The Vault Of Horror: Creepy Comics From The Cellar

When Darkness Falls, Beware!

For In Those Night Hours, Brad Trips Over His Comics Collection… ūüėČ

“You ask me to explain why I am afraid of a draught of cool air; why I shiver more than others upon entering a cold room, and seem nauseated and repelled when the chill of evening creeps through the heat of a mild autumn day” – H. P. Lovecraft.

This month – in preparation for¬†Halloween –¬†we will be taking a special look at¬†horror.

The nights draw in;¬†no matter, for we descend into the darkest domain¬†@¬†Brad Manor –¬†where even me minions dare not tread…

Despite not being much of a horror comics fan,¬†several¬†rather creepy mags¬†still¬†lurk in these musty –¬†Blimey! Get a loada’ the cobwebs down ‘ere! –¬†corners¬†of my gaff.

One British title, in particular, comes to gleeful and nostalgic mind.

During March 1984, my weekly editions of Battle Action Force (produced by IPC Magazines, more famous for the longest-running SF comic: 2000AD) ran increasingly intriguing ads for a forthcoming horror comic. 

Couldn’t wait?

You’re telling me! ‘Twas like enticing me with cake…

Greetings, mortals! I am the once-human editor of this gruesome publication. If you horrors out there want to read something really spooky, you’ve picked the right paper…” – Ghastly McNasty.¬†

Will always remember reading and¬†re-reading that first ish of¬†Scream.¬†Waiting for the¬†“Second Spine-Chilling Issue”¬†turned out to be the longest week of my life!¬†

Let me tell you why: 

The opening story: The Dracula File could so easily have been skipped Рthe Count is the most overused/recycled horror character, but this version entranced me from the get-go, especially as it is illustrated by Eric BRADbury (one of my fav artists from Battle Action Force) and a tense script by Gerry Finley-Dey (another Battle and 2000AD regular) interestingly set in the 1980s, against Cold War politics.

A “defector” flees across the East German border,¬†surviving a hail of machine-gun bullets and manages to be transported to a military hospital in¬†Britain.¬†Colonel Stakis, at first sceptical, sets off in pursuit, wary of the realization that he may very well be dealing with the Prince of Darkness himself.¬†He cannot inform the authorities in the West of his “unholy” mission, while they, in turn, are exceedingly dischuffed at having a¬†KGB operative¬†lurking freely around the back streets of¬†London.

It’s a compelling thriller, gifted with some amazing surreal moments,¬†especially¬†Drac¬†seeking sanctuary at… a fancy dress party!¬†

He drains the blood of Harry the Gorilla and seduces Cinderella Рnot even Christopher Lee could boast that! 

“Poor devil – I bet it’s been like a nightmare for him. But he’s defected safely – he’s got a whole new life ahead of him in Britain…” – Nurse Nightingale.¬†

(The Dracula File received a much-welcome reprint in a hardback collection published in October 2017) 

 

“That cough of yours is getting worse, Nathaniel! It’s time you prepared for the final journey. Pay me now in advance, and I’ll bury you at half my normal price!” – Joshuah Sleeth. ¬†

For me, by far the outstanding story of every issue was Tales From The Grave, 2 or 3-part chillers set in the early 19th century, narrated by The Leper who described the various spine-chilling background stories laced with all the period detail you could eat.

Although Jim Watson’s¬†“untidy” artistic style divided comic fans (especially in my school playground!)¬†he lent the ideal, twisted gothic touch to this series;¬†the grisly opening 4-parter:¬†The Undertaker¬†proved to be a clever tale of murder, deception and intrigue.¬†At its (devilish) heart¬†loomed¬†Joshuah Sleeth,¬†“an evil beggar alright,” as The Leper explained. “If yer needed a helpin’ hand into the next world, so ter speak, he was always ready to give it…”

The Cabbie And The Hanging Judge is also rather effecting, but, on this relatively mild autumn eventide, the very thought of Willard Giovanna RIP makes me shiver.

One day, whilst The Leper is digging with his old mate¬†Finley,¬†a gentlemen dressed in “old-fashioned clobber,”¬†enquires to the site of one¬†Willard Giovanna.¬†Finley¬†pipes up and directs him over to a rather untended grave.

“You crafty coot, Finley!” the Leper whispers, “Yer after the tuppenny tip he’ll be offerin’!”

Thereafter, a macabre plan to exhume the remains¬†is set into action that very night.¬†Restin’ his achin’ bones awhile,¬†Finley¬†happens to glance at the nametag in the gent’s fine coat:¬†Willard Giovanna! ‘Tis the same name as on the stone – the gent’s diggin’ up his own grave!”

Sure enough, when Finley resumes this unspeakable exercise, he finds the coffin, and opens it to find it empty, except for a letter –¬†“an’ Saints preserve us!” –¬†addressed to him!¬†

Dear Finley, 

Here is your payment as agreed for digging up my coffin. A similar payment will arrive for you each month if you keep my grave in good order. Then there will be no need for me to return!

Yours,

W. Giovanna.

And with that, the startled Finley turned around to get the shock of his life: Willard Giovanna had turned into a rotting corpse. 

This tale left me not so much fearful but fascinated: how do horror writers concoct such amazing stuff?! 

In addition, a different story appeared every week¬†in a¬†series entitled:¬†Library of Death.¬†Beware The Werewolf!¬†was a great crime-caper drawn by yet another great artist we lost far-too-soon:¬†Steve Dillon;¬†Spiders Can’t Scream¬†presented the terrifying consequences reserved¬†for¬†evil treasure-seekers who wipe out ancient civilizations in the South American jungle;¬†the 2-part Sea Beast¬†offered a freaky variant on the Don’t-go-into-the-water theme;¬†while particular moody fav¬†Ghost Town¬†features ill-fated present-day car-drivers pitting their wits – and rifles – against Wild West ghouls who are always far too quick on the draw!¬†

But the story that started it all off: Ghost House became an¬†instant classic¬†due to such spine-chilling art¬†supplied by the¬†always-reliable¬†Cam Kennedy,¬†then blowing me socks orf on 2000AD’s Rogue Trooper.¬†His nameless ghoul (almost!) made even Brad’s flesh crawl – check out that grisly beckoning hand! (see below!)

“They thought they were too old to enter the house. They were wrong. No-one is too old… and¬†no-one is too young! Age does not concern those who dwell in the¬†Ghost House” – The Nameless One.

Apart from a handful of Holiday Specials, Scream comic never got a 16th issue…

Popular belief maintained that irate parents demanded the publication’s closure after giving their children countless nightmares.

The truth, it seems, is rather more mundane. 

A printers strike at IPC Magazines affected half a dozen titles. Unfortunately, the one title NOT resumed post-crisis happened to be the one yours truly most craved every week!

Bah!

Over the last three decades, however, Scream comic has attained a richly-deserved cult status, with reprints now becoming widely available.

 

English horror didn’t vanish with the fog and gas-lit cobblestones at the end of the Victorian era. Riveting, spine-chilling stuff” –¬†Alan Moore.¬†

Hellblazer used to be one helluva haunting read.

This series – part of Vertigo:¬†DC’s “Suggested For Mature Readers” range –¬†kickstarted my¬†DC – and, to a certain extent, Marvel – revival in 1988.¬†

Offering¬†eloquent, yet disturbing, forays into the crass, yuppie-driven, Thatcherite terrors of ’80s London – as if the dirt, grime and lousy English weather was not enough! – the scintillating, and yet exceedingly creepy,¬†writing¬†by¬†Jamie Delano¬†helped me “escape” from the rigours of that school year (luckily, mercifully, my last).¬†Each issue appeared unmistakably graced with glorious cover art¬†by¬†Dave McKean;¬†the 1st issue’s collage (see above!) holds a reserved place in my Top 10 Best Comic Book Covers Ever.¬†

Co-created by Alan Moore, Stephen R. Bisette, and John Totleben, and based on Police frontman: Sting,  John Constantine is a heavy-smoking, obnoxious fella (from Liverpool) who just happens to know a fair bit of the occult and is continually haunted by the ghosts of friends he failed to protect.

Making his debut in¬†Moore’s Swamp Thing,¬†his own solo mag’s opening shocker:¬†“Hunger,”¬†dripping with voodoo – actually one of my least fav horror themes –¬†remains a gobsmacking gamechanger.

The first seven ishs offer a superb introduction to the work of British co-auteurs: Jamie Delano and John Ridgway, and would now be hailed as literary classics if they featured in anything other than the comics medium.  

Delano had this unfathomable¬†knack¬†of weaving bloodcurdling chills on one page,¬†and then¬†surprising you on the very next page with¬†the darkest rib-tickling humour!¬†Some marvelous descriptive text, and, complete with John’s trenchcoat, it all seemed rough and hard-boiled, not unlike a Dashiel Hammett novel,¬†except this dick had to deal with demons and diabolical dipwits‚Ķ¬†

And this writer sure¬†was glad that this title promised and delivered! – SHEER terror, and not that cockamamie terror – or halfassed terror – with which too many indie companies were wont to churn out back then…

Am fond of one particular, indelible moment:¬†in one episode,¬†Constantine¬†has to bail out of a London black cab,¬†unable to tolerate the driver’s incessant vile and xenophobic rants any further.¬†As he does so, said callous cabbie bristles:

“‘Ere! Don’ I get a tip?”¬†

“Yeah, it’s this: your mind is narrow and full of crap. I suggest you get a new one.”¬†

Attaboy, John! ūüôā

“…Bloody rain!¬†Bloody England!” Ha ha HA, yeah! Too bloody right, mate!¬† ūüėČ

“Pure reaction slams the door on the scuttling horror. I ought to just walk away and not come back. Jesus… Lord of the Bloody Flies, eh? I feel like I’ve had my share of bad craziness for a while. But like they say, you shouldn’t join if you can’t take a joke” –¬†John Constantine.

 

“Berni Wrightson really is the unquestioned master of the medium and that’s not just because the cover blurbs say so and because the field is about 95% saturated with superheroes… Oh,¬†Berni knows his grave-dirt all right… and while we huddle there, backs turned, eyes averted, minds set,¬†Berni pops up in front of us with his magic mirror and says “Boo!”” – Bruce Jones.

It is impossible to compile such a Post as this without featuring the extraordinary talent¬†of the¬†late, great¬†Bernie Wrightson –¬†arguably THE quintessential¬†horror comic artist.¬†

In fact, Pacific Comics gratefully collected some of his classic works in Berni Wrightson: Master Of The Macabre (only 5 ishs published during 1983).

He produced a suitably chilling ūüėČ adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cool Air,¬†as well as his own SF horror story: The Last Hunters,¬†a far-future saga in which an android hunter exterminates the last vestiges of humanity.¬†On a distant world… called Earth…

Who could ignore the malformed terror that is Jenifer, the sinister deception played on The Laughing Man or the heartrending beauty of Clarice?

But¬†my thirst for awesomeness would be well and truly slaked¬†with¬†The Muck Monster,¬†Berni’s moving version of Frankenstein, as told from the monster’s perspective.¬†

Oh, which of these seven sublime pages should Brad select?!

Ha, he cheated! And presents TWO.

Read with wonder, friends, for you will find this is not in the least bit horrific, nor is it particularly creepy; quite simply, this is a mighty fine example of this medium at its sumptuous and breathtaking best: 

“…But, Doctor, it’s the same dream. It doesn’t change!”¬†

“Even so, I’d like you to go over it once more.”¬†

“Okay, Doc… It started like before – with me losing my footing on the wall. I crash down to the ground… so hard that I break every bone in my body… Then the soldiers come and say there’s nothing they can do for me! I know the dream is going to come true! It’s a warning! I’m going to fall!”¬†

“Rubbish! I’ve told you before. If you want to stop this nightmare… you must stop reading these horror comics, Mr. Dumpty!”¬†

 

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“Everything Is Blue”: A Celebration Of One Of The UK’s Finest Writers

Sophisticated Suspense.

Swamp_Thing_Vol_2_56 (1)

“Why shouldn’t you have a bit of fun while dealing with the deepest issues of the mind?” – Alan Moore. ¬†

“My killers dislocated my electroskeleton…

Bent the clear note of my being out of pitch…

Out of harmony with the earth…

Barred from my planet’s emerald heart…

And unwilling to burn…

The turquoise ferns and duck-egg pebbles…

The aquarium light filtering through clouds of bleached cobalt…

“Everything is blue.”

Seeing as it’s his birthday today, this Post has been set aside to honour¬†Alan Moore, acclaimed creator of such classic comic literature as¬†Watchmen,¬†The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, ¬†From Hell and¬†V For¬†Vendetta;¬†we shall focus instead on Swamp Thing, because that is where my startled discovery of his great talent was made.

Originally created as a simple eight-page modern gothic tear-jerker by Len Wein and Berni Wrightson for House of Secrets #92, in 1972,¬†scientist Alex Olsen was “killed” in a chemical explosion, his flaming body hurling into the bayou, only to be soon resurrected as a mossy and morose muck-monster.¬†

Each edition of Moore’s¬†Swamp Thing offered individual brilliance, but for me, none more so than¬†Issue 56 (dated Jan 87).

Can remember reading this one for the first time; entitled:¬†“My Blue Heaven” it was more a case of bewilderment,¬†than being gobsmacked.¬†Rather than displaying the traditional¬†lurid coloured inks of say, Superman or¬†Wonder Woman,¬†this particular issue told a unique story utilising an ingenious monochromatic technique, adding instant mood and atmosphereevery panel was blue.¬†

Didn’t know what to make of it initially, but one thing was clear: here in my hands lay an example of a drastically different form of graphic art, and all my comic-reading years had¬†never¬†prepared my senses to savour¬†a script quite like this.¬†

alan-moore-001

Happy Birthday To The Wonderful Wizard of Northampton!

Moore, Veitch, Alcala - Swamp Thing, My Blue Heaven

“Forever.

I will spend forever here…

An immortal¬†wandering endlessly towards eternity…

Across a monochrome landscape…

One color, ome word.

So many shades…

The color of saxophones at dusk…

Of orbiting police lights smeared across tenement windows…

Of loneliness…

Of melancholy.

The blues.”

When planning a movie adaptation of Watchmen, Terry Gilliam¬†(who Moore revealed would have been an excellent choice to direct a¬†Watchmen movie)¬†asked:¬†“How would you make a film of Watchmen?”¬†

“Well, frankly,” Moore replied, “If anyone had bothered to consult me, I would have said ‚ÄėI wouldn’t’.”

Moore had written Watchmen expressly to explore the possibilities of the comic book medium, utilising narrative devices that deliberately set out to be unfilmable. So with this title, Moore could really experiment with ways in which a superior sophisticated graphic novel could be presented.

What Moore could you want? Who better than the beloved bewhiskered Brit to take this tragic figure but present him optimistically as a creator of his own realm?

Instead of wallowing in loneliness, the Thing creates his own doppelganger: “manipulating…¬†two sets of muscles… I stand and walk toward myself…¬†We touch… marveling to find not the cold hardness of mirror glass… but¬†another palm, cool and dry.”¬†

Thus unfolded a dream-like narrativestrange:¬†most certainly; compelling reading: oh yes…

And for company, he (re)creates Abby, his long-lost love:

“…As the flowers blossom… in a pale mane from her scalp… I am breathless.¬†

“Oh, she is beautiful… and I am lost.”

Blue

“We kiss… then kiss again…

Embracing, we sink to our knees,

Through the dreamlike phosphorescence…

Of air too rich in rare gasses, 

We tumble… a kinetic progression…

Of stop-motion glimpses…

Sensual and inevitable in their¬†sequence…

A blue movie.”¬†

Swamp Thing helped pave the way for DC Comics to handle¬†more mature topics in an increasing number of titles specifically aimed at a much older readership.¬†Amidst other bold and brilliant titles branded as:¬†“Suggested For Mature Readers,”¬†Swamp Thing¬†did his own distinct and bizarre thing on a monthly basis.

For four years, Moore took this¬†unlikely titular vegetable hero¬†and¬†revealed it to be just a tragic “shambling mound of foliage” that has merely acquired the consciousness of the dead scientist (now referred to as Alec Holland).¬†This inspired the kind of extended, positively surreal, character study that Moore relishes.

Ultimately, the Swamp Thing must banish all thought of ever having been human in the first place, let alone trying to devise the bio-restorative formula to regain that glimmer of humanity. Thus, the creature must Рover several episodes Рcontemplate not only the worthlessness of its existence, but decide what it should do with itself from then on.

Where else could you find a comic book where the central character foregoes living and merges with the mass-psyche of the earth itself, becoming a vegetable in all senses of the word?

swamp-thing-56-p14-panel

constantinea

“Like blue bile…

The scream¬†floods from my throat…

And I turn and run…

Past cars that are gradually losing their shapes to the rain…

“I try… to hold the world together in my mind…¬†

“But it slithers from a grasp… made slippery by sap…

In despair… I let it die…

I let the buildings unravel…

And the children fall dead in the streets…

I stop the hearts… of the perspiring old men…

I kill the world.

Blue murder.”¬†

John Constantine,¬†the British occult mage/annoying smartass –¬†whose character would about to be considerably expanded in his own highly successful, critically-acclaimed ongoing series called Hellblazer –¬†made his debut in¬†The Saga of The Swamp Thing #37.¬†

Here, he makes another¬†distinctive cameo appearance – as this is Swamp Thing’s own dreamworld, so John is nothing more¬†than an illusion, but still¬†offering an¬†annoying supporting role!¬†Odd, yet compelling material.¬†

Finally, as this Post comes to it’s end, so we reach the final lines of Moore’s classic script:

“I leave… the world that I have made… behind me…

It shall remain here…

As a¬†decayed¬†monument… to the pain… of sundered romance…¬†

A bitter love letter… left tear-stained and crumpled…

In the obscure corner… of the universe… ¬†

abby

“A blue valentine.”¬†