Thursday, February 16, 2006

RETRO TOY FLASHBACK #30: Sci-Fi Magazines!

I don't know if this is a statement on literacy in our times or what, but I grew up with a passionate love for each and every magazine on the market that featured science fiction or horror films, or TV shows, for that matter. So I decided it would be an appropriate topic for this "retro" Thursday (even though magazines - like record albums - aren't technically toys.)

I know that many, many dedicated horror fans (and some movie directors too... ) started their love of genre 'mags over the years with Mr. Ackerman's Famous Monsters - but for gateway periodical was actually Marvel's Planet of the Apes.

This great magazine (published in the mid 1970s) was really the best of both worlds for the young, book-nerd and intrepid Ape-o-naut. At either end of each issue was a beautifully-drawn comic book story, often an adaptation of a particular Apes film or part of an ongoing serial called Terror on the Planet of the Apes.

However, sandwiched in between these comic tales of simian domination were articles all about the cinematic world of Planet of the Apes. For instance, there was on issue boasting a photo spread of the impressive Ape City, which was incredibly cool. Other times, there were interviews with writers like Michael Wilson, behind-the-scenes stories about make-up and special effects, and even a feature on the Fox Ranch, where the movies were filmed.

I first discovered these magazines 'round about 1978, I'd guess, when I was a huge Apes fan. (I already owned many playsets and action figures from Mego...). Where did I buy the magazine? There was this little cramped store inside a warehouse-like building at Englishtown Flea Market, in New Jersey. And - I kid you not - the entire place consisted of floor-to-ceiling shelving loaded with comics and magazines of all varieties. It was simply amazing, and it was my first experience with a "comic book" shop. I purchased these Planet of the Apes magazines religiously (and they were like a buck a piece!).

From there, my love of Starlog developed. There was a vendor at Englishtown who sold these magazines as well. The mags were pinned up high by clips(near the ceiling...) along a big center aisle in the same building as the little comic shop.

If memory serves, I believe I started my Starlog obsession around 1980, the year of The Empire Strikes Back, so my first task was catching up on all the back-issues of the magazine. Do you remember how Starlog used to abbreviate all its movie and TV titles? I still hold those funny abbreviations in my brain. Close Encounters was CE3K. Lost in Space was LIS. Star Trek: The Motion Picture was ST: TMP. The Greatest American Hero was GAH. Anyone else remember that weird little tic in those long ago days?

I also remember how excited I was when I finally found the Starlog issue (#33) that featured all the reviews (including Harlan Ellison's and David Gerrold's) of Star Trek: the Motion Picture....which was something of an obsession with me.

In years to come, I came to realize that Starlog (of those days, anyway) had a distinct bias against certain shows (particularly Space:1999), and that was a bummer, but it was just fascinating to me a as a kid to read about movies in development, and pore over interviews with Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and memorize things like episode guides of Lost in Space or The Twilight Zone. I still have deep affection for Starlog, though I probably haven't purchased a new issue in years. My collection goes from 1 - 263, and then I stopped.

I also happened to love another genre magazine that was published at the ssame time, but died in the mid-1980s: Fantastic Films. I remember reading with enthusiasm about upcoming TV shows like Automan and movies such as Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, on one cross-country trip with my family. Those were the days....

Later on, in high school, I discovered Fangoria, and became a regular reader of that gory magazine (as well as the companion, Gorezone), even though some of the photo spreads really grossed me out. I liked the book and video reviews in Fangoria, as well as reports on what favorites like Sam Raimi, Wes Craven, John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper were doing through the late 1980s. It's funny, I remember that for a spell back in the Reagan decade, Freddy Krueger was so popular that virtually every Fangoria issue would feature a cover headline about a "new" icon who was about to unseat him. One was the ghoul of I, Madman (1989). And another was Richard Lynch, the guru of Unity Fields from Bad Dreams (1988). Anyone remember him?

The summer I was sixteen, my Dad took me out to get my working papers and Social Security card, and I quickly got a job working the morning shift at a local McDonalds Restaurant in Bloomfield, N.J. I worked every morning from 5:00 am to 11:00 am, and was an expert at making Egg McMuffins. I was working to make "living" money for college, and so I saved every single dollar I earned. But my parents literally made me spend some money on some fun things. I'm not kidding, they'd drive me to a used book and comic store in Passaic and forced me to buy entertainment-y things. That's cool, and guess what I chose to buy? Magazines! The late 1980s was a great time for magazine start-ups and I remember slurping up all the issues of an obscure magazine called Daredevils. Has anybody ever heard of this periodical? It was a great magazine that had a focus on classic movie actors (like Humphrey Bogart and Charlie Bronson), as well as James Bond movies and spy TV shows. But I think it folded rather quickly.

When I went away to college, I continued my habit of collecting sci-fi magazines. I lived on campus at the University of Richmond (in Robins Hall), and I would walk through a leaf-laden field, over a wood bridge, through a housing development, up a steep hill, across a highway to a comic book store called Dave's Comics. It was there that I was able to catch up on Cinefantastique. I rabidly collected this magazine through the 1980s and 1990s and was always impressed by the breadth of its genre coverage. I'll never forget collecting this magazine during the run of The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, and I looked forward to the big issues that featured season reviews, replete with episode guides and extensive interviews. This was just a terrific reading experience.

It was also at Dave's Comics that I discovered another short-lived magazine that I fell in love with, one from the early 1990s called Epi-Log. Edited by William Anchors, this attractive magazine featured tons of detailed episode guides every month, and the editors even did theme issues, like horror, superheroes, spies, space adventure and the like. I should also add that although the photos were always in black-and-white, they were often rare, unusual shots, and I grooved on that.

Basically, I collect any magazines with science fiction covers gracing them. This means that I got my hands on a Mad Magazine with a Star Wars parody cover from 1977. This means that I would collect Time Magazine if it featured Star Wars, Star Trek, or Aliens.

Also - I cannot tell a lie - for a while in the 1980s I collected Playboy Magazine. For the articles, dude. For the articles. My favorite issue is the one displayed here on the blog...featuring Maryam D'Abo from The Living Daylights. There's a shot of this lovely actress riding the hood of Bond's car from Goldfinger...nude. There's another where she's cradling Blofeld's...kitty. You have not truly lived until you've seen these photographs.

I never imagined while collecting magazines as a kid, a teenager and a young adult that I would some day see my own books reviewed in these magazines (Fangoria, Filmfax, Sci-Fi Magazine), or that I would write articles for them myself (Filmfax, Cinescape, The Official Farscape Magazine). It's funny how life turns out sometimes, isn't it?

So...did you ever collect sci-fi and horror magazines? And if so, which ones are your favorites? Around Halloween last year, I finally had to purchase a huge filing cabinet for my office to maintain my collection.

Yep, these magazines are not only fun, they come in handy as research on my books. In fact, I wonder if my subscriptions are tax deductible?

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous8:29 PM

    I used to collect magazines covering sci-fi films and tv. I started with Starlog in 1977. It was the first sf magazine I ever bought. I was thrilled that the number 5 issue had articles on UFO and Space:1999 which were currently airing on tv at the time. The info really helped me enjoy the programs even more, though, in retrospect the UFO article stated the show was made in 1972 (that's when it initially aired in the US) not 1969. The back issues ad mentioned other Space: 1999 articles in previous issues, so I sent away for them. Starlog really was special for me because of all the Space:1999 articles. The show was virtually ignored by most magazines. The announcement on a early Starlog cover that the show was cancelled was a shocker.

    I eventually suscribed to Starlog. I also bought every issue of Fantastic Films I could find. FF generally had a more critical approach in their coverage which I liked. Their articles usually were accompanied with a greater number of photos (which was great). Alas, they ignored Space:1999, though they did cover Anderson's Thunderbirds show (which oddly, was nowhere near as popular as S99). I was also happy to find copies of the British sf magazine Starburst in a local comic book store. Or course, I bought every issue.

    I even made little scrapbooks for different films and shows such as ST: The Motion Picture and Battlestar Galactica. These usually consisted of different reviews and movie ad clippings from nongenre magazines such as time. I even clipped out the promotional artwork in the paper each week for Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (I still have them, though, I photocopied them because the original newspaper clippings yellowed). That brings to mind another unfortunate fact. Some of my early Starlogs have turned yellow because they were printed on cheap acidic paper (the newer issues are printed on more expensive glossy paper). I try to keep all my magazines and books in mint condition as best as I can.

    I have to say I don't buy that many sci-fi magazines as an adult now. I just can't get into the new shows like I did when I was a kid. Issues covering older shows still interest me. Of course, the internet has changed things. One doesn't have to endlessly wait or search for info on favorite shows in magazines. Websites are available for almostg all shows. Some, such as The Catacombs (covering Space:1999), contain a staggering amount of information.

    And lastly, most older shows are available on DVD. I still hope that shows such as Jason of Star Command, Logan's Run, and Space Academy will eventually come out on DVD too.