Basil Gogos: The Passing of a Monster Art Legend

My heart is heavy with the news that legendary painter Basil Gogos has passed on.


Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine owes a huge debt of gratitude to Gogos. His paintings of Frankenstein, Dracula, the Wolf Man, King Kong, the Mummy, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, and so many other creatures of classic horror helped define the genre magazine that meant so much to so many and arguably elevated the brand to iconic status back in the ‘60s.

Gogos’ dynamic renderings of Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Elsa Lanchester, Lon Chaney, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Vincent Price, Ingrid Pitt, Jonathan Frid, Zacherley and more were the first line of enticement to lure in Monster Kids to pick up the latest copy of Famous Monsters of Filmland. His subjects were often treated to high-contrast lighting, with striking colorings used at times to psychedelic effect, which resulted in haunting portraits of beautifully designed cinematic characters. Not only did Gogos transform his subject matter to high art, he transcended our perception of these sometimes scary, sometimes silly rubber-and-latex monsters to soulful, penetrating, misunderstood outcasts.BasilGogos.jpgAs the former Executive Editor of Famous Monsters, it was a pleasure to meet Basil and interview him for our special Forry Ackerman Centennial Tribute in 2016. I also got to work with him and his lovely partner Linda Touby, an established abstract artist herself. I was in the process of getting his paintings back on the covers of Famous Monsters with a combination of unseen previous works and potential new paintings. It was an exciting prospect that was unfortunately cut short by my having to reluctantly step away from Famous Monsters last fall. In retrospect, I wish I had been able to stay longer simply to have been able to put Basil Gogos back on an FM cover at least one more time.


Basil Gogos with David Weiner at a recent Monsterpalooza event.


While Gogos is best known for his work for Famous Monsters, he also illustrated many a movie poster and pulp covers with non-monster material; nubile women, expressive manly men, fierce creatures, and world-war machinery lent color, story and action to such Men’s Adventure mags (covers and interiors) as Man’s Action, Man’s Conquest, Man’s Illustrated, Wildest West, Wildcat Adventures, and True Adventures. He also tackled covers for Screen Thrills IllustratedSpacemen, Creepy and Eerie magazine and a variety of paperback covers. Standout movie poster work included INFRA-MAN, NIGHT OF THE HOWLING BEAST, HOUSE OF PSYCHOTIC WOMEN, and the Charles Bronson flick RIDER ON THE RAIN — showing the muscle-bound star “at his brutal best”!

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Gogos’ work has been commissioned for FM-influenced rockers such as Rob Zombie, Misfits, and Electric Frankenstein. It’s appeared on U.S. postage stamps. In addition to album art, action settings and classic monsters, Gogos told me that he found fulfillment in depicting the human figure, horses, and abstract colorful paintings.


I’ve reposted my 10 Questions with Basil Gogos interview from Famous Monsters #288 below to give readers a sense of how he worked with FM founders Forrest J Ackerman and James Warren and what mattered most to him. He was a class act all the way.

Basil Gogos may be gone, but his legacy lives on. Like the many cinematic subjects he captured on canvas, his work will remain immortal.


Famous Monsters: Were you a fan of horror films growing up? What were some of your favorites that helped to inspire your work and imagination?
Basil Gogos: 
No, I was not a fan growing up, not as a kid, but I became a fan. My favorites were Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, and THE THING.

FM. How did you come to paint for Famous Monsters magazine? Did you find them, or did they find you?
I came to paint for Famous Monsters because Jim Warren asked me to do my first cover for FM, therefore they found me. My rep contacted me about a job and it had to be done in a psychedelic way. Not knowing what he meant, I did what I thought it meant. It turned out to be an iconic cover.

FM. What was your interaction like with Forry Ackerman and Jim Warren when it came to assignments and ideas?
My interaction started with James Warren. He would ask for the cover, telling me which character he wanted. He would just say the character and leave the rest up to me. I would paint the cover and then give it to him. Forrest Ackerman came next. He would discuss what I did with James Warren without me, then they would get back to me with the next cover. They left the creative ideas up to me.

FM. Were there times when you were asked to fine-tune your paintings?
I hardly ever was asked to do anything — change or touch up — to the finished cover paintings.

FM. You really captured the soul and horror of your subjects. What was your source material for these iconic paintings? Did you often get stills from Forry or the movie studios?
I usually used black-and-white photographs that were given to me at times from Warren and Ackerman, but frequently found shots on my own from the studios. Sometimes I used more than one still, sometimes just one, but always black-and-white stills so I could use my own color. Other times I worked from sketches.

FM. Did you ever get to meet some of the famous faces that you painted?
Unfortunately I didn’t meet many of the people I painted. Some had died before I painted them. I always wanted to meet Karloff, but never did. I did get to know both people who played the Creature; Ben Chapman and Ingrid Pitt became friends, and they are dearly missed.

FM. Is there one FM cover that you wish you could rework or redo entirely, perhaps due to a rushed deadline?
I am happy with all my FM covers. I really never found time a constraint when I was doing them. I usually worked nights with coffee and peace and quiet.

FM. Among all the covers that you did for FM, which is your favorite and why?
My very favorite is #56 — Karloff’s Frankenstein’s Monster. I was commissioned to paint him and he was very ill at the time. His death occurred when the painting was being finished, and it meant a lot to me.

FM. How did your success with FM ultimately affect your career trajectory?
It gave me a chance to be free to express myself in my work. I worked on other magazine covers as time went on, as well as CDs and posters, but I always enjoyed doing FM covers.

FM. These days, what types of subjects give you the most fulfillment with your work?
I have found fulfillment in painting and drawing the human figure, as well as horses and abstract colorful paintings. I always enjoy a challenge.

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Then read more Famous Monsters-related pieces, see more of my ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT-related tales and interviews,  Summer Music Recommendations, movie reviews, or there’s plenty of STAR WARS musingsFamous Monsters funcool vintage movie lobby cards, etc.

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