I first became aware of a Renaissance gentleman by the name of Michael H. Price on a sunny forever afternoon some three decades ago, while perusing cinema advertising files at a Hollywood Boulevard poster shop. In the store that day was a soft-spoken gent, with multiple still files before him, and a sparkle in his eyes that increased with each 8x10 glossy that met his gaze. His name was George E. Turner, and that day we began a twenty year adventure of friendship, camaraderie, good cheer, and professional association that changed this then-young spud's life forevermore.

George was a fountain of knowledge of all things genre', and the co-author of The Making of King Kong with Dr. Orville Goldner (expanded and revised by Mr. Price and George Turner's son Douglas in 2002 as Spawn of Skull Island). That day he was gathering illustrations for his upcoming volume Forgotten Horrors with co-author and fellow Texan Mike Price, and as luck would have it, we struck up a conversations which still reverberates through the corridors of my mind because of the vast amount of info which George imparted to me in the space of a few hours. And as they say, "Off we w ent," from that day forward.

As was our custom, George and I would lunch often in Hollywood, and George would fill me in on Mike Price's latest literary and musical exploits. Mike, as well as being a master writer and musician, like George is one of the finest graphic artists I have ever encountered. His comic book collections of Southern Fried Homicide and Aw Shucks Suspense Storied: Mo' Southern Fried Homicide are testaments to Mike's talent and dedication to this sadly vanishing art form. Along with his recently released biography of Mantan Moreland, Mantan the Funnyman and Human Monsters (another collaboration with George Turner), the Forgotten Horrors series ranks amount the most prestigious examinations of obscure fantastic cinema on Planet Earth.

We here at feel more than highly honored to be able to present to you Michael's Forgotten Horrors column. This installment is an in-depth look at Jerry Iger and his weird and wacky fun books!

Michael H. Price's Forgotten Horrors
No. 1: The Iger Sanction

Forgotten Horrors is the title of a series of strange-movie encyclopedias that George E. Turner and I launched in 1979. The original book has remained in print over the long term via a succession of publishing companies, and an expanded edition appeared shortly before George Turner’s death in 1999. George and I had begun a long-in-coming sequel called, uhm, Forgotten Horrors 2 while that Midnight Marquee Press expansion of the first such book was in preparation.

George’s successors on subsequent volumes include Jan Alan Henderson — himself a collaborator with George, on projects for American Cinematographer magazine — and the Oklahoma-based novelist and cultural historian John Wooley. Wooley and I have produced a Forgotten Horrors column since 2002 for Fangoria magazine (dealing primarily in films of the 1970s and 1980s), and Jan Henderson has delivered some perceptive chapters that will appear in a forthcoming Forgotten Horrors 5.

Pretty self-evident that the range of Forgotten Horrors hardly limits itself to the movies. Examples are readily evident in such arenas as radio drama, pulp-magazine fiction and comic books. Which brings us to the Strange Case of Jerry Iger, to his comic-book assembly-line studio of the 1950s — and to an imaginary digression:

Flashback to the Postwar 1950s

Igerville, a sweatshop Company Town straight outta Brooklyn but not by far, occupies a stranger-than-usual patch of (virtual) real estate in the essentially strange precincts of Forgotten Horrors. Old-timer Moses Lester, a rare-breed Yiddish redneck not long retired from a law-enforcement career in the desolate Panhandle region where Oklahoma blurs with Texas, is amongst the few who profess to remember when Igerville was scarcely more than a dream for the grasping entrepreneur Samuel M. “Jerry” Iger.

“All ol’ Schmeuel could talk about, back in the good ol’ days in Okie-land, was his idea of bargin’ in on the Big City an’ takin’ the publishing racket by storm,” recalls Lester, invoking the Old World ethnic name for Samuel.

Lester’s neighborhood bar-and-grill — operating in defiance of the acquisitive grasp of the Iger Machine — serves as a pitiful haven to the ill-paid illustrators who toil in the service of Iger, hacking out innumerable pages of artwork for the dime-a-copy comic-book pamphlets that have made Jerry Iger a defiant survivor of a trendy-and-treacherous sub-industry of the magazine marketplace. More than a few Iger-shop funnybook scripts (term used advisedly) appear to have been written not on a typewriter, but rather scrawled upon bar-napkins bearing this legend: “Moe Lester’s Bar & Grille ● ‘Where the Elite Meet To Eat’ ● Flatbush.”

“Yeah, you can call me, ‘Moe,’” rambles Lester, momentarily fraying the thread of the conversation. “Time was, when I preferred ‘Moses,’ inasmuch as the name implies a certain calibre of visionary leadership. But back when I began playin’ constable, y’know, back in th’ wild-an’-woolly South-by-Southwest, folks started callin’ me ‘Moe,’ as if makin’ a joke or somethin’. Very funny: ‘Moe Lester.’ Hardy-har-dee-har… Anyhow, the nickname stuck, and no denyin’ it makes for a memorable sign on the ol’ barroom door...

“But of course, now, Schmeuel Iger and I, we grew up within close range of one another, out yonder on the Texas–Oklahoma Plains, what with his folks bein’ peddlers, y’know, an’ mine runnin’ one li’l ol’ hardscrabble mercantile store after another, in one li’l ol’ hardscrabble hick town after another,” Lester continues. “And it was Schmeuel — he prefers ‘Jerry,’ now, for whatever reasons — who planted in my head the idea of lightin’ a shuck out of Okie-land for New Yawk City or a reasonable facsimile thereof.

“And Jerry followed his own advice a whole hell of a lot quicker than I picked up on it, y’know,” Lester muses. “The idea of bein’ a lawman, out on what’s left of the frontier, appealed to me — tho’ I could’ve just as easily become a citified beat-cop — and not until I got myself retired, did I say to myself, ‘Self,’ I said, ‘it’s high time we made tracks for Points Eastward.

“So here I am, badges and billy-clubs all neatly arrayed in a trophy-case here in the barroom, back in touch with my old-time childhood chum… if only indirectly. I mean, through his hired-help artists and their booze-money paychecks from the Iger Studio.

“Looked up ol’ Schmeuel — I mean, Jerry — first thing upon my arrival in town. Seemed kind of embarrassed, he did, for me just to drop in on him at his office. Positively low-rent, more like some bookie’s digs than any kind of an Art Factory. Friendly enough, he was, but it became plain soon enough that we’ve got little more in common than the backwoods origins and playin’ hookey from Hebrew School. That was then, y’know, and this is now.

“Y’see, last time he’d passed through the Tex-o-homa boondocks, Jerry had bragged it around about what a big-shot he’d become in the publishing arena… droppin’ names like William Randolph Hersheysquirts an’ the Luces and the Wainrights and a bunch of swells I’d never heard tell of… but was kind of vague, y’know, about what he actually did in publishing.

“Turns out, natch, that ol’ Jerry is about as much of a big-timer in publishing as I am a big-timer in the distillery industry,” Lester continues, half-grinning and half-grimacing. “His letterhead reads, ‘S.M. Iger,’ as if affecting some kind of a ‘W.R. Hearst’ identity. But it turns out that, since the tail-end of the Depression, he’s been runnin’ this funnybook studio without a book or a magazoon to call his own — peddlin’ assembly-line artwork right-and-left to real publishers. Owns a trademark or two, he does, but nothing in the hot-stuff Superman class.

“That is, the people who buy his shop’s work, now, they’re real publishers, in the sense that they print up a mess of magazines and circulate ’em as far around as the Mob-owned distribution business will allow. But this class of publishing is about as far removed from the Hearst newspapers or TIME as shee-it is from Shinola.

“You wouldn’t believe the sob-stories these will-work-for-booze artists bring into the barroom, here,” Lester avers. “Stuff like, ‘You won’t believe what the boss has got me workin’ on this week: Some guy has an affair with the wife of a rich old devil-worshipper geezer, an’ they conspire to croak ’im. But then this wife-stealer guy, he gets bit by a statue of Bee-el-zeebub an’ finds himself transformed into the devil his ownself! Jeeze Louise!’

“Or on another occasion, it’ll be some funnybook story ’bout some explorer who finds a frozen cave-woman off in some Arctical region — thaws her back to life — an’ then she starts in a-killin’ folks, like back in the Stone Age days.

“Yes, and who wouldn’t develop a booze habit, with a job drawin’ up those kinds of plots?

“Anyhow, I listen to their artistical laments, pour ’em a slug on the house, and tell ’em, yeah, well, at least they’ve got ’em a job, an’ maybe thing’s’ll get better or not, an maybe they oughtta shop their portfolios around to The Saturday Evening Post or Random House or somethin’. An’ they always come back with: ‘Are you woofin’ me, Moe? The minute some classy publisher sees that ‘S.M. Iger’ rubber-stamp on a piece of my artwork, that’s the end of the interview.’

“Yeah, dear old Igerville,” concludes Moe Lester. “Not a real place, of course, but certainly a state-of-mind… Same general idea as the coal-and-oil business Company Towns that used to spring up around the Southern states: You know that song: ‘I owe my soul to the Company Store…,’ and it sure-enough seems like once you’re hackin’ it out for Iger, you’re ridin’ high on a Treadmill to Oblivion. Secure employment, okay, but also a good way to render yerself unemployable in any classier sector. Seems only a determined few have broken out for greener pastures, anyhow.

“Say! Maybe I oughtta get ol’ Schmeuel to buy my booze-bar, here — maybe keep me on as th’ bartender! Make it the Company Store to end all Company Stores: Cash in your chump-change paycheck an’ drink it up, head on back to the sweatshop and hack out some more hoary-gory funnybook pictures for another chump-change payday… an endless spiral of diminishing returns. Man, if ol’ Iger was to buy himself a stake in my place, he’d just wind up payin’ himself — many times over! Hmmmm….”

A grain of salt…

Yes, well, and of course the reflections of Moe Lester, there, are entirely a figment. As is Moe Lester himself. Samuel M. “Jerry” Iger, however, is a legitimate Historical Personage in the Cultural Tapestry of These Here United States. The collision of fact with fantasy is an upshot of a project of mine involving the Iger Studio horror-comics books of the early 1950s.

Prominent among the general run of funnybook products that provoked a stampede toward Institutionalized Censorship during this period of rampant postwar paranoia, the Iger-shop stories graced and/or befouled such pulp-paper magazines as Journey Into Fear, Voodoo, Haunted Thrills, Strange Mysteries, and (stranger yet) Mysteries Weird & Strange. I have assembled since childhood a representative collection of these now-dour, now-lurid, and overall vaguely coherent magazines — attracted chiefly, at first, by loud condemnations from such authority-figures as parents, schoolteachers, and the Roman Catholic Church.

My newer research (term used advisédly) is not especially scholarly. Many of the Iger-shop stories, for such long-defunct publishers as Superior Comics and the Ajax/Farrell line, can be seen in their truer form at a splendid Web site called The Horrors of It Alli.e., — enhanced by informative and insightful commentary. This Iger-shop exercise of mine is more a matter of reclaiming the artwork from its pulpwood pages by means of digital scanning; PhotoShopping the beejeezus out of it for the sake of color-correction and a certain Impressionistic sheen; and then replacing the incomprehensibly bad writing with…

Well, with what? Snarky humor, one might say, although I am retaining the cramped and stunted original-story arcs (yes, including the one about the adulterous murderer who finds himself transmogrified into Satan) while re-cramming the dialogue-balloons with as many Malaprops, non-sequiturs, Spoonerisms, and Corny Old Vaudeville Gags as might spring to mind. There also is a tendency to make the stories’ characters quite aware that they are mere players in a shabby theatrical troupe: “We could be doin’ Jane Eyre over at Classics Illustrated — but no…

And overall (but seriously, now) these backhanded Iger-story restorations involve a recurring First Amendment diatribe, chronicling the collapse of the horror-comics sector in the path of a book-burning campaign by a right-minded coalition of the political, medical, religious, and economic establishments. (The surge peaked in 1954, with hearings of a Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency and the formation of a self-censorship agency known as the Comics Code.)

Random samples from this postmodern Iger-shop project have circulated widely enough to attract some helpful responses, likening the new work in particular to a 1966 movie called What’s Up, Tiger Lily? — in which Woody Allen re-dubs a self-serious Japanese espionage-thriller movie with comical English dialogue. So what’s up, Iger Lily?

And more about all this as things develop. In the meantime, the accompanying random pages will drop some hints as to where this thing seems to be steering itself.

Michael H. Price’s Forgotten Horrors books, in collaboration with the late George E. Turner and such additional contributors as John Wooley and Jan Alan Henderson, are available from Midnight Marquee Press of Baltimore —

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