Thursday, July 31, 2008


Famous Monsters of Filmland. Creepy. Eerie. Vampirella. Doc Savage, The Shadow, The Spider. Savage Sword of Conan, The Conan comics. Have you heard of them? If you’re a male older than thirty with any interest in pulpy sorts of work you almost certainly have. These are all magazines (or in one case a comic) from the past, although Conan comics are still being published and Vampirella also experienced a resurgence.

If you have heard of them, did they have any influence on you? Your writing? So many of my male friends who are writers tell me how influential these magazines were on their lives. I’m jealous of those friends. Because I never heard of any of these as a kid. I didn’t even hear of most of them or see a copy until I was at least in my twenties.

I’m pretty sure I would have loved ‘em all. But they never made it to Charleston, Arkansas. The library didn’t carry them. They weren’t for sale at the drug store. There were no bookstores in town, and the comic carousal at the quick stop held only a few DC and Marvel comics, Superman, Fantastic Four, Spiderman. Not one of my friends had a subscription to any of them, or even had a copy that they’d gotten from somewhere. I know because any time I was at a friend’s house I looked at their books and comics. I traded some, borrowed others. I was a reading addict and read everything I could find, and was on a constant hunt for more. Had Famous Monsters and the like been available I would have found them.

There is no way to know how differently I might have turned out, or how differently my writing path might have been, had I been exposed to these sources that so many of my writing cohorts enjoyed. Would my imagination have been tuned differently? Or would I have just come upon certain themes in my writing earlier? Or might I have been hamstrung by reading all those magazines? Maybe I would have felt like everything had been done and given up on my own ideas. Maybe it was good that my imagination got to develop in relative isolation. Still, I feel a bit of envy for those who thrilled to such long ago thrillers.

I believe that one’s future reading choices are strongly influenced by the works we discover when we’re between the ages of 8 and 18. That’s why Edgar Rice Burroughs is such an influence on me. That’s why today when I read the exploits of The Shadow or Doc Savage I just don’t find them compelling. I missed the reading window when I would have fallen in love with them.

How about you? What did you miss out on when you were a kid? Is there anything you wish you’d discovered then that you learned of only later? How do you feel about that? The writer in me wants to know.


MarmiteToasty said...

You so wouldnt wanna know all the things I missed out on as a child, yet never really thought about it then..... it was what it was, and without those 'missing outs' I wouldnt be then person I am alls good :)

I so wish I could write...


Travis Erwin said...

It is better not to know, and I read so many wonderful things that I don't think I could have fit in something new without missing out on some of those. Sadly, there is only so much time to read.

Lana Gramlich said...

I seem to have totally reverted away from what I read between 8 & 18, myself, but I'm a freak, I guess.

Heff said...

Now yer talkin' ! I LOVED Vampirella when I was a young boy. She made my Pee-Pee hard.

Stewart Sternberg (half of L.P. Styles) said...

The question Charles is: Were you a fan? It's not about the magazines. It's about the fans and how the magazines gave them a sense of community, a sense of community they now receive on the internet. Would you have been different? My question remains, were you a fan? I don't believe these magazines or comic books would have converted you if that wasn't your inclination.

Angie said...

I always had lots of books, but when I was a kid, most of the ones I chose for myself came from the Scholastic Book Club at school. You know, that one-sheet foldover newsprint catalog-thingy they handed out at school once a month? I remember the cheap books were thirty cents, then forty and forty-five, with a few really expensive fifty-cent books. :) They also had a few posters in each catalog. Needless to say, though, the selection was rather limited to what "everyone" would agree was appropriate for elementary school age kids. There were certainly some good books in there, but not the Vampirella sort. :D

I was about twelve before I discovered that there were Entire Stores Full Of Books. O_O Whoa! Before that, I only saw books for sale at supermarkets and drug stores, or if we wanted a really big selection we went to K-Mart. My first Waldenbooks was a revelation, LOL! Forget the kids' section -- I dove in to SF and never came out.

That was also the time when my mom started letting me read her historical romances. This was the mid-seventies, when the historicals were very explicit and often violent as well, which is doubtless why I'm a smut peddler today. [wry smile]


Steve Malley said...

I was scared of practically everything as a kid, way too scared to read about Dracula and the Wolfman!

Sure did like Vampirella on those covers, though...

Paul R. McNamee said...

I definitely wish I had discovered Robert E. Howard and pulp sword-and-sorcery earlier. Then again, it might not have appealed to me at an earlier point in my life.

Tom Evans said...

I've never read any of them but I'm sure as hell going to order Vampirella!

Right now.

BernardL said...

My brother and I haunted the drug store for all of those, and read them religiously; but I'd have to say reading Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Robert E Howard in novel form had more impact on me. Later, I looked to Harold Robbins for my pulp fix. :) I sell a lot of the Creepys, Eeries, Savage Swords, Vampirellas, and Zombies in my little comics hobby shop.

Anndi said...

Things I missed out on as a kid... I never thought about that really.

I don't have any regrets about my childhood. I hope that the fact that I was a content child will keep me from falling into the trap over overindulgence with my own daughter.

That's all I got...

Travis Cody said...

I only knew about DC and Marvel comics when I was a kid. I was an occasional reader of comics.

When I started playing peewee football, I didn't have as much time for reading. I loved to read though, so I ended up choosing the Hardy Boys and the Disney encyclopedias my grandmother got for me instead of comics.

ivan said...

Hope this goes through, Charles. Especially the art work. Your discussion of the comics twigged someting in me. I am going by old notes and mini memoirs. Here is what came up.:

As an immigrant kid, I saved my sanity by reading the comic books.

Yes, Superman, the ultimate immigrant, Captain Marvel and Mary and the whole family, Wonder Woman, Batman and more.

But there was a transition coming, a transition to serious literature, a strange little character out of MAD #2.

Who from a minority group could not identify with Melvin Mole, this strange little apparition out of William Gaines' Humour in a Jugular Vein--Melvin Mole, file-toothed, rat-faced, pimply, whose sole (perhaps only) talent consisted of his ability to burrow underneath all obstacles, accompanying himself with obsessional mutterings: DIG! DIG! HAH! DIG! DIG! DIG!

The underground man. And when burrowing underwater, the talk balloons would have bubbles attached. GLIG! GLIG! HAH! GLIG! GLIG! GLIG!

Melvin tries to rob The Last National Bank, avoids the omniscient guards by incredible cunning and digging, at one point pulling out an automatic, which he discharges in all directions, yelling JOHN LAW! JOHN LAW! HAH! HEEH! HAH!....YOU'LL NEVER GET MELVIN MOLE...NEIN! NICHT! NEVER! Eventually, Melvin is dungeoned, and after many escapes (DIG! DIG! HAH! DIG! DIG! DIG!) redungeoned.

I developed a strange fascination with Melvin, this first nihilist, until years later it dawned on me that Kafka was born in a country just next door to my old Ukraine and there was a whole coterie of people out of my neck of the woods who were well acquainted with six-foot cockroaches and even strange space voyages. Stanislaw Lem, for example.

Well, it got me into becoming a writer, which was a good, or bad thing.

Charles Gramlich said...

Marmitetoasty, that's certainly true. I never thought about missing out on anything when I was little. We don't know what we're missing. And you write just fine.

Travis Erwin, good point. What else might I not have read instead? Still!

Lana, freakishly sessy, that's for sure.

Heff, and I never knew the joy of Vampirilla.

Stewart, I was a fan in the sense of being fanatical about fantasy stuff and SF, reading everything I could get my hands on. So I'm guessing I would have loved these. No way to tell, of course.

Angie, I got a lot of books through scholastic books too. I'd hoard my money to buy 'em, and they were like 25 cents when I started. I still have a few of them, books on dinosaurs, space, and football mostly.

Steve Malley, those would probably have freaked me out too. I wanted the fantasy, adventure elements though. As much as I could get.

Paul, I kept finding books that were "in the tradition of Conan" before I ever found any actual Howard stuff. But I was primed and ready by then.

Tom Evans, I've read some of the vampirilla stuff since I've been grown and it actually holds up better than the Shadow, Doc Savage stuff to me.

Bernardl, I bet ERB and REH would still have been bigger to me anyway too. But I can see myself particularly enjoying the Doc Savage stuff.

Anndi, oh I was very content and don't really feel strongly emotional about missing some of this stuff. I do feel a bit of jealousy, though. Just a bit.

Travis, I read all the Hardy boys in our library, which was about four of them. I also liked the "three investigators"

Ivan, I bet I would have liked Mad as well, but we didn't have that either. Later in life I became a fan of spy versus spy.

Wayne Allen Sallee said...

Going with what Stewart said, I would add that its all about where you bought the magazines. I never bought them in Chicago, I found them on racks in rural Streator and read them in on a rickety porch while my dad and uncles played poker in a tiny kitchen. I don't know that I'd have similar memories if I read them back here.

SQT said...

I never got any of these magazines as a kid. I had brothers, who sadly had no interest in reading, and a mom who thought Peanuts was more appropriate for a girl. Darn it!

I'm playing catch-up though. I just ordered a copy of Watchmen. I can't wait to get it!

the walking man said...

During that time frame my parents were prolific readers of everything. Nothing in print was denied us, if it held our attention it was good. Newspapers, books of every sort, pulp comics...anything we laid our eye on was good and worth the purchase.

But I think the type of music I listened to is more definitive of where I got my writing styles from. Classical, folk, rock, country, be-bop, Motown...not the lyrics mind you but the music, it's beats and rhythms and meter. I think it is still true for today. Although I listen to much more than the already named today.

J. L. Krueger said...

I missed out on just about all the comic books unless a friend shared. My parents didn't allow any of that in the house...we were always told that it was rubbish.

Like you, I didn't get to see things like Conan until I was in my twenties. Growing up I read mostly history, or historical fiction. I didn't start branching out until I read "Lord of the Rings" and "Atlas Shrugged" in 8th grade.

Greg said...

I didn't discover horror until after college. The first Stephen King book I picked up was "Desperation," and I was 22. Of course, from the first sentence I was hooked, but I hadn't had any exposure to the genre before then.

I just got Dreams & Nightmares last night. I really like "Blue Soul." it's got a great voice, and the lack of punctuation and capitalization work well with the flow of the poem. Definitely the best poem in the issue!

Bernita said...

There was just never enough reading material of any kind when I was a kid.

writtenwyrdd said...

I don't think I missed out on anything, but I grew up in San Jose, CA and the librarians were rather liberal. When I checked out some books from the SF section, they didn't realise how, um, racy some of the content was either. I recall this one book, Flesh, which was practically a non-stop orgy... I read it (twice) and commented to my mother that it was a non-stop orgy. I was about ten at the time. Mom was a bit non-plussed that I had found such a book in teh SF or general fiction on the bookmobile, but not particularly upset. (She had a policy that if I had a question, she'd answer it. And if I wanted to read something, she'd let me. She's rather liberal, too!)

But although I read about 20 of the Tarzan books, all the Gor books, many Andre Norton books and other pulp works (as well as all the UFO books and conspiracy and esoteric books my library shelves held) I don't think these influenced my writing *style* that much. My thinking, yes. In particular when I was given a stack of old pulp magazines (Amazing Stories and the like, vintage from the 40s-60s, which I did not realize were worth something and which got lost.)

Anyhow, it seems to be a day of me rambling. Sorry for the long post.

Sarai said...

Believe it or not my parents wouldn't buy comics for me. I learned all I know about X-Men, Batman, Superman, Spidy and others through TV. When I got my first job I went out and bought every single one of them I could. When I moved to college mom sold them all.
So now I read graphic novels but everytime mom comes over I find myself hiding them LOL
I was jealous of all the other kids that got to have them (my parents thought they were a waste of money and would buy me "real" books instead!)

Charles Gramlich said...

Wayne, so for you being able to read them there was kind of an adventure. It added to the enjoyment of it.

SQT, to this day I have only a passing interest in graphic novels and comics. So I guess I'm not catching up.

Mark, up until I was a teenager and able to get out of the house, I hardly ever heard anything but country music or Lawrence Welk. To this day I don't like either, although new country music is something else. My dad wouldn't allow any other kind of music in the house.

J. L. Krueger, my sister worked at the small Charleston library when I was a pre teen and she brought me books. And I went to the library once every couple of weeks. My dad would take me there.

Greg, I came to horror late as well. It was late in college before I found it, and I started with Lovecraft and worked my way through a lot of short stories in series like the Charles Grant edited "Shadows." Thanks for the comments on "Blue Soul." I got my copies yesterday to and was going to comment on your three horror ku today. I especially liked the ancient book.

Bernita, that may have been good fo rme in a way. It forced me to read my sister's encyclopedias.

Writtenwyrd, you read "flesh" at 10? I thought that book was graphic when I read it at like 35. That's very interesting that those types of reading didn't have much influence on your writing.

Sarai, I was already reading "real" books before I discovered comics. I then bought a few of the fantastic four, spiderman boks, but never thought they compared with regular books and just sort of stopped reading 'em.

Miladysa said...

I get such a kick when I 'discover' something new that I'm glad I missed it until that moment :-D

L.A. Mitchell said...

You raise some interesting questions, C. I agree that from the young ages you mention, our reading patterns begin deep threads of who we'll become--especially writers.

For me, I devoured Lois Duncan and Edgar Allen Poe and most of the dark stuff that is still part of what comes through today. I didn't pick up a romance novel until began writing and my CPs told me it was absolutely the direction my voice was headed. I'd been so critical of the genre and balked at the mention of my creativity headed that direction. Then I read the best of that genre and fell in love with it and it's a great fit for me.

Had I been introduced to the genre earlier, absolutely, I would have taken a different path. Maybe waiting to encounter it until I was open and seeking something had a greater impact.

cs harris said...

As a child, I lived out in the country with limited access to books, so I tended to reread my own collection over and over again, or raid my dad's history books. I've wondered what difference it would have made, if I'd had a broader selection. Yet there were some books (Little Women and Jane Eyre come to mind) that I never could make it through, even though they sat on my shelves year after year.

Erik Donald France said...

This is a great topic. "I believe that one’s future reading choices are strongly influenced by the works we discover when we’re between the ages of 8 and 18."

Agreed, and not only reading choices!

My whole family (including parents, two older sisters, younger brother) were/are voracious readers, and eclectic.
Plus, 8-18 we moved from Chicago to St. Paul to Durham, NC, and I then to VA and back to NC. This added to the eclectic mix -- then (Borstal Boy to Thinking Big to the John Carter books, and now.

Never got much onto comics and pulps except occasional Sgt. Rock for chuckles.

Randy Johnson said...

When I first began reading a lot, I read the Hardy Boys, Tom Swift, the Heinlein juveniles, etc. All these came from the library.
My little town had one drugstore with a spinner rack for paperbacks, one for comics, and a small shelf for magazines. Creepy, Eerie, Vampirella, and Famous Monsters we got. I discovered Doc Savage with the Bantam reprints(I own all but about a dozen) and The Shadow novels with the Bantam and Jove reprints.
What I missed were the Gold Medal crime novels. I started finding a few at used book stores, but wasn't familiar enough with most of the writers to know what to buy,
Living in a small town has a lot of advantages. Perhaps this wasn't one of them.
I never heard of the Rick Brant series(would have been right up my alley) until James Reasoner blogged about them(I ordered the first three and have now read the first one).

ivan said...

Hey, Everybody digs Spy vs. Spy.
It was on MAD TV until recently.

Illusrator Don Martin is crazy.

Cartoon of a man coccooning himself
wildly as he spins on a centrifuge in an eyeglass factory.

Caption: "Phelps is making a spectacle of himself again."

Charles Gramlich said...

Miladysa, there's something to be said for that, for sure.

L. A. Mitchell, that might be true for me with horror fiction. I came to it late but embraced it and really have enjoyed writing it.

Candy, I've never read Little women or Jane Eyre either, but I have to admit I've never tried. I did read a lot of books over and over when I was young because they were what I had available to me.

Erik, for some reason I can't seem to access your webpage today. Not sure what is wrong. I read some Sgt. Rock. Kind of liked it.

Randy Johnson, I'd never heard of the Rick Brant series either until James posted about them. I ordered the first two but haven't started one yet. I would have liked those Gold Medal books probably too but didn't find many of them. My brother in law had some and I read his. Mostly JDM.

Ivan, LOL. Good one.

Sidney said...

I read a lot of those mags because they took the comics rack out of the local drug store. I discovered Famous Monsters on the super market magazine rack. It was an anniversary issue and had Tom Tyler on the cover as Captain Marvel. That's how it got past my folks. My old man remembered Tom Tyler from cowboy films.

It had become a regular acquisition by the time my mom noticed an issue with the Creature on it.

Incidentally long after I was having work published, my mom worried about me being negatively influenced by horror.

writtenwyrdd said...

Yes, I was in 5th grade, Charles. That's either ten or eleven, isn't it? Um *doing math frantically with fingers and toes* yes.

Charles Gramlich said...

Sidney, I didn't start reading much horror till I was out of the house, and I still don't think my mom knows I've written it.

Writtenwyrd, Farmer could write some pretty dirty stuff.

Michelle's Spell said...

Hey Charles,

I think you're so right about this one. I think of all the early things I loved from books to magazines -- I know that I love the 70s, love epic stories like Roots, love books about cults, books about all the bad things that can happen to you. Hank and I used to read a book called 101 Freaky Ways To Die when we were in the first grade. That and How To Own and Operate A Haunted House could possibly describe my entire life.

laughingwolf said...

yup, read all you mention, and more... growing up in a small town, but close ti the u.s. border, can't think of any i may have missed

all the comics, graphic novels, and pulp fiction i could handle, and later, graphic novels, like 'heavy metal' [still around] and one called '1984', plus tons of horror and vampire stuff

was reading ian fleming long before jfk made it de riguer....

Issa's Untidy Hut said...


When I first read your post I thought, he's got the wrong end of the stick. But, no, I was wrong, because I was exposed to the stuff you weren't.

I was in my teens in the early 60's, so we took what we could get and that wasn't much. We were teethed on comics and Mad because there was literally nothing else for kids that age and we weren't hip to anything but Poe.

But comics made me a reader (since I don't write fiction, this is as monumental as it gets). And the connections became obvious quickly. I was a huge Roy Thomas/John Buscema Conan fan from the Marvel comics, particularly the excellent "Savage Sword of Conan." And the book publishers sat up and took notice and so came the first wave revival of Howard's fiction in paperback. And we gobbled it up. This was just after the H. P. Lovecraft revival, which also hit the stores in paperback. I started reading and never really looked back. I still read the Conan comics (old habits die hard) but once I discovered the real thing with REH and HPL, I left the comic world in the rear view. However, if it wasn't for comics I would never have made the leap into the book world. I've been reading a book a week ever since and have even made it all the way through Proust (twice).

I was starving for fiction. I had read Sherlock Holmes and Sax Rohmer's Fu Manchu (which are really the Holmes' stories turned inside out) and once I got to that level of pulp, the Gor stuff and the Doc Savage didn't really cut it. I had a blind spot which was ERB; Marvel's adaptation of the John Carter novels also solved that problem and I still try to read a Burroughs at least once a year.

Well, this was longer than I intended but as a librarian in the real world, it has always been important to me to understand how to get books into kids hands that they'll devour, be it Nancy Drew, Jane Austen, Agatha Christie, whatever. Just get 'em hooked reading and the job's done.

And you writers end up with an audience!

Don @ Lilliput

Shauna Roberts said...

In second grade I was checking sixth-grade books out of the library, and by sixth grade, I was reading mysteries and science fiction from the adult section. So I missed out on almost all the classic children's books. Sometimes I regret it when I hear other writers talking about how much they loved this or that classic that I never read.

Charles Gramlich said...

Hum, I know I posted responses to the last comments on this post and the one before but neither of them actually got recorded by blogger. Oh well, responding again.

Michelle, ways to die. You know, I'm starting to believe it when you say you were a morbid child.

Laughingwolf, Heavy Metal was another mag I missed but would have loved. I found FLeming much later as well, though I saw the movies earlier.

Don's hut, I agree absolutely, get books (or comics) into kid's hands and get them hooked. I know a lot of folks who came to books by way of comics, though I'm not one of them. But they certainly expanded from their initial medium.

Shauna, I'm kind of the same. There weren't other readers around me much and so I didn't hear about things like The Wind in the Willows, which I bet I would have loved then. I did find a few things on my own, like the black Stallion books of Farley, and The Borrowers by mary Norton.