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Or; How a Trio of For Monsters Only‘s Comics Ushered In the Era of Revisionist 1960s Trash Horror
How unloved was For Monsters Only? In its day, probably no more or no less than any other monster magazine that wasn’t either published by Jim Warren, or up there with Castle of Frankenstein in the pantheon of more-adult monster magazinedom.
Since I didn’t have any close friends at the time who were into monster magazines, the only barometer I had or have is how For Monsters Only has been reviled and dismissed in the decades since its heyday by hardcore monster magazine devotees.
But the lack of love goes on. I would have snapped up Mark Arnold‘s two-volume Cracked magazine encyclopediac If You’re Cracked You’re Happy!: A History of the World’s 2nd Greatest Humor Magazine! (Bear Manor Media, 2011) regardless, but when even the only in-print 1000-plus page history of all things Cracked relegates For Monsters Only to oblivion, you know it’s still as unloved as ever. More on this, below…
Now, last installment, I mentioned the “uncredited writer.” Comics scholar/historian Lou Mougin points out that among the writers credited for the work in FMO #6′s contents page was the great Otto Binder (1911-1974), who—by process of elimination—most likely scripted these amazing Jerry Grandenetti 16-pagers. “Frankenstein ’68″ and “Vampire Hunt ’69″ sure read like Binder stories!
The fact of the matter is with “Vampire Hunt ’69″ (its implicit sexual connotations as untapped as the name of its bloodsucking menace, Count Dragula), Binder and Grandenetti anticipated the “hip” revisionist vampires soon to dominate drive-in, nabe, and grindhouse screens once the post-Charles Manson wave of 1970-1971 vampiric gurus, male and female (The Velvet Vampire, Daughters of Darkness), arrived.
Here’s the first pop incarnation of all that was to follow: Count Yorga, Khorda the Deathmaster (both played by Robert Quarry in that period in which American-International Pictures—AIP—was cultivating Quarry as the next cinematic horror star), and many, many more.
Again, I don’t want to imply that this makes Otto Binder and Jerry Grandenetti visionaries, much less For Monsters Only being some unsung wellspring for all that followed, but it was the first time I encountered this revisionist archetype. Binder was renowned for bringing fresh spins to everything he laid his hands upon, from pulp sf to Captain Marvel comicbooks for Fawcett to the entire Superman universe for National Periodicals/DC Comics, and to my mind, this counts as another Binder coup.
Also note that Dragula ends up leading a hippie-vampire coven—and this was written and drawn, and on newsstands, months before the infamous July/August 1969 murders that later led to the arrest of Charlie Manson and “The Family” (in fact, is was being scripted and drawn while Manson and his followers were still establishing the Family’s alternative headquarters in Death Valley‘s Myers and Barker ranches near the Spahn Ranch) which opened the floodgates to the 1970s “hippie horrors” in all media. It was the Charlie Manson murders and subsequent media circus that prompted Manson supplanting Aleister Crowley as the demonic-cult-leader archetype of choice for the rest of the 20th Century.
But enough on that. We’re talking Cracked, after all! But I still argue this modest trilogy of Binder/Grandenetti works deserves a place in horror comics history it’s too-long been denied.
And now, back to the story, “Vampire Hunt ’69″…
If this isn’t a template of sorts for the Count Yorga and Blacula movies, I don’t know what is. I’m not arguing that, say, Yorga director Robert Kelljan had necessarily read this For Monsters Only comic story (though it’s possible)—after all, updating the venerable Bram Stoker Dracula model complete with it’s militarized pack of vampire hunters was clearly implicit in the vampire genre—but just that this stuff was floating in the pop cultural zeitgeist, and that Otto Binder, Jerry Grandenetti, and For Monsters Only was the first to put it out there.
Consider Binder/Grandenetti‘s image of the hippie coven Dragula sired, and compare then to the covens vampire overlord Robert Quarry sired…
…and in The Deathmaster (1972; above and below)…
…on through to The Night Stalker (1972), Tobe Hooper‘s TV movie adaptation of Stephen King‘s bestseller Salem’s Lot (1979), etc. You get the picture.
Look at that penultimate page of “Vampire Hunt ’69″—and compare the vivid imagery of the police force surrounding Dragula armed with crosses with the imagery that quickly became de rigueur on American movie and TV screens in the next two-to-three years. This dramatic sequence in Dan Curtis‘s surprise boxoffice hit House of Dark Shadows (1970) was imitated/echoed in almost every contemporary-set vampire movie that followed, and it sure looked familiar even then to attentive For Monsters Only readers:
From Famous Monsters of Filmland #82′s preview of House of Dark Shadows, pp. 38-39 (1970)
There was only one more Otto Binder/Jerry Grandenetti “Secret Files of Marc Vangoro” story insert, in For Monsters Only #8 (July 1969). It was an aggressive and even more expressionistic, stylized take on Robert Louis Stevenson‘s classic novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, updated as “Jekyll & Hyde ’69.” I’ll save sharing that one, if I can, down the road; this has already grown into a longer visual essay than I’d originally intended.
And that wasn’t all for For Monsters Only, though there were no more wild Binder/Grandenetti original comics stories to entice readers like myself back into sticking around. In fact, the experiment must have failed—For Monsters Only disappeared from newsstands for almost two years. Then again, the monster magazine boom of the 1960s was over; even Warren‘s celebrated Famous Monsters and black-and-white horror comic magazines were suffering, surviving month-to-month by combining new material with reprint material.
Still, some amazing artists joined John Severin and the usual Cracked crew in the pair of issues that followed (there were ten issues in all). There was, for instance, an eye-catching Jeff Jones cover painting on For Monsters Only #9 (September 1971), a pretty glorious take on Freddie Francis/Herman Cohen‘s instantly infamous Joan Crawford vehicle Trog (1970):
And Gray Morrow—who I still suspect had painted the striking Frankenstein’s Monster portrait that graced For Monsters Only‘s debut issue—signed his cover art for the final issue, #10 (June 1972), even as he was doing similar exploitation movie art for Sam Sherman‘s Independent-International theatrical releases:
And so For Monsters Only quietly folded up, a loss barely noted by even the most diehard monster magazine fans. The Cracked empire wasn’t done recycling the For Monsters Only contents, though—however, Cracked never, ever reprinted a single one of the Otto Binder/Jerry Grandenetti 16-page comics stories, to my knowledge.
How unloved was For Monsters Only? Monster magazine price guides grudgingly list them, sans any but the most disparaging commentary; books on monster magazines and/or black-and-white horror comics ignore the title.
As I mentioned from the beginning of this post, even Mark Arnold‘s If You’re Cracked You’re Happy! two-volume history of the Cracked dynasties relegates the magazine to a mere three or four citations, other than the indexing of the ten issues (and even there, Arnold gets something wrong: For Monsters Only #7′s “Secret Files of Marc Vangoro” was not a reprint of #6′s story; see Arnold, Volume 2, pg. 393)—and not a whisper on who wrote or drew them.
There was one other long-forgotten Cracked monster magazine from the 1960s, the one-shot Monster Howls (December 1966), which mixed a smattering of new material (primarily by Don Orehek) with the usual plethora of reprint Cracked monster fare. If Monster Howls has any virtue, it’s the two-page Pete Wyma “Hannibal the Horrible Cannibal,” which Hannibal Lecter fans may wish to ferret for (you will be disappointed).
Cracked trotted out the rest of the contents time and time again, and even the title, when it seemed viable to do so…
…and there were subsequent Cracked monster magazines, as well. The reprint-heavy Cracked Monster Party lasted an astounding 46 issues (!!!), launched in July 1988 and continuing all the way to its Spring 2000 final issue. Amid the resurrected standards was mucho new material, including “The Uggly Family” offerings by “Eel O’Brien” (editor Mort Todd) and “Stosh Gillespie” (Dan Clowes), and new work from Bill Wray, Rob Orzechowski, Bob Fingerman, Rurik Tyler, Win Mortimer, and others.
I skipped a lot of those, but I rallied and bought every (or damn near every) issue of Mort Todd‘s delightful, genuine monster magazine Monsters Attack! (five issues, September 1989–December 1990). Monsters Attack! was a great and truly fun monster magazine, with every issue jam-packing its saddle-stitched 52 pages with all-new articles and comic by Mort, John Severin (who did some crackerjack covers for the series), Gray Morrow, Pat Boyette, Steve Ditko, Bhob Stewart, Kevin McMahon (whose “Jason’s Body Count!” in #3 scored), Gene Colan, Alex Toth, Nick Cuti, Rurik Tyler, and more.
Monsters Attack! was the class act For Monsters Only never was or even came close to being…
…except, to my mind, with that trio of delicious Otto Binder/Jerry Grandenetti 16-pagers printed on cheesy yellow newsprint.
I’m going to wind up this essay with a gallery of Grandenetti‘s 1949-1951 “The Secret Files of Dr. Drew” splash pages from Ranger Comics, just to reinforce why I think Grandenetti‘s work in For Monsters Only deserves long-overdue attention and reassessment. Enjoy, and see you on Friday, blathering about something else altogether…
To Be Continued…Another Time!
All images ©original creators/proprietors, their original year of publication; all artwork and images are posted for archival and educational purposes only.