Famous Monsters founder Forrest J Ackerman is a man remembered as much for his personal love of film and fantasy as for his contributions to the artistic canon. He was a joyous character who was ever enthusiastic about Hollywood movie magic, never cynical or wary of being excited about movies. Ackerman essentially invented fandom, from cosplay to collecting; he made it enjoyable and socially acceptable to celebrate your passion for something rather than pretending to be an “adult” about it. And nowhere was this more evident than in his personal collection of science fiction and fantasy memorabilia.
THE FORREST J ACKERMAN SCRAPBOOK: TREASURES FROM THE ACKERMANSION is a very admirable attempt at encompassing the scope of that collection. Compiled and edited by Brian Anthony and Bill Walker, the hefty hardcover contains nearly 200 pages of text, photos, and artwork about Forry’s life, from early family photos to an acknowledgement of the recent dedication ceremony that designated a Los Feliz intersection as “Forrest J Ackerman Square”.
There is a lot to enjoy in here, from basic biography information to classic movie trivia. It’s amusing to observe that Forry’s initial career path might be deemed silly or lazy by today’s standards. Dropping out of college to publish science fiction fanzines? This is the stuff that nerds are tortured for. The fact that science fiction fandom worked out so well for Forry should be very encouraging to today’s geeks and genre flag-wavers!
Roughly arranged by date, theme, and which room in Forry’s house you might find a particular item, the book is comprehensive and full of fascinating trivia. Most biographies contain a smattering of photographs, but this scrapbook is appropriate in that it feels and weighs like one of your mother’s old tomes of tickets and baby photos, kept in time rather than in retrospect.
It’s important that Forry and his collections be preserved in scrapbook format – not only because the visual influence of pulp magazine covers, comic books, and monster maquettes can only truly be captured with imagery, but also because a scrapbook is an archival item dedicated to preserving memories of multimedia — much like the career of Forrest J Ackerman himself.
Like Famous Monsters of Filmland, vintage emblems of genre fiction history like the illustrated covers of Amazing Stories and Weird Tales really must be exhibited to be understood in context, and that’s why a visual book of this kind is so befitting and effective. An extra layer of archaeology has been added, such as when “before” and “after” images of restored classic posters are placed side by side.
Of course, in this day and age, you might wonder, what’s the use of a scrapbook when you can find most of these things on the internet? The answer is multi-faceted, but a very important part of it is that this book offers a tour – spacial, chronological, thematical – that internet searches simply cannot replicate. It takes you by the hand and guides you through each unique chapter of science fiction and fantasy the way Forry himself might were he still with us.
Still, of particular interest here are the elements with an appeal that goes beyond a stock photo: Ray Harryhausen next to his models in various stages of degeneration, stories about Forry asking people to wear Lon Chaney’s LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT teeth, a weathered and partially assembled KONG puzzle, all the specially commissioned artwork that puts Forry in a spacesuit where a science fiction hero might be. The book also goes an extra step in including photos, art, and toys that may not have been present in the Acker-mansion but serve to give a great deal of context surrounding Famous Monsters and its culture (the Aurora monster model kits, for example).
Any disappointments? Not really, although it seems bizarre not to include a few classic black and white articles from the Famous Monsters magazine itself. Also, as is an issue in many small press books, typos have slipped through to the final product that are slightly distracting. All in all, however, this book is a fine piece of art, well designed and appropriately minimalistic so the bells and whistles of graphics or fancy typefaces do not deter from the real stars of the show.