Monster Memories: Why I Love Gorgo, Reptilicus and Konga; or, Charlton Chills 2 and My First Sex Novel ExperienceBy srbissette on June 30th, 2008
Posted In: News
Steve Ditko’s only monster magazine cover: Mad Monsters #1 (1961), kicking off the Charlton monster zines of the early 60s in style!
Continuing with ’60s monster memories spawned by Charlton Publications Inc. in Derby, CT, with a spillover into the Charlton monster movie novels, raw sex, lawsuits and the beloved Charlton monster comics…
Mad Monsters #1 (1961) sported a stylish color Wolfman cover by none other than Steve Ditko, co-creator of The Amazing Spider-Man and Doctor Strange at Marvel. Almost a decade earlier, Ditko had drawn some of Charlton’s most outrageous Pre-Code horror comics for The Thing, and by 1961 was steadily cranking out Code-approved fantasy, sf, monster and borderline horror comics and the occasional cover for Stan Lee at the pre-Marvel Atlas/Timely stable. Ditko was also busy contributing to Charlton’s clean-cut Code-approved science fiction comics at this time, which would culminate in Ditko’s run on Captain Atom and Blue Beetle for the Derby, CT publisher.
This is the only magazine cover I’ve ever seen by Ditko, and he also contributed a completely whacked three-pager to the debut issue of Mad Monsters entitled “K — The Maddest Monster Of Them All”, rendered in black-and-white tone (predating his stellar wash horror comics for editor Archie Goodwin for the Warren b&w horror comic zines Creepy and Eerie).
The completely bizarre “K” by Steve Ditko, Mad Monsters #1, 1961.
Mad Monsters #1 is also instrumental to what was soon to come for Charlton and Ditko thanks to its interior articles: there’s badly-printed photos and press release blather on two then-new American-International Pictures (AIP) releases Konga (seven pages) and Reptilicus (four pages).
Though the ten pages dedicated to Mario Bava’s solo directorial debut classic Black Sunday were and remain the best film covered in the issue, it’s the coverage of AIP’s giant monster movies that’s most historically interesting — that, and the otherwise innocuous two-page ad for the new movie novelizations from Charlton’s paperback imprint Monarch Books, one of which would lock AIP and Reptilicus director/producer Sidney Pink in legal conflict. I’ve always wondered if Charlton / Monarch Books was dragged into that legal battle, too, but I’ve never found out whether they were, despite once grilling my then-teacher Dick Giordano (at the Joe Kubert School) about it. Dick had been at Charlton all through the late ’50s and early-to-mid ’60s, and spoke fondly of that experience when he spoke of it at all.
The two-page ad for Charlton’s Monarch Books imprint paperbacks of Gorgo, Konga, Reptilicus, The Brides Of Dracula and Jack The Ripper, which were spiced with sexier passages than anything in the films themselves!
The same two-page ad also appeared in the premiere issue of Charlton’s companion monster magazine Horror Monsters, which featured no Ditko art or comics whatsoever, and established the real template for Charlton’s by-the-numbers monster magazines. Both magazines ran ten issues total, and as noted yesterday were characterized by their murky printing (Charlton reportedly owned its own presses; I’ve no idea if that’s true, but it is true that the substandard printing forever ‘tagged’ the publisher’s comics and magazines, without exception).
I love these Charlton magazines for what they are, but must admit there’s really little of historical value to be found in these mouldering curios. The writing and production is substandard throughout, and due to Charlton’s spotty distribution and reportedly low print runs on these magazines, they can be pricey when found at all.
Don’t be fooled by the look of these rags: the covers are often eye-catching, for their crudeties as well as their occasional spotlighting of then-reviled, now-beloved low-budget exploitation gems like The Brain That Wouldn’t Die and Ray Dennis Steckler’s The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies, which the other monster magazines ignored (save for the non-Charlton one-shot 3-D Monsters #1, 1964, which dedicated a number of pages to The Brain That Wouldn’t Die). But the covers, too, are poorly printed and the copies I’ve stumbled upon and snapped up over the decades are usually well-worn and in rough condition.
No matter: it’s all part of their charm for me.
Still, bear all this in mind if you go hunting for copies for your own collection. I’d hate to be held responsible for anyone going on an eBay binge snapping these up at $20-80 per issue, only to find upon delivery of the swag that it’s — well, shit. So have no illusions, folks, and let the buyer beware.
There are exceptions to the ‘no historical value’ rule worth citing. Along with MM #1′s marvelous Ditko material, Horror Monsters #4 (1962) is notable for the eight-page photo article “Bob Burns, Horror Is His Hobby”, which is perhaps the first public showcase of monster movie and special-effects collector Burns (shown in monster makeup and showing off his collection of movie props).
Burns was already joining forces with AIP’s 1950s monster maker Paul Blaisdell (creator of the monsters for The Day the World Ended, Invasion of the Saucer Men, The She Creature, Voodoo Woman, etc.) to launch their own short-lived but beloved monster magazine, Fantastic Monsters of the Films (1962-63), which suffered (and succumbed) from even worst distribution woes than Charlton ever did — but that’s another story. Anyhoot, I haven’t had access to the rest of my collection to double-check whether Burns had landed in the pages of any previous monster magazine, but this is certainly Bob Burns’s first appearance to earn a cover blurb! As such, given Bob’s ongoing presence in the monster fan community (still alive and going strong, with a couple of books out in recent years), this makes Horror Monsters #4 among the few Charlton monster zines worthy of notice and collecting.
Now, back to those Monarch Books movie novelizations:
These were and are collectibles worth their weight in gold. Of the Monarch horror/monster movie paperbacks advertised in the debut issues of Horror Monsters and Mad Monsters, it was the Dean Owen / Carson Bingham trilogy of giant monster movie adaptations that proved memorable to wee underaged readers like yours truly.
They were forbidden fruit in easy reach of young monster fans: affordable newsstand fiction featuring surprisingly spicy sex scenes (!), and to sweeten that first rush of reading something I knew I wasn’t supposed to be reading, my mom had purchased both Gorgo and Reptilicus novelizations for me.
Don’t take my word for it. Here’s a sample passage from Carson Bingham’s adaptation of Gorgo, adding a torrid romance that hasn’t a thing to do with anything in the film. I could barely make sense of this scene for a couple of years, though I read and reread it:
“…I was conscious only of the fact that the shreds of the shirt had parted over her breasts, and that one of them lay completely exposed, its white softness before my eyes…. Then I touched her breast with my hand, and she closed her eyes, moaned softly and turned her head from me. The flaming red hair moved against my nose, tickling it…. I held her to me, trying to forget what a slob and bastard I was to get her into a situation like this. But she would have none of my excuses.
“Take me, Somhairle,” she whispered, “I demand to be taken.” She clutched my hand in her and I pressed her body, warm and quivering, to mine. Somehow I found the buttons to the dungarees she wore, and unbuttoned them, and slipped the clothes off her trembling flesh until there was nothing between us but the warmth of our bodies.
She strained and twisted and clutched at me in the ecstasy of her stabbing, tearing pain, and with the unfeigned sincerity of innocence, she abandoned herself to me. And for me it was like dying and being reborn. It was a dizzying climb to a cloud of ecstasy such as I’d never experienced before.
When the tumult and madness between us finally subsided, we lay there, breathless and sated and content, surrounded by the essence and magic of our love.
(Gorgo, July, 1960, pp. 60-61).
Huh. Well, it sorta made sense to me at age five — it made more sense at ages seven, eight and nine — until the “stabbing, tearing pain” part, and then ol’ Carson lost me completely.
It took a few years of dirty jokes and the arrival of puberty to begin to grasp what, precisely, Bingham’s purple prose was implying between the lines.
Here’s Gorgo #2, cover and interior art by Steve Ditko, the comic book series spin-off from the Eugene Lourie / King Brothers feature released by MGM — sans any of the juicy sex that made the Carson Bingham novelization such a formative experience for a generation of monster fans!
This later Gorgo sex scene between Moira and our horny hero was a bit easier to understand. I mean, it was clear that sex was something warm, and being with a gal with red hair apparently helped:
“I felt her soft flaming hair pressing against my face, and I felt the warm soft curves of her body warm against mine, and I forgot all about the reason I had come to Nara. I kissed her again, and she closed her eyes, holding me to her with her arms twined about my neck. It was warm in the sand, and I gently slipped off her dungarees and unbuttoned her shirt so that her breasts fell free and gleamed in the starlight above us.
She lay there naked on the sand, a study of voluptuous curves and gentle planes, and her moist lips gleamed. She touched my belt with her hand and released its clasp, and then her hands were around my waist, clawing at my back, crushing me close. We struggled against one another, moving our bodies into the age-old position of duality and completeness, and her lips tasted of salt and tears and I touched the taut nipples of her breasts and she cried out in the night and dug her head into the sand, arching her back to me. She seemed to reach outward with every fiber of her being, and surround me, and then she twined her legs about me in one terrible last shudder of emotion and the world whirled about us and the sea pounded on the beach and the skies opened and we seemed to be in the middle of space somewhere, with absolutely nothing else in the universe but us, our two bodies, and the one love that held everything, universe, planet, and us, together forever.
Spent, we lay there naked in the sand, staring up at the clear night and the stars twinkling there, and we touched each other without a word, and let our sated, bruised, glowing bodies drink in the nourishment of our remembered pleasure…”
(Gorgo, pp. 105-106).
Then, of course, Gorgo’s mother shows up.
Orgiastic dinosaur fights supplanted overt sexuality in the best of the Charlton Gorgo comics, especially those drawn by Steve Ditko; from Gorgo #15, “The Land That Time Forgot,” script by Joe Gill.
You can imagine how this impacted on an uptight Catholic boy a mere five or six years old… and I owe it all to Dean Owen and Carson Bingham.
Having also authored a number of novels based on comic strips (The Phantom, Flash Gordon etc.), Bingham was one of many pen names used by Bruce Cassiday, who lived (and died) in Stamford, Connecticut — a short ways from Charlton’s Derby offices — and had behind him a career in the US Air Force, in radio (as an announcer and writer), a newsreel caption writer and he was at the time he wrote Gorgo still fiction editor of Argosy, one of the most popular men’s magazines of the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s.
No wonder Gorgo had been converted into such a torrid slice of men’s adventure, including red-hot rivalry between the two heroes over the Gallic lass Moira, martial infidelity, and sex on the beach which colored even the monster scenes — “…We figured it was best to keep the big thing wet…”, and so on — in ways no science fiction novel I’d ever read before.
This sure wasn’t Jules Verne! It wasn’t until reading Robert Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters that I tapped anything remotely close — well, that’s not true. Dean Owen’s pair of Monarch monster novels were equally rousing fare, before I even had the plumbing able to rouse.
Among those was Owen’s adaptation of Ray Milland’s post-apocalyptic directorial debut feature Panic in Year Zero (1962) under the title End of the World; that one is no longer on my shelves, as I gifted it to my amigo Tim Lucas a decade or so ago. I’ve held on to the Monarch monster paperbacks, though, and oh, they are doozies.
Dean Owen gets the blood going by page 12 of Konga, with Dr. Charles Decker making out with his “assistant” and “housekeeper” Margaret, initially in front of the chimpanzee Konga — naughty, naughty! –
…She ran a zipper down and the dress became a heap of limp black material on the floor. She pulled off a half slip, tore the strap of her bra in her anxiety to rid herself of these trappings of civilization. She ripped the panties and garter belt, peeling off her stockings, ignoring the fact that she tore them to shreds.
Decker was aware that the chattering of Konga had ceased. He turned, giving the little animal a thoughtful stare. Konga was watching the white-fleshed woman….
Oh oh, enough of that — Decker and Margaret retire to the not-so-good doctor’s bedroom:
Later, on the familiar bed with its rose-colored spread, Decker possessed Margaret with a violence that frightened her and, at the same time, aroused her to a frenzy of passion such as she had never known. His hands and mouth roved her naked, perfumed flesh, stirring hidden fires within her and she clutched him to her, arching her body wantonly to take the savage spear of his long-starved need.
“Don’t give this to anyone else,” Margaret said when the tumult and frenzy of their love-making had subsided and they lay quietly together, their senses lulled and content, their bodies sated.
(Konga, August, 1960, pp. 12-13).
Konga was the longest-lasting of the Charlton movie monster comics, most of which sported covers and interior pages by Steve Ditko. It was always more fun than the sordid Monarch movie novelization — and I thankfully held on to my set of Charlton Konga comics over the years.
Of course, he does “give this” to someone else, and the shit hits the fan (he rapes a younger assistant named Sandra after her boyfriend’s funeral; Decker had Konga crush the fellow to death), and it’s Margaret who sics the now-giant gorilla Konga on Decker in the final seven pages.
Yep, what a popcorn fart: Konga is only a giant gorilla for seven pages. It sucked worse than the film (which I never warmed to as a kid, though I enjoy it now).
Picturesque as phrases like “the savage spear of his long-starved need” might have been, even as a lad I found the sex in Konga intrusive and unpleasant: it was all furtive, groping, and barely comprehensible, all of it involving a decidedly nasty group of characters.
Finally seeing the movie itself was the last straw: Michael Gough’s unsavory Dr. Decker removed any possible allure the Dean Owen novel might have had. At least the heroes of Gorgo were likable: Decker was a sadist, and Konga was a bummer. I soon gave the book away, and rereading the book in 1980 when I found a replacement copy, I wasn’t surprised I barely remembered it.
I never gave away my copy of Owen’s Reptilicus novelization, though. Not only was it a cooler monster story, with a lot of monster, but the sex scenes were a lot more fun, too. Despite the complications Owen poured into his adaptation of what was a completely sexless film (including adultery and two sisters fighting to get into the stud-hero Svend’s pants), the sex here was comparatively wholesome compared to the grotty rape-fantasies that fueled Konga; little did I know it, but Owen’s prose was already shaping my own comfort levels with adult fiction.
From its opening line — “Purposely, she had worn the tight, gray woolen dress so he would notice the breasts he had found so fascinating back in the Lapland village…” — Owen’s novelization of Reptilicus was in-your-face saucy.
Better yet, the sex was exotic — I mean, they were in Sweden and Lapland and Denmark! I didn’t know at age six how well this would prepare me for the first sex films I’d see later in the ’60s, when “Sweden” and “Denmark” were magic words for adult fare (inexplicably, Lapland never earned similar coin-of-the-realm boxoffice cache).
Owen wasted few pages before landing the stud hero Svend in bed with former-circus-trapeze-artist Jessyca; she’s cheating on her hubby (Svend’s best friend), and they go to it in a cheap Lapland hotel room:
She stood up and he marveled at how she was able to wriggle out of the tight gray dress. Then she tossed the rest of her clothing onto the bed, held her hands above her head, pirouetting slowly, her nipples an orange-brown color on pink breast.
You see, here I was on page 18 and I was already learning more about nipples and breasts than I’d ever found in National Geographic. This was waaaaaay better than Konga.
Her hips were on the generous side and this seemed to give her some concern, as she looked back over her bare shoulder at him.
“You think me muscular, Svend?”
“No. You’re a Greek Goddess.”…
“…When I used to be on the wire, ‘way up high, looking down at all those crazy people, I would think about death. They all hoped I would fall. They wouldn’t admit it, but they did.”
“Sex is like death. You die each time. But, oh, how pleasantly.” She squirmed voluptuously. “Kill me slowly, inch by inch.”
He caught her and felt the all-encompassing lubricity of her warm flesh — suddenly became almost violent in his desire to take in every inch of her with his hungry hands. As if he had touched a switch, her body responded with an overwhelming, driving passion, her smoothly muscular legs flailing in abandon, her whimpered words urging him on, demanding, cursing. When her legs finally locked around him they felt like velvet-covered steel springs, stretching, tighter and tighter, until the raging storm broke, then subsided, leaving them both relaxed and contented — for the moment.
(Reptilicus, June, 1961, pp. 18-19).
Whew, that was hot stuff in 1961 for a monster book, I tell you.
The very next line — “On the third day of their voluntary confinement…” — was more puzzling then words like “lubricity”.
So, they were doing this with each other for three days???
I couldn’t wait to read on.
There’s more, which I’ll get into next post, because there’s a fascinating back story here, too. The first clue for wee me was the back cover of the paperback, which featured a photo of Reptilicus flying that wasn’t in the movie — and once I saw the film, this made the book even more essential to me. Why, I wondered, would they cut shots of Reptilicus flying? Sure, Reptilicus was the most silly-looking monster of all the giant monster movies I’d seen at that tender age, but it couldn’t have been that bad, could it?
Over the years, Reptilicus fans have been driven to uncover what, exactly, was cut and re-edited in the film. What a relief it’s been to discover, incrementally, over four decades… that I’m hardly alone in these bizarre life-long obsessions.
Among the cut sequences is something that never would have made it into the Dean Owen novel or Charlton comic adaptation — a song. A song about Reptilicus.
If you need a barometer for just how popular and beloved Dirch Passer was/is in his native country, note that the only legal DVD release of the original uncut Danish version of Reptilicus available on planet Earth is thanks to a line of Dirch Passer DVDs! Thanks to Danish fan Michael Thomsen (he traded the DVD for a signed copy of the first archival photocopy edition of my book We Are Going to Eat You), I was able to get my hands on a copy of this jewel years ago, satisfying decades of curiosity about what, precisely, had been cut from the film to satisfy AIP’s lowest-common-denominator standards to render Reptilicus releasable in the US — and no, it wasn’t anything resembling the saucy action added to Dean Owen’s novelization.
All that was cut were a few shots of a flying Reptilicus puppet — rendered even more risible by the sound of a penny-whistle! — some Dirch Passer comedy, a little romantic banter, and Passer’s tune sung to a group of children in a park, and a few more puppet shots of the floppy fiend trashing Copenhagen are all that’s been ‘missing’ since 1961.
It’s also interesting to note what isn’t in the original film that has always been part of the AIP American version. The Danish version doesn’t sport the snot-flinging shots and a silly matte effect inserting a screaming victim into Reptilicus’s jaws insisted upon by AIP (added by Projects Unlimited, the firm behind the original 1963-64 The Outer Limits effects and monsters); given all AIP had released theatrically since 1955, it’s still astonishing that they even bothered, much less fought so venomously with Sidney Pink over this.
The Danish DVD edition of Reptilicus under the Dirch Passer commemorative imprint — still the only way to see the complete, original cut producer/director Sidney Pink delivered to AIP back in 1961.
Ah, well, the late Alex Gordon always said Sam Arkoff was not a pleasant man to deal with; thanks to one of our best friends, Mike Dobbs, Marge and I got to know Alex for a few years before his death, and Alex was not a man to say an ill word about anyone — but he came close whenever Arkoff’s name came up. Suffice for now to say that Reptilicus suffered less at the receiving end of the Danish military than he did from Arkoff and Pink butting heads.
But I’m getting ahead of the story — there’s more to tell, including Sidney Pink and Sam Arkoff’s own versions of what went down and when. There’s a bit more Dean Owen purple prose to share, and my best guess as to why the Charlton comic book series Reptilicus became Reptisaurus, which is tied to the whole Pink/Arkoff legal tussle — and, well, that’s for the next “Monster Memories” post.