Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Too Much Horror Business by Kirk Hammett

My article on Metallica lead guitarist and monster collector Kirk Hammett appeared in the Halloween issue of AntiqueWeek. You can read it here:


FAMOUS MONSTER COLLECTOR KIRK HAMMETT

Often wielding a guitar decorated by a painting of Boris Karloff as the Mummy, Kirk Hammett plays lead for Metallica, the famous heavy metal band responsible for such ear-shattering tunes as “Kill 'Em All” (from the band’s 1983 debut album), “Master of Puppets” (1986), and “Enter Sandman” (1991). In 2009, Metallica, which has sold more than 100 million records worldwide, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Many fans undoubtedly assume that Hammett’s Mummy guitar is simply a macabre affectation, a cool and eccentric nod to the quirky lifestyle of the prototypical guitar god. Nothing could be further from the truth. Hammett is a hardcore creature collector and an avowed horror movie buff, amassing an amazing array of monster memorabilia that is one of the best collections of its type in the world.

Hammett’s terrifying treasure trove is the subject of a new book, Too Much Horror Business: The Kirk Hammett Collection (Abrams Image), which features more than 300 photos of Kirk’s collection. Hammett doesn’t offer pricing, but the legendary guitarist does complement each photo (or at least each page) with commentary, such as the impression a particular film had on him as a child or what he thinks of the artwork on a particular poster or model kit box.

Posters are in fact a huge chunk of Hammett’s collection (as is original art by the likes of Frank Frazetta and Famous Monsters artist Basil Gogos), which dates back to the 1920s. He owns a Spanish Nosferatu (1922) one-sheet, Metropolis (1927) lobby cards, a French Frankenstein (1931) double-panel, a King Kong (1933) six-sheet, a Son of Dracula (1943) half sheet, and far, far too many others to mention.

Also impressive are Hammett’s vast array of authentic film props, such as Bela Lugosi’s vest and jacket from White Zombie (1932), Boris Karloff’s outfit from The Black Cat (1934), a Bud Westmore test makeup bust from The Wolfman (1941), a Martian suit from Invaders from Mars (1953), and an alien’s weapon from Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957).

Hammett grew up in San Francisco during the 1960s, a child of hippie parents, watching horror and science fiction movies from a very early age. “When I was five years old I got into a fight with my younger sister and managed to sprain my arm,” he recalled. “My parents then said that I couldn’t go outside and play…they sat me in front of the television, and I soon found myself watching Day of the Triffids [1962], which is about gigantic man-eating plants.”

Day of the Triffids did indeed terrify young Hammett, but it attracted him as well. He even tried to draw the titular creatures, which he loved to fear. “I was obviously as fascinated as I was scared by them,” he said. “I realized that Day of the Triffids was a different kind of movie. It gave me another sense, another feeling. And I enjoyed this ‘other feeling’ very, very much.”

Monster toys entered Hammett’s life shortly thereafter. “I remember very, very vividly seeing my brother bring home an Aurora monster model of Frankenstein soon after I’d seen Day of the Triffids,” he said. “I didn’t know exactly what it was, but I was aware that it was a monster movie because I had seen pictures or stills somewhere. It made an enormous impression on me.”

This “enormous impression” informs Hammett’s collection tremendously. He has some of the rarest, most sought-after monster toys from the 1960s and ’70s, including Universal Monster “soakies” (figures filled with bubble bath), porcelain figures, candy boxes (from Phoenix Candy), paint-by-number kits (from Hasbro), board games (from Hasbro), model kits (from Aurora), wallets, wall plaques, action figures (from AHI), and jigsaw puzzles.    

Like many “monster kids” of the era, Hammett spent money that was intended for food on comic books and such monster magazines Creepy, Eerie, and Famous Monsters of Filmland. “My parents started to give me milk money, twenty-five cents a day, which was enough to get some milk and a donut,” he said. “I found out that saving that quarter a day gave me access to a world I wanted to know intimately.”

Hammett’s attraction for horror and science fiction, which is just as strong now as it was when he was a kid, goes beyond mere entertainment (though that’s certainly a large part of it). Universal’s original Frankenstein in particular strikes a personal chord, especially since Hammett’s relationship to his alcoholic, drug-taking father was less than ideal.

“There’s a lot of melancholy in Frankenstein,” Hammett said. “He’s the ultimate outsider who’s also misunderstood. And the ironic thing about it is that throughout the course of the movie, the monster’s trying to connect with his creator. He’s looking for a father figure. Perhaps I always deep down recognized it as something of a mirror for my world.”

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Friday, October 19, 2012

FILTERED FUTURE REVIEWED ON AMAZON

My book of short stories, Filtered Future, received the following review on Amazon today:

This collection of tales is a diverse, rich treasure trove for fans of dark fiction. Whether your taste is for sci-fi, fantasy, or horror, Weiss has something here for you. He engages each of these areas with originality and a marked intellectual approach. Fans of all three genres will devour this volume with sheer delight. And these stories are far above mere escapist mind candy--Weiss explores philosophical and existential themes without his material coming across as contrived or pretentious. These tales have something substantive to say and do more than just entertain--they also provoke thoughtful reflection.

Stylistically, Weiss combines elements reminiscent of Poe, Lovecraft, Bradbury, Asimov, and Shelley--names I don't drop lightly. With memorable characters, authentic dialogue, optimal pacing, and plot twists that surprise while avoiding the deus ex machina pitfall, this collection of short stories is well worth your time. Highly recommended.

You can order the book HERE.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Fan Days - Oct. 19-21 Near Dallas

My preview of Fan Days, where I'll be set up as a vendor, appeared in the new issue of AntiqueWeek. Here's that article:


 FAN DAYS

IRVING, TX—Hosted by Ben Stevens and Philip Wise, who also run a similar event called the Dallas Comic-Con, Fan Days is a geeky gathering of comic book fans, dealers, writers, artists, and anyone else interested in the four-color adventures of men and women in tights. And, as with most of the bigger cons, Fan Days is a place to meet and greet sci-fi celebrities.

This year’s Fan Days, which will take place at the Irving Convention Center Oct. 19-21, is a star-studded attraction, boasting the likes of Stan “The Man” Lee, Bruce Campbell (Army of Darkness), Sean Astin (Lord of the Rings), Robert Englund (A Nightmare on Elm Street), Steven Yeun (The Walking Dead), Lance Henriksen (Aliens), and animator/director Ralph Bakshi (Cool World, Wizards), among numerous others.

And, of course, there will be the requisite dealer’s room, with vendors selling Golden and Silver Age comic books, rare paperbacks, first-edition hardcover books, vintage movie posters, out-of-print CD soundtracks, graphic novels (many of which will be marked down to 50% off), old toys, and much more.

Johnny Loyd of Fort Worth, who has been going to comic book conventions since 1985, never misses a local sci-fi celebration, and he frequently travels out of state to go to indulge his favorite hobby. Loyd collects super-hero action figures and Star Trek items, and he still remembers a find he made at a Dallas Fantasy Fair during the late 1980s.

“I got a rare Cyborg Super Powers action figure in the package for just $50,” Loyd said. “Now he goes for $350 to $400.” (Cyborg, a member of the Teen Titans at the time, was released in relatively low numbers in the third and final wave of Kenner’s beloved Super Powers line, which was in production from 1984-1986).

Loyd also collects celebrity autographs and photos. At Fan Days, he’s looking forward to meeting Casper Van Dien and Dina Meyer, both of whom starred in the 1987 cinematic hit, Starship Troopers. Meyer also played Oracle in the short-lived Birds of Prey television series (2003), which was based on the DC comic book of the same name.

“Convention organizers have gotten smarter over the years,” Loyd said. “They emphasize celebrities more, and that brings people in.”

At the most recent Dallas Comic-Con, which was May 19-20, Ben Stevens was hoping for around 15,000 fans. What he got instead was close to 25,000 attendees, which meant long lines, long waits, and some frustration among fans. Anticipating a similar turnout for Fan Days, Stevens has increased the forthcoming event to three days, rearranged various line configurations, and added extra concession stands.

Contact:
(972) 966-0680
 www.scifiexpo.com/DCC/fandays.html
Father and daughter enjoying cosplay (costume play) at last year’s Fan Days.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Dynamite Magazine


My article on Dynamite magazine appeared in a recent issue of AntiqueWeek. Here's that article, reprinted in its entirety: 

If you were in elementary school in America during the mid-to-late 1970s, you probably remember Dynamite magazine, a pop culture publication aimed at kids and published by the Scholastic Book Club.

 Dynamite received some newsstand distribution, but it was primarily sold through Scholastic, who each month would send brochures to school teachers across the country. The teachers, eager to promote reading, would hand out the brochures to their students, who would check off the books they wanted to purchase and return the next day (or shortly thereafter) with money from their parents.


After receiving the order forms, Scholastic would print the publications in the numbers requested. This was an ideal business model for a magazine, since the far less predictable newsstand distribution system virtually guaranteed that hundreds or even thousands of issues would be returned at a loss to the publisher.

When I was a kid, my mom would let me order three Scholastic items each month. In addition to ordering books, such as H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds and The Time Machine, I always checked off Dynamite magazine, which I would eagerly devour as soon as it arrived a few weeks later.

The first issue of Dynamite was published in 1974 and featured Hawkeye and Radar—characters from the M*A*S*H TV series—on the cover. The last issue, #165, released in 1992, showcasing actors Julia Roberts and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In between those book-marking issues, such diverse pop culture icons as Cher, Bruce Lee, The Brady Bunch, Alfred E. Neuman, Rick Springfield, and The Incredible Hulk graced the covers.

Each issue of Dynamite was colorful and entertaining and featured such items as interviews, articles, recipes, comics (including the super-hero strip, “Dynamite Duo”), photo features (such as a “Celebrity Yearbook Quiz”), “Count Morbida’s Monthly Puzzle Pages,” and Magic Wanda’s magic tricks. One of the favorite regular features was “Bummers,” which were comic panels derived from reader-submitted ideas—a successful entry netted the entrant a whopping $5.

Debuting in an era before VCRs, cable television, personal computers, and video games (or at least before video games had become ubiquitous), Dynamite was a hit from the get-go, giving kids a good way to pass the time and keep a finger on the pulse of popular culture. According to former DC Comics publisher Jenette Kahn, the brainchild behind Dynamite, the magazine was once the best-selling publication in the history of Scholastic.

In an interview published in the February installment of Back Issue (#57), Kahn told Robert Greenberger that Scholastic approached her with the idea for starting a juvenile magazine. “Executives at Scholastic were aware of Kids [a previous periodical Kahn had published] and asked if I would conceive of another magazine for them,” she said.

Dick Robinson, the head of Scholastic, contracted Kahn to produce three issues of Dynamite. The magazine sold extremely well—too well, in fact. “Dynamite was so phenomenally successful that we weren’t able to come to terms,” Kahn said. “Even when I offered to accept a 1% royalty instead of the 4% royalty that every other author of the book-club section received, Scholastic said I’d be earning too much money and turned me down.”

With Kahn out of the picture, Dynamite soldiered on under the editorship of Jane Stine, wife of children’s author R.L. Stine, creator of the Goosebumps series.

Most kids who bought Dynamite magazine read the issues multiple times and/or passed them around to friends. Since the magazine sold so well and most copies were heavily read, Good and Very Good copies of Dynamite aren’t particularly difficult to locate. However, copies in Fine or better condition are very hard to find, especially complete.

Well-worn copies of Dynamite sell for just $2 to $3 apiece while Very Fine to Near Mint issues with inserts intact (trading cards, posters, and the like) can command anywhere from $10 to $50 each, depending on the popularity and scarcity of the issue. Issues featuring such icons as Elvis Presley (#24) and Farrah Fawcett (#40) on the cover usually sell for more than those sporting such lesser known talents as Mark Fidrych (#38) and Shields and Yarnell (#48). Also, earlier issues are typically worth more than later ones.

There are two issues of Dynamite magazine in particular collectors should keep an eye out for. A special edition 3-D Poster Book with Neal Adams art is fairly difficult to find, as is a special promo edition of issue #49 (featuring Cheryl Ladd on the cover) that was free with the purchase of any size of Concentrated All Detergent. A water-stained copy of the latter with missing inserts recently sold for $45 on eBay.

Whether you’re nostalgic for the “good old days” or want to introduce your kids to what you read when you were their age, there’s a lot of fun to be had between the covers of Dynamite magazine. You’ll certainly get bang for your buck.