|The following is a telephone interview followed by an e-mail interview with Mike Fredericks, the founder, editor, and publisher of Prehistoric Times magazine:
with Mike Fredericks
By Tony Campagna
TC So as the editor and creator of the ever incredible dinosaur magazine, Prehistoric Times, would you tell us how you got started interviewing various paleontologists and other people ?
MF Can we use the phrase, "scared ****less" ?
TC How did you go ahead and approach the first person? Do you remember who it was and what it was like ?
MF You know one of the people who was a collector and a well known artist was Brian Franczak. He was kind of on board from the very beginning and he and I used to chat on the phone all the time. So he was easy to talk to. I kind of have to look back at past issues and see.
TC Who then stands out most in your memory then ?
MF Well I wouldn't want to name one person over another but talking to these great scientists and artists is very intimidating because I have so much respect for them. Sibbick, Stout, Hallett, Henderson you know. But talking to scientists I mostly leave up to you.
TC Yes, but you did it before I did.
MF Yeah I have. I talked to Phil (Currie) and he talked over my head for an hour. (Laughs) No, he knows how to talk in a way that he can explain it and he's a dinosaur collector too. His office is full of dinosaur stuff. I interviewed Jack Horner and Bob Bakker. Bakker's even called me before and I didn't believe him when he called. I was like, "Yeahhhhh righhhhhhht . Who is this really ?"
TC So there wasn't any one person who intimidated you more than the others ?
MF For some reason, talking to Stout really kind of intimidated me but, Boy ! We had a good conversation ! He even said that, in his own words, it was the best interview ever. It was a big interview that took two issues so we had talked for quite awhile.
TC And that was in the beginning ?
MF Well no. That was issue 28 - 29. You know there really wasn't a lot of interviews in the early days. Most of them have come about as you have written for PT. I really wouldn't have had the cahonees (KA-HONE-EE-S) to ask these people to take the time the way the magazine looked back then, like a silly, little, newsletter. I kind of had to fill it up and make it look like something worth their while to be seen in, in my opinion. Maybe they wouldn't have felt this way but I did.
TC Then again no one you ever interviewed discouraged you from doing it again did they ?
MF Uh uhhh. No. Dinosaur people, man, they are the best people in the world. You know, they send me the art for free, they take the time to let me interview them for free, and they get very little back in return. I just enjoy talking about it
TC Let me tell you, when I talk to other subscribers, they ask me questions about you. Like I know any more about you than they do ..
MF Oh yes. What's he like ? He's so dreamy.
TC ACTUALLY, the question most people want to know the answer to is - Is he making any money from PT ? They ask because, like you mentioned before, you get the art and interviews for free...
MF Like I said dinosaur people are the best.
TC This isn't a question you necessarily want to answer in this interview is it ?
MF About if I am making any money ? Well, yeah, I mean much money or a little money is kind of a matter of opinion but, hopefully, yeah, I am making some money. You know it seemed like back in '92 -'93 before I really started this I definitely didn't seem to be as comfortable, money - wise, as I am now. I mean, I'd feel like an idiot if I was doing something that wasn't making some kind of profit considering how much time and energy I put into this.
TC At the same time I have come to learn in talking to you on occasion that most people just don't understand how much money it takes to do something like this.
MF Well that's the thing, and the more money I make, as I have said before, I try to improve the magazine. Every couple of months now I have to come up with many, many, thousands of dollars and that's not easy and it can get pretty stressful. But I seem to be able to do all that and still, my family isn't starving. My wife works of course.
TC Now dinosaurs aren't your only interest are they ? Don't you also "do" sci-fi stuff ?
MF Ohhh I love all that stuff and Star Trek and all the horror and monsters and stuff, plus I love history from most all periods of time, especially wars.
TC So you're not just dinosaurs ?
MF As far as collecting goes I am narrowing it down to just dinosaurs. There is so much neat stuff I want. I'm selling a lot of the other stuff so I can afford to get it. Yet I still have the interest in the other things.
TC And you also write about those other things too ?
TC Well now, as the parent of three, have you corrupted your kids by turning them into dinophiles too ?
MF Well you know, (he asks his son Eddie while on the phone) Eddie, do you like dinosaurs ? Eddie - "Yeahhh." As they are getting older I think they are getting a little immune to it. I mean they are just everywhere. You know my mail is just full of models, review books artwork....
TC (oh boo hoo !)
MF and toys, so they just constantly see it. There was a time when they would say "Oh Wow !" but now it's kind of like, " Uh yeah. We see it dad." Eddie wants to see what's in the boxes. "Right Eddie?" Eddie - "Yeah." I may burn them out on it and they may hate it when they are older. Will they carry on the magazine after me ? Not likely.
TC Now when we spoke in Chicago at the PT/G-Fest you said something to the effect that you would like to sell the magazine someday ?
MF I was only half-serious. If someone had the big bucks and they said, "Ok. We're going to buy the magazine and you're still going to be the editor but it will look like National Geographic now." That's all I was talking about.
TC Oh. That's what I wondered as I'd fear not being able to contribute to the newly owned PT.
MF Well if someone paid me a million dollars I would just go and start another one. There you go.
TC So your future plans are to always do some type of PT project ?
MF Oh yeah. Things change you know and nothing lasts forever but I certainly don't see myself stopping any time soon.
TC Any big plans for PT you care to share ? Other than a price hike ? (Fortunately both of us laugh.) I mean - what more can you do to PT ?
MF Oh well. From the very first issue people have said, "How are you going to make a magazine out of this every other month ? How much can you talk about ? " Boy, I tell you, personally I have a lot of ideas for articles myself that I don't put priority over the other stuff coming in so they keep getting bumped. So I have a lot of things I want to do myself. Every once in a while I get something in there. I like to write about the collectibles and do interviews like you but people call all the time and tell me they are working on articles so I don't see it ending any time soon.
TC Do you find it difficult in dealing with so many people and keeping the peace as you select what you will use when and from who ?
MF Oh yeah. Oh yeah. Some of us have our petty little squabbles. Sometimes I am in the middle and someone will ask, "How come you don't hate him like I do ?" and sometimes, people get mildly upset that their contribution (art, article, etc) didn’t get in the magazine but most everyone is very understanding of my space contraints.
TC If you could be doing anything else other than or in addition to PT what would you like to do ?
MF I would like to do some more writing and art for publication. I’ve illustrated about a dozen or more dinosaur books and It's really exciting to be doing that. Writing about collectibles sort of fell into my lap and I really didn't do all that much of that. So I tell my neighbors and friends, I show them this and they say, "WOW." and it's kind of a cool feeling.
TC So to the people in your neighborhood you're known as "The Dinosaur Guy" ?
MF I'm beginning to. Yeah, you know, people probably think that at Christmas time I have dinosaurs on the roof and my license plate says DINOSAURNUT or something. I really don't advertise the fact locally that I'm doing this. Sometimes, I think people in general, might think I am a weirdo or the truth will come out that I am a weirdo actually.
TC So people are suspiciously aware of the amount of mail you get but don't know what you are up to ?
MF (laughs) The mailman knows me well. The post office here in town knows me very well. They of course know I'm doing it.
TC Now considering you work at home, and mostly on PT, and you put a lot into it, how has the continued success of PT affected your family?
MF Right. I have to be careful about that. I try to not get backed up or get too much to do at deadline time. I try to spread it out or sneak away when no one is looking and type something up real quick. That's a very touchy, difficult, situation I have to watch out for.
TC When you say touchy you mean the Mrs. right ?
MF Yeah and I want to be a good dad too.
TC Do you see yourself now as a member of the "Paleo-Community" ? As someone who when you think of dinosaurs you think of PT's editor and creator ? Aren't you getting quite recognized?
MF Wouldn't I be a jerk if I said yes ?
TC No. I mean, people know who you are now. I mean , if you go to DinoFest ..
TC You don't think people recognize you now at dino functions ?
MF Well yeah somewhat. I hope I don't take a bullet.
TC When I talked to Horner, he didn't want to say he was a celebrity either but..
MF Right. No one does.
TC But you are.
MF People who want to say they are celebrities probably aren't. But no, I'm definitely not a celebrity.
TC As a man with his finger on the pulse of dinosaur interest, can you tell us what continues to fuel our fascination with these animals ? As you have said before, there are waves of intense interest and then it drifts off for a while and then reappears. Why ?
MF Yeah. I don't really know how to articulate it. When I interviewed Jon Sovak I told him I was going to start asking people why we like dinosaurs because maybe someone more eloquent than me can articulate that. It's hard, even for me, as long as I have been into it to really spit out what it is that keeps people so fascinated with them. Have you thought about that ? I'm sure you have. Have you been able to state why you think we do ?
TC That's a good question and that's why I asked you ! I only have my own idea why I like them so much. When I was a kid I really loved trains. I drew trains all the time until first grade and I first found out about dinosaurs. I lived in Rock Island, Illinois and near a lot of trains. I had toy trains and everything trains. I think dinosaurs took the trains' place in my heart because dinosaurs like the sauropods are trains that can leave the tracks and mow you down anywhere with their incredible size and power and they are living things that can move without human help. Better yet are the carnivores that took down these locomotives of flesh and blood ! I think I am about to swoon !
MF That's a lot of it I'm sure. (The power factor of dinosaurs.) Like you said, it's individual reasons for everyone. So who am I to say why anyone else likes them ?
TC I'm sure when the next Jurassic Park comes out or whatever dino-craze hits next there will be articles on why kids like dinosaurs by various psychologists as there have been in the past. The articles typically say, "It's all about control over their environment. When a child can pick up a T.Rex toy by the scruff of it's neck and kick it in the teeth it impowers the child. They can control this monster on then it's on to controlling The Under The Bed Monster !" Personally, I think this is only partly true. The best reasons for liking dinosaurs is because THEY ARE COOL !
MF Yeah. I've read a lot about why kids like dinosaurs but not too much about why adults like them but Mark Schultz (Cadillacs and Dinosaurs) had some trade paperbacks that with some of his comics and William Stout did the foreword/introduction to one and EVEN HE had to admit that he wasn't even sure why. So it's a tough question to answer.
TC Here's another thought why we adults like dinosaurs. (For those of us who also liked them as a child first.) When I talked to Don Glut and he told me about the death of his father and his interest in dinosaurs, for some reason I noted to myself that dinosaurs are a non-emotional issue like death or love. Our interest doesn't wane because dinosaurs leave or break our hearts. Dinosaurs are cool now and they were cool when they were first discovered by each of us in our own way. Take you for example, if you will allow me to make a guess to your some-what recently renewed interest in them, as a kid with a dad in the military you moved around and couldn't hold onto friends but you could hold on to your interest in dinosaurs no matter were you went ! So in a sense dinosaurs were dependable friends and a constant thing when other things kept changing.
MF But not everyone's like us and still likes them as much as adults as they did as kids or do they? I don't know. Maybe they just won't admit it.
TC Sometimes I just wonder if when we see a toy dinosaur from our childhood if we don't say somewhere in our being, "That was a good time." I guess anyone could say that about any favorite possession from when they were younger though.
MF Oh yeah. Well that's definitely a lot of what collecting is. I had great parents that didn't drink, didn't get divorced, loved the heck out of me and my brother, and collecting things just reminds me of those better, easier times. Sure. You're getting into a piece of my psyche there.
TC As the current leader (my choice of words here) in reporting on new stuff with dinosaurs in all facets do you see yourself becoming sort of a "Dino-Don" like Lessem or Glut ? Are you starting to be consulted yet ?
TC Now I've got you where I want you - on the phone answering questions in a complete and not so usually hurried manner - tell us in more detail how your spouse "handles" your dino-interest that makes my wife's argument that I spend too much time on dinosaurs pale in comparison?
MF I hear about men who have wives that are really into their interests and my wife and I have common interests certainly but dinosaurs are not one of them. Nor is collecting.
TC So how is she about your house and showing your growing dinosaur collection.
MF You will have to come over sometime. There's not much on display really. Right around my computer where I work there are some things but..
TC THAT"S IT ?
MF ...yeah. Most of it's in the garage really.
TC Well how can you enjoy that ?
MF I know. It's, it's (makes a mocking crying sound) sad.
TC That's why I was tickled with Don Glut when he said that after his divorce he realized he could put dinosaurs anywhere he wanted in the house.
MF Yeah I read that line in the interview.
TC (In case some readers missed that "short" interview, Don was quick to say that he was not advocating divorce as a means of solving dinosaur display problems.) I am going to ask you the same question I asked Don Glut. What are you going to do with this ever growing collection of dinosaur treasure ?
MF My packrat mentality is pretty scary. I don't have any big plans for it. If someone opens a Dinosaur Toy Museum, for tax purposes, I'll definitely donate.
TC One more question, can you comment on the dinosaur collectibles book you worked on ? What is your opinion on the finished product ?
MF Well I really want to do my own still. That was something Dana had been well into and the deadline was creeping up on her and she said HELP ! So I came in the 11th hour and added quite a bit. A lot of it is me but I would definitely like to just do it myself. When I say myself I'm sure I would get a lot of help from other people. Some of the chapters I had nothing to do with like the book chapter which some people have said was one of the big weaknesses of the book. Things like that. There's definitely more to be added. I'm learning all the time. That's why I say I really wasn't ready to do it. I wanted to wait until I was ready. It's really a good looking book.
TC So you are a busy guy. Maybe one last thing we/ you could share with the readers is that even though you list your number and e-mail in PT for contact purposes that (something I had to learn about Mike long before this interview) between family, PT, other jobs, and whatever time is left you are swamped. If it takes awhile for you to get back or if you need a second e-mail to be reminded of something that no one should take it personally it's just a matter of fact that you are super busy right ?
MF Yeah that would be very nice for people to know. People ask a lot of favors of me and I REALLY want to help them but there just aren't enough hours in the day. Let me tell ya. That's very true. I'm really a nice guy and I really do care ! But sometimes I get e-mail like, "Little Billy wants a Diplodocus for Christmas. Where do I find one ?" That happens all the time and you know I definitely don't ignore them. In fact it really bugs me sometimes when I send a long reply back and the "Mailer Demon Thing" where the e-mail didn't go through and you have no other way to get in touch with the person. And then it's like, "Oh great ! Now they're going to think I am ignoring them."
TC Thank you on behalf of dinophiles everywhere for not ignoring our thirst for more dinosaurs and all things prehistoric.
MF My Pleasure
|Mike Fredericks interview
1.) As a child were you interested in paleontology and dinosaurs? Did a
book or magazine motivate you?
I really loved my toy dinosaurs by Marx and read Roy Chapman Andrews’ “All About Dinosaurs” until the pages were worn. I still have my copy of that book. I also drew dinosaurs continuously.
2.) What, if any, college degrees do you have? Where did you get them?
I graduated with my Bachelor of art from University of Davis, California as an art major.
3.) Where did you receive your first artwork related job?
I used to get jobs designing and drawing posters for local rock bands to advertise their various appearances around town. I too was in a group playing drums so I would draw our posters as well.
4.) What additonal artwork related jobs have you held?
I did 3-d art for years as a model builder for two different companies. We made models of everything from high rise buildings to aero space vehicles and construction vehicles. Also, as people would need drawings, they would hire me on occasion
5.) Why do you draw dinosaurs?
Until I started publishing Prehistoric Times, I really hadn’t drawn many prehistoric animals since I was a kid. I started doing it for PT whenever I needed a certain animal to be illustrated and didn’t have any art I could use from others. That has blossomed a bit in the 16 short years I’ve been putting out PT and now I am much more confident and original in my depictions, I think.
6.) What is your favorite dinosaur to draw?
It isn’t a very original answer, I’m afraid, but I am still awed by a dinosaur you might have heard of by the name of Tyrannosaurus rex. I love drawing T. rex!
7.) What other paleontology related animals and objects do you draw?
What ‘cha got? I love them all.
8.) What is your favorite painting that you have developed?
I’ve limited myself to b&w art for the most part in recent years, but I hope to change that soon.
9.) What major publications have you been featured in?
I was (am) a freelance writer and artist so I’ve done quite a lot in the past decade. Dinosaur-wise, its mostly been my own magazine and now illustrating the kid’s dinosaur book/series Dinoverse from Random house, written by Scott Ciencin plus I co-wrote a book on dinosaur collectibles with Dana Cain. I got both those jobs by being known for doing PT. Since then, I’ve contributed dinosaur art in about a dozen dinosaur books
10.) How long does an average illustration take?
I’ve always joked that, “what I lack in talent, I make up for in speed!” so I work pretty fast. I had to do about 30 illustrations for the Dinoverse book in a month’s time, so if you do the math, you can see that each drawing had to average about a day of work. That includes research and designing the pose, etc. I will admit that if I force myself to slow down (and if I have the luxury of being able to take my time), I’m always much happier with the end result.
11.) What paleontologists have you worked for?
Publishing my magazine has helped open the doors for me to speak to alot of paleontologists and other artists so now, through the magic of the internet, when I have a question about the appearance of a prehistoric animal, my answer from some of the great minds of the world is only an e-mail away.
I think it’s great. I love it. New artists are popping up all of the time giving us entirely new visions of what our world was like millions of years ago. For the most part, the new era of paleo-artists seem to feel that it is important to study the fossil record and “get it right” when illustrating extinct animals.
13.) Do you look up to any paleo artists? Who?
Better you should ask if there are any paleo artists I don’t look up to. I’m still relatively new to illustrating prehistoric animals so I feel that most everyone out there is my mentor. I have my favorites but since I work with almost all of them through my magazine, I can’t list names.
14.) Have you worked in other fields, such as sculpture?
A little and I like it a lot but it’s hard to find the time to do it. Besides, there are so many great sculptors doing prehistoric animals that the world can get along just fine without a T. rex statue by Mike Fredericks
15.) Why did you develop PT? When?
My co-writer Riff Smith in Louisville, Kentucky and I were collectors of dinosaur items and had a lot of questions that we thought might get answered if we started a little newsletter for other people (weird-os) like us. This was in 1992, although it didn’t really get off the ground until the beginning of 1993. We quickly decided that paleo art and science were also important to us so, with the help of many others, we incorporated the latest theories, finds and artwork into each issue as well. We try to include a little bit of everything for dinosaur enthusiasts of all types worldwide.
16.) What early hardships did you have?
It’s very expensive to print even a basic little publication like PT started out as plus I had to advertise to try to find people that wanted to subscribe to it. Consequently I took it very slow and only put more money into it as our readership grew.
17) Please briefly describe what goes into this mag (time, money, etc.)
Well, today I’m printing up thousands of full color magazines quarterly which means I have to have enough readers and advertisers to come up with the many thousands of dollars that it takes to put a real magazine together. It could be very stressful if I really thought about it. Instead I choose to just have a good time (most of the time).
18) What future plans do you have for PT?
The basic format has pretty much been determined and set over the past 16 years (although I’m always open to new ideas), but there is still tons of things within that format that we want to talk about and that our many contributors want to do and talk about. I hope to continue to make it more and more professional in appearance and content as the years go on and get even more readers to become aware of its existence.
19.) What are your plans for the near future?
I’m going to cut the soles off my shoes, climb up into a tree and learn to play the flute. Sorry, that’s a quote from a comedy team called The Firesign Theater. No, actually I do have dreams for the future that include making PT better than ever and keeping the creative juices flowing in whatever direction they may take me.