From the inside front cover of every DC comic book to hit the stands in December, 1961:
December 31, 2011 by The Belated Nerd
October 24, 2011 by The Belated Nerd
This post is even more belated than usual since the 19th World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon), also known as Seacon, was held September 2-4, 1961. Held at the Hyatt House Hotel, Seattle was a fortunate site for a Science Fiction convention since a year later the city would host the future-themed Century 21 Exposition (better known as the Seattle World’s Fair.) Only a few blocks from the hotel was the unfinished Space Needle, still missing its flying saucer-shaped top.
The following Hugo Awards (named after Hugo Gernsback) were presented for the best science fiction or fantasy works of 1960.
Best Novel – A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.
Best Short Fiction – “The Longest Voyage” by Poul Anderson
Best Dramatic Presentation – The Twilight Zone (TV series) by Rod Serling
Best Professional Magazine – Astounding/Analog edited by John W. Campbell, Jr.
Best Professional Artist – Ed Emshwiller
Best Fanzine – Who Killed Science Fiction? edited by Earl Kemp
Other notable attendees… You know what? Let’s skip the rest of the program and get straight to the good stuff. Fifty-year-old cosplay!
October 19, 2011 by The Belated Nerd
Like rival hobby company Revell, the mainstay of Aurora Plastics’ line of model kits in the Fifties was scale-model, unassembled replicas of military hardware, although Aurora’s were generally smaller and more affordable than Revell’s. Around 1955, Aurora expanded its line to include plastic figurines of medieval knights, clowns, and traditionally dressed people from around the world (“Guys and Gals of all Nations”).
Meanwhile, in Hollywood, Universal Pictures realized there was still money to be made off of their old monster films from previous decades. Universal packaged films featuring Dracula, the Mummy, the Wolf Man, Frankenstein’s Monster, and other ghouls for broadcast over local TV channels. The local stations created assorted horror hosts to present these films. When the local stations began getting mail from their viewers they were surprised to find that a large percentage of those watching the old monster movies were teenaged or younger. The popularity of these films with children might be explained by the extinction of the horror comic book in 1954 when public opinion and the new Comics Code Authority deemed the horror genre to be inappropriate for children. Children with a taste for horror simply switched from reading comic books to watching “creature features” on their local television stations and maybe picking up a copy of Forrest Ackerman’s Famous Monsters of Filmland. Knowing that their audience was largely made up of young people, the horror hosts softened the horror they presented with touches of humor and ridicule that made the genre seem less threatening to adults, while Famous Monsters gave a behind the scenes look that assured everyone that it was all just made up.
Sometime in early 1961, it suddenly became acceptable to directly market monsters to children (TV stations and Famous Monsters could always argue that adults were the target audience). It started with bubblegum cards like Spook Stories and Horror Monsters, however toy manufacturers were still leary. A hobby company on the cusp of adult and childhood pastimes was an ideal path to full acceptance of monsters in the playroom. Looking to expand its line of figurines beyond little Dutch boys and the Black Knight, Aurora bought the rights to manufacture models of all of the monsters who had appeared in Universal motion pictures. The models created under this license would prove to be Aurora’s most successful line of plastic models ever.
Aurora’s first Universal monster model was a 1/12 scale figure model of Frankenstein’s Monster in 1961. Selling for $1.00, the 7-inch tall figurine sold so well that Aurora had to temporarily suspend production of its other models to keep up with demand. Some buyers may have been disappointed when they opened the box to find the plain white pieces of plastic that needed to be carefully twisted apart before undergoing a process that involved several hours, various paints and brushes, and mind-altering glue fumes. Helping sales, no doubt, was the wonderful artwork on the box by James Bama who would do most of the box top art for Aurora in the Sixties.
October 10, 2011 by The Belated Nerd
When The Brave and the Bold #35 came out in the Spring of 1961, readers noticed something a little different about the letters page; the full address of each letter writer was printed under their name. Armed with this resource, two young comic book fans, Jerry Bails and Roy Thomas, quickly established a network through which they could distribute their new fanzine, Alter-Ego.
In November 1960, Roy Thomas wrote DC comics inquiring about back issues of All-Star Comics. DC editor Julius Schwartz forwarded Thomas’ inquiry to All-Star writer Gardner Fox who replied that he had sold his bound volumes of the title to a fan in Detroit named Jerry Bails. Thomas secured Bails’ address and an extensive correspondence between the two fans ensued. The result, several months later, was the creation of a fanzine and a comic book fan network the like of which hadn’t really existed for the medium since the days of EC’s Fan-Addicts.
Letters from Bails and Thomas were frequently found in the letters pages of DC titles during 1961. (Marvel wouldn’t introduce letters pages until 1962). Most important of these for the future of fandom was a letter from Thomas printed in Justice League of America #8 near the end of the year, in which Julie Schwartz allowed him to pitch the new fanzine.
Schwartz’s reply is interesting. One wonders why the originators of Science Fiction fanzines (a first usually credited to Raymond A. Palmer) hadn’t promoted or encouraged such an endeavour for comic books sooner. Perhaps the printing of letter writers’ addresses was intended to achieve that goal all along. If so, I salute the subtle marketing skills being exercised at DC fifty years ago.
September 27, 2011 by The Belated Nerd
Although the first issue of Spacemen magazine was published in mid-1961 only two issues would appear on newsstands in its inaugural year. The quarterly magazine was published by Warren Publishing and edited by Forrest J. Ackerman, the same team behind Famous Monsters of Filmland.
It would be inaccurate to call Spacemen the science fiction counterpart to the horror-themed Famous Monsters since the latter highlighted any science fiction film with extraterrestrial creatures or actors in make-up, and the former ignored all but those science fiction tales set in space (Tagline: The World’s Only Space Movie Magazine!) This might explain why there was probably only enough content for four issues a year. When there weren’t enough space movies to write about, Ackerman would turn to short fiction, which brings us to a 1961 (or perhaps, 1962) submission letter sent by a 14-year-old Stephen King:
I suspect “O. Henry’s Comet” was a feature in Spacemen reserved for short science fiction stories with a twist ending. Although Ackerman declined to buy the story for Spacemen, he was not a man known for throwing anything away. He would finally publish King’s story in a 1994 issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland under the title ‘The Killer” (at the risk of spoiling a story published almost twenty years ago, it is a tale about an amnesic who doesn’t know he’s really just a robot.)
September 2, 2011 by The Belated Nerd
When I posted last month about Leaf’s Spook Stories series of trading cards, I apparently only scratched the surface of a rather prolific and competitive industry that was exploiting a craze for monsters in 1961. Studios at the time were packaging up their old horror movies and syndicating them to TV stations as Creature Features. The local hosts presenting these films may have had more to do with the craze than the films themselves, but there was enough enthusiasm generated to make a profit selling nickel packs of monster cards. The ones below, made by Nu-Cards, didn’t even come with a stick of gum! Like the Spook Stories cards, these included “horrible” jokes on the back.
August 21, 2011 by The Belated Nerd
Spook Stories was a series of trading cards sold in packs with some stale chewing gum by Leaf Candy Company. Leaf had taken a beating a few years earlier in the baseball card biz and apparently decided to forego sports cards completely in 1961 and instead exploit a resurgence in the popularity of old Universal horror films. Merely licensing the images from Universal wasn’t enough, though. Taking a page (several pages, in fact) from Warren Publishing’s Famous Monsters of Filmland, each monster card was given a witty caption. But the humor didn’t stop there! On the back of each card was a humourous (I use that word lightly) monster-related riddle.
August 19, 2011 by The Belated Nerd
From the letters page of Wonder Woman #125 (1961):
Dear Wonder Woman:
I am the president of our Wonder Woman Fan Club and we would like to know if it would be possible to visit Paradise Island during summer vacation.
Jane Hanis, Oakland, Cal.
Paradise Island, the secret home of the Amazons, is fictitious. If it weren’t, and were open to the public, it would no longer be a secret, would it?
My name is the Belated Nerd and I would first like to apologize for not writing you sooner to correct a lie told to you fifty years ago. Second, I want to assure you that the reply to your letter above was NOT written by Wonder Woman. As I’m sure you are aware, Wonder Woman and the other superheroes you used to read about when you were a kid (and perhaps still do) are kept very busy protecting us from the forces of evil. Because of this they are unable to respond to letters like yours personally. Even though they often write as if they are the heroes themselves, it is the comic book editors who actually write the replies found on “Wonder Woman’s Clubhouse” page and other comic book letter columns. The name of the editor who answered your letter back in 1961 was a guy named Bob Kanigher.
Jane, Bob Kanigher is wrong! He has been affected by the skepticism that often comes with age. Which is a scary thing for a man who writes and edits comic books. Yes, Jane, there is a Paradise Island. It exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy.
Now that we have settled that, I’ll refrain from further plagiarizing Francis P. Church and give you an example of how an editor more sensitive than cranky old Bob might have responded to your letter.
I spoke to Wonder Woman about your request and she said that as much as she’d like to give you a tour of her homeland, it would simply be too dangerous for a young mortal like yourself. You see, the women who live there are very fond of a sport called “bullets and bracelets”. This means there is almost a constant rain of ricocheting projectiles on Paradise Island. Any visitor lacking Wonder Woman’s bracelet skills would soon be reduced to swiss cheese. ‘Nuff said.
August 13, 2011 by The Belated Nerd
Even monsters deserve a break between scenes of horror and mayhem. Vincent Price in 1961 sucked back an iced coffee a la Nancy Botwin during shooting for Tales of Terror. Boris Karloff took numerous coffee breaks as The Mummy and Frankenstein’s Monster. Bela Lugosi as Igor joins Karloff and Basil Rathbone for coffee on the set of Son of Frankenstein. (If anybody knows of a photograph showing Dracula sipping a cup, send it my way.) Lon Chaney Jr. takes a nap while awaiting his next scene in one of his Wolf Man movies. And finally, Vincent Price, Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre take time out to roast marshmallows.
July 27, 2011 by The Belated Nerd
Inside dozens of comic books in 1961 could be found the following advertisement:
“Brand New – Created Just for You – the Most Amazing Half Hour on Record as FORREST J ACKERMAN himself time-travels to the 21st Century to bring back Music for Robots. FJA talks to YOU for 18 minutes in a thrilling narration about RUR, Tobor, Gort, Robby…the automatons of Jules Verne, Edgar Allan Poe, Isaac Asimov, Leonardo da Vinci…the metalic Frankenstein…Hear weird vibrational multisonic effects, electronic melodies created for the ears of androids! ONLY $1.98″
From all accounts the Ackerman narration on side one was the selling point of this LP. Side two is made up of a fifteen minute composition by a man named Frank Coe. I’m pretty sure this Frank Coe wasn’t the same one who rode with Billy the Kid in the 1880s, but there is the slight possibility that he was the same Frank Coe who is notable for being the first disgraced director of the IMF (for being “commie”, not “rapey”) in 1952.
Have a listen to Coe’s Tone Tales of Tomorrow and then as an extra treat I offer the first song ever sung by a computer (the versatile IBM 7094).
Give me your answer do!
I’m half crazy,
All for the love of you!
It won’t be a stylish marriage,
I can’t afford a carriage
But you’ll look sweet upon the seat
Of a bicycle made for two.