Through A Closet Darkly: An Interview with Iloz Zoc
Once you acquaint yourself with the horror blogosphere, there is very little chance you will ever come back to reality ever again. And if you do, we can’t make any guarantees on your sanity. One of the most addictive spaces in the Weird Wide Web happens to be a closet, Zombos’ Closet to be exact. It is here that fear fiends can delight in the wonderfully spookshow atmosphere as Zombos’ trusty valet Iloz Zoc guides us into the cobwebbed quarters of his obsession with all things ghoulish and macabre. The site varies between being a visual smorgasbord of classic horror film pressbooks and rare photos to a personal journal of sophisticated writing and insane creativity.
The closet is not your average haunting grounds either. Here you’re very likely to bump into a wide array of colorful characters and long-leggity beasties that go shriek in the night. I was privileged to sit down with Zoc in his dusty domain (without rousing Zombos from his afternoon beauty slumber!) to ask a few questions about this most intriguing of bloggers. Surprises await you around every twist of the corner, so it’s best advised that you hold on tight to that dripping candle in your hand. Don’t mind the hot wax too much; it’ll only hurt worse if you let go and let the things come out of the dark…
First I’d like to start off with a generic yet favorite question of mine that I like to ask fans: what does horror and the fantastic mean to you personally?
It means watching others always flirting with death and you always coming up the winner. It means knowing there are worse things waiting patiently for you in dark rooms and under your bed, but you still dare walking into those dark rooms and still bravely poke your head under the bed, even in the dead of night. It means fully understanding, then ignoring, the reality of your existence–and flipping the bird at it when it comes bearing down on you hot and heavy. It’s hop scotching over graves, laughing at funerals, skipping under ladders, and slowly saying Bloody Mary three times in front of an old mirror lit by candle light, all the while wishing you weren’t so stupidly ignorant to tempt fate, yet damn happy you were so stupidly ignorant that it didn’t matter. In a word–or two–it’s liberating.
I’ve always been curious… just what exactly is IN Zombos’ Closet?
Depends on the time period. Like Dr. Who’s Tardus, it exists in many times, but does so all at once. During my childhood and teenhood it contained my comic books, my horror magazines, and was my refuge from the reality of a family situation that led to the police dropping by now and then. And then, even more so, I became Aladdin in my cave of treasures, wishing to be someplace else at times, desiring to be somebody else at other times.
Often I’d take a flashlight and ‘camp out’ in that first closet, reading my Famous Monsters magazines and comic books. My bedroom was right over the staircase so the closet had this wonderful sloping floor, perfect for propping a pillow on it to lean against. With the flashlight on and the door closed, it became my womb, my cocoon, my secret place. Every kid growing up has one. It’s important to have one.
Growing older, the closet had to become much larger to hold all the toys I started collecting. It turned into a room in the basement, filled with Star Wars, Insectoids, He-Man, Star Trek, and all those Kenner and Mattel delights of plastic, rubber, and paint.
Now, go to present tense, but past perfect: the closet is, like the Tardus, bigger on the inside than the outside, and cleverly disguised as my attic office, containing comics, horror magazines, books, model kits, DVDs, Halloween ephemera, monsterkid toys, and a lot of other stuff I can’t or won’t categorize easily. It’s still my refuge, too, but now it’s more Dr. Strange’s sanctum sanctorum than Aladdin’s cave.
Along the way I’ve given much of my treasure away, because even Aladdin couldn’t take it all with him. Orson Welles, in an interview I read way, way back, said he didn’t keep things for long. He felt that by not holding on to things you free yourself from the burden of remembering all the things you couldn’t hold on to. I’ve followed his philosophy to a point. I’ve given away more than I’ve held on to and, I agree, it is liberating. It helps keep you from becoming a mindless hoarder and keeps you focused on the things that really matter to you.
But there are some things you really should never let go of (like my complete collection of Famous Monsters, and my complete runs of Marvel Comics’ Silver Age issues. Ouch. That still hurts).
It seems like you were deeply influenced by the macabre matinees that you watched as a youngster. Do you think the horror movie-going experience today has changed with the times for better or for worse?
To be precise, I was deeply influenced by my mom who took me to the theater to watch those macabre matinees. I happened to like what I saw. You can blame it on genetics, I suppose, or the emotional pull I still get from that connection made long ago. And my Dad, although he wasn’t in to it, still put up with my need for sci-fi and horror movies, and took me as often as he could.
And yes, the movie-going experience is very different. Not only do you now get messages onscreen to remind everyone to shut up, pay attention, don’t text, don’t do stupid rude people tricks, then you’ve got to suffer through crappy 3D and pay extra for it, and recycle glasses that don’t need to be recycled. Don’t get me started on the concession stand. But what I miss the most, and what really hurts the movie-going experience now, is the lack of a balcony. Seeing a horror movie–any movie–from a balcony is a whole ‘nother experience, let me tell you.
Having said that, nothing–and I mean NOTHING–not television 3D, not video on demand, not an iPad screen or dinky handheld one, will ever replace the emotional impact of sitting in a movie theater in front of a BIG screen with BIG sound to watch an epic, a drama, an apocalyptic romp with zombies, or an animated feature. You can keep your video on demand. It’s convenient, but it lacks the theater magic. Hell, even Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster was fun to watch on the big screen.
As to the genre itself, there’s a certain sensibility that’s been lost and found and lost again in horror movies. Do you think we could ever do the fun stuff that William Castle did again? It’s not that we’re so darn sophisticated now, it’s the opposite. We’ve simply seen too much on and off the screen.
Also, from a more mainstream start, the genre itself has fractured its audience into tribes of fans who look only for specific elements instead of the whole production’s merits. This has led to a lot of incomplete or amateurish attempts at movie-making to be lauded as good cinema. These partial movies, focused on a limited set of elements as opposed to a whole movie that makes sensible and artistic use of those elements, keeps horror cinema in a strange place in regard to critical acknowledgment. It’s the one movie genre every studio loves to make money off of but hates to brag about.
Horror blogging has come down a long road (mostly filled with misty forests and beckoning ghosts) since its inception. What importance do you believe blogging has within the terror community?
Now that the Horror Writers Association recognizes horror bloggers for membership, I’d have to say this is a clear indication that horror blogging’s importance is pretty strong. You’ve got authors blogging their stories, fans providing informative and commercially-free critiques of the genre, and hundreds of articulate voices speaking on a genre that people really do love to fear. For the fun of it. Horror bloggers provide an academic, an insouciant, a dyspeptic, a diverse, an irritating, and an energizing voice. Horror bloggers are the equivalent of fanzines in the Internet age.
We are a creative and critical force to reckon with when we remember we’re part of a community.
One of the unique things about your blog is that it incorporates a cast of spooky characters of your own creation who pop up every now and then to cause mayhem. How did that come about? Does it help keep your creative writing mind fresh?
“What is that he said?”
I looked up from my writing desk. Zombos was reading over my shoulder. I hate when he does that. The man’s so damn quiet. Times I think he doesn’t breathe just to spite me.
“Said what?” I asked.
“A cast of spooky characters of your own creation?” he said.
“Oh, that. Well, you do realize our readers think you’re fictitious, don’t you? I mean, given the circumstances.”
“What circumstances do you mean?” Zombos folded his arms. He leaned a bit toward starboard. I felt a storm brewing.
“Ummm…well, the fact you live in this big mansion, how you and I tend to get into odd situations that stretch credulity, and… oh, for instance, how you never seem to age. Given your old acting career and such. Oh, and not many people these days know what a valet is, let alone how to pronounce the word.” I tipped back on my chair legs, waiting for Zombos to take the rebound.
He was about to say something but Zimba called to him. Saved. He said, “I will return shortly,” and left. Score. Now I could finish answering the question in peace.
“What are you doing?” asked Glenor Glenda, our maid, popping into the room.
“Trying to answer this question without being constantly interrupted,” I replied.
“I just came up because Chef Machiavelli is experimenting with fresh roast coffee and chocolate again, and he wanted us to try his samples.”
I do admit his concoctions are always delightful, even when he’s experimenting. I looked down at my writing desk. I looked up at Glenor. I looked past the open door. The smell of crisp coffee beans, sweet chocolate, and oranged cream wafted up from downstairs.
“Well, then, this question can wait. Let’s go!”
I followed the promise of tasty delights to the kitchen. A bold coffee drink is always stimulating to the writing faculties, wouldn’t you agree?
The dusty volumes of horror fiction have been constant companions to you over the years. Other than well-known chill-makers like Poe and Lovecraft, who are some underrated (or at least fairly unmentioned) authors whose weird works you cherish?
Clark Ashton Smith, Ambrose Bierce, Algernon Blackwood, M.R. James, Robert Aickman, E. F. Benson, are a few who may garner notoriety on lists, but who reads them today? They should still be read. I’ll also highly recommend Margaret Oliphant’s The Open Door.
Great ghouls! Looks like you also kept a healthy stash of those notorious horror comic books that had parents constantly ripping their hair out and phoning the government. Can you recall any particular stories or artists whose work haunted your impressionable young mind?
My word, there are quite a few. I’ll stick with the ones that influenced me the most growing up. There’s the wonderful Monster of Dread End from Dell’s Ghost Stories #1. The premise, the artwork, and the concise layout is creepy and scary. You can read it at The Horrors of It All (http://thehorrorsofitall.blogspot.com/2009/08/monster-of-dread-end.html).
I’d say the DC comics like House of Mystery and Witching Hour, along with Marvel’s Chamber of Darkness and Tower of Shadows are still high on my list. Creepy and Eerie gave me plenty of goosebumps, too.
These days, the art of the ghost and monster story is harder to come by in American comics. Pacing is screwed up by page count, and, gee, you mean there ain’t no zombies? Manga horror holds some truly grotesque and arabesque stories. Uzumaki’s three volumes are essential reading. Museum of Horror and the Drifting Classroom also.
Zombos’ Closet has also featured several highlights on the things that lurk within the darkness of your office. What are some of your most treasured horror collectibles?
Let’s see, it’s not too big a list. My horror magazines and the non-fiction horror movie books I’ve collected over the years are very enjoyable to peruse again and again. I really love my Halloween diecut and jointed-figure decorations. My collection of Sideshow dolls (there, I said it! Are we not men!) and smaller figures, I also cherish. Especially seeing how much they’re worth now! I’ve got the Bela Lugosi Dracula bust from Sideshow, too. Love it. There’s also the Bowen Cthulhu statue done by Hickman that is gorgeous. I nearly had a heart attack when I saw it in a local comic shop for the original price.
Another really cool thing is all the reissues coming out for the Aurora kits. What’s old is new again, and being able to have Big Frankie again, in a beautifully illustrated box, is exciting. And a glow Guillotine? Awesome!
If the werewolf apocalypse finally kicked in as prophesied by the Mayans and Miss Cleo, what would you want to dress up as for your last Halloween (at least on Earth)?
A werewolf of course, silly. Then I’d fit right in. May itch a little, though.
You’re also known for creating the League of Tana Tea Drinkers, an organization of talented bloggers and authors who write about their fields of interest with passion, wit, and charm. How do you feel the LOTT-D has come along since the time of its creation?
At the time I assembled the Avengers, oh, sorry, I mean LOTTD’ers, horror blogging was growing, but not as vocal or authoritative in its presence as horror forums were. Right now, though, that’s changed. Horror blogging has trumped those forums by creating a real community–a little frenzied at times–that looks deeper into the genre, without flaming–most of the time–each other’s opinions and observations. The LOTT D is the first group to foster a community-supportive spirit, although some consider us elitist. We aren’t. We’re just clear as to what our purpose is and how to go about it.
The going has been a bit rough at times. We’ve lost members due to my actions in trying new things, whether they were for blogging about horror or for creating a better awards system that recognizes the many categories of horror blogging (the Bloody Bloggers fiasco, for instance).
I’ve learned to stop pushing. Things will evolve as best they should. The primary message of the LOTT D is to foster horror blogging, keep the community growing, and be supportive. That will never change. We stand for professionalism in blogging as being the most important goal to work towards, otherwise who would want to take horror blogging seriously?
The WMWC (World Monster Wrestling Championship) has just been staged and all the creatures are ready to duke it out and pummel each other with metal chairs. Who do you root for from the stands with homemade signs and custom T-shirts?
The biggest, baddest monster-daddy of them all: Godzilla! (And I don’t mean the neutered 1998 version.)
What are your future plans for Zombos’ Closet or any other writing projects that you might have?
For one thing, I’m working on picking up the pace for posting. There’s a lot of horror-related material–movies, books, and comics, for instance–that I’d like to blog about. My family and day job take a large share of time, but I’m working harder to focus on more quality blogging. With Professor Kinema’s (that’s Jim Knusch) archives beckoning, there’s also quite a bit of movie ephemera to share. His vast collection got me started on collecting pressbooks and Mexican horror lobby cards, which can be really sweet! You’ll see more of those on ZC in the future.
On the fiction side of things: I’m working on a series-oriented bunch of short stories. One on zombies (with a fresh take, I hope), and the other about a supernatural detective (who has been on my mind since the 1970s)–so I’ve got plenty of notes to pick through, along with story ideas. Once I can complete, and hopefully market, these, I’ll tackle a novel-length idea I’ve taken a notion to. I’m big on mash-ups: for instance taking one genre and slamming it against another to produce something different but enjoyable. Not an easy thing to do well, but it’s fun trying.
I’ve also been meaning to compile ZC review posts into a book for digital download from Amazon. I need to work out the format for that and how best to approach the reviews with my characters. I’d need more framing to explain what’s going on as they dart in and out. I’ve started fleshing them out (you can see descriptions for them on my About page), so readers will have a better understanding of who they are when they do pop up. At least with a book format, I can follow a linear direction, something difficult to do when blogging, but essential to writing a continued storyline.
And speaking of my characters, I’ve got a lot more in store for them on ZC, too.
As we are in the clubhouse, mind telling us what was probably the strangest thing you ever did as a kid?
Yes, but I’ll tell you the second strangest thing I ever did.
I was trying to create an anti-gravity field by attaching electrical wires to a metal plate. Blame it on Reed Richards. Anyway, the way I did it was to take a lamp cord, which I cut from a lamp (promptly hiding the lamp from my parents for safety reasons–mine), then split the two wires in the cord so I could attach them to the metal plate on either side. When done I plugged the cord into an outlet to power it up and promptly blew the fuse. Three times. I didn’t realize scientific experimentation was so tough. Reed Richards (and Jack Kirby) made it look so damn easy.