Alan Hewetson, known to hundreds of thousands of readers as Archaic Al, was the instigator of the Skywald Horror-Mood when he took over from the first editor, Sol Brodsky. With three other writers, Ed Fedory, Augustine Funnell, and Jane Lynch, Al Hewetson writes each issue of Psycho and Nightmare featuring stories in the very distinct Horror-Mood style – a combination of Lovecraft and Poe-style dialogue and description mixed with modern and gothic settings drawn by illustrators handpicked by editor Archaic Al. Scream, the latest addition to the Horror-Mood line, had not been released as of May 26, 1973, when Dave Sim and John Balge journeyed to St. Catherines, Ontario, and the home of Al and Julie Hewetson where this interview took place.
Q: Where and when were you born?
Al: You must be kidding. That’s a question I never answer – it’s supposed to be a big secret. Okay, I’ll give you a scoop, August 30, 1946, in Glasgow, Scotland.
Q: When did you come to Canada?
Al: When I was nine years old.
Q: How much education did you have here?
Al: None at all, fortunately. I quit school when they opened the doors, which was in Grade 4, I think. I left during recess and never came back.
Q: What writing did you do professionally before you went into comics?
Al: I started at the Sudbury Star where I was a darkroom technician. I was always very interested in writing so when I’d do my photographs for the newspaper – or even when another photographer would bring in a photograph – I’d write a little caption and send it along to the editor of the newspaper and that’s really where my first writings were published. I was, of course, doing writing as an adolescent – little short stories, some of which I’ve since adapted to Skywald. And after I left the Sudbury Star I went to the Ottawa Journal where I worked for about a year and then I went to Montreal where I worked for the Gazette and then during ’66 and ’67 I worked for Expo. In the middle of ’67, I started my own advertising and photographic studio In Ottawa, which is where I got very involved in writing because I was doing promotion for rock groups, record jackets and things like that. That’s where I really began to take writing seriously. About a year after I started the studio, I don’t know if you know the recent history of rock music but in ’67 and ’68, things went downhill very quickly. In ’67 when I started the studio there was something like fifty-five rock groups just in Ottawa alone and in ’68, when I stopped, there were four. So that heralded the quick demise of my studio, because I was geared for that kind of work and that kind of work alone. Then I picked up the telephone and talked with Stan Lee whom I had met once for an interview, and with whom I’d corresponded for about a year, and asked him for a position and within a few weeks I had the position. That’s how I got into writing professionally. Before writing comics, the only writing I had actually done was miscellaneous small newspaper reports. One other thing, in 1966 I took a course in television announcing and I did a fifteen minute television program which was an interview/portrait with Yousuf Karsh. Being a photographer and being situated right across the street from his studio, I knew him a little bit and so I wrote a program around this man and I submitted it. It was so well-received by the people who were running this course that it went all the way to CBC and they were actually going to do a production of it until CTV beat them to the punch by about two weeks.
Q: How about “The Satirists”, the feature you had going with Syd Shores, how did that come about?
Al: Well, that came about when, in 1970, Syd and I were trying to do a magazine for National. Carmine Infantino had announced at an ACBA meeting that he was looking for new concepts in magazines. So Syd and I came up with a concept which was about a long-haired freak about twenty-seven or twenty-eight years old who was elected to the United States senate. It was to be produced as a colour magazine, the size of Psycho and Nightmare, with very adult and very sophisticated artwork and obviously with very adult writing. Syd and I became quite friendly at the time we were preparing this, so we decided to work out a newspaper strip together called “Tales Of The Macabre,” which was for American syndication, as well as another strip which was a humourous strip called “Dirty Soks.” Being a Canadian and living in Ottawa, I was interested in releasing something for Canada if I could do so. So, we worked out the thing called “The Satirists” which was a parody of Canadian news items as they appeared. It was sort of like a satirical Front Page Challenge. It was to be accompanied by a political cartoon which was to be a cross between a Macpherson-type cartoon and Arthur Hoppe-type writing. We sent it around with a promotion to all the Canadian newspapers – there’s one hundred and fifteen of them, I think. A number of them replied, but not enough to make it financially worthwhile to go ahead with it.
Q: So this left you at Marvel Comics?
Al: No, this was quite after Marvel. I left Marvel in 1969. I went down to Marvel for only three or four months and wound up staying seven months. When I came back from New York to live in Ottawa, I did writing for Warren and National and Cracked and Sick and just about everybody except Marvel.
Q: Had Sol Brodsky left Marvel at that time?
Al: Sol Brodsky left Marvel when I left and he went over to produce some magazines for Israel Waldman. Israel had been producing comics by the millions back in the fifties. He was a very well known and established publisher back in the fifties. That’s how he got to know Sol because Sol was doing production work and I think a little bit of artwork for him during that period. They ran into each other and Israel approached Sol to produce some magazines for him which Sol did in the early part of 1970 when the company was formed.
Q: How did you get in contact with them?
Al: I started work with Marvel in February of 1969 and I left Marvel in September. Sometime during 1970, Sol was looking for writers for Skywald, so he asked Herschel Waldman, the co-publisher, to drop me a note, which he did, asking for a story. I sent it along – it was accepted and from then on I did work for Skywald. In early 1972, the person who was assisting Sol in the editing of the magazines left the company and Sol asked me to become associate editor and I accepted. In a couple of months, Sol left the company to return to Marvel and I took over the editorship.
Q: You mention the “Senator” book you had planned to do with Syd Shores – are you aware of DC’s Prez?
Al: Yes, I am aware of it.
Q: Is it anything like your concept?
Al: Well, I saw the cover and I had a heart attack. But when I read the story I saw very little resemblance.
Q: You’ve been writing horror stories for many years now. What are the essential components of a good Horror story?
Al: The most essential component of a good horror story is, first and foremost, that it be horror. There are many things which are being produced these days which are labelled horror and certainly aren’t. Since it is the comics medium that we’re talking about, the writer must take full advantage of the artwork. It is an artist’s medium and not a writer’s medium. Something I’ve learned only recently is that brevity, which I never fully understood before, is important. I would get carried away with the fact that I was a writer. I would go on at great lengths in very flowery prose, describing that which did not really have to be described. A lousy story can be carried by good artwork sometimes, but if you have a good story and lousy artwork, you wind up losing all around. We have, Skywald that is, in the last few months, solved, I feel, our problems with all story material. We have selected what we now feel are the best writers in the horror medium – people who understand horror and who understand the editorial premise of Skywald, which is the Horror-Mood, which is a very real thing. We now have writing for us, Augustine Funnell, Jane Lynch, Ed Fedory and myself as regulars and occasionally other writers that we feel fit the editorial criteria. With respect to our artists, we’ve weeded out those – about fifty per cent – who are questionable, who are poor, or are unpopular.We have enlarged our art staff in these last few months to include some rather excellent and new young artists from various parts of the world – people we feel are very interesting and will become popular in a very short time.
Q: Who inspires your writing?
Al: I am very inspired, even to this day, by two comic book writers in particular. Harvey Kurtzman and Al Feldstein. Harvey Kurtzman was my original inspiration for comics because I thought that his style of comics writing was incredibly natural and “honestly funny” as opposed to “pretentious funny” and contrived which I think most humour comics are. Al Feldstein I’ve only come to love recently, as I explore the old EC horror books, and I think he is a source of inspiration to everybody who is now writing for Skywald, as much as EC as a whole is an inspiration for everybody who does work for Skywald.
Q: Why are you mainly interested in writing horror comics?
Al: The first question was “What are the essential components of a good horror story?” and I said that the essential component of a good horror story is horror. We publish horror magazines and that is why we are so wrapped up in horror. Without trying to demean or harshly criticise anyone else in this medium, we take the word “horror” very seriously at Skywald. When we use the word “horror” we mean it. We don’t mean science fiction, or sword and sorcery or fantasy, we mean “horror.” Now, of course, the word “horror’ is interpreted differently by different people, but we think that we are interpreting it pretty basically.
Q: Why do you personally prefer horror?
Al: Humour is really my first love. As I said, I’m more inspired by Harvey Kurtzman than by anybody and Harvey is first and foremost a satirical writer. Within a few months, it is my firm belief that we’ll be releasing a magazine which we hope to be the first in a series of Skywald “Humor-Mood” Publications. And it will be a cut above the other humour magazines which have been appearing recently. We hope that in the next few years we will release other magazines, not only of the humour sort or the horror sort but of many sorts.
Q: For many years, rumours and predictions have been appearing in fanzines to the effect that Skywald is out of business. How secure is the company?
Al: Skywald is very secure. We have, essentially, only one problem at the moment and that is distribution. We are distributed well in large metropolitan centres, but we cannot seem to make it into little towns like Kitchener and St. Catherines. I mean, we are not well distributed within little towns. We only make it to two or three very large newsstands. We produced, when this company began, a production called “The Judy Garland Book” which is the most threatening thing which ever happened to our company. We printed far too many copies and we sold maybe four or five. We lost a lot of money. The colour comics, more or less, broke even. I think we could’ve continued with them to try and establish a colour comics area, except for the fact that, at the very same time as Skywald began the colour comics, National and Marvel were engaged in a price war which hurt just about everybody. Skywald’s future is very secure. We have many projects planned in different areas of publishing – not only black and white comic art books, but with magazines and soft and hardcovers and pocketbooks.
Q: What is the relationship, if any, between television programs like Night Gallery and magazines like Psycho, Creepy and Nightmare?
Al: Night Gallery is much closer to Warren’s publications than Skywald’s – that is to say, “macabre” stories. Our stories, I would say, are much closer to Poe and Lovecraft’s hard horror.
Q: How does it happen that the editor of the Skywald books lives in Canada? That seems impractical from a business standpoint.
Al: It’s not impractical. I commute. I operate editorial ends from my home by mail and telephone while business and financial ends are operated from New York. Once a month New York and I get together.
Q: In New York or St. Catherines?
Al: On the French Riviera!
Q: What are the fan and reader reactions to the Skywald books besides the already mentioned rumours in fanzines?
Al: There is a very pronounced distinction between fans and readers. First of all, in terms of percentages, fans – as I’m sure fans themselves realise – number perhaps five per cent of the total circulation of a magazine. Obviously we are going to cater to readers’ demands more than fan demands. When I took over the editorial end of these magazines, I don’t think I received very complimentary reviews from fans. But it becomes clear at this date, which is a year after I began my editorship, that they’re coming around. The readers are not so discerning in terms of the individuals who produce comics. Since we are selling an entertainment package under the horror label, we therefore try to produce exactly that. We are criticised because of the precedence of Warren in publishing sword and sorcery, science fiction and fantasy tales, for not following suit. It is not Skywald’s intention to emulate Warren. We are producing straight horror. We appreciate that Warren is producing macabre magazines which are more liberal and which encompass other areas of comics. To specifically answer your question, the fans are beginning to come around so I think they’re beginning to understand that our criteria is horror and that Skywald is, in fact, an entity. The readers, through such surveys as we conduct on our letters and editorial pages, give us nothing but pats on the back. The readers are virtually unanimous in their congratulations for the work that we do.
Q: I notice that you try to answer letters in your letter columns in a very humourous fashion and also persist in using Marvel-style tongue-in-cheek promotional slogans along the edges of panels.
Al: That plug idea probably wasn’t a good one and I’ve stopped it. I don’t think it accomplished anything. And as to why I started it in the first place, I can’t remember and I don’t want to remember. As for the humourous outlook that we have on the editorial pages, when fans and readers correspond with us, they have their tongues in their cheeks. So we respond in kind. I can’t think of any publishing house who is an exception to this “rule.”
Q: What is the average age of your artists and writers?
Al: I don’t know that there is such a thing as an average age for anybody in the comics medium. Our youngest contributor is probably Augustine Funnell who’s around twenty or twenty-one and our oldest is maybe forty. Gual, who is one of our favourite illustrators, I believe is thirty-six. I can’t think of anybody older than that that we have. So, an average age would be somewhere in the late twenties or early thirties if you can make such an assumption.
Q: Do you take your comics writing seriously? Some of your stories seem to have an almost “campy” approach with unrealistic dialogue and situations.
Al: Yes, I do take my writing and the stories and the magazines seriously. Vincent Price maintains that humour is very close to horror and I think that most readers honestly believe that. I think that you can do a funny horror story and a straight horror story, but you only run into danger when you do a straight horror story in a funny way, which is a distinction I try to make.
Q: What advantages or disadvantages are there in competing with the colour comic books?
Al: Well, you’re undoubtedly dealing with an older market. You’re dealing with finer and more precise and more sophisticated artwork because you’re dealing with artwork which is not, essentially, holding lines. For colour you’re dealing with artwork which is finished artwork, and so you’re really dealing not so much with comics but with illustrations. The disadvantages are, essentially, that comics have a reserved place on the rack or the newsstand. Almost every newsstand has either a rack or a certain area specifically reserved for colour comics whers black and white magazines have to be mingled with millions of others on every newsstand and so we often get lost. Not only that, but s a direct result of the millions of magazines which are distributed, we have to compete with Swing Monthly and other magazines which I don’t think is entirely fair. Coloured comics don’t have to compete like that.
Q: Do you see Marvel’s entry into the black and white field as stiff competition for your own books?
Al: Well, in terms of their being on the newsstands and cluttering up said newsstands with rubbish, yes, they can hurt us. There are actually several ways they can help us. But although I in no way “resent” their competition, I would say Marvel should stick to making colour comics, which they do very well. The Marvel black and whites are, as an opinion, almost as shoddy as Fass Publications’, at least on a whole. Why a company can pay so much money for such atrocious, muddy artwork is beyond me. The package is, in a word, wretched, and a rather poor imitation of Warren and Skywald. But that’s obvious.
Q: How well do your staff artists interpret your ideas as a writer, of how a scene should look?
Al: This varies from artist to artist. Many of our artists do not speak English, therefore the script has to be translated. Depending on the quality of the translator this can hinder the artist somewhat. With respect to our English-speaking artists, we seem to have narrowed our art staff down to artists who not only understand horror and understand comics, but who also understand the very abstract Horror-Mood style that we write in.
Q: Are you speaking about a house style, then?
Al: Yes, we’re trying to develop a house style and I think that in the next few months you’ll see it develop very strongly. We certainly have not had one. We might have had a package style, our books might have had a certain air or look about them, but certainly our artwork and our stories have not had a house style which I think is the most important thing for any publishing house to have and which the most successful publishing houses have worked very hard to acquire. Marvel’s house style is very pronounced. The EC house style is recognisable to anyone. While I don’t say I am emulating their style, I am definitely adopting the philosophy that a house style is something to acquire.
Q: In recent years, three figures that are “…soft, living piles of sludge” have sprung up out of their respective swamps – Marvel’s “Man Thing,” DC’s “Swamp Thing” and Skywald’s “Heap.” What is the appeal of this creature to both the comic book writer and reader?
Al: I don’t know how a pile of sludge can appeal to anyone. It certainly doesn’t appeal to me, and in my writing of the Heap I certainly have not understood the character or understood the appeal of a pile of sludge and that’s why I cancelled it. I think that characters in themselves, irrespective of what they are, are very popular to the average reader. We have done a few things over the years where we’ve done one story and said, “This is a potential character – what do you think?” and we get unanimous “yes” votes to make it a continued character. For example, the one we did about Darkkos Mansion which is a decrepit old swamp mansion in the American south, we got letters demanding that we make this into a continued series, which we have done. I am also taking up where Lovecraft left off in the Shoggoth series, and that’s been immensely popular. Readers have been writing in and demanding that we continue this as a series. No matter what an editor at any company thinks of a particular character, you almost don’t have to worry about the character himself. All you have to do is write the word “character” or “series” next to the story and you automatically have an audience which goes crazy. But you know, we ran a “Yes-Heap, No-Heap Vote” a few months ago and the reaction was without a percentage of exaggeration 99% yes. I actually have no objection to doing the Heap as a continued character. But let me say this, I will not be doing it the way I’ve been doing it in the past. The artwork must be done by just about the best artist we have. The story I write must be really exceptional, which I’m the first to admit they’ve not been to date. The character’s physical appearance must be very changed and the whole resultant product must be very adult and sophisticated. If the character is revived, he will be revived, or rather reborn, according to a very high criteria to make his origins almost unrecognisable.
Q: Are there any continued characters coming up in the Skywald books?
Al: We have Lady Satan, The Human Gargoyles, Monster Monster by Gus Funnell, Nosferatu in Scream, the Shoggoth series, and various other new series starting up. I am adapting every single horror story that Edgar Allan Poe ever wrote. And at the moment, I’m creating a new vampire series which may be called The Vampire, and also a series involving a mummy character – interesting little things all which will comprise 50% of all published material in Skywald’s Horror-Mood titles.
Q: What are your inspirations?
Al: I’m very inspired by people. I don’t do most of my writing in this room. I do most of my writing in restaurants and on park benches and while sitting in a car at a street corner. I don’t know what it is about people, but they inspire me to write. Also, other people in this field who are successful and who I am very fortunate to be friends with, inspire me by their own tremendous styles.
Q: Do you get inspiration from the horror-style books you have here, such as Poe and Lovecraft?
Al: I’m very inspired by both Edgar Allan Poe and by Howard Lovecraft because I think that those two gentlemen, though of different centuries, define horror in the twentieth century. We are presently producing every single horror story Edgar Allan Poe ever wrote and adapting them literally. And I hope that this will be a series which will be very popular because we’re putting a lot of work into it.
Q: What sort of mental environment is best suited to writing horror?
Al: An environment which is introverted and depressing and atmospheric in terms of mood and inspiration which may well be defined by my adding to my former answer the suggestion that I also write in graveyards at four o’clock in the morning.
Q: Is that true?
Al: Yeah, that’s true. There’s a story in Scream #1 called “This Archaic Breeding Ground…” which was written in a graveyard in Providence at four o’clock in the morning. And that graveyard is about two blocks from where Lovecraft was born and where he lived most of his life. He used to haunt that graveyard and write his stories there at that time in the morning. And in the 19th century, Edgar Allan Poe was in that graveyard and proposed to Sarah Whitman on the park bench where I sat and wrote that story. Not at four o’clock in the morning though.
Q: Do you suggest that for other writers, too?
Al: I don’t know. Different strokes for different writers.
Q: Have you met all of your artists and writers personally?
Al: Yeah, I think all of them. We have a couple of new artists who work over in Spain and other countries who I haven’t met yet. We’ve acquired them over the last couple of months as we weeded out other artists and I only know them by their work.
Q: I suppose the other artists you’re talking about make sabbaticals to New York to see you. Do you need a translator?
Al: Yeah, some of them speak English, some of them speak English very well. Some of them speak English to a little extent and we get along. For example, Pablo Marcos and I, when he was with Skywald, related very easily, but Pablo speaks as much English as I do Spanish which is about eight words.
Q: What do you think of the work of Gahan Wilson in Playboy and National Lampoon since you were saying that humour is very close to horror?
Q: What do you think of the work of Gahan Wilson in Playboy and National Lampoon since you were saying that humour is very close to horror?
Al: You’ve raised a very interesting question, apart from my answer regarding Gahan Wilson who I’ll speak about first. I think that Gahan Wilson, more than anyone, defines black or macabre humour, which is, in his style, expressed beautifully. What I was referring to earlier when I spoke of the humour in horror was black or macabre humour, or sick humour, depending on how you wish to define it. This is what I’m aiming for, if you ever read a story in Skywald, or elsewhere, which is horror and also humour. I have a great aversion to, although I quoted it earlier, Vincent Price’s kind of horror which is taking a straight horror idea and then making fun of it. I try very hard not to do this. If I write a horror story which is humourous, it is either one of two things. It is either an attempt at macabre humour, or is an attempt at parodying life.
Q: What were your intentions when you took over Skywald in the way of improvement and how many have been fulfilled to date?
Al: My first and most important editorial improvement at Skywald is almost a negative one. And that is to, first, eliminate that which I did not like or approve of. It has taken me a long time to do that, not because of any obstructions caused by the publishers who have agreed with me all the way, but because the obstructions are based on two things. They are based on economics. You see, first of all, the type of package I produce is very expensive relative to the newsstand return. Since we are in the business of making money, we can’t spend more money than we take in, obviously. So there are very, very definite financial restrictions which have an obvious limiting effect on material for the product. Because, whether I care to like it or not, artists in general relate money to work. This is a mad turn of affairs but it’s true, although I think it’s evident more in comics than in other areas of so-called commercial art. Second, I wish I had all the people who work for us in a little room. Or, at least, I wish they lived within a fifty to one hundred mile radius of New York or of me. But they don’t. They live all over the world – in Canada, in Spain, in Chicago, in South America, in Mexico. It is virtually impossible to maintain or even establish the kind of control that EC had and which I would desire. So these are two restrictions which are breaking my back. I can’t do anything about them. I have to work as best I can, and I do. And the product is almost the best I can produce. When I say almost, it’s because of course I’m never satisfied with anything. I am to a degree satisfied that Scream #1 was a pretty good product for a first issue. But there are still a million changes I will make in the future, slowly, surely. But I’ll make them, until maybe one day I’ll be 100% satisfied.
Q: Is there any potential to the super-hero concept which you have already expressed distaste for?
Al: First of all, Skywald has no intention of producing any super-hero material. Outside of Skywald I would say that I used to be very romanced with the idea of super-heroes, particularly Stan Lee’s super-hero concepts of realistically-speaking people in realistic situations. I think that this can be taken one step further and written in a more adult style and format. People in this medium, writers and artists and fans, are forever talking about doing adult material and yet it’s never been done. We, Skywald, hope to do adult material – by “adult” I in no way infer sexual material – before too long.
Q: Who would you say is the artist best suited to the Horror-Mood? Who is the best working for you now and who would be the best working for you in the future?
Al: Well, I’m very pleased to say that, with only one or two exceptions, everybody who I would like to work with in the Horror-Mood presently is. I think the person who defines it best is Maelo Cintron with his Human Gargoyles series. My favourite artists outside of the Skywald artists include Jack Davis, first and foremost, Wally Wood, Harvey Kurtzman – the artist, Will Elder, Frank Frazetta, Berni Wrightson and Ralph Reese. The latter two are the exceptions who are not presently working for Skywald, who I would like to see on our art staff, but which for certain reasons will not happen.
Q: Have you ever had any feed back from concerned parents on the horror material which you publish?
Al: I have not received a single letter.
Q/S: That’s hard to believe.
Al: Not a one, or a single phone call, or any feedback at all. None. Primarily because I think we’re living in 1973 and the hysteria towards comics which pervaded the early 1950’s, inspired by Wertham, was agitated by the paranoic fever of McCarthyism and the times which were very conservative. These early 1970’s are not so conservative and are not so restrictive and I think that we, all of us in the comic medium whether in horror or in any other area, can do pretty well what we want.
Al: It was called “Asylum Of Frozen Hell” and the art was by Pablo Marcos.
Al: There is almost nothing in the various fields of writing and entertainment that I wouldn’t like to do and don’t plan to do, as well as my future work with Skywald.
...Thus concludes your horrible “choke” hosts representation of the Archaic Ones interview with Dave Sim and John Balge as it originally appeared in the fanzine Now And Then Times Vol.1 No. 2 October 1973. Seek out a copy if you can find one (it’s extremely rare). You “shudder” won’t regret it...
Q: Can you give us any details on the printing of the Skywald books, particularly that they’re printed in Canada?
Q: For example, does New York get to see the original art and scripts, or do you, first?
Al: I write my stories, and edit others’ stories, and send them directly to the various artists. The art is sent to New York, when finished, where I collate it. I produce all the editorial production here at home, and when I visit New York I package the entire magazine and do the production for it. And then, in an incredible fat bundle, I mail the thing off to our printers who have nothing to do but perhaps add the occasional, miscellaneous screen and make the negatives for the magazine. Blueprint proofs of those negatives are sent to me which I proof editorially and I make certain changes and approve the package. And the magazine is then printed in Canada and then shipped to Connecticut and from there to various distribution centres, including back to Canada.
Q: How many magazines do you think you could handle under the Horror-Mood with the present staff and method of handling?
Al: I would like, as most editors would, to write a little less and edit a little more, which in terms of Skywald will come when we do more magazines. We would like to do more horror magazines and within a few months we would like to produce humour magazines and several other ventures. Skywald has the potential to grow very large, because both editorially and from a publisher’s view everybody at Skywald is excited by what we do and about the future.
Q: What about the French translations of the Skywald books?
Al: I’ve seen them. And, inasmuch as I consider myself a Canadian, unfortunately I cannot speak French. The appearance of the package leaves much to be desired but I’ve been told by friends who do speak French fluently that the translations themselves are really very good.
Q: What about royalties from the books?
Al: Skywald does make quite a bit of money selling the syndicated rights to these things. We have almost all of our material appearing in French and in Spanish and Scandanavian. We hope to move into Germany and maybe Japan next year. We’ve just made a deal for syndicated rights to Italy, which means that now we officially appear in five launguages.
Q: What about your double-page format that you use in your magazine quite frequently, how successful is it as an innovation?
Al: They’re probably the most disappointing thing I ever did. I tried a couple of things immediately when I became editor. One of them was to make the entire magazine this double-page style and also bleeding off the edges of pages which I thought was tremedous visually, and the readers responded to this very favourably, and I was really very happy. And all of a sudden I am informed by our foreign syndicators that it is impossible to pick up and to reproduce material which is printed in this style and so forth, so we had to cancel the whole thing for such a stupid reason.
Q: Considering the fact that you have the chance to see the scripts and the original artwork nd the blueprints and the proofs before you see the finished product, are you usually happy with the end result?
Al: I’m usually disappointed, because I’m a perfectionist and I’m never happy with anything. I’m occasionally happy with certain things. I was very happy with the Nightmare Winter Special. I was very happy with Scream #1. And I’m learning from my disappointment. It’s getting to be that I’m not as disappointed these days as I was in days gone by.
Q: Do you remember a story you did that featured a female reporter and a first person outlook for the hero of the story, the reader seeing the story through his eyes…?
Q: Do you get objections from female readers that the women are not given a strong enough role, rather taking on the traditional horror role of the damsel-in-distress?
Al: I’m as guilty of that as any writer who doesn’t think about it. Recently I’ve thought about it and women have an increased and proportionate role in our magazines. They are now as equal as the men and they are now appearing as often as the men are. Jane Lynch, our newest writer, is obviously a female and the most attractive member of the Horror-Mood team. When I write our Lady Satan character, I give her an according amount of respect that I would a male. Writers fall into unconscious parodies of life, and life is such that until these last few years women have had a secondary role. In these early 1970’s this is changing and therefore so is their role in Skywald.
Q: And yet, in the drawings you showed us for an upcoming series of female characters, you told us that the artist had been advised to make the breasts fuller, presumably to make the character a more appealing “object” to the reader.
Al: That was the new series we have coming up called The Saga Of The Victims. In the sketches which the artist presented, I thought that the women were not normal. They were too flat-chested and so we merely indicated a correction. And if you believe that, you can believe anything!!
Q: Do you keep in mind when you write your stories the exploitation of sex? The women in the Skywald books seem to have a frightful tendency of getting their blouses ripped to shreds, whether they’re going on a safari or down to the supermarket.
Al: No, consciously I’m not aware of that kind of thing. The artists add a lot of things into stories which, you know, the writer or editor glances over and doesn’t consciously realise is there. It is obviously more commercial to introduce sexual characters in the black and white market, because we are appealing to older readers, which is a predominantly male market. We do have female readers and we do have a much more recognisable percentage than colour comics do. I think that our major competitor has exploited this matter to the fullest and if we have done so in Skywald I’m afraid it’s been unconscious. As to the future, we certainly have no intention of exploiting sex.
Q: What is the average age of your readers?
Al: There is not a specific average age. The average reader of comics is between the ages of seven and fifteen. The average age of readers of the black and white magazines is between the ages of twelve and around twenty-one or twenty-two. For some reason or other, we are blessed with a twenty per cent readership which is over twenty and some in their early thirties. We have a few readers which are under the age of fourteen, but they are definitely in the minority.
Q: Would you say there are any examples of relevant horror stories or are horror stories, by their nature, irrelevant?
Al: I think that most horror stories are mostly escapist. I think there are a few relevant horror stories which are being used these days. The most excellent example of which I can give you is the continuing series The Human Gargoyles which many people say is not horror and which many people don’t quite know how to define. Well, if I was to try to define it, I would say that it is a parody of life.
Q: Skywald features a great deal of blood and particularly graphic examples of killing brutally. Will Eisner has said that there is more horror created by a well placed trickle of blood than by a whole gushing fountain. Do you think the graphic violence that a number of your stories contain is necessary in order to sell the books?
Al: No, but what I do think Will Eisner is talking about is relevant when you are speaking about subtle people and I don’t consider that the average reader of Skywald is a subtle person. Between the ages of fourteen and twenty you are not terribly subtle. By the same token, I honestly feel that you exaggerate when you talk about all the blood and gore in Skywald because I don’t think it amounts to fifty per cent and I certainly don’t think it amounts to even twenty-five per cent. Although we do have an occasional story like “Limb From Limb From Death” which was pronounced by some people as the most ghastly thing ever done, I don’t think that it is reflective of everything. I think that we do stories which determine horror in many ways.
Q: What do you think of the underground comics?
Al: I think that a few undergrounds are being produced which are very worthy of note, specifically, in terms of the individuals who produce them rather than in the titles of the magazines: Bob Crumb, Jay Lynch, Skip Williamson, Gilbert Shelton, Art Spiegelman and a couple of others. For the most part, and by “the most part” I mean upwards of ninety per cent, I think that the underground medium is an affront to both the reader’s intelligence and to the comic medium. As I understand the underground, by it’s most flattering definition, it is the comics of the ‘40s in a 1970s launguage. By this definition, undergrounds are not 100% but 200% pointless except in terms of entertainment. By that definition, they are supposed to be 100% entertainment. Well, you know, thaat’s a jolly good idea and who can criticise it? However, the comics of the ‘40s were very entertaining by any standards. And the underground comix of the ‘70s are not entertaining by any standards. I listened to Harvey (Kurtzman) tell me for two hours how comix were the roots of tomorrow and the nihilistic premise of pure entertainment. All this sounds great as a theory for tomorrow. But no one has put any of these ideas into practise. My opinion is that 90% of underground comix is puerile, worthless, and very ugly trash, and the most horrible, and I’m serious, horrible, barbaric excuse for murdering a living, breathing tree that I’ve ever heard!
Q: Are there any kind of fans that you don’t like – fans that you meet at conventions and the Skywald offices?
Al: Yes, there is a particular kind of fan who walks into the office or who walks up to you with his finger in his nose and who doesn’t know who you are and who says, “Can I have your autograph?” or, “Can I have a piece of artwork?” without knowing who you are. I figure that if you are going to talk to people or, especially, ask them for a favour you should know what the hell they do.
Q: You’ve had people ask you for artwork?
Al: Yes, a lot of people ask me for artwork. People come up to me at the con and say, “Would you add to this page?” Then they give me a big piece of artwork that has fifty signatures and little sketches by Neal Adams and Berni Wrightson and Jeff Jones and Kaluta and pther people and then ask me to do a little piece of artwork. And I say, “I don’t do artwork, would you like my signature?” And they say, “Oh, jeez, okay, sign it.” And so I sign it and they go away grumbling. It’s because this is an artist’s medium, it really is. Fans don’t pay too much attention to stories, whether they say they do or not. They like a story or dislike a story for one reason or other, but spend hours studying a panel of art. As a writer it’s disheartening in that light. But apart from that, most comic writers don’t realise it’s an artists medium, and fight it right to the end. I’ve only just begun to realise that the best comic story is one that’s just that, a comic story, not a story that was illustrated, nor by the same token am I saying a piece of art that has words. I’m saying a comic story. The writer must tell his story through the art, not instead of the art or as well as the art, but as the art. Well, like I said, I’ve only just realised this and personally am finding it more enjoyable to write art and stories now. For the most part, I think that fans are intelligent people who understand artwork. I don’t think they understand the commercial aspects of publishing. I don’t think they try to understand, although I do think they pretend to understand. And if they are ever to be criticised for anything, they should be criticised for their laack of initiative in finding out any publisher’s necessary commercial aspects.
Q: Are there any particular riters you do, or don’t, like?
Al: There is a group of writers that I don’t like in particular – that group which is defined as being artist-writer. Very few of them can write and a lot of them fool themselves that they can draw. This is particularly evident in daily newspaper strips which, for all its being acclaimed as the adult aspect of comics, are, on a whole, the worst produced collection of childish and obscure ideas in the medium. In the 1940s, newspaper strips were something to be respected and perhaps during the 1930s and 1940s they gained their reputation. It is unfortunate that they did not lose their reputation during the 1950s and sixties and certainly the seventies during which time they deteriorated awfully. There are, in the comic book medium also, several writer-artists. The only one I have any respect for is Berni Wrightson who should be writing Swamp Thing.
Q: How many professionals did you get to know as a fan and how many do you still know and how have they helped you?
Al: The first question flabbergasts me. How many? I don’t know how many, but I certainly met an awful lot – like, Stan Lee I met as a fan, Jack Davis, Harvey Kurtzman, Will Elder, Smythe, Gahan Wilson, Charles Schulz, Arnold Roth, Basil Wolverton, as a few. I didn’t meet all of them, but I corresponded for years and years and often talked on the phone. When I was accepted professionally, I maintained a friendship with these people and made new friendships with a lot of people in this field such as Wally Wood, Syd Shores, writers like Gary Friedrich, and many more writers and artists. And, of course, I’m as friendly s an editor can be with my own staff people. A lot of them have helped me merely by their being, by their friendship and by inspiring me. A lot of them have helped me through specific criticism. One of the most favourite criticisms of Hewetson is that he is flowery and that he is long-winded, which makes for a damned good interview but which makes for a lousy story. For example, Harvey Kurtzman I’ve always considered to be responsible for getting me into this field. Like many mentors to people who are now involved in this field, I don’t think that he really gave a damn about me, but yet he inspired me by his so utterly realistic sense of nihilistic parody, by his work, by his just being. My favourite stories are my black humour stories and this is kind of my attitude about Kurtzman carried over into the horror medium. It’s a parody of life which is really horror.
Q: Is Al Hewetson doing anything now besides horror in the comics?
Al: I’ve done quite a bit of humour writing. A lot of people don’t consider that Cracked and Sick and such humour is comics. They consider it to be something else quite undefinable. But I’ve done a lot of that work. Also I’ve done quite a bit of work with a nightclub comic. I do all of his writing and work out routines with him. I do occasional prose stories on a non-fictional level, such as a recent one I did called “Comics In The Cinema,” which was printed in Cinema magazine, which was as the title suggests a review of comic book characters serialised in the nineteen-forties into the movie medium. Also, I’m continuing to do a certain amount of photographic work. Recently, I did quite a bit of work on John Diefenbaker’s memoirs which I photo-edited. I’m doing a book for Prentice-Hall which is about management, which I’ve been working on for quite some time.
Q: Is Skywald the end of the road for Al Hewetson?
...Thus concludes your horrible “choke” hosts representation of the Archaic Ones interview with Dave Sim and John Balge as it originally appeared in the fanzine Now And Then Times Vol.1 No. 2 October 1973. Seek out a copy if you can find one (it’s extremely rare). You “shudder” won’t regret it...