Famous/ Freaky Monster Cards!
By Kurt Kuersteiner ©2011 Monsterwax Monster Trading Cards for The Wrapper Magazine
Any monster kid who grew up in the ‘60s or ‘70s has seen Famous Monsters of Filmland. The magazine was stuffed with articles and photos about our favorite monster movies, especially the classic Universal flicks syndicated during those same years on various “Shock Theater” type TV shows. Even if you didn’t subscribe, it was impossible not to notice the colorful covers screaming at you from the newsstands. The various monsters (most of which were painted by Basil Gogos) would glare at passersby with penetrating eyes. The wimps would walk faster to escape their stare, but typical monster fans were hypnotized and did as they were commanded: They bought and devoured each issue.
The magazine began in 1957 and featured Forrest J. Ackerman as the editor with a morbid thirst for puns. Forry left in 1983 and publisher Jim Warren closed shop one issue later (issue #199). But like the proverbial vampire, it came back. The official website describes that event thus:
“In 1993, Ray Ferry made a deal to acquire rights to revive the publication and hired Forry to once more assume his Dr. Acula guise and crank up the pun machine. Fans greeted the title like a long lost friend but complications forced Forry to step down after ten issues. Ferry continued the publication until early 2008.” (That was issue #249.)
Oh, if only it were that simple! The story of Ferry & Forry reads like a soap opera, complete with plenty of dirty laundry! What makes the story interesting for card collectors is that it resulted in three different monster/ sci-fi card series (besides the original Rosan 1963 series which first sold in the magazine’s classifieds). From 1991 through 1992, Raygen (later called Dynacomm) issued Ackermonster’s Cardiacards. It consisted of four different factory sets devoted to science fiction posters and lobby cards, with limited editorial text on the back. Each set had 45 cards. In 1992, Dynacomm released Ackermonster’s Classicards. It featured all the cover images from Famous Monsters of Filmland (FMF) in five different factory sets skip numbered 1 through 225. This series was also 45 cards per set, and the contents of each magazine were listed on the reverse of each card. I thought this was a particularly beautiful series, although it was little pricey at $13 per set (x 5 = $65). Still, it’s a lot cheaper than buying the complete magazine set, which runs in the thousands of dollars. Although the art was all recycled from the covers, and the table of contents on the backs somewhat dull, I still thought it was a pretty neat set. In fact, I liked it so much that I called Ackerman around 1994 to see if I could convince him to release them in wax packs. I spoke to his machine several times, but the Ackermonster never returned my calls. (It turns out he was in a bitter feud over FMA at the time, as you’ll soon discover.) 5,000 sets were produced… that’s $323,750 worth of Classicards alone. (Not a bad gig if you can get it!) And the hobby seems to have absorbed them all. Less than twenty years later, they are pretty hard to find.
Freaky Monster Cards.
Fortunately, there’s a new series with covers from FMF, only these are different covers. Freaky Monsters is a 36 card factory set that features the original artwork of Arlis, the artist who painted the revived FMF covers for Ferry starting at issue #200. These are every bit as cool as the original Gogos paintings (in my opinion). I wanted to find out more about them.
I tried for weeks to reach Ferry to get the scoop on his cards, but like Ackerman before him, he seemed impossible to reach. A casual search of the web makes the reason rather obvious. Ever since his falling out with Forry and FMF, Ferry has been the victim of a full-blown internet hatecampaign. Try Googling him and you’ll see there’s post after post attacking Ferry, as well as angry reviews of his book, many by people who say they never read it. Heck, even the Wikipedia page takes sides against him (despite their official claim of neutrality). I searched everywhere on the net to find Ferry’s side of the story with no luck. (And you thought the web had everything?) It made me more curious, so I decided to get Ferry’s book on the subject and read all 433 pages of it. I found his story very revealing…
It turns out that “Uncle Forry” (as Ackerman liked to be called) was a bit of a huckster. Monster movie makers would give him props to encourage positive publicity about their movies, and he would sometimes exaggerate their rarity and sell them to third parties. This shouldn’t be too surprising, since he was, after all, a self proclaimed literary agent. Hollywood “Flesh Peddlers” are well known for exploiting anyone and anything to get their 10% commission. Forry took this art to a new level, however, since he wasn’t even a licensed agent, and yet he sometimes tried to line up deals (and charge fees) to people who had never agreed to have him represent them.
Perhaps the chintziest thing he ever did was his habit of writing famous dying acquaintances and asking them to send him a signed note saying “this is the final autograph of (dead guy’s name)”. These morbid souvenirs could later be sold for big bucks after the celebrity was dead and buried. Vincent Price was one celeb who acquiesced to this grim petition while on his deathbed, but when Forry faxed the same request to Robert Block (the famous screenwriter of Psycho), it ignited a firestorm of protest from the friends and relatives who were gathered around the ailing author. One of those friends was SF writer Harlan Ellison (A Boy and His Dog, The Glass Teat), who was so outraged by the incident, that he publicly rebuked Forry for it and testified against him at the FMF trial.
Despite his lack of class (or maybe because of it), I still find it impossible to dislike Ackerman. He reminds me of another money-grubbing charlatan, the loveable con man from Green Acres: Mr. Haney! That being said, I doubt I’d be as loving toward either character if they showed up in real life and were after my wallet. Alas, Forry passed away in 2008. (I sure wish I had his final autograph.)
But enough of the past, let’s get back to present and the Freaky Monsters.
Arlis, the artist, created beautiful covers. The layouts are neat and the color is rich. All the most popular monsters are here, especially the Universal bunch and many others as well. These are not photos of the covers with the titles included (as was the case with the Classicards). Instead, it is the original artwork without the logos or titles cluttering up the card. Unless you collected the revived 1990s FMF magazines (#200-249), these are all new images.
On the downside, there are only 36 cards in the set, and they cost $29.95, (not including the $3.50 shipping), so they are not cheap. They are not sold in wax boxes and there are no special inserts or any chase cards, but you can buy them in packs. But again, the price of a pack runs about double the price of typical packs.
The backs are retro in style and contain interesting text about the subject on the front. The information isn’t always right. Card #22 incorrectly states that the monster and story pictured on the front are from "The Galaxy Being" episode of The Outer Limits TV show, (when it was actually "The Architects of Fear" from the same series). When one considers these images first showed up on a cover of a magazine as popular as Famous Monsters of Filmland (issue #240, to be exact), it's hard to understand how a mistake like that could occur in 2005 and none of the readers would mention anything in the five years (or ten issues) that passed since it was first published! If you're like me, however, you probably find that these kinds of imperfections only make the cards more fun. It's also rather funny to think something that obvious could slip past fanboy readers who are so serious about science fiction that they typically gather at conventions to argue about Romulans verses Vulcans while speaking in Klingon. (Then again, since I noticed the error, what does that say about my geekdom?)
All that aside, I enjoyed the set, and as far as the high price is concerned, Ferry certainly paid his dues and could use some financial support for his monster efforts. He had to declare bankruptcy after Ackerman’s lawyer convinced a jury that FMF, a magazine that Jim Warren originally owned but shut down and let the trademark lapse, really belonged to the former editor (Ackerman), instead of the then current editor and revived trademark owner (Ferry). They awarded Ackerman nearly $725,000.00! (The magazine later sold for just $25K.) Ferry appealed the verdict but lost. He also lost the many years and tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees during the fight. It’s a grim demonstration of the famous Arab curse that goes, “May you be involved in a lawsuit in which you know you’re right!” (If you want the whole story, read LIFE IS BUT A SCREAM- The True Story of the Rebirth of Famous Monsters of Filmland. It’s a bit like watching Titanic: You already know the ending, but the suspense of watching it all unfold keeps you glued to the end.)
Surprisingly, I finally managed to reach Ferry just days before my deadline. Despite all his legal trials and tribulations, I found him to be a very upbeat person. He’s been busy publishing issues 1 and 2 of Freaky Monsters, along with the matching card set. Providing press run numbers on this series is not possible, because it’s being digitally printed “on demand” in small batches of several hundred, and will continue doing so as long as orders persist. There are no changes planned for the future editions (except correcting the Outer Limits error that I mentioned to him) but the advent of “on demand” cards could signal a big change for trading cards in the overall industry. (It’s an issue I expect we’ll see a lot more of in the future.)
The other big news Ferry reports is that he has another monster magazine due out in mid summer as well, called Shock Theater Classics Posterzine. And if that’s not enough, he’s also releasing a new card series to celebrate that magazine as well! (I’ll cover it in the next Oddball Monster Card review.) Clearly, Ferry follows the wisdom of Nietzche when it comes to not letting old setbacks slow him down.
So if you were one of the many monster kids who were saddened when FMF went out of business in the 1983, then excited by its revival in the 1993, only to be disappointed again when it died in 2008, you’ll be glad to know the spirit is still alive and well with Ferry and his Freaky Monsters magazine. And if you’re a monster card kid, then you’ll especially enjoy the cards. They sure are freaky!
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