There’s an early moment in Jason V Brock’s documentary about Forrest J Ackerman (1916-2008) that sums it up well for science fiction’s journey to legitimacy. Dan O’Bannon, the writer/director for “Alien” and “Return of the Living Dead,” recounts an episode in his childhood. He is running off to school when his mother admonishes him to be sure he’s not carrying any science fiction with him! Oh boy, what a memory. It goes to show how people looked upon science fiction as something subversive. And they’re right. There is that quality and, of course, that’s something to embrace and celebrate. Back in the early days, as science fiction was coming into its own in pulp fiction and beyond, there came along an individual who would prove to be a perfect spokesperson for the genre, Forrest J Ackerman. “The Ackermonster Chronicles!” faithfully presents to you a vivid picture of a world, a people, an art form, and a person who led the way.
Nothing gets lost in shuffle here. One seemingly disjointed thing connects with another. The elegant and the unsavory lay down together. Science fiction had, some say still has, a bad rap for having too close an association with pop culture and hanging out with other genres like, God forbid, horror. But we’ve come such a long way. In fact, today, we really have a much better perspective. We, at least the more enlightened amongst us, can see so-called literary fiction as a genre, like any other, and not something so up on high. Yes, we value excellence. The problem used to be that any other genre was spat upon and kicked to the curb by the elite literary chieftains. Not so much today as we find countless combinations and recombinations among all genres. And, anyway, great work will ultimately transcend any label you attach to it. The thing is, you need to be open to anything and the work of people like Forrest J Ackerman have helped make that possible.
So, who was Forrest J Ackerman and what did he accomplish? Ackerman provided a way for the general public, especially a younger generation, to tap into a vital art form that had been getting short shrift elsewhere. We’re talking about a huge world, a whole universe, of creativity. Ackerman did the heavy lifting to create a more level playing field. He collected, he documented, he distributed, he promoted, he displayed, he shared. As the founder of the magazine, “Famous Monsters of Filmland,” he opened the flood gates to all manner of fandom and scholarship devoted to a huge facet of culture. This involved monsters, aliens from space, bloody horror, and science fiction. It was a determinedly do-it-yourself gung-ho approach as well as a tempered and highly sophisticated endeavor. He was the literary agent for numerous big name talents including Ray Bradbury, A. E. van Vogt, and Charles Beaumont. The Ackerman archives compromise 200 complete collections of magazines, 50,000 books, and countless one-of-a-kind items. For over 30 years, his home served as a museum open to the public for free. He coined the term, “sci-fi.” He co-created, with Trina Robbins, the legendary character, Vampirella. To sum it up, he was a one-man gateway.
What Jason V Brock does with this documentary is let all the significant players on the scene simply talk and let you in. This is essential viewing for students of pop culture, science fiction, and art-making in general. This film will prove most useful to any aspiring writer, especially those down a primrose path to a university Creative Writing program. Wipe away any elitist inclinations you may have. Things are not as they might seem. Those things that go bump in the night may prove to save your life.
You can get your copy of “The Ackermonster Chronicles” by visiting our friends at JaSunni Productions right here. And, as of this writing, I have more to share with you about the multi-talented Jason V Brock. We’ll get to that in the weeks ahead. For now, if you happen to be in the Los Angeles area this particular weekend (Sunday, March 22), then go check out the Los Angeles Vintage Paperback Show. You’ll find Jason V Brock there along with a number of other highly talented individuals. Visit the show’s website right here.
Interview: FAR OUT ISN’T FAR ENOUGH: THE TOMI UNGERER STORY: Brad Bernstein, director and writer; Rick Cikowski, lead editor and lead animator
“Doctor Strangelove” Movie Poster. Artwork by Tomi Ungerer.
FAR OUT ISN’T FAR ENOUGH: THE TOMI UNGERER STORY is a masterfully created documentary that will hit you on many levels. It is eligible for an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary and deserves that level of recognition for being so careful to detail with its subject, artist Tomi Ungerer.
I had the honor of speaking with both Brad Bernstein, the film’s director and writer, and Rick Cikowski, the film’s lead editor and lead animator. Both men expressed their love for Tomi Ungerer and provide insight into the making of this impressive documentary, distributed by First Run Features.
For me, I can appreciate what happened to Tomi Ungerer when I look at the iconic poster he created for “Doctor Strangelove.” That poster, much like his “Black Power, White Power” poster are forever part of one’s psyche. And yet, in America, Ungerer’s work in children’s books is not widely known today. That work is just as powerful and was just as well known in its day, as anything else he has created. Thanks to Phaidon, we have many of his great works being reprinted in the United States. But, for decades, it was as if he’d been wiped out of memory in America. How could that be? That is a big part of the fascinating story that unfolds in this documentary.
Tomi Ungerer is a great talent and, for a man who has had a lifelong battle with fear, he is a most courageous man. For someone who grew up under the horror of the Nazis, and went on to conquer the world of illustration in its heydey in New York City, that alone is remarkable. But going that far out, wasn’t far enough for Ungerer.
“Far Out Isn’t Far Enough” brings together a seamless narrative boiling down numerous hours of interviews with Tomi Ungerer, Jules Feiffer, the late great Maurice Sendak, as well as other notable figures like art director and critic Steven Heller. Throughout the film you are treated to very deftly purposed animation that strikes the right cord, whether humorous or somber.
As Brad Bernstein explains, the initial attraction to Tomi Ungerer was his spirited expressions like, “Far Out Isn’t Far Enough.” That really says it all. Ungerer is a man who speaks his mind and does it quite well. His life and work are a testament to a strong will and this documentary honors that spirit very well.
You can listen to the interview with Brad Bernstein and Rick Cikowski by clicking the link below:
And, as the say, tell your friends and spread the word about this documentary. You can visit the official site here and also follow on Facebook and Twitter.
Filed under Art, Art books, Children's Books, Design, Documentaries, Erotica, Illustration, movies, pop culture, Protest, Social Commentary, Tomi Ungerer
Tagged as 1960s, academy award nominations, Art, arts, Children's Books, Design, Documentaries, Entertainment, Erotica, Illustration, Movies, nazi germany, New York City, Pop Culture, Posters, Protest, Publishing, Tomi Ungerer