VIDEO WATCHDOG: 150th Issue Celebration Interview with Tim and Donna Lucas!
This piece was originally published November 12th, 2012
This week celebrates the 150th issue of Video Watchdog!For anyone who is yet to be a fan, the magazine is a monthly digest sized gem that is edited/published and designed by Tim and Donna Lucas, began life in 1990, and features a host of superb regular contributors for what is simply the finest in critical and extremely detailed writing, interviews and reviews of genre films.
As well as publishing the magazine, Tim and Donna also published the stunningly beautiful (and gigantic at 12 pounds!) definitive book on the great Italian director Mario Bava, entitled Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark in 2007.
As a celebration of Video Watchdog, I had the honor of interviewing Tim and Donna Lucas and my very special thanks goes out to them for this interview. Their recollections on publishing VW, thoughts about looking forward toward VW's future, and insightful comments regarding print media, the internet and fave films, easily place this among my favorite pieces that I have done for The Mystery Box.
I hope you enjoy it as much as I do...
Robert Jaz: First off, let me congratulate the both of you on this milestone. It must feel like quite an accomplishment.
DONNA: Thank you Robert! The time has flown by. Now... onto #200!
TIM: I'm just trying to focus on #151 at the moment. We publish on such a hectic schedule, especially with the many other things I do factored in, that it's all like a blur to me. But it's interesting... It wasn't intentional, but I noticed that Steve Bissette's name is on the cover of #150, just as it was on the cover of our very first issue -- and the recurrence of that single detail somehow puts put the whole, long, strange trip into focus. That's the level where I can appreciate the accomplishment. Otherwise, I feel sort of barred from an awareness of it, because I have to experience everything from the navigator's seat, while Donna's in the driver's seat.
RJ: VW's origin includes first being a column in Video Times, and also as a column in Fangoria's Gorezone, but there was also featurette produced by Michael Nesmith and hosted by you, Tim. Wondering how that came about and why it only ended up being a one-shot?
TIM: The Nesmith project was called OVERVIEW and it was a one-shot video magazine that was published on videotape to be sold as a kind of consumer guide in video stores. It was released in January 1987. My participation came about because VIDEO TIMES, the Chicago-based magazine where I introduced "Video Watchdog," announced they were suspending publication. I wanted to find a new home for the column, and a friend who worked in a music store read an article somewhere announcing that Michael Nesmith was starting OVERVIEW and suggested I send a feature proposal to his Pacific Arts Corporation company. I did, and to my surprise, they phoned me and were enthusiastic about the idea. They had me send pictures of myself to show I was suitable for appearing on-camera, and they flew me out to Los Angeles in November 1986 -- my first trip out there, and it was to write and star in my own video segment, which was photographed on location with an actual 35mm camera crew. The cinematographer was Tom Richmond, whose big credit at the time was HARDBODIES, but who later worked for Oliver Stone. It was a wonderful experience, but the project hit a snag right away when Hal Roach threatened to sue PAC for mocking his company's colorization of THE ABSENT-MINDED PROFESSOR! The first issue of OVERVIEW was test-marketed in a few American cities with the highest saturation of video sales, and was well-reviewed, but even at the cost of a blank videocassette, did not sell well enough to encourage Nesmith to continue with a second issue. I was delighted to be involved, not only to get some camera experience, but because Donna has always been a major Monkees fan and had all of Nesmith's solo albums. So, by working on OVERVIEW, I acquired the reflected glory of becoming sort of a member of the extended Monkees family.
DONNA: We love the segment, and it will be shared shortly on our website. It's the perfect visual introduction to VIDEO WATCHDOG for the uninitiated -- and a lot of fun for those who know the magazine already!
RJ: From that very first issue #1 to the latest issue, #150, what would you say arethe most important changes that have been made to the magazine? The ones that really stand out as positive progressions?
TIM: It's in the nature of my job that VIDEO WATCHDOG exists for me before it materializes in print; by the time an issue comes back from the printer, I am usually working on the next issue or two, so I can't enjoy the final printed issue the way our readers can. That said, three changes stand out for me: 1) the introduction of color covers with #13, 2) the transition to full interior color with #100, and 3) VW #55, when we went monthly. I'm sure Donna can think of a few more...
DONNA: Wow, I sure can! Let's see...
- Issue 1 — Started the whole thing, and was nominated for a Fanex Award right out of the gate.
- Issue 2 - Our page count increased from 60 to 64 pages. Also, this is the first issue printed by our current printer, Crest Graphics, and done right on the right kind of paper and with the template that would define the interiors for many issues to come. The TWIN PEAKS article spread ("Blood & Donuts") was one of my favorites.
- Issue 3 - Our first Bi-monthly issue.
- Issue 6 - Never-before-published behind the scenes of THE EXORCIST, with now-famous subliminal images from the feature and early TV trailers shown for the first time anywhere.
- Issue 9 - This issue replaced Tim's original "Letterbox" drawing with a photograph or screen image of people reading or writing, which continues to this day -- and has even been copied by some other magazines!
- Issue 10 - Our introduction of Laserdisc coverage.
- Issue 11 - The inside front cover included a special handwritten message to VIDEO WATCHDOG readers from Vincent Price!
- Issue 15 - Our page count Increased from 64 to 80 pages! On the front cover shot of THE LODGER, Laird Cregar's eyes were tinted blue -- this was still before full desktop publishing capabilities were available to us, so our printer Dan Reckman did the tinting by hand!
- Issue 19 - More experimentation with inside color in a NOSFERATU article - the color red is splashed across 16 pages.
- VIDEO WATCHDOG Special Edition #1 - Published with perfect bound spine and a mind-boggling 176 pages! For the first time, outside advertising was accepted. Contains first index of issues 1-12. Back cover shows the covers of issues 1-20 in full color for the first time.
- Issue 22 - Douglas E. Winter's long-running "Audio Watchdog" column was introduced, and the first time the cover was generated as an EPS file on the computer, rather than manually.
- Issue 23 - Our first full-color back cover.
- Issue 24 - This was our first issue to be designed and generated into EPS files on the computer, both covers and interior. Before that, I was doing manual paste-ups with laser pages and pictures pasted on the pages.
- VIDEO WATCHDOG Special Edition #2 - Contained outside ads and index of issues 13-26. This was the last Special Edition. This issue also features the only cover that was exclusively photographed for our cover, featuring Udo Kier, who was interviewed for the issue. We loved it, but some people thought it was too gruesome!
Images from The Monkees' Head
- Issue 28 - OK, personal favorite here. We reviewed HEAD by The Monkees, one of my favorite movies, so I got to dive into my Monkees scrapbooks and find pictures of Davy, Micky, Peter and Mike reading or writing for the Letterbox section - and I gave Davy Jones a copy of this issue personally!
- Issue 29 - For the first time, the image on our front cover's "TV screen" projected from the frame three-dimensionally. It was ROBOCOP's arm and handgun -- and it was very hard to do!
- Issue 30 - For the first and only time, we used a spot color (red) in inside front and back covers - to recreate (using only a B&W still) the image of the hand rising from the bathtub filled with blood in THE TINGLER.
- Issue 41 - The first and only time I tried colorizing a B&W photo for the cover, from Edgar G. Ulmer's THE BLACK CAT.
- Issue 42 - The first issue to review DVDs!
- Issue 50 - This was our first milestone issue! We introduced our writers, who wrote personal essays about how they discovered and came to love horror and fantasy films, and included photos of them, our designers and other behind-the-scenes people who were part of the VIDEO WATCHDOG family.
- Issue 55 - January 2000 - VW goes monthly! From then on, it's a blur...
- Issue 66 - First ad for MARIO BAVA - ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK, December 2000.
- Issue 83 - Joe Dante's "Fleapit Flashbacks" column debuted. It ran from VW #83-127 (45 issues!), at which point we had reprinted all of Joe's surviving film criticism.
- Issue 84 - The debut of our cover artist Charlie Largent. He designed a few on and off until issue 96, and then each one after that.
- Issue 97 - First color inside front and back covers -- and the first peek at the Bava book's cover in full color.
- Issue 100 - Here VW went all-color! Charlie's cover design took our TV screen frame and extended it to widescreen for the first time, reflecting a new era. "Dog Bytes", our column of shorter reviews, was introduced. I fell in love with this issue and never wanted to go back to B&W interiors again! We kept the all-color part a secret from all of our contributors, except John Charles, who helped us to proof-read, and Charlie -- who found the WIZARD OF OZ still and suggested we keep Dorothy in sepia colors and the Table of Contents page in B&W, as usual, to prolong the surprise. So when the issue came out, our writers were just as surprised as everyone else by the transition!
- Issue 112 - Our first Signature Edition with an alternate hand-signed cover by SON OF FRANKENSTEIN star Donnie Dunagan, our first laminated cover, and a new printer - CJK. The switch was necessary to learn about printing processes that would be essential for the Bava book.
- Issue 124 - Introduced the column "Ramsey's Rambles" by the great British horror novelist Ramsey Campbell.
- Issue 127 - This BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS issue sold out while it was still on the newsstands. Our print run ran short.
- Issue 137 - Our second Signature Edition with an alternate cover design personally signed by THE CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE star Ann Carter.
- Issue 140 - I personally colorized the picture of Hazel Court on the inside front cover and the opening article.
- Issue 141 - We switched printers back to Crest-Graphics, our original printer, since they had their new prepress system in place.
- Issue 150 - Here we are!
TIM: That's a very healthy list, but I am actually reminded of some others. In issues 4, 5 and 7, we published a three-part article of mine charting how a Yugoslavian film called OPERATION TITIAN became the Roger Corman import PORTRAIT IN TERROR, and how it in turn was re-edited to become the Jack Hill release BLOOD BATH and a padded TV version called TRACK OF THE VAMPIRE. The sheer size and obsessive depth of this article made it necessary for VIDEO WATCHDOG to exist, because no other magazine would have published it! Likewise, when I found myself becoming obsessed with Andy Milligan's films, I had the "available canvas" to devote three feature articles to his work (VW #52-54).
Subliminal image of Eileen Dietz from The Exorcist