Sunday, May 4, 2008, The Abington Free Library was privileged to have Mr. Jim Warren give a lecture on his years as the publisher of Famous Monsters of Filmland. To those who grew up in the era of this magazine’s heyday (60’s and 70’s), this was close to meeting a living legend. The community room at the library was packed with an audience of all ages and sizes. No one left disappointed.
Mr. Warren had a distinguished appearance as he took the podium at 3 PM. He talked about how the magazine was first started, his inspirations, and the famous people he’d had the chance to work with. An assistant stood ready to put a large poster board on one of two easels whenever he needed to illustrate a point. The talk was fascinating and the crowd would easily have sat and listened all day long had it had the opportunity.
His initial inspiration for FM was noticing that kids were staying up late to watch old Universal horror movies on TV. In his youth, kids went and saw monster movies at neighborhood theaters. But with the coming of TV, older theaters were being dismantled, leaving the movie studios with a lot of black and white movies which they sold quickly in package deals to TV stations.
He described the first issue of FM as having been laid-out on a living room table and financed with money loaned by his father. When the first run of 200,000 issues finally hit the stands, he was left with a mere $36.00 in his pocket. This initial run sold out in a manner of days and he realized the initial hunch he had to do it was a good one. The second run sold out just as quickly and the magazine continued to be published for the next 20 plus years.
Warren moved onto the other magazines his company had published over the years. Showing the crowd large reproductions of Creepy and Eerie magazines, he described how he’s discovered the illustrators for these publications in an artist colony near Barcelona, Spain. To show their talent, he produced a poster-sized reproduction of a splash page for an illustrated story of “The Cask of Amontillado”. He noted the artist had to have spent twenty minutes drawing each brick. Warren considered himself fortunate to have been able to use the talents of Frank Frazetta, one of the greatest fantasy artists of the twentieth century, for his magazine covers.
One periodical cover he produced drew laughter from the audience: Tiny Tim. Apparently the staff at Warren Publications was able to knock out the complete magazine in five hours.
Warren spoke of the legal hassles he encountered while trying to obtain a second class mailing permit for FM. The postal official he met in Washington, DC called the magazine “trash” and tossed him out of the office. Later, he was forced to go way over this person’s head to obtain the permit. Another magazine he produced, 1984, prompted a phone call from the literary estate of George Orwell. This was solved by changing the title to 1994.
He talked about Help! magazine, which was a more sophisticated version of Mad. Harvey Kurtzman, one of the founders of Mad, had left the magazine after a fight with the publisher and approached Warren about doing a similar title. Help! would soon feature such talented writers and Terry Gilliam and Gloria Steinem writing for it. Even Woody Allen was involved with Help! at one point. It was the first national magazine to feature the art work of underground cartoonist icon R. Crumb.
He closed by telling everyone how his years as a magazine editor were done more for fun than anything else.
(The above article was originally done in 2008 for another blog. I was afraid of losing it, so I have reposted it here.)