With Roger’s wife – Jan Cook – soon replacing him as editor, this poster mag had lasted 14 issues the previous year, a far more respectable total than my meagre 3-isssue 1976 continuation, and had gained a certain notoriety because of issue two ( left). Like Tarzan, Korak and Laurel & Hardy, this had gone out under the Williams imprint, with several of the group’s European publishers taking copies in their own languages.
As an aside, co-publishing with foreign language editions is a great way to bring down the unit costs. Gang-printing for all territories at the same time, with only a black plate (language) change for each territory means a far larger total print run to spread the set-up and editorial costs over. It does mean one restriction though – you can only have words on the black plate, hence all of Monster Mag’s feature titles and text were denied gory full colour, being printed in black only in each edition.Looking at the German and French covers below, they obviously made exceptions denied the British editions!
For doyens of detail, that final cover above, the $2.50 one, is the French-language Canadian outer cover, specially produced to contain imported leftover copies of the French Monster Mag #1-3.
Probably encouraged by her ever-outrageous husband, Jan sought out the most bloody horror film pics around, much to the disgust of Her Majesty’s Customs & Excise. Because it was printed overseas, it had to be approved before getting into the UK. Issue one got through but issue two didn’t. No copies whatsoever made it into Britain, they were all pulped at the docks, making this issue a frustrating gap in the collection of its readers and subsequent back-issue buying gore adorers.
Looking at how massive those posters were, I often wondered how big readers’ bedrooms had to be to display many of them on their walls… because they did! You rarely find a copy turning up these days without blue tack or pin pricks in the corners.
So with horror films still flourishing, I decided to revive it, but to print in the UK and avoid Jan’s ever-present worry. Words between the photos had seemed secondary to her, but they were my main focus. And, to add a more authoritative feel, I sought out a team of horror film experts and relaunched it with the aid of John Brosnan, author of Movie Magic and The Horror People and film buffs Barry Pattison and Taisto (“Tise”) Vahimagi.
To help relaunch the title, I took a leaf out of Stan Lee’s book… When he was jump-starting the Marvel Universe in the early 1960s, he would drop taglines into the bottom margins of random pages promoting new titles. “Watch out – The Hulk is coming!” – that short of thing.
As part of my little fiefdom were five picture libraries, War, Detective, Western, Chiller and Romance, I did exactly the same! OK, some of the titles may have been a little off-target for what I was promoting, but that didn’t stop Stan pushing Spider-Man in Millie the Model either!
One of the advantages of the company having its own distribution side was that we always got most of the unsold copies back, which were then stored in Leicester and usually redistributed at a sale prices through seaside towns the following summer. Having such an accessible backstock gave us the chance to offer new readers of Volume 2 the opportunity to catch up, through a stamp collector style ad showing the covers of the first 14 issues (always used to love those as a kid, a visual checklist of your “have its” and “don’t have its” for you to pore over). This included running the previously unseen issue two’s cover at last – I’d found a printer’s proof of it in the office to work from. But I had the words “sold out” stamped across the descriptive text.
What a tease!
Talking of teases, I put my stamp on the revived Monster Mag with Famous Monsters-style pun-riddled editorials (constant references to “fang fans” and “gore adorers” and so forth) while using the adjacent quarter page to plug works in progress – see visuals left.
One was the first hint of House of Hammer magazine and another heralded our “Double X” Monster Mag special, to be filled with all the goriest Italian and Spanish horror pics I’d been assembling. Across the following 39 years I’ve often been asked if this and issue 2 ever came out. They didn’t. Not until 2014, that is. (See here).
But I didn’t have this market totally to myself. A successor to Jan Cook’s Monster Mag had sprung up through London-based Canadian publisher Jim Shier (Jim Shire being his published name). As I discovered later, Jim had wanted to produce a poster mag about Hammer Films and had linked in with fellow south London-based artist Kevin O’Neill.
Kev, fresh out of the seeming source of all comics folk of the day, IPC, was a massive fantasy film fan. In fact he and I had collectively produced a short-lived fanzine Just Imagine dedicated to films and their special effects (him as editor/writer, me as publisher/distributor) only a year earlier. (Right: our 1975 first issue and Kev’s solo published final issue, 1977’s number 5.)
While Jim Shier had gone from a full 68 page magazine, his World of Horror having lasted 9 issues in 1972, to a poster mag in Legend Horror Classics, I felt frustration over the limit of only seven editorial pages in Monster Mag, so I did the opposite!
With Columbia Pictures PR being situated on the sixth floor of our building, I usually got first word on new releases and one such was the Charlie Scheer/Ray Harryhausen Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger. To help promote the film’s launch and fulfill my own brief to create new titles, I planned a oneshot which would not only be sold in newsagents but also in cinemas immediately before the film opened – the same weeks the trailer would appear on the screen.
Using the same template as House of Hammer (and later Doctor Who Weekly), it featured a mix of photo-packed features and comic strips, with Ian Gibson – later to become famous as artist on 2000 AD’s Halo Jones – telling the film in comic strip format, while our Monster Mag team of experts supplied the articles around it, on the making of the film and prior Schneer & Harryhausen stop-frame animation extravaganzas.
With its more than healthy sales through newsagents and cinemas, it helped get me in the management’s good books! Here are some of the interior pages (and yes, along with writer “Benny Aldrich”, the “Art Editor: Chas Farnsbarns” credit does mean I was saving the company money by doing both jobs myself under pseudonyms!)…
Seeing the end product in glorious colour had us all yearning for the same with House of Hammer. But we’d probably have been billed extra for all the red ink such a title would use up!
From a script by Benny Aldrich (yes, me again), Captain Kronos artist Ian Gibson drew up the 16 page film adaptation. We cheapskated a bit on this one, making it a black and white centre section to the magazine. While I felt he perfectly captured the likeness to John Wayne’s son, Patrick, in the lead role of Sinbad, looking back Ian’s art would probably have benefited greatly from added colour as his detail was so intricate in those early days of his career that foreground and background tended to merge.
Here are his first three pages…
Ian also had an annoying habit back then of not including clear white gutters between many of his frames so this added to an overall confusion in the sequential storytelling. Interfering editor that I am, I spent quite a few hours sticking down white strips of paper on to his art to create artificial frame borders and gutters so it would flow more smoothly.
One bizarre aspect of working in Columbia-Warner House was the odd mix of titles our offices were producing. The first floor layout was a massive open plan area, filled with secretaries and subs for WH Allen Books, while we magazine sorts (having been there longer) got the eight individual offices around the perimeter.
To suit 1970s repro houses, colour slides would be projected on to a wall in the spacious central area and art editors would zoom in until happy, then sketch their fit onto cover grids, to give the film separation house a guide to how much of the total visual would be used, how it would interact with the title logo, the cover lines and so forth. Alas these poor girls were constantly being subjected to somewhat lurid images from Roger Cook’s “adult” line, or blood-spattered ones from mine. How the ultra-conservative WH Allen employees survived us all is a wonder!
Quite how I survived was another challenge. New title ideas and progress on existing ones had to be presented by Roger and me to the board of directors at the weekly second floor meetings. Sales directors, production directors and managing directors are interested in one thing, maintaining their lifestyles by keeping their jobs. They’re not usually terrible creative folk so ideas have to be sold to them. Roger was brilliant at this. Tall, thin, with a strangely falsetto voice, he would regularly turn up for these sombre meetings in shammy leather shirts and suede flared trousers. A striking image. But this was the man who also had a leather company named Forskin Ltd and later was singer in the short-lived band Cut Loose. And his patter? Amazing.
When he had been writing Shiner or any of a number of other strips for Whizzer & Chips, Cor!! and such, he wouldn’t simply submit a typed script, he would act it out: flailing around the office, whooping with glee, laughing like a maniac. He didn’t get many rejections as Bob Paynter would just sit back and be entertained.
By 1976 he hadn’t changed. He was just performing to a slightly larger crowd. And he always went on first. One time he had an idea for a men’s magazine to be sold in barbers’ shops, as they were women-free zones for peeking at adult mags or buying something-for-the-weekend packs of three. A highly targeted market with no competition! He named it Blade. And management went for it! I never saw it in a barber’s shop, but then few men under 30 ever went to the barbers in the 1970s. Who wanted their hair cut? I don’t know how they stayed in business.
Another of his ideas was a Playboy for the blind, Brailleboy. He even teased that there may be some official funding for such a project. To be produced in “feel-around”, he said it would feature a centrespread “Braillemate of the Month”, the works. They laughed. They didn’t go for it, but they were amused.
Then he’d sit down and I’d clear my throat. I was still new at this. My IPC scripts had been submitted the conventional way, in writing. I didn’t know how to sell. I was simply a driven man, with a huge love for comics and films but… well, kind of nerdy, I guess. Fortunately I had a huge supporter present in production manager Terri Allen, who gave me the confidence to speak passionately. But there’d been quite a few rejects from my side to date. Among others, the previously-mentioned Foul!, British Super-Heroes and Oriental Heroes (see the Projects page for details).
But now I was about to pitch Chiller. It had been turned down once, by IPC, and I was determined to get approval this time!
Next section: It’s Hammer time!
Page modified by Dez Skinn on January 23, 2017