Feast your Eyes: Basil Gogos
Do something for me. Say the name, Basil Gogos out loud. Twice. If you know the name, images will very likely come to mind. If you don’t know the name then Basil Gogos may conjure to your minds eye something entirely your own.
Maybe Basil Gogos is a vegetarian dish on the menu of that Indian restaurant you’ve always meant to visit. Maybe he’s the dark-suited villain from that late forties Film Noir you parked in your Netflix queue. Or maybe you envision Basil Gogos as a giggling lab-coated sidekick eagerly handing a metal tray of wet innards to a hard working, dedicated and undeniably evil Scientist.
All of these images, although interesting, are not what or who Basil Gogos is. He’s a real person, an artist whose work infected my personality and the personalities of countless other aficionados of that most personal of television, film and literary genres: Horror.
Basil Gogos was a Greek kid raised in Egypt who emigrated to the U.S. in the 1950s and went on to imagine, sketch and paint some of the most terrifying, and ultimately vibrant and beautiful pieces of art celebrating Horror, particularly iconic Horror from the 1950s, 60s and 70s.
It started with a magazine:Famous Monsters of Filmland. Not the greatest title for a magazine, right? Sounds kind of cheesy, like it’s trying to shove every catchphrase into one greedy mouthful, crying out from the corner newsstand, desperate for your money; like some nail salon in a strip mall, beckoning to the vain: Lucky Nails For You. Whatever the pitch, Famous Monsters of Filmland worked. Released in 1958 by publisher James Warren and editor Forrest J. Ackerman, this film magazine connected with young readers who were transfixed to their television sets as fresh networks, desperate to fill airtime with something else besides news and game shows, ransacked the dusty film vaults of neighboring movie studios and began airing classic Horror films of the 1930s, 40s and early 50s. Enter the Monster Magazine. With this kind of puberty-wracked and wide-eyed audience of adolescents it’s no surprise Famous Monsters, the magazine with the fishing-line title and its gorgeously shocking cover art not only hit big, but prompted five spin-offs, the best of which are Eerie and Creepy, and inspired hundreds of fanzines just like it, including Fangoria and Cinefantastique.
Fresh off illustration and cover gigs for trade Men’s magazines, Basil Gogos’ first cover-piece for Warren and Ackerman was on Issue #9, a gorgeously vivid rendition of Horror film icon, Vincent Price from Director/Producer Roger Corman’s macabre 1960 film, House of Usher.
Now take a moment and picture if you will that magazine cover above. Imagine it displayed side by side at your local newsstand in 1960, with Teenbeat, Readers Digest and Better Homes and Gardens. Chords were undoubtedly struck. Eyes were widened. Parents were shocked. And kids were bewitched. Every cover of every issue screamed with color, panicking the old and intriguing the young.
Remember: Then and now, colorful, bright, vivid and illuminated are not words usually associated with the horrific, the monstrous and the evil. But the artwork of Basil Gogos pulled these creatures from their caves, dragging their tortured souls into the sunlight with bursting light and color, exposing each furrowed brow, each fang, each stitch and every bloodshot staring eye.
Basil Gogos’ work with Famous Monsters of Filmland would continue for decades, churning out over fifty brilliantly illustrated and distinctive renditions of classic characters from the genre, including The Mummy, The Phantom of the Opera, Frankenstein’s Monster, The Creature from the Black Lagoon and my personal favorite, the Master himself, Count Dracula.
Gogos’ pieces not only influenced a generation of teens and young adults, but other artists, filmmakers and writers over the years, even earning adoring fans in the punk and underground rock scene, from The Misfits to Rob Zombie.
The 1980s saw the rise of a new breed of Horror monthly's. Less artful, but still popular, these horror film magazines showcased color photographs of guts and gore, director and actor interviews, behind-the-scenes special effects and the ever-growing techniques of monstrous makeup. Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine shut down in 1983, but saw a resurgence in the mid-1990s and today its essence lives on as a popular website.
As for Basil, his career endured, earning gigs in book cover artwork, advertising, movie poster illustration, story-boarding, CD and DVD covers and his own first love, Fine Art. Today, his work — old and new — sells for hundreds and thousands of dollars and he has never slowed, accepting commissions for original pieces to this day.
Whatever your poison, be it Vincent Price’s Dr. Phibes, Lon Chaney’s Phantom, Christopher Lee’s Dracula, Rob Zombie’s album cover or Boris Karloff’s immortal monster above, Drunk Dracula hopes you feast on the work of Basil Gogos as I do, with admiration, captivating revulsion and a fan’s fanaticism. Drink up.
For more Basil Gogos, enjoy and share this ten-minute documentary from Elvira’s 2012 YouTube series, Monsterama.