With all the fly-by-night publishers in the history of comic books, it’s sometimes hard to imagine the individuals behind them, and what they do and think. Skywald was one such publisher. It paid poorly, published a few famous old talents on their way down and a few young talents on their way up. As small publishers go, it went. But for a few people, these companies represented a serious investment of time and effort, and I present a rare glimpse into the career of one such…
It was about 20 years ago. Skywald was born when Israel Waldman and Sol Brodsky formed a small publishing company to produce color comics and black-and-white magazines for the American and International markets. The colored titles included The Heap, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and a number of westerns. Crime Machine and Hell-Rider were two early black and white comics magazines. But the Horror-Mood titles – Nightmare, Psycho, and Scream – became the mainstays of the company through 1975, when the doors of the archaic vault finally creaked shut forever. Today, many of the stories and magazines remain in syndication throughout the world in several launguages. When Skywald’s doors opened in 1970, the newsstands bore Warren’s titles and no others. By 1975, those same newsstands were glutted with 23 competitive magazines. Working with a strangulation budget from the very beginning (and that is fair to say), Skywald’s writers and artists produced some of the best artwork and stories published in comics in the early ‘70s (and a re-examination of much of this work makes that fair to say, too). Skywald was never grand in it its design or scope, but it might be recalled as the little company that tried – and very hard, despite fierce competition from the publishing giants, who thwarted newsstand distribution and regularly pillaged Skywald’s bullpen staff. The following is reconstructed from notes and correspondence made at that time, though no real diary was ever kept. The recollections are those of “Archaic Al,” while the editorial notes are mine. This journal reflects the mood of Skywald during my years as writer-through-editorial director for the Skywald Publishing Corporation. In writing this piece, each memory brought another, and for the most part every memory brought a fond smile. These were the best and worst of times, and Skywald’s story was born out of these times. – Alan Hewetson (August 1988)
September 29, 1970
Received this letter today: “Dear Mr. Hewetson – Sol Brodsky, who is now working with me on a new horror magazine venture, suggested I write to you since he has knowledge of your ability in the horror field. I would appreciate hearing from you and perhaps we can acquire the benefits of your talents. Sincerely, Herschel Waldman.”
September 30, 1970
Drove 500 miles to show up at the new Skywald offices in response to letter received yesterday from publisher of Nightmare and Psycho. Pretty horrid looking, with awful titles. They certainly appear to have lots of potential. Sol says he’s hired some great young people to bring the company to life. They are also coming out with a line of colored comics and Gary Friedrich is doing something called Hell-Rider, another black-and-white. Nice seeing Sol, Bill Everett from Marvel days, and meeting Herschel Waldman. Pleasant, no-nonsense fellow about my age, tall, and aristocratic-looking, well-groomed, well-educated, the son of an experienced comics publisher who is behind the venture. Boris Vallejo, Ken Kelly, Jeff Jones are doing covers. On Herschel’s office wall above his desk hangs a framed painting of a bookshelf, bearing books and fruit. This has the unnerving effect of looking like there is a bookshelf above his desk when in fact there is no bookshelf. Herschel advises me with a straight face they are going to publish important stories about important ecological concerns, like “The Pollution Monsters” in Nightmare #1. I kept from laughing out loud by imagining a horrible story about a heap of pollution with a human personality. Herschel buys “Vault Of A Vampire,” my first Skywald story. He and Sol have asked for more stories, so I will hang around town another couple of days and work some up.
October 3, 1970
Wrote a couple of interesting stories and came into the office to type them up. The noise and atmosphere reminded me of what I’d always figured the early EC offices were like, but which I’m told weren’t. It did remind me of the Marvel offices, at least in 1969 – many people crowded into various small spaces, one a production area where artists listened to loud radios and yelled over them, and laughed and joked constantly. Here at Skywald, the office suite consists of four rooms. One is a big, executive office, occupied by Israel Waaldman. Another is Herschel’s office, where he generally sits with the door wide open to all visitors. Another is Sol’s, where he’s generally on the phone with an artist or writer or in conference or involved in physical production over an art desk. Another is the production/editorial office, a small room with two art deks, a couple of typewriters, and various supplies. Always full of people – too many people for such a small room. There are several other rooms and offices in the suite, all to do with Waldman Publishing (publishers of school workbooks, coloring and children’s books, and pocket books). In the production office where I typed up my stories, I was joined during the day by Chuck McNaughton, Serg Moren, Bob Kanigher, Tom Sutton, Gary Friedrich, Ross Andru, Mike Esposito, Syd Shores, Dick Ayers, Jean Izzo, and Bill Everett. Industrious lot, cheery. Many familiar faces from Marvel. This might turn out to be a nice place to work.
March 11, 1971 (9 a.m.)
For a gag, I got a phony newspaper headline printed up reading NIGHTMARE WINS TOP MAG OF YEAR AWARD and pinned it up on Sol’s bulletin board early in the morning. When Sol walked in, it took five seconds for him to spot it and another ten to stare at it uncomprehendingly trying to grasp its meaning. Then he jumped right off the floor in surprise! He gasped and walked over to the newspaper and read the page for what seemed like an eternity before he realized it was only a gag.
March 11, 1971 (9:05 a.m.)
Was assigned the scripting chores (the correct word) for a heap-like character called The Heap, which apparently is some sort of heap of atomic pollution with a human personality!
August 21, 1971
Was lying at home in bed watching TV at nine o’clock at night when I received a long distance phone call from Sol in New York to advise me of (Jeff) Rovin’s unceremonius departure. Sol offered me the job of assistant editor. I said, “Yes, sir. Make it associate editor and we’ve got a deal.” We’ve got a deal.
September 15, 1971
Going over Skywald’s fan mail in the office, I discovered several interesting facts: 1) there isn’t much; 2) many of the fans seem to really confuse our magazines with those of Marvel and Warren and demand we put the Silver Surfer into a horror story or team up Cousin Eerie and Uncle Creepy in an adventure together; 3) everybody likes characters. Horror characters are easily the most popular stories. And everybody seems to like this Heap thing, especially our color comic (written by Bob Kanigher with art byTom Sutton and Jack Abel), and everybody wants to see more of him! Few fan letters mention any writer by name. Few fan letters fail to mention artists by name. This is surely an artist’s medium! What else is new.
March 15, 1972
Warren’s stories are beginning to confuse me. I bought his magazines today and methodically, over a long lunch, attempted to read the stories. I simply do not understand them anymore. Does anybody else? Is it only me? Sol has asssigned me to write all the photo features. I have come up with interesting themes to present old classics. I’d rather review contemporary movies. Got approval to do a nice review with bits of EC art for Tales From The Crypt, an Amicus English production using old Gaines and Feldstein stories. Not much of a movie!
March 26, 1972
Because of my productivity, I have been asked to use pen names. This will deflate my inflated ego! Came up with Howie Anderson, Jay Wood, Jacob Harvey. Dear Diary, I want it noted for posterity that this is Sol’s idea and not mine. I don’t think this is going to fool too many people and if there are too many stories in the magazine by me I’d rather take no credit line at all than make up names. Then again, will anybody notice? Will anybody care? We get very little fan mail.
April 15, 1972
Sol quit today. Sol Brodsky was a nice guy. At Marvel he’d been production editor while I’d been editorial assistant to Stan Lee, actually a gopher or intern. I didn’t have all that much to do with Sol at Marvel in a continuous, direct way, although he’d send me on errands and tell me what letters pages needed doing and what schedules to work up for writers and artists and so on. But at Skywald (his name and Waldman’s made up the corporate name “Skywald” when the company was founded), our communication has been constant. He was a guy who never wasted any time. Always busy, always industrious, and always pleasant and emotionally uncluttered. His background has always been in comics (he was founding editor of Cracked in 1958). Editorially, the picture in his mind of how he wanted the magazines to be was well-focused. He was always open to ideas, and always prepared for changes – as with various contents page designs I pushed through. Loved full page poster art and movie imagery and photo features and non-story pieces he figured balanced out the product for both readability and graphics. A clear idea of stories too: simply told and logical (I agree), lots of splash art and bold graphics (I agree!). Although I think it would be fair to say we think differently as men, we certainly got along well and I don’t recall any arguments or angry words (even when I dropped an entire jar of rubber cement all over his new carpet, smeared an elaborate pencil layout he’d spent an hour laboring over, bought an entire package of horror movie photographs we’d already published!); we were evenly tempered. On Friday, Sol asked me if I wanted to stay over the weekend because on Monday he’d have some important news.Today is Monday and the news is important all right! He’s going to return to Marvel to develop their overseas syndication – should be pretty lucrative – and he’s recommended me to take over the editorship of Skywald. Gave me some good advice about business and relations with the Waldman’s, which I’ll keep under my hat and put to good use. (Some time later, the Archaic One received a note from his fomer boss, which included the line, “It’s been five months since I left Skywald to return to Magazine Management and I’m proud to say my judgement in recommending you to take over the task of editing the magazines has proved to be 100 percent correct.”) I will always have nice memories of this man.
April 21, 1972An artist by the name of Maelo Cintron showed up today looking for work. Seems creative, inventive in his artwork. Might possibly be suitable for new characters The Human Gargoyles. He’s doing Zoo For The Beasts Of The Universe as a sampler.
May 25, 1972
Wow! This guy Cintron is extraordinary! His work on the double-pager as a sampler was so first rate that I have assigned him to my pet project, The Human Gargoyles. He’s a native born New Yorker living in the Bronx with his wife, should be O.K. for constant one-on-one communication as we develop the characters.
May 28, 1972
Found some black-and-white stats of very old Waldman comics, circa early 1950’s, in the artwork vaults. Asked Herschel if we had printed copies around and he said he didn’t recall ever seeing them. Ever? I said: “Didn’t your father ever bring comics home for you to read?” And he replied: “Oh, no, never. I never read comics as a kid. I don’t remember ever wanting to read a comic. I don’t think I was ever aware of what my father did for a living until I was 15 or 16. He was in business, I knew he was a publisher, but he never brought his wwork home or discussed it.” Amazed, I asked him to recount for me the history of Waldman comics, since I didn’t know myself, and he replied vaguely he’d never been inclined to ask his father and didn’t really know. I asked Israel himself and he said, very simply, that he had published color comics for a while but had stopped “around the time of the Wertham trouble,” but not because of Wertham directly – because the distributor was having trouble getting comics on newsstands. I looked at the black and white stats of the original artwork again and lost interest.
July something, 1972
Went to the comics convention last night and ran into Woody (Wallace Wood, whom the Archaic One had known for some years and had worked for – in Woody’s Valley Stream studio with Syd Shores and Nick Cuti, scripting Wood’s highly successful Sally Forth for the U.S. Army newspaper Overseas Weekly). He was excited and happy, having just signed a separation agreement with his wife, and he felt free. We went out boozing together and got pissed and complained about life in general and comics in particular and decided a) to open a bar on Long Island, then b) to open an art supply store and school. I would manage the store and Woody would teach little old ladies how to letter in Old English and draw little people in tiny airplanes and itty-bitty, strange-looking monsters with profound personalities. He’s going to borrow $50,000 from Bill Gaines so we can open the doors. Inasmuch as this is the fourth time we have had this same conversation in as many years, we are probably kidding, though we never admit it to each other. Real nice night. (And the last. Never saw Woody again.)
August 11, 1972
Had lunch with Maelo today and discussed for over two hours the probable texture and color of the Gargoyle’s flesh. We decided it was very light, like polished marble, and felt like hard rubber. Or possibly soft rubber.
November 16, 1972
A young guy from Canada who regularly sends me scripts, three or four at a shot every two weeks or so, sent me a nice little four-pager today: “Monster, Monster On The Wall.” Bought it and assigned it to Pablo. Might make a nice one shot story.
November 20, 1972
Another all-nighter in the office putting the package together, this one Nightmare #11. Pablo and I did all the mechanical production in a marathon editorial session. Personally, I thrive on this sort of creative work-tank and am almost inclined to set them up because they are so rewarding, but Pablo was exhausted from the start since he’d been working all day and by the time 7 a.m. rolled around he couldn’t keep his eyes open and fell asleep on top of the art desk, smudging the wet ink on the artwork, the contents page splash he’d spent hours working to complete. This idea of of the cover matching the contents page artwork is great, I think, although I have to admit the dialogue of the character is not right. It’s too infantile and if it’s annoying me I imagine it must be annoying everybody else. Also, the character isn’t right, the so-called reader. Just doesn’t work. Maybe a match up of the character on the cover to him/her/it introducing the stories on the contents page.
December 1, 1972
It’s official. Science Fiction Odyssey is cancelled. (Science Fiction Odyssey, featuring artwork by Rich Buckler, Bruce Jones, Jeff Jones, Jack Katz, Mike Kaluta, Berni Wrightson, and stories by Gardner Fox, Terry Carr, Harry Harrison, Larry Niven, Charles McNaughton, and Don Thompson, was packaged by editor Sol Brodsky, but a market survey convinced the publisher to discontinue the project before publication. In those days it was commonly believed that a) comics and science fiction didn’t mix well and, b) science fiction didn’t sell in magazines.) Will use the excellent Jeff Jones cover as cover for Psycho #12 and will schedule use of all the stories in various issues of Nightmare and Psycho. Seems to me that if we are going to plan any new magazines at this stage of the game I’d rather do a humor magazine and call it The Great American Joke. Not like MAD and not like The National Lampoon, but satire and parody in a mature vein; comic-style humor not unlike the early Kurtzman-gang MAD, stuff that would genuinely appeal to resonably intelligent adults (as opposed to the sophomoric, vulgar National Lampoon). Herschel says yes, I can do it, right after we get another couple of horror magazines out there. Came up with Scream and Tomb Of Horror. I’d like Scream to develop into a theme-issue vehicle, each issue planned out from cover to cover six months in advance, with each contributor being aware of what everybody else is doing. (That notion did not work, though on paper it seemed like a great concept!) I would also like Scream to be our showcase magazine, introducing new writers and artists not only to Skywald but possibly to comics. Tomb Of Horror should be classical horror, very traditional stories, atmospheric artwork, creative twists on familiar themes. A collective exercise of imagination. (Scream was published successfully for 11 issues while Tomb Of Horror made its debut as a one-issue takeover of Nightmare (#22). Needless to note, The Great American Joke was never published).
January 1, 1973
New editorial pages concept seems to have worked, upon reflection. Will permanently scrap traditional letters-and-answers-style in favor of continuous column which will include editorial writer/artist notes, Skywald plugs, future news, and actual letters and answers, brief and to the point. Basic reason for this is: I’ll be damned if I will a) make up letters like every other publisher because we didn’t get enough literate letters to print, b) print letters from the same people all the time. In this way I can also make the two pages seem like something worth reading with news and views and upcoming stuff and reader feedback. Worth a try. Mail picking up anyway. Gargoyles are liked. Also continuing Lovecraft’s shoggoths seems to be popular. Contemporary movie reviews are working. On the right track now, I think. The only problem I foresee is the continuing popularity of that awful Heap character, which seems to be taking on a personality of its own!
February 14, 1973
Bunch Of Questions in the editorial/letters pages requesting reader input, are starting to come in. A very healthy response! Did a random sampling of the first 30 received. Two readers were 11 years old, four were 13, six were 14, four were 15, two were 16, one was 18, one was 21, two were 22, three were 23, one was 24, three were 30, one was 35, and one was 49. Twenty-seven were replies from males and three from females. Some of the comments: “Trolls have been ignored in most of the black and white horror books. Why not have a beastly troll wreck and heap havoc on a modern-day Danish village? Follow up with an investigation by some American (possibly a police worker), and reveal the horrid existence of the troll menace. Have several stories like this” … ”I would like to see more sex, dismemberment, devouring, degradation, inhumanity, torture, sex, immorality, the future, dimensional transitions, emasculation, sexuality, non-conformity, cannibalism, possessed people” … “More semi-dressed broads starting out with clothes like Eerie #38, page 26, good art easy to look at, lust, monsters devouring people” … ”Make the covers lifelike” … ”Add at least two more stories” … ”Hire Berni Wrightson, hire Mike Kaluta, fire all your present writers” …”My favorite writer is Hewetson because he’s just not another blood and guts writer” … ”Have a contest where you give away free art” … ”Publish the cover of Psycho #9 as a poster” … ”More horror and super-heroes and more Silver Surfer and Conan, and why not make Psycho the first X-rated horror magazine using these characters? Let Sol Brodsky out of the dungeon and put Archaic Al into one (a dungeon)!!” … “Please don’t have advertising like the others because we don’t want to have to pay for junk advertising, only stories and art” … “Don’t waste space for cover art. Just start the first story on the cover and continue it on the inside cover and then keep going. Eliminate all advertising and pin-up pages and letters type pages. Stories only!” … “The town I live in is very small and the people here actually believe it is evil to read stories like yours and they only let one magazine go onto the newsstands and I buy it.”
Many of the letters are quite literate, many funny, and some unpublishable, like “My husband wants to see more broads with heels” … “My title for a story? ‘A Day In The Life Of Archaic Al.’ “ Whew! Couldn’t get much scarier than that!
Question: What is the best story ever published and why? Answers: “ ‘Night Of The Mutant Eaters’ is the best that I have yet to see. I enjoyed seeing such a well-done story that blended science fiction with the horror mood. I admire Fujitake’s art over nearly any other horror-mood contributor. His style is a beautiful blend of art styles ranging from the mysterious Ditko to the crisp Kirby. Revive Hell-Rider into a supernatural setting as a one-shot feature in one of the regular horror moodbooks” … “How about a story about a guy or gal who is really dead, does not come back to life, and nothing actually happens at all except he rots in his coffin?”
March 2, 1973
A note from Herschel gives me an idea: “Al – In ‘Archaic Breeding Ground,’ your publisher’s note at the end of the story gave me an idea. I suggest that we/the mag have some kind of contact with the reader. You, Al Hewetson, can account for your experiences within the story. Let’s discuss this further next time you are in town. You can tell about trips you and artists have taken to fight shoggoths (of course all made up) (or maybe not). Think about it. Signed, Homicidal.
March 16, 1973
‘Monster, Monster’ creation of Canadian Gus Funnell is getting a lot of fan mail for a four page one-shot character. Better figure out how to bring Vincent Crayne back to life and make him a regular character, and welcome Augustine Funnell to the bullpen.
March 30, 1973
Warren called me up at home last night and asked me to edit the Warren line. A job offer. Eerie, Creepy, and all that. I said no. Today, Herschel asked me how much he had offered. I said I hadn’t bothered to ask
April 6, 1973
Chull Sanho Kim is an excellent artist, as I suspected from the first moment he walked into the office. Great attention to detail and anatomical accuracy. (Kim was a well-known newspaper strip artist in South Korea before emigrating to the U.S. and continuing his work with Warren Publications and Skywald.) Unfortunately, at this point he appears unable to draw caucasian eyes. Everybody looks oriental! Will have to come up with characters or a story series in which absolutely nobody is caucasian! (I did, called ‘The Fiend Of Changsha,’ one of Skywald’s more successful later characters set in turn of the century China.)
April 15, 1973
Created the Mood-Team Rap today. Though only a few people will ever get to see this “periodical,” it’s going to be a total pleasure producing and publishing this journal. This is only for the Skywald contributors who constitute the bullpen, those writers and artists who I deal with on a very personal level like Gus and Maelo and Ed and some others, and a few who will join the bullpen to become regulars over the years; to provide news and inside business bulletins, and with humor to provide a network for communications. In short, a Skywald Bullpen magazine. (Three Raps were published in all. The first was 7 pages, the second 24 pages, and number three 52 pages.) This is intended to be unique, personal, and humorous: “Welcome to Jaundiced Jane Lynch, newest member of the Mood Team, who lives in Chicago and who was once an editor for some medical magazines with McGraw-Hill, and who is a commercial writer (under a pseudonym) for various other magazines. Until recently, she published Little Ladies, a journal put out by and for the wives and sweethearts of top underground cartoonists (not being a top underground cartoonist, it is not clear why my own wife Julie was a contributor). She is married to top underground cartoonist Jay Lynch, the prolific creator of Bijou Funnies and Nard N’ Pat. Jane is interested in wimmen’s liberation, and the Chicago telephone directory lists private telephones under each of their names, though inside their home the two telephones are actually right beside each other. Despite this, Jane is attractive and intelligent. Her first story, ‘The Lunatic Class Of ’64,’ is bought and scheduled for Psycho.” Some Rap is intended to be informative: “Visited Gene Day in Gananoque the other day. This small Ontario town shares the distinction of having two Mood Team members live there. The other, of course, is Awkward Augustine. However, the two men have never met, and, as Gruesome Gene puts it, ‘From what I know of him, I don’t have any intentions of ever meeting him either!’ Gene is working up some poster-like montages and pin-ups based on famous creatures for the inside covers of the various magazines.” The Rap also includes interviews and bits of information about Skywald and the Mood Team members published in other magazines, including all fanzine reports.
Went to see Moench in Chicago (the Archaic Editor personally visited all contributors east of the Mississippi since an in-house bullpen was impracticable and he insisted on one-on-one relationships with the Skywald staff whenever possible) and visited a couple of days. Drove Doug to work at the Chicago Sun-Times near midnight and made an illegal right turn and was pulled over by a fat motorcycle cop who demanded to see my license. It had expired two days before (the license bureau had not yet mailed me my new one – an honest oversight)! I politely explained this to the officer who was about to forget the whole matter when Moench starts to yell at him, demanding to know ‘what his expletive deleted problem was.’ The cop got mad and he and Moench became very aggressive and I was about to be arrested and jailed. I took the cop outside the car and away from Doug and calmed him down. He let me go with the specific instruction to ‘get out of town before dawn.’ As I was driving off, Moench asked me if I bribed him. All Chicago cops were apparently sworn enemies of all Chicago Sun-Times employees ever since the paper had reported extensively about the corruption of the Chicago Police Force. Anyway, I flaunted the law by staying in Dodge another couple of days.
July 2, 1973
Enjoyed another visit with Ed Fedory in Coxackie, New York.Went hunting for gargoyle eggs to give away on the editorial/letters pages “Great Gargoyle Egg Contest.” After talking to Fedory 16 hours non-stop, went out to nearby waterhole, bleary-eyed but remarkably sober after a bottle and a half of Jack Daniels, to seek out large, round pebbles. We found 11. This is completely inconsistent with the story in which Mina gives normal human birth to Andy. I certainly hope nobody mentions this because I don’t have an answer!
Emotionally-disturbed Ed doesn’t want a character! He wants to continue individual stories and one-shot plots. Fine by me, but how unusual for a comic book writer not to want a continuing character.Ed’s a nice guy to hang around with – one of the few people in this business who don’t need to talk bout comics all the time.
July 25, 1973
Asked Christopher Lee if he’d like to play Edward Sartyros, the Human Gargoyle, in a movie. This was intended to be a lightweight, humorous, offhanded question for my interview with him scheduled for Nightmare #17 but he took the question seriously. He said: “No. I don’t think this is a person. This is more of a ‘thing.’ The limit is bound to be reached in special effects and various things that are needed in the construction of this kind of character and it reaches a point where it becomes totally unbelieveable. My whole career in this area has been devoted to making the unbelieveable believeable. Take Superman for example: effective in a script, but negligable as a screen character.”
August 19, 1973
I want a stable bullpen! House artists, writers, living in or around New York and commuting for conferences and one-on-one story and character development. This # $ % & @ foreign artwork invasion is making it more impossible each passing day! There is nothing I can do about it! Now we have even fewer American artists than before! We’ve now made an official deal with a European art agency, Selecciones Illustradas of Barcelona, Spain (the same studio which provides Warren with 90 percent of his art) to produce art for most of our stories. This really cuts me deep! I personally don’t believe most American/Canadian readers will like or buy such an excess of obviously foreign art and I also don’t think there is any way it can or should be disguised. Plus our staff artists in New York, Pablo Marcos, Ricardo Villamonte, and Maelo Cintron all have foreign sounding names – this company is going to look like its magazines are packaged overseas and drop-shipped to the States, which is antithetical to every precept of American magazine packaging! The deal is remarkable and most of the artists are great. Some of them are certainly not! But the deal: we get automatic syndication throughout all of Europe and much of South America in a wide variety of different foreign launguage magazines. Every story! Can’t argue with that. In many ways this really underwrites us. Certainly provides great exposure with every story automatically published in five launguages in countries around the world! Will have to work to keep a tight reign on the quality of the art, though! (Indeed, from that date much of the art was very,very good. And a lot of it was perfectly dreadful and should never have been published and made the Archaic Editor cringe. Under normal publishing practices the art would never have been accepted but the syndication procedure was not normal publishing practice! There was thereafter a constant turnover of artists for this very reason, while many of the better artists, receiving exposure in the Skywald magazines, were offered a better price for their work and went elsewhere, including to Warren. Unfortunately, it was overseas syndication which both aided Skywald financially and yet brought an end to many of the more interesting experiments which Skywald frequently offered up – like the double-page stories reading over two pages from side to side like widescreen comics. Foreign syndicators of Skywald demanded this be stopped when they couldn’t line up their own periodicals. The syndication continues today, and likely will for years. The wife of the Archaic Editor visited Australia in 1984 and discovered a current date on an edition of Nightmare #11 on an Australian newsstand. The original cover date on the American edition was February 1973.)
November 30, 1973
October 1, 1973
Fred Wertham autographed my copy of Seduction Of The Innocent today with this inscription: For Alan Hewetson, who put this book to much good practical use. With good wishes, Fredric Wertham. He returned it through the mail with a nice letter and a question: “I want to check that you are the Alan Hewetson who in Graphic Story Magazine #13, p. 15, used my book so well to prop up the leg of his desk and to put out his cigars.” A double meaning, therefore, on the inscription. The other is obvious. Think I’ll send him a copy of Scream #1 with the story “The Comics Macabre” (in which a Wertham-like character and a Leonard Darvin-like character visited the Skywald offices to battle the Archaic Menace who was corrupting young minds with all those horrible, wretched stories.) I’d send one to Darvin at the Code but it’d only aggravate him. The last time I sent him anything was when I just started at Marvel and wrote to him asking for a copy of the official Comics Code. I was, after all, curious, and there didn’t appear to be a copy around the Marvel offices. He replied he was astonished that Marvel didn’t have a copy of the thing, considering they had to send him every story for approval. I told Stan about it and he just laughed.
November 10, 1973Fredric Wertham sent me a note saying he didn’t understand my story “The Comics Macabre,” so I wrote back suggesting we get together and he wrote back and I wrote back and he wrote back and we got together a chilly November afternoon at his farmhouse in Pennsylvania. To prepare for the meeting, I reread my now-inscribed edition of Seduction Of The Innocent and a lot of stuff written about Wertham and I prepared copious notes. As I drove up to the house I realized I’d forgotten my notes somewhere. Wertham was guarded at first, quiet and unsure of me, accompanied by his wife. (This is an old practice by veterans of interviews to make sure they aren’t misquoted, or badgered by insistent questions they don’t want to aswer.) He wore a corduroy jacket, no tie though his shirt was buttoned at the neck, and hush puppies. He is quite old but very strong and continues to work as a consulting psychiatrist at Queen’s Hospital Center in New York City. He continues to write books too, mostly concerning the subject of violence and the media. He works in what appears to be a converted barn/studio, a large room walled by books and paper. There’s a framed Steve Canyon autographed by Milton Caniff on his wall near his desk. I took some photographs with my trusty Nikon and chatted. Gradually he warmed. I got all the awkward dialogue out of the way first. He said he was opposed to censorship of any kind and was angered and hurt by everybody claiming he was a censor throughout the years of controversy. He said all he did was scientifically report the existence of material, which in his experience as a clinical psychiatrist was evidently in the hands of every juvenile criminal and nut case he’d ever examined. He felt certain comics were harmful and that anybody who was in “his position” would come to the same conclusion. He claimed he had never differentiated between the EC comics and any other comics group or title and answered, when specifically questioned, that it was “irrelevant whether they were well-done or not.” Spent another four hours (much longer than planned) in the kitchen of his pleasant home drinking tea and eating chocolates and after a while I got to believe that a) he is not a miserable, narrow-minded, censor type as he has always been caricatured in the comics media, b) he believed that, acting as a scientist, he had delivered an accurate scientific report on an important subject and that he feels he conducted himself in a thoroughly professional way and has no regrets, and c) he personally does not like comic books, or understand them – of that I am totally convinced. A typical scientist, he deals extensively with semantics and chooses his words as carefully as any man I have ever known, suspecting perhaps that one day his words will see print. He does like comic strips. I asked him if he still had any of the old comics from his researches (hoping he’d lead me to giant boxes in his basement filled to capacity with every EC ever published!) but his wife replied it was the happiest day of her life when he finished his work on Seduction Of The Innocent, because that was the day she took all the comics into the yard and heaped them up and burned them. (The meeting between Hewetson and Wertham was dutifully recorded in Hewetson’s notes at the time and the two men continued their communication for some time in lengthy correspondence, on the subject of violence in the media, comics, and a number of other topics. These previously unpublished dialogues will appear in The Horror-Mood blog sometime in the future.)
November 30, 1973
A fellow by the name of Stephen King, evidently a would-be horror writer, did a piece in Writer’s Digest about the horror market. He was very kind to Skywald, noting that we were “the most vital in the field – constantly moving ahead, breaking new ground, using consistently innovative stories – a strong bullpen staff.” What an astute guy! I should drop him a line and offer him work as a scriptwriter. He’s probably a starving young writer if he’s trying to break into the horror market!
December 31, 1973
Fan mail is up. Great. Competition is becoming more fierce. Wish sales were better. We’re buried on the newsstands in the crush of immitators. Many local distributors are refusing to handle us at all because of the pressures brought to bear on them by our largest competitor, who by sheer volume is playing financial politics and is forcing us off the stands. This is hardball. The big boys, the conglomerates don’t want the lion’s share of the market, they want it all.
January 16, 1974
Received a note from Superman creator Joe Shuster, looking for work as a scriptwriter. Denied work for years by the company he made famous and wealthy, he advises me he is a postal worker in California and in need of work as a writer. (After a public outcry years later, Shuster and Siegal were awarded a financial settlement by the new owners of Superman comics.)
Received a letter from Carl Wessler, an ex-EC writer, wanting to work for Skywald.
Bill Gaines dropped me a note to confirm that in the latter days of the company when he and Feldstein thought they were personally drying up and repeating themselves they hired a few new writers to bring in new – choke – blood, so to speak. I’ve deliberately avoided copying EC because they were unparalleled and original. Especially the bullpen. The Skywald nicknames were inspired by Ghastly Graham’s nickname, Stan Lee’s Mighty Marvel-type alliteration, and my own recollections that as a fan I’d always wanted to know more about artists and writers of my favorite comics, and wanted one-on-one relationships with them. I wanted pictures and anecdotes and behind the scenes things. I remember paying great attention to who wrote and drew each story, and thinking how that stuff was as interesting as the stories. (Given the times, the early ‘70s, the only publishers who had notably, conciously worked to develop writer/artist personalities, were the original EC horror comics, Marvel during the late ’60s and Warren to a degree, along with Skywald.) I recall very clearly how I thought a comic book should look. I remember being really angry at publishers who were always pushing junk and trying to sell you crappy merchandise. I remember as a kid liking how EC would try – they obviously tried! They packaged good art and good stories and never tried to rip you off! But the others did. That was only one of the differences obvious to me even as a kid. At Skywald, I will always try to make the stories readable and purely enjoyable, reader oriented (unlike Warren these days which, is becoming totally unreadable). I also used to like the way EC would poke fun at itself, pre-McLuhan, like the way they’d promote the fan club with self-depracating suggestions about its lack of value. They never really had poster pages either, which I hate. The imagery and moodiness, the atmosphere of decay was consistent from cover to cover too. And they never appeared to compromise with the story they wanted to tell. If they wanted to show an eyeball hanging out, well, they did, without the restrictions of the # @ ! $ % Comics Code! Innovative art and artists too, like Krigstein and Kurtzman. I have tried stories with no dialogue at all, played some games with layouts, other ideas. Some good and some bad. Which leads me to note there was a reasonable amount of mail this month. It’s getting better all the time.
March 2, 1974
Tomb Of Horror debut is pretty well lined up for debut in Nightmare #33 with the hosts. Figured out a way to incorporate good host idea. About time, after that disastrous kid host on the contents pages a while back. New idea is for writers, artists, and occasionally story characters, to introduce the stories. If this is well received, I might try it with all stories in all magazines. (It was well received, along with Tomb Of Horror, which was planned as Skywald’s fourth horror title.)
March 14, 1974
Got together with Harvey Kurtzman (at the less-than-archaic age of 12, the future Skywald editor met Kurtzman for the first time and was in turn introduced to Jack Davis and Willy Elder. He thereafter looked upon Harvey as his mentor.) and long-time pal Jay Lynch at a speaking engagement at the State University of New York at Buffalo. Rapped after. In a coffee shop at 2 a.m. eating breakfast, he asked: ‘What kind of fan mail do you get?” Misunderstanding the question, I replied that it was poor. We got plenty of supportive mail from “average readers” but very little from “fandom proper.” I mentioned that comics fanatics did not appear to like us, for a variety of possible reasons, not the least of which was my deliberately, obviously ignoring them. He told me I was making a serious error in judgment, that it was the fans who had “made” EC. I argued that EC did not cater to the fans. He said, oh, yes, they certainly did! The fan club and reader/editorial correspondence was very real and honest and paid attention to, and, further, helped to promote the comics, and everybody on staff knew it. I said I wouldn’t care to cater to the modern day fanatic who was really a collector with a vested interest in collecting runs of certain titles, more than somebody who liked to read comics and collect his favorites. He told me to recognize the importance of fans to sales and to pay attention to what the fans wrote in their letters because it was the lifeblood of every magazine company. I replied that this totally contradicted what I’d learned on staff at Marvel in 1969. That it was the titles that didn’t sell that got the bags of serious fanatic mail, and that it was the titles that did sell well that got the childish letters, and that to my personal knowledge few editors paid attention to fanatics other than to use their letters on the letters pages because they were generally more literate than the bulk of mail and so looked better in print. The reason for all this being, serious fans were in the extreme minority and it did not “pay” to listen to them. Harvey said he had never made a distinction between a reader who wrote a fan letter and the serious fan I talked about, and asked me to explain. I told him the depressing tale that Jay Lynch had recounted to me of being in a comics store in Chicago and overhearing two fanatics express excitement at a just-published title with a Mike Kaluta cover. They had raved about the quality of the artwork, each picked up two copies and gone to the counter where they were informed the artwork was not in fact by Kaluta but by another artist. The fans lost interest immediately and returned the comics to the shelf. The beautiful artwork was suddenly valueless and that, I declared to Harvey, was symptomatic of a fanatic, not ever to be confused with a fan. Again, he asked me what mail Skywald received, and I said: “Just mail from readers who like us.” And he said: “That was the kind of fan we had at EC and MAD. Just readers who liked us.”
October 2, 1974
This is getting to be a real joy on several fronts. Introducing new people to the field, publishing talent for the first time. We’ve actually published more than 139 writers, artists, and production people including Jones, Palmer, Reese, Shores, McNaughton, Fedory, Kaluta, Wolfman, Sutton, and Everett, who put together the early issues. And I’ve introduced in these pages Jesus Suso Rego, Cesar Lopez, Ferran Sostres, Pablo Marcos, Jose Gual, Ricardo Villamonte, Chull Sanho Kim, Segrelles, Ken Kelly, Miralles, and the never-before-professionally-published young talents Maelo Cintron, Augustine Funnell, Gene Day, Jane Lynch, Joan Cintron, Dave Sim, Duffy Vohland. Yes, therein lies the hope that this company will be remembered.
‘Macabre’ Maelo Cintron
The Human Gargoyles
December 6, 1974
I have now adapted every possible story written by Edgar Allan Poe for the Skywald magazines. I have tried to be respectful and literally adapt the narratives as best as possible. Visited Poe’s Richmond and his gravesite in Baltimore for a biography, and Lovecraft’s beloved Providence and his gravesite for a biography. It is most interesting to see these features translated and published in the Spanish, Italian, French and German launguages. I wonder what Poe would think of these comics if he were alive today. Wonder what Lovecraft would think about my continuing the C’thulu mythos?
Wish I’d met Serling, the great genre writer of my time. There really aren’t any great horror writers around today. There isn’t really a horror market today. People aren’t reading the Skywald magazines because they are horror magazines; they are reading them because they are comics.
January 11, 1975
Certainly wish Berni Wrightson could be a Skywald artist. He certainly has the moody, atmospheric style for it. We obviously don’t have the budget around here to even think about it. I once asked Kaluta if he’d work for us and he said not until our rates went way, way up. Kirby said the same thing. Several others, too, said no over the years because of our tiny budget. Now, the newsstands are so glutted by Marvel’s assault, nobody will survive. They’ll ruin the market for years. Rovin’s short-lived empire is reportedly already crumbling (see The Comics Journal #114 for Jeff Rovin’s account of the rise and fall of Atlas Comics). Warren is wholly supported by his foreign sales and syndication. Don’t think there’s much hope…
March 25, 1975
Today is the day. I sent everybody this letter:
To all Horror Mood contributors –
Today the Skywald Publishing Corporation announces the cancellation of Nightmare, Psycho, and Scream magazines. This is due to the exorbitant production increases, rising printing and distribution costs, and a glutted magazine market. I hope Skywald has been as rewarding for you as it has been for me. In its five-year existence, Skywald has introduced a healthy number of new, unpublished writers and artists into the medium. We have experimented and often been successful, with new storytelling techniques and innovations. We have published more than 67 magazines, more than 50 under my editorship, and in every one of those issues there is a little bit of love and a little bit of pride. The Horror-Mood Team is disbanded, but we will all remember fondly a time of editorial freedom, and consequently literary and artistic accomplishment. It has been a pleasure working with you. The publishers and I wish you the very best luck and good fortune in all your endeavors. We hope you will be successful. We hope to see your name up in lights. That’s all folks.
- (Archaic) Alan Hewetson
...Thus concludes your horrible “choke” hosts representation of the Archaic Ones memoirs as they originally appeared in The Comics Journal #127, March 1989. Seek out a copy. You “shudder” won’t regret it...