Friday, March 6, 2009

Forrest J. Ackerman RIP 1916-2008

Forrest Ackerman did more for science fiction than anyone else in the 20th century. He guided numerous writers, helped organize the first conventions, and was even Ed Wood's agent. It would be impossible to list his many accomplishments relating to sci-fi, thus I will focus my tribute to him on two of his most notable accomplishments: Famous Monsters of Filmland and Vampirella. Both of these were were created by both Ackerman and James Warren.

A little backstory is needed to understand why these two magazines were so important to sci-fi. In 1954 the Comics Code Authority was founded, censoring what could be published in comic books. It was theorized by Fredric Wertham that violence and gore in comics had a causal link to juvenile delinquency. Much the same argument is taken with video games, rock and rap music today. For an explaination of my opinion of this argument see here. If media were able to influence society to commit horrendous acts, then there would be massive spikes in violence relating to the release of this media. There isn't... Of the millions of teens entertained by violent comics, video games, et cetera, there is only a very small minority that will actually be violent. This is because people that are prone to violence will be violent no matter what media they are exposed to. Hitler was a big fan of classical music, especially Wagner, yet no one argues that classical music causes violence and genocide, or that the opera Tristan und Isolde should be banned from performance. There could even be an argument that it could cause teen suicide, since that is what the two main characters do in the opera. Because of the Comics Code, many horror comics that were popular in the 1950s were banned. This includes Tales from the Crypt and the Vault of Terror.

There had to be a way to get the kids the sci-fi/horror monsters that they craved. Lord knew that there was a market for the comics prior to their ban. In 1958 Forrest Ackerman created, with the publisher James Warren, Famous Monsters of Filmland. The reason that they were able to publish a magazine that featured terrifying monsters and horrific stories was because it was a magazine. The Comics Code only had jurisdiction over comic books. A little loophole gave Ackerman the ability to expose a new generation of kids to the horror movies that he so loved as a kid. The original Famous Monsters of Filmland ran for 25 years, covering numerous contemporary horror movies as well as the classics. The magazine also had short horror comics in them.

Ackerman weakened the Comics Code with the publication of Famous Monsters of Filmland, and also showed other publishers that there was a market for just such a magazine. Soon there were many others that were copying Warren Publishing's success hit, but none were as great as the original.

Sadly in the 1970s Famous Monsters began copying older articles and it became irrelevant in the world of horror. In 1983 it ended its run, only to be resurrected in 1993 with the help of Ackerman. The new Famous Monsters were never as great as the classic run. Classic Famous Monsters editions can still be found in used bookstores, but the really good ones from the 50s-60s are more difficult to find than the 70s magazines. The magazines from the 70s are still good though, and since they have many of the great articles from the 60s they're a pretty good read.

The Com
ics Code was weakened, but horror themed comics could still not be published. In 1969 Ackerman decided that the Comics Code was irrelevant and so he created Vampirella for Warren Publishing. Vampirella was first drawn by one of my personal artistic heroes, Frank Frazetta. Frazetta painted the covers for Vampirella and other artists drew the interiors. Vampirella differed from the traditional vampire in that she was from another planet, a planet completely inhabited by vampires. The name of the planet was Draculon. Vampirella was also different in the fact that she was a heroine who came to earth to punish evil vampires from her home planet who crashed on Earth and were running amok. This new science fiction version of a vampire was something that had never been seen before in vampire mythos. In the Vampirella comic there were several other horror stories along with the continuing story of Vampirella herself.
Forrest J. Ackerman was one of the great proponents of science fiction. He was an innovator who changed classical mythos. Anyone who enjoys sci-fi or horror owes a great debt to Forry for his advocacy and creations within these genres. His collection of science fiction and horror memorabilia was rivaled by none other. He was a great man and will be missed.

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