In the winter of 1977 when my father took me to my first comic book store Bob’s Comics in Westminster California. I had seen an A-frame sign that read Star Wars sold here earlier in the week and bugged my dad to take me. So one afternoon after school he took me and said I could buy one thing. I could not believe my 9-year-old eyes upon walking in there. Magazines, comics, posters, little lead figurines for game playing, this was before I knew what Dungeons and Dragons was, though the room was filled with cigar and cigarette smoke, yes you used to be able to smoke indoors, one magazine I’d never seen before stuck out at me, it’s multi-colored painting of Glenn Strange as Frankenstein’s monster enthralled me
Born in Egypt to Greek parents, Basil emigrated to America when he was 16. He attended The School of The Visual Arts where he studied under Frank J. Reilly, whose fellow students included James Bama and Frank McCarthy among other notables. After winning an art competition sponsored by Pocket Books, his prize-winning painting would be the cover for the novel Pursuit, which Gogos would use his father as a model and would continue to use him in future illustrations, he would also us ubiquitous male model Steve Holland who would later be made famous in James Bama’s Doc Savage covers. Through the 60s and 70s, he would do hundreds of covers for men’s pulp magazines. His paintings for these were on par with the greats of the genre but it would be the covers of Forry Ackerman’s Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine where he would find his voice, and his greatest success with legions of adoring fans.
Famous Monsters was created by Forrest J Ackerman and Warren Publishing in the mist of the late 50s monster craze and would be a huge success, but it was with issue 9 that Famous Monsters would become instantly recognizable with a pale rendition of Vincent Price in Roger Corman’s House of Usher painted by Basil Gogos.
What separates Gogos’ FM paintings from his other work is that he would cleverly mix colors like greens, blues, and yellows. These colors when used the way Gogos did can convey a nauseous almost deathly look. In Gogos’ Price painting he didn’t try to capture a realistic rendering of the actor but rather the essence of the Poe character he was playing, a sickly disturbed and haunted man. I think he did a pretty damn good job of that and he would do so for almost Fifty covers out of 109 issues!
His renditions of just about every monster, creature and alien from the Universal monsters to Hammer Horror all they to Star Wars were always rendered in his unique horror style. His pencil work was just as unique and original.
Basil’s work wasn’t just found on magazines and paperbacks but film posters as well, my favorite of his and I’m proud to say I own one is the one-sheet for The Shaw Brothers’ Infra-Man. A film that for some reason has become a Thanksgiving viewing tradition for me.
Others included the Charles Bronson picture Rider on The Rain and Wild Wild Planet.
Over the years Basil’s young fans would grow up but they would never forget the paintings that would linger loving in their imaginations. Basils paintings can be found in the collections of Rob Zombie, who commissioned Basil for a record cover, Johnny Depp, and Kirk Hammett to mention a few.
If you’re interested in more about Basil Gogos look for his book Famous Monster Movie Art by Basil Gogos, I highly recommend this book, lots of great photos and stories, though it may be out of print as copies can fetch anywhere from a 100 – 500 dollars.
Like so many horror icons of my childhood Basil Gogos has passed on but his paintings will fill the imaginations of past, present and future monster kids for a long, long time.
-Phillip López Jiménez