The following article was originally published in CANAR Fanzine #26-27-28 (Oct.-Nov-Dec. 1974)
The Demise Of Skywald by Dave Sim
“Today the Skywald Publishing Corporation announces the cancellation of Nightmare, Psycho and Scream magazines.” Thus began a letter from “Archaic Al” Hewetson announcing the end of a five year campaign to oust Warren Publications from their position at the top of the black and white horror magazine field. Recently Al Hewetson had announced that Skywald would take a break in their publishing schedule which would last probably until the beginning of summer. He explained that it was due to “a number of factors,” the most noticeable of which were rising production costs, and his own desire to pursue other facets of his writing career in the movie field and elsewhere. The notice of cancellation followed this announcement by two weeks.
The letter, which was addressed to all Horror-Mood contributors, read: “I hope Skywald has been as rewarding an experience 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 In its five year existence, Skywald has introduced a healthy number of new, unpublished writers and artists into the medium.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 story-telling techniques and innovations. We have published more than sixty-seven magazines, more than fifty under my editorship, and in every one of those issues there is a little bit of love and a little bit of pride.”
One of the reasons for cancellation cited by Mr. Hewetson was the “glutted magazine market” caused in part by Marvel Comics’ entry into the black and white field in recent years. Skywald publishing had gotten off to a shaky start in 1970 under the editorship of Sol Brodsky. When Brodsky left Skywald to return to Marvel, the radical differences between his own editorial approach to comics and Al Hewetson’s became readily apparent. “Archaic Al” (as he was known on letter pages) swiftly used up the remaining work that Brodsky had purchased and began to introduce his own concepts of comic art and story-telling to the Skywald pages. Long-time comic book writers like Bob Kanigher and Jerry Siegel who were favoured under Brodsky’s editorship gave way to younger talent under Al Hewetson: Gus Funnell, Ed Fedory and others. The approach to art changed. Artists like Dan Adkins, Jack Abel and Ernie Colon were replaced by those steeped in European styles: Pablo Marcos, Ricardo Villamonte, Maelo Cintron and others. Archaic Al also introduced a novelty to the comics medium – stories which read from left to right across two pages instead of one. The system was abandoned when publishers of the foreign editions of the magazines made it clear that the process could not be duplicated by their printers.
Until recently, the better portion of Skywald’s writing was done by the editor himself (generally under a staggering number of pen-names) with Augustine Funnell and Ed Fedory running a distant second or third. Augustine Funnell was asked his reaction to the news that Skywald was cancelling its magazines. “I would really rather say nothing about it. It’s over, and nothing I say, good or bad, will make any difference.”
Ed Fedory, who was one of the few writers to survive the transition of editorships, got directly to the creative heart of the matter when I contacted him at his home in Coxsackie, New York. “They owe me eighty-five bucks. There were two scripts and I’ve been waiting eight months for payment on that. I’ve written and I’ve called. I called about a month ago and I asked if the report I got from Jeff Rovin – that Skywald had tried to sell a lot of their stories and also the magazines in entirety – if that was true. Jeff called Al and wanted to find out what the action was and Al said they were just selling individual stories. Al told me that the artwork was already being done in Spain on those two scripts and that I should expect payment in a little while. So I wrote him a letter saying that I hate like hell to have to beg for my money. I didn’t think I should be put in that position. And then I just got a form letter. I tried calling the Waldmans (Skywald’s publishers) and found out that they wouldn’t be in until Friday.” Fedory’s theory on Skywald’s demise was very close to Al Hewetson’s. “We got swamped on the stands. We were running three magazines and Marvel more or less flooded the stands. You can’t fight that. Kids aren’t discriminating. They’ll grab the first one on the stands and Marvel’s a big name. I’m just kind of worried about my eighty-five bucks.” Fedory is not, however, planning to leave comics behind. “I’m doing some work for Seaboard (Atlas) now. I’ve got a magazine going there and the pay is five times as much. So I’ve got a new comic that should be coming out in April. It’s a Kung Fu type character. The first issue is coming out on April 22nd – Hands Of The Dragon. As to where the script is going, I don’t know, because we’re starting to find similarities between Kung Fu characters. So we might have to change him around a little. Jim Craig is the artist. I must give a lot of credit to Jeff Rovin for helping me get in at Seaboard. He helped me tremendously.”
The former Skywald writer went on to explain that he had called Al Hewetson about two months before and had been informed the latest issue of Scream was at the printers and would be on the stands in about two weeks. A month later, there was still no sign of the book on the newsstand. “That was my first premonition that something was up.” Around the same time, he had been informed that Skywald would be doing reprints and would not be buying as much new material. Then a freeze, similar to action taken by Herschel Waldman in 1971, was put on the scripts. With resignation he added, “This is something that has been happening for quite a while.”
Signs that the magazines were not doing well financially seemed to increase with the addition of advertising to the Skywald books. Until that time, Al Hewetson had avoided using advertising of the type that appears in the Warren magazines under the label of “The Captain Company.” In recent months, Skywald had featured “The Little Horror-Mood Shop of Horrors” selling novelty items and posters. It is to Skywald’s credit, however, that they survived so long on the strength of newsstand sales alone. It is believed by some people in the comic book industry that Warren’s magazines are paid for by the Captain Company sales.
As late as August of last year, Al Hewetson was optimistic about Skywald’s future. “Skywald has taken great delight and pride in introducing a lot of new talent, though Gus Funnell, Gene Day, Maelo Cintron, and any American and European artists are only a surface scratching compared to the many, many more to come… J.R. Cochran, ex-Warren editor, and Carl Wessler, ex-E.C. writer and National veteran, are now regular Mood-Team writers.” Gene Day, the last member of the Horror-Mood Team to join and have work published on a regular basis, was contacted shortly after the notice of cancellation reached him. “I must confess that the news of the collapse of the Skywald line came as quite a shock for me. I had inclinations of such for several months prior to the circulation of the form letter, but I don’t think I actually believed it was going to happen until the day that letter came. Needless to say, it was a bitter disappointment. Looking back over the months of ’74, while working for Skywald, I must say that they were good ones. Al gave me my first crack at the professional comics field, and what can one say about something like that, but to thank Hewetson and Skywald for a chance to get a bit more into the public eye and wonder what the hell happened to bring the collapse about.”
Al Hewetson, as an editor, demanded the best from his creative people and generally got it from them, either as a result of a need on their part to prove themselves worthy of his faith in them or as an answer to his criticism of their work. A firm believer in the inter-office memo (even for his dealings by mail), Alan Hewetson’s praise seldom exceeded one or two lines while criticism of a script or piece of art generally took up not less than two or three paragraphs.
The closing line of the letter (signed “(Archaic) Alan Hewetson, Editorial Director”) perhaps serves better than any as an epitaph for a company that prided itself on freedom for its creative people within a flexible framework of editorial policy.
“That’s all folks.”
Upon publication of the above article the Archaic One wrote a letter in response to it, which saw publication in CANAR Fanzine #30 (Feb. 1975)
Dear John, (John Balge, the publisher)
The latest issue of CANAR, the triple issue, is as usual terrific. Thank you and thanks to Dave Sim for a very nice feature “The Demise of Skywald.”
Through no fault of Dave’s, obviously, there are several incorrect statements in the article, which I would like to correct in your letters column.
One comment reads: “The approach to art changed. Artists… were replaced by those steeped in European styles: Pablo Marcos, Ricardo Villamonte, Maelo Cintron and others. The comment is accurate in point if not in terms of the names mentioned. Messrs. Marcos and Villamonte are both Mexicans who live in New York, and Maelo Cintron is Puerto Rican, was raised in the Bronx and now lives in New Jersey. Although I don’t think of Cintron’s style as being European at all, certainly Dave’s statement that the approach to art changed, and became generally European, is correct.
Several comments attributed to Ed Fedory, while they may indeed be accurate quotes, are quite wrong. 1. Ed Fedory received his eighty-five bucks months ago. 2. Skywald never tried to sell any stories or material at all – this was an action taken by an art agency trying to dispose of certain material we had contracted with them, an agency who also had contracts with Warren and Seaboard. 3. Jeff Rovin did not call me, I have not spoken to him in years. 4. Ed’s theory on the demise of Skywald is in certain respects not close to mine at all – I do not believe: “Kids aren’t discriminating and they’ll grab the first ones on the stand,” although they are influenced by Marvel’s name. Skywald did not go out of business because of sales. 5. The next issue of each magazine was at the printers when cancellation of the magazines came. 6. There was no ‘freeze’ put on the scripts by Herschel Waldman, and I don’t recall any ‘freeze’ in 1971.
Despite these inaccuracies, which I reiterate are not writer Sim’s fault at all, it was a pleasant article and I thank y’all.
Al HewetsonSt. Catharines, Ont.