Uncle Forry was celebrated in style at San Diego Comic-Con 2016
Fans and friends told stories of what Uncle Forry means to them
Forrest J Ackerman’s centennial was celebrated in a grand way at San Diego Comic-Con 2016. He was featured in the exclusive souvenir book alongside Wonder Woman and Archie Andrews, among others, who are also celebrating their own milestones. We were selling an exclusive Comic-Con issue of FM with a specially painted cover of Uncle Forry. And an hour-long panel was devoted to him in a 2,000-seat auditorium with friends and fans.
A fitting tribute for the man who coined the term Sci-Fi. Who was the first cosplayer, way, way back in 1939 at the first World Science Fiction Convention. Who created Vampirella. And who, as the kindly editor of Famous Monsters of Filmland, which debuted in 1958, influenced generations of Monster Kids, including some who went on to become recognizable simply by their last names: Spielberg. Lucas. Cameron. Del Toro. King.
No wonder he’s called the Father of Fandom. (As one of our panelists, podcaster Matthew Patterson, said, “If you look at Famous Monsters magazine, the template for today’s fandom is right there.”)
Famous Monsters exec editor David Weiner moderated a panel with FM publisher Philip Kim; Mad Monster magazine’s Joe Moe; THE SIMPSONS animator Paul Wee (who created the exclusive Comic-Con Forry cover!); the aforementioned Patterson; former lead singer of Journey Robert Fleischman; Bif Bang Pow!’s Jason Lenzi; FIGHT CLUB screenwriter Jim Uhls; FREAKS AND GEEKS star Steve Bannos; MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000’s Joel Hodgson; and DC comics writer and co-publisher Dan DiDio.
They each had personal stories that, while unique, all held a unifying thread: Forry and Famous Monsters changed their lives, helping them to realize they weren’t alone in their love of all things horrific.
Joe Moe, who was Forry’s caretaker for a period, remembers reading the mag when he was growing up in Hawaii. When his family moved to California he was finally able to visit the fabled Acker-mansion, and he recalled the thrill of ringing the doorbell, and hearing a spooky recording responding: “Who dares disturb the sleep of the vampire?” What really stuck with him was how, while most magazines focused on glamorous movie stars, “[Forry] turned the spotlight from the people in front of the camera and focused on the people behind the camera,” thusly influencing filmmakers and makeup and special effects artists.
MST3K’s Hodgson brought up the dichotomy of Forry. While visiting the Acker-mansion, he was in awe of treasure upon treasure upon treasure: movie props and effects and souvenirs. And then, beside the silver and gold, there would be a plastic tchotchke. He said, “There were these real treasures and then there were these things that were just goofy. … He was a real showman.”
Emmy winner Wee said that he got into animation because it paid more, but his heart was always with painting, portraiture, and monsters. So being able to not just celebrate Forry on the panel but also pay tribute through the Comic-Con cover image was special. “I finally got my FM cover,” he enthused. “Dream come true!”
Lenzi simplified what Famous Monsters meant, saying, “It was the Internet for us,” continuing that it was like a gateway drug, leading to Starlog, Fangoria, and Cinefantastique, other Sci-Fi/fantasy/horror mags.
Which, when you were a kid growing up in the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s might be all you had. Before cable, before VCRs, before Netflix, before streaming and downloads, if you missed a movie in the theater, a kid had to wait for it to come to TV. Network TV. Slashed to shreds for content and time. Screenwriter Uhls related that his parents forbade him to watch horror movies on the TV because they generally came on at midnight. And FM wasn’t sold on newsstands in small-town Missouri where he grew up, so he had friends and family bring them down from St. Louis. When he eventually got a subscription, he remembers his parents giving him a look, like, “What’s in the brown paper wrapper?”
DC’s DiDio lived far from California, growing up in Brooklyn. Yet his sister was ill and she corresponded with Forry consistently, so when Forry went to visit New York, they went to Manhattan to meet him one rainy day. DiDio was in awe when Forry allowed him to try on his famous Dracula ring. And months later, DiDio was stunned to find his class picture in the mag, spotlighting him as Monster of the Month! (He’s since made it a life goal to see every single movie ever featured in FM. A huge undertaking!)
Bannos may have the story that gives the most insight into who Forry was and how he cultivated relationships with his beloved Monster Kids. He says he got his first issue of FM in 1970 when he was ten and everything changed for him: “Famous Monsters wasn’t a distraction; it was everything. It was my whole life. I went from kind of geek to super geek.” A year or so later, he wanted back issues of FM for his birthday. His parents decided seven was a fair number of copies, so he pored over the listings to determine which seven he had to have. Weeks later a package arrived and inside Bannos didn’t find seven issues of Famous Monsters. He found THIRTY-THREE. Every single issue up to that point. That’s who Forry was to the kids who adored him.
And it gets better: Fast-forward a couple of decades. Bannos was on eBay and on a whim looked up his own name. He was surprised to find an issue of FM pop up in the results, alongside Karloff and Lugosi and other horror legends. He contacted the seller and said there must be some mistake. But lo and behold, his name was right there on the You Axed For It page in an issue he’d had since he was 13 and he never knew it.
Phil Kim got turned on to FM because, as a Korean immigrant, he learned a lot of English via horror movies on TV. (There are hardly more enjoyable ways!) He concluded the panel by telling the crowded auditorium of FM and Forry fans that to celebrate Forry’s centennial the magazine had launched a Kickstarter campaign to finance a comic-book anthology called TALES FROM THE ACKER-MANSION with contributions by notables like horror director John Carpenter and Marilyn Manson rocker John 5. (If you’d like to contribute yourself, click here!) The mag is also throwing a 100th birthday party for Forry Halloween weekend at Alien Con in Silicon Valley. Check out the con here and join us in cosplaying in the name of the world’s first cosplayer!
“You can grow older, just don’t grow up.” — Forrest J Ackerman