Saturday, May 1, 2010

Skywald's "Horror-Mood" Magazines

After collecting Warren's spectacular horror/fantasy magazines as a teen, I still knew very little about the other rival publishers in the spook market at the same time, including the gruesome Skywald magazines that barely lasted five years before their early demise. I had seen and enjoyed Skywald’s short-lived color comic book line, mainly just Westerns, romance, and jungle titles, and “The Heap” with some new material and fifties reprints, but none lasted more than three issues. However, once I discovered these black-and-white harder to find gems, Nightmare, Psycho, and Scream, I was fascinated by some old American favorites and new Spanish artists that were featured in these terrible tomes. Founded by a former Marvel Comics production manager, Sol Brodsky, and comic reprint publisher Israel Waldman, Skywald launched its first horror title, Nightmare #1 in December 1970.

Editor Brodsky’s first big move was to bring Al Hewetson on as head writer, who had the right experience after working briefly for both Marvel and Warren on there various horror titles, producing some early similar Warren inspired shock-ending type tales. But once Brodsky returned to Marvel Comics, "Archaic Al" (as he called himself) took over as editor of the company and developed a new approach with his "Horror-Mood" stories, now reproducing classics from Edgar Allen Poe, H. P. Lovecraft, Mary Shelly, Robert Louis Stevenson, and other literary horror giants.

As with Warren Publications, the first issues features stories created by American writers, such as Gerry Conway, T. Casey Brennan, Garner Fox, Doug Moench, Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, Robert Kanigher and others. An assortment of talented artists like Syd Shores, Rich Buckler, Bruce Jones, Bill Everett, Don Heck, Pat Boyette, Ross Andru, Pablo Marcos, and Tom Sutton, drew these early chilling stories, just to name a few. Quite an impressive lineup for a start up company that paid some of the lowest page rates in the business! What’s interesting is that Jim Warren let it be known he didn’t want any of his creators to work for rival publishers, so a legion of pseudonyms were used for both artist and writer, as well as hiding names in the artwork to help protect their identities.

Some of these Skywald yarns really started to walk the line on being overtly graphic in bondage and torture, trying to out do the other pioneering horror publishers of the day. But with only two years into the run, most of the American artists were pushed out for those fantastic Spaniards from the Barcelona school. Lots of new names debuted in these issues that I never hear of before (or since) including, Maelo Cintron, Felipe Dela Rosa, Jesus Suso Rego, Fernando Rubio, Domingo Gomez, Ferran Sostres, Jose Mirelles, Maro Nava, and Zesar which were some of my favorites.

With Hewetson as editor for Skywald, he experimented with some old and new approaches in content, like bringing back the well established use of “horror hosts”, as many of the fear books had done in the past. Al established some reoccurring series like “Darkkos Mansion“, “Shoggoth”, and “Human Gargoyles“, adding contests to win genuine “gargoyle eggs” (smooth stones from the Hudson Bay beach), or Shoggoth Crusade certificates to join in the hunt for those fiends. He devised using nightmare inspired tales sent in by the reader’s dreams, and the empty voice balloon series similar to Gold Key comics for kids to fill in their fears themselves. Memberships to clubs, various interviews with horror stars, ”Scream Screen” movie reviews, and the usual letter pages and artist/writer bios rounded out the three books. Skyward even developed its own marketing department similar to Warren’s Captain’s Company called “The Little Horror-Mood Shop Of Horrors” to sell weird novelty items.

Since Al was the driving force behind “Horror-Mood”, he wrote most of the stories under a collection of names like Stuart Williams, Joe Dentyn, Hugh Laskey, Henry Bergman, Harvey Lazarus and Howie Anderson. But two other favored writers made up his scary stable, Augustine Funnell and Ed Fedory, who understood what Al was trying to accomplish in his high-brow terror tales. You could always tell that Hewetson and his creepy staff at Skywald were having fun with the material, often spoofing themselves and others in the comics industry. Skywald’s gruesome horror magazines, were all selling well and often sold out many of their issues.

Unfortunately, the company only lasted to the end of 1974, with its last issue, Psycho #24 arriving in March of 1975. Returns that came back usually shipped to England and sold out there as well, but when Marvel decided to enter the horror magazine market they effectively pushed Skyward to the back of the newsstands since they had the power to do so with distributors. Now, readers of these titles simply couldn’t find their issues that were limited to only the largest outlets, effectively removed from all the smaller markets, which had nothing to do with Skywald’s solid group of fans. Another high point in the black and white horror magaine market had once again bit the dust.

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