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We have seen samples of your very detailed artwork. That's what got you into the field, right? Do you still have time to do that?
I actually got my start in the field writing nonfiction articles and contributing artwork to small press magazines. From there, some of the artwork began appearing in newsstand magazines and books. That was around the early to mid-1970s. My two major influences were the pulp magazine artists Virgil Finlay and Hannes Bok, and I would spend hours building up images on scraper-board using tiny dots and intricate cross-hatch. It was fun, and people seemed to like what I was doing. Unfortunately there is no money to be made in black and white illustration (and I was not very good at painting), and then there was no time to continue with the artwork once I started producing the books in the late 1980s. Perhaps if I ever retire, I'll be able to go back to the artwork. Of course, I'll probably be unable to even see the dots by then!
It would seem that horror is a soft market in Britain these days - so many British horror magazines have folded. Do you think there will be a resurgence - and if so, what would bring about that resurgence?
I think this is the resurgence. This is as good as it's going to get on both sides of the Atlantic. The market - and indeed publishing in general - has changed. The readership has changed. Horror itself has changed. We will never return to those halcyon days of the 1980s. All we can hope is that there are enough people out there who will still buy horror books and that mainstream publishers will continue to support them while there is some kind of an audience. The small presses are doing a wonderful job of training up new talent and keeping back titles in print but, make no mistake, they are doing nothing to promote horror to the wider mainstream readership. And if that market eventually dries up, then you can kiss the horror genre goodbye for good.
You've worked in the film industry as well as fiction. Do you see any sort of hand-in-hand relationship there? In what ways do they tie-in with each other, besides, say, movie novelisation?
There really is no hand-in-hand relationship between movies and books.
Most producers have no concept of plot, dialogue or characterisation. All they care about is 'the idea'. If you can sum the concept up in a (preferably) short sentence, you have a snappy title, and they manage to grasp what it's about (hopefully because it's just like something else which was successful), then you can probably sell your project to the movies or to television. Despite my background as a television director, my experience in the movies, and my various awards and expertise in this area, over the years I have wasted far too much of my time sitting in offices in Hollywood or London pitching strong, commercial and innovative horror projects to executives who are paid to take such meetings every day and wouldn't know a good idea if it bit them on the arse!
Generally in America, the book industry is considered East Coast, and the movie industry is considered West Coast, with the big money in films. Again, for our American readers, what's the situation in Britain, geographically and financially speaking?
The major players are still based in London - both in publishing and films. As with America, because of buy-outs and takeovers, there are now only a limited number of publishing houses you can try to sell your books to. Outside of the television stations, there are a small handful of independent British production companies who are probably backed by grants from the Arts Council or lottery money. These people seem to be obsessed with making parochially 'British' films that, save for a very few notable exceptions, stand little or no chance of recouping their budgets in an international marketplace. Gone are the days when companies like Hammer, Amicus and Tigon could turn out low-budget yet classy-looking horror films which they could sell all over the world. No wonder talented people like Clive Barker and Peter Atkins moved to Hollywood. It may not be perfect, but at least they are getting some kind of support there for the type of films they want to make...
Last question, you are friends with Forrest J. Ackerman, who wrote the introduction to your Essential Monster Movie Guide. So you have any personal anecdotes about Forry?
While I remain friends with Harlan Ellison, I have to say I adore Forry. Like so many others of my generation, I grew up reading Famous Monsters Of Filmland. It was a huge influence on me during the 1960s - especially as I was not old enough to see most of the horror films released in Britain during the same period. I know it's become fashionable in recent years for some of the younger writers to criticise Forry and FM, especially the puns, but what they don't understand is that at that time it was pretty much the only game in town. It was the only place we could find out information about upcoming and classic films, or read articles by Robert Bloch and Joe Dante. Later magazines such as Castle Of Frankenstein may have been more eclectic, but Forry and Famous Monsters were the first. And let us not forget that Forry is one of our last direct contacts with the pulp era as well! I was on vacation with my parents in Los Angeles in the early 1970s when I first tried to contact Forry. I called his number every day, and every day I got his answering machine. Then, on the day before I was due to return home, he answered! He immediately invited me - a teenage fan from Britain who he didn't know at all - up to the Ackermansion for a guided tour and ended up taking me out to lunch as well! It was a wonderful kindness to a stranger, and I later learned that he had only returned from a comvention in Australia the previous evening and was probably exhausted! Over the years we remained in contact: when I started writing, I sold my first set report to Famous Monsters and I later became the British editor to Forry's Monsterland. He invited me to conventions and to his birthday parties, and I even got to film him and the Ackermansion for a documentary I made for British television in the late 1980s. He had very kindly helped me out with research material on some of my previous movie books, so when it came time to put together my magnum opus on monster movies, Forry was the only person I could even consider to write the introduction.
Forrest J. Ackerman is a national treasure in our genre. He has given so much to the field and influenced so many people. I simply can't understand those people who have been trying to make his life hell for the past few years. He should be prized, and deserves only to be lauded in my opinion.
VISIT STEPHEN JONES' WEBSITE
Books by Stephen Jones (selected titles):
Clive Barker's The Nightbreed Chronicles (editor, 1990), Creepshows (2001), Dark Terrors 5 (co-editor, 2001), The Essential Monster Movie Guide (1999), The Illustrated Dinosaur Movie Guide (1993), The Illustrated Frankenstein Movie Guide (1994), The Illustrated Vampire Movie Guide (1993), The Illustrated Werewolf Movie Guide (1996), The Hellraiser Chronicles (co-writer/editor, 1992), The Mammoth Book Of Best New Horror 12 (editor, 2001), The Mammoth Book Of Vampire Stories By Women (editor, 2001)
Buy books at: Amazon.co.uk Amazon.com
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