I Met Up with New SCARY MONSTERS Publisher Don Smeraldi at SDCC 2017 – Here’s Our Conversation
George: First off all, congratulations on taking over the helm of Scary Monsters! It’s a big responsibility you’ve shouldered taking over a magazine that has been around for 25 years. Having just shipped your 6th issue, I’d love to hear your story on how you wound up acquiring the magazine from Dennis and what attracted you to this business?
Don: We had been doing business with Dennis for many years and were offering for sale each issue of Scary Monsters on our classic horror and sci-fi movies and collectibles website (which we had launched in 1999). He would purchase various magazines and collectibles from us. We first advertised in Scary Monsters in Issue #67 in June 2008. In April 2015 I submitted a two-part article I had written, which appeared in Issues #99 and 100. Sometime shortly after that we heard that Dennis was thinking about retiring from doing the magazine. In August I reached out to him and let him know we’d be interested in continuing the magazine. At that point he said it was a bit too soon, but we continued to talk at length and we took over to start 2016. In terms of what attracted us, Vicki and I had worked together years ago at U.S. Postal Service Headquarters designing and editing/writing (respectively) national publications. Since we also ran MyMovieMonsters.com and I was planning retirement, taking on Scary Monsters was a natural. It really was a dream come true … a bucket from the wish list I thought I’d never have a chance to fill.
George: Obviously, you’re a Monster Kid and I’d love to hear your ‘origin story’ – what was your first monster movie? What is your favorite monster movie now?
Don: I don’t necessarily recall the first monster movie I saw. Unfortunately we rarely went to the theater as kids so my exposure to the genre was through TV. I recall being scared by many of the previews of movies that would air later on TV, including Day of the Triffids. I know I definitely saw Day the World Ended at a young age, and “Marty the Mutant” really creeped me out. Even the promo and opening for The Outer Limits TV show made me run from the room, only to return when the show actually started. I eventually saw all the Universal Monster films (The Wolf Man being my favorite character and the Frankenstein series also up there). I also remember staying up late and watching Shock Theater and many films of varying quality served up by Cleveland horror host Ghoulardi, as well as his successors, Hoolihan & Big Chuck, The Ghoul and, later, Big Chuck & Lil John. While I love all the classic Universal Monsters films, my favorite monster/fantasy film is Jason and the Argonauts. It fascinated me as a kid, and Ray Harryhausen‘s work in that film is legendary.
George: I’m curious if you are a collector? If so, what do you collect and what are some of your favorite pieces in your collection?
Don: I have collected magazines (mostly Famous Monsters of Filmland and Scary Monsters), books, monster models and other related items in the past but our monster business over the past 18 years has allowed me to briefly admire thousands of action figures, models, bobble heads, collector cards and other cool stuff before we ship them out to customers. So my “collection” is short-lived and not hands on but there’s always new items to enjoy. Two favorite pieces that we do own and showcase are a Frankenstein’s Monster bust with a hand-built base. His eyes light up, the base has a glowing plasma sphere and working gauges — just like from the lab. It’s a one-of-a-kind work of art. The other is the Sideshow Collectibles Little Big Head of Frankenstein’s Monster — and it’s not the little one, it’s the huge one (about 4 feet tall) that is pretty hard to find. We lucked out getting both pieces.
George: A big focus of your business is your online store, MyMovieMonsters.com. Tell me what your product focus is in your online store and what us classic monster collectors can expect from your store in the near future?
Don: Back in 1999 it was strictly a classic horror and sci-fi movie site offering new VHS tapes at first then transitioned to DVD. Over the years we’ve focused more on monster magazines (both domestic and international), comic archives, books, action figures of all sizes (mostly monsters and sci-fi creatures but some superheroes), model kits, collector cards, bobble heads, and more. We have a vast selection of Godzilla figures, bust coin banks (both monsters and superheroes) and Sideshow classic monsters that are either brand-new and purchased by us or pre-owned but their display boxes have not been not opened. We always try to have the latest classic horror and sci-fi magazines and model kits in stock. Anyone can register on our website to receive email updates on new product — and unlike others we don’t spam you and only send an occasional message when new items warrant it.
George: Another big congratulations goes out to you and Vicki for being named Monster Kids of the Year in the 2016 Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards! Clearly, the Monster Kid community appreciates your efforts to keep a “Real Monster Magazine” alive! With other classic magazines such as Famous Monsters of Filmland and Fangoria ceasing publication in recent years, how do you keep a print magazine business sustainable and growing? What can the Monster Kid community do to support your efforts?
Don: We are really blessed to have a great team of contributors who volunteer their talents to help make the magazine what it is. Many have stayed on with us since we took over. We also are thrilled to have Scott Jackson crafting each cover. He just keeps outdoing himself each time! Of course, the biggest hurdle is the cost of printing and distribution. We’re always looking for ways to save on those costs. Our readers have done a great job supporting us by subscribing and ordering from the “Scary Stuff” catalog section that’s in the back of each issue. One way to support us even further is to consider buying one copy of each issue to read and one copy to put away, which many collectors already do. Another is to share those reader copies with children and grandchildren — if you can get them to put down their handheld device for a little while! It’s no secret that the fan base is dwindling because most of the movie stars (even child actors back in the day) and caretakers like Forry Ackerman and many others have passed on. But that doesn’t mean we can’t continue to celebrate the classic films and the movie makers and stars for generations to come — and we hope to be a part of that for a long time!
George: I’m excited to begin our new ongoing column on Collecting Classic Monsters beginning in Scary Monsters #106! Thank you for the opportunity to further our mission of providing a singular resource for collectors to learn more about classic monster, retro Sci-Fi and vintage fantasy film memorabilia! To me, this ongoing column is an example of how being a Monster Kid extends beyond our love for the movies and characters themselves into a full-fledged lifestyle. What other ‘Monster Kid lifestyle’ features are you working on that we can share with our readers?
Don: That’s so true. It’s a lifestyle. Collecting is such a big part of being a Monster Kid for so many. As an extension of your column, we may consider doing collector profiles or Monster Kid profiles of some of our long-time readers. We get some of that info from their submissions to our Monster Memories Yearbook that we publish each March, but the difference is we’d also like to draw the information from them. Covering the more family-friendly conventions (like Monster Bash, Ghoulardi Fest, etc) that have a dedicated following is a big part of living out the hobby through our pages, too.
We really would like to see more monster memory articles submitted by readers. They don’t need to be highly polished articles but it would help greatly to have them formatted in a program like Microsoft Word. They should be no more than 1,500 words. The monster memory doesn’t necessarily need to be from 40 years ago. It could be about a recent experience or special purchase that really stands out in the reader’s mind. Examples are available in nearly every issue of Scary Monsters and Monster Memories. A critical piece that is often missing from submissions is photos! They should be of high enough quality to be reproduced. We can’t print photocopies of photos or blurry images. But we do want to bring to life in our pages as many of the memories as possible. Childhood photos involving monster collectibles and photos with celebrities or other Monster Kids are great. People want to see the folks that are willing to share their special memories. That’s a big part of our magazine. While we can’t guarantee every monster memory will be published, we can sometimes run a portion in the Scare Mail section or use a photo or two as stand-alone pieces. The best way to submit a monster memory and photos is via email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Or submit the material via U.S. Mail to Scary Monsters, PO Box 567, Wildomar CA 92595-0567.
So there you have it, folk! Don and Vicki are carrying the torch for all of us Monster Kids and keeping our fandom alive in print. I’m thrilled to be contributing a new ongoing column to the magazine as an extension of this website and hope you’ll support Don and Vicki’s efforts by buying the magazine, or better yet click here to subscribe