Jessie Lilley has been publishing and editing small press magazines for 20+ years. She is the original publisher of the much acclaimed Scarlet Street: The Magazine of Mystery and Horror, Worldly Remains: A Pop Culture Review and is currently Editor-in-Chief of Mondo Cult Magazine and MondoCult.com as well as Editor of Famous Monsters of Filmland. Jessie is only the fourth editor of FM since it first published back in 1958. Her freelance work has appeared in the pages of Los Angeles’ Valley Scene Magazine and Perth, Australia’s Messenger along with a host of small press publications and websites related to horror films and music.
Jessie also edits biographies, including the memoir GLORIA by Bond-girl Gloria Hendry; an in-depth and candid look at the life of an African-American actress coming up in the extraordinary time known simply as ‘The 60s”. It is currently available at amazon.com. Another project which was completed in the fall of 2009 is the biography of character actor Paul Reed, Sr. by his son Paul, Jr. A delightful remembrance by a loving son and a retelling of the stories his father told him about making a mark in “the business” in early 20th century New York City. Entitled You Grew Up, the book is available from Bear Manor Media and amazon.com. Jessie is currently editing a series of children’s books called Rowdy and Me. The first in the series, Rowdy Comes Home, is due to hit bookstores later this year.
Jessie lives in Santa Cruz County, CA at the top of a hill at the end of the road with her husband, musician David Paul Campbell, four sleek, rescued cats and various, visiting doggies.
AP:Jessie, first we’d like to welcome you to ALL PULP!Thank you for taking time out of your schedule to visit.Before we get into specifics, can you share a bit about yourself, your background and such?
JL: it’s my pleasure to talk with you and thanks so much for including me in All Pulp with the likes of such luminaries as Martin Powell. I’m flattered. There really isn’t much to tell. I was brought into this business via the back door, kicking and screaming all the way. Richard Valley, who had dragged me down the rabbit hole with him several times in our 20 year friendship, did it to me again with Scarlet Street. From there, things seemed to just move along to the coveted chair that I hold today. Being Editor of Famous Monsters is truly an unbelievable opportunity for me. Philip Kim flatters me with the position which I’ve held for over a year now.
AP: You’ve been involved in the Horror arena for some time, including working with such luminaries in the horror magazine field as Forrest J.Ackerman.Has the field of horror changed dramatically since you became a part of it, particularly in the magazine arena?If so, how?
JL: You know, Forry had names for everyone. Brad Linaweaver was always “pal” and I was Wonder Woman. I was very lucky to have known the man and will always be grateful for the time I was able to spend with him. God, how that man loved his music. A love of all kinds of music was something he and I shared. Between us, we knew more lyrics than my husband. (Laughs) And that’s saying something! But you asked if the horror field has changed since I got into it in 1990. It certainly has. For one thing, the state of the US and world economy has removed 99% of the disposable income folks use to enjoy. These days if you’re making $75K a year, you’re just scraping by so those of us who make a lot less than that are just barely off the streets. The internet seems to have come along at just the right time for the news hungry populace that doesn’t have the extra change for a daily paper, let alone a monthly magazine at anywhere from $6 to $12 a pop. And those lower prices are amazing. I know what it costs to get one of these things printed and as I refuse to print overseas, it costs even more. Advertising has become extremely important to print mags at this point, even more than in decades past. Without the advertising income, a magazine like FM would be in a whole lot of trouble.
Jessie with Forrest Ackerman
And of course, the second thing that’s changed regarding the magazine arena is the aforementioned internet. There are countless web-only zines out there spreading the word and most any print mag worth its salt has a website to go with it as well as a forum where, hopefully, the magazine’s readers come to chat about the articles they’ve read and what they’d like to read about in the future.
That part hasn’t changed. We still want to know what the reader wants information on so we can continue to have those people as readers.
AP:Why is horror a popular genre?More so than most of the others, Horror seems to have a very active, committed community following and supporting it.Why is that?
JL: Because it’s fun. Because it’s easier to take than the evening news. Because it brings back memories of our youth, when times were better (they tell me) and life was simpler (they continue to tell me – it wasn’t you know, it just seemed that way because we were kids) and the world was new and fun. Horror helps keep the world fun. In the world we know today, that counts for a whole lot.
AP: Has the fact you’re a woman working in the Horror field been a benefit or hindrance, or maybe even both, in any way?Do you feel like women contribute something different within Horror that men do and if so, what?
JL: I get that question a lot and I’ve answered it a lot, but am happy to reiterate my thoughts on the matter for your readership. It’s amazingly important that people get all sides of this story. I seem to be alone in my thoughts here. There are a lot of women who really don’t like what I have to say so brace yourselves. This question always seems to generate a lot of letters.
I wish to start by saying that my being a woman – and at the time I started in this business a rather comely wench at that (I’m old and fat now) – was never a problem for me.God knows women have been in publishing for decades and while some may say that what I did in 1990 with Scarlet Street was no big deal because of the likes of Helen Gurley Brown (can’t imagine why they’d lump me into that august company, but there it is), the fact is that at the time I was the only female publisher in the horror market. That didn’t last long but for a short while that’s the way it was. So from the git go, my being a woman was a benefit because it was new. I had a different outlook than the boys did and Richard Valley, as editor, had a far different outlook than the other boys did. By 1990 when we put out issue 1, we were all so tired of the same writers writing the same stuff and commenting about each others’ work that we thought it might be time to shake things up a bit with some different viewpoints. We succeeded in that and after I left SS, Richard continued to shake things up in his own inimitable style. He’s gone now, but the legacy he left changed horror publishing forever and I’m proud to have been associated with that project and with him.
As to the second part of your question – and this is where the letters come from – may I say the answer is an emphatic yes. It’s called the mother instinct. Whether a woman has given birth, adopted or never had children, there is something inherent in the female of the species that nurtures. Men are not natural caregivers. Women are. Also, when it comes to beating on male monsters, women are better at it because it’s part of their natural defense mechanism. It’s the lesson life has taught many of us. Very few people out there are really interested in anyone but themselves. There are both men and women in this world that are out for whatever they can get. Being the “weaker” of the species – in theory, if not in fact – women are aware that men (and women too, let’s be fair here) will take any advantage they can and as a result, while a man meeting a man will assume an attitude of bonhomme, a woman’s defenses will always be up. A man can be blindsided by another man’s evil intent but a woman has a better chance of being prepared out of hand.
AP:Horror films can be divided into many categories, one of those being classic monster movies.Do you feel like the old Universal monsters still have a strong appeal today and if so, what do you think contributes to that?
JL: Yes, in fact I know those old films still appeal in the 21st century. I believe they will appeal for decades, if not centuries, to come. Many things contribute to this, I think, and while this is all speculation on my part, it comes from a fairly rich education on the subject. There’s the nostalgia factor of course. When I was a kid, the ‘new stuff’ included the goodies that Roger Corman was putting out, like the Vincent Price Poe films. I saw those at the drive-ins and movie houses. At home though, on TV, I saw the classic horror flicks; those that starred Lugosi, Karloff, Chaney and later, Rathbone and Zucco to name just a few. Wonderful films in black & white, with scripts that were well-written, actors that took the roles seriously and delivered wonderful performances and directors that knew how to scare the pants off an audience – not to mention some really cool make-up.
I’m not the only Monster Kid out here you know. We are legion and many have had kids of their own. The parents still love the old movies and their kids – through the wonder of videotape and now DVD and Blu-Ray – are being exposed to these old favorites along with the new. A large enough percentage of them have fallen in love with the Universal classics and some of those kids – older now and with their own progeny – are showing the films to their kids.
These films were very well done for the most part and the love of them will never die as long as we have recordings of them to show our children.
AP:A current project you have in the works is a new take on FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLFMAN.What details can you share about this, including format, creative team, where it will appear, etc.
JL: You know, of all the things I’ve worked on with Phil Kim, this project has to be my favorite. For 20 years or more I’ve simply been gaga for the artwork of Joe Jusko. I’ve had a mad fan crush on the guy just because of the spectacular renditions of the male and female forms divine. And his use of color is so wonderfully vibrant. I’ll never stop being in awe of those who paint. Jusko, Stout, Wrightson…. Can’t name them all here. There’s not enough room! These creatures come off the page at you when they turn their talents to paint and canvas, and you know that one night something is going to lumber off the wall and get you while you’re in bed… when Martin Powell started to lobby for the FMTWM project in one of the Retro issues, I – being a Powell fan – immediately started to lobby for it with Phil for Retro 71. Then Martin says to me, he says, “So Jessie. What do you think about the cover artist? I mean, do you know about Joe Jusko?” I almost died right then and there. What a perfect idea. What a spectacular choice. Oh, man! And Joe said yes. And Phil said yes. And I am one very happy camper. It’s like a dream come true. So, the format will be close to the original filmbooks from Forry’s day and that’s all you’re going to get out of me. I know Phil is hoping to have it for Comic Con, but it’s actual scheduled release is September of 2011. If we can get it done in time for Comic Con, we would be bringing a limited number for sale there. That’s’ the last I heard anyway.
AP:We’ve talked about the appeal of the classic monsters already.Specifically, though, what about this particular film adaptation do you think speaks to a modern audience?
JL: The fact is, there was no deep meaning in this film; not that I could see at any rate. The film says the same thing today that it said to the audience back then. Here are a couple of our monsters that you liked before. We thought we’d get them together for you and see what happens. Perhaps that statement will be seen as disrespectful by some, but it is the way I see it. FMTWM was discussed in the pages of Famous Monsters back in the day, but it never got a filmbook treatment. It struck us that it oughta have one and so Retro 71 seemed to be the logical place for it.
AP: As an editor, how do you make sure the tension and drama and fear that builds up in a horror movie translates well enough to the page to have similar effects?
JL: As an editor, you get the best writer for the project. When the writer presents the project and himself as the best writer for the job, you really don’t have to do much. Pretty much be sure all the words are spelled properly and that said writer doesn’t ramble off into areas not necessary to the project. I’ll tell you that working with Martin is quite possibly the easiest job I’ve had in 20 years. The fella knows his stuff. I guess that hardest part of the whole thing is figuring out what else goes in this issue with the filmbook.
AP:Specifically about the creative team behind this project, what do Martin Powell and Joe Jusko bring to the process that makes them the best for the job?
JL: I think other than what I’ve already stated earlier, they bring the thing back to life through the eyes of the children that they once were. Both of these men were so completely overjoyed to be doing this for Famous Monsters that it was almost laughable. Almost, but not quite – because I knew exactly how they felt. I felt the same way when someone told me that, yeah, I was the editor of Famous Monsters now.
AP:Are there any projects for the magazine or yourself personally that you can or want to let our readers know about coming up in the near future?
JL: Oh absolutely! My favorite personal project is issue 3 of Mondo Cult, the magazine I edit for Brad Linaweaver. It’s a completely different gig from FM. I’m looking forward to being able to write about music again, and in a publication that is written for adults. FM is written as a strictly family friendly magazine, which is only proper as that’s where it started out and the idea was to bring FM back in the same vein as it always was. Mondo, on the other hand, started out as a magazine of which I am Editor-In-Chief and I don’t censor my writers. I never pretended the thing was for kids so the language you will find in the pages of Mondo is usually a bit more ripe than that which you will find in FM.
This issue of Mondo Cult is going to rock. I’m really excited about it because I’m finally putting my piece on Black Zoo together. I’ve wanted to write about that film for years and now I have my chance. I think I’ve got a little something to discuss about this film that hasn’t been touched on before. It has to do with women again. What a surprise. Ron Garmon is going after DeSade and Medved and Brad Linaweaver is going after the world in general. Paul Gaita is back as Music Editor and all is right with the world. The best thing though, is the cover. It’s by L.J. Dopp but that’s all I’m going to say about it. You’ll just have to be surprised along with everyone else. We’ll have it on the stands by the end of the year.
AP:Thank you so much for your time, Jessie!
JL: As I said before, it’s my pleasure. Thanks again.