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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Brad Moon Rising: A Long Evening With Lost Souls

I See The Brad Moon Arising
I See Trouble On The Rise…

“The door was opening again. The seer does not like to dwell upon what he saw entering the room…¬†The sound of cries – faint, as if coming out of a vast distance – but, even so, infinitely appalling, reached the ear…” – M.R. James.¬†

Good evening, dearest Oneironauts!

Gracious,¬†there are fewer of you than ever this year…

Very well, we have reached another¬†All Hallows’ Eve – there is more to fear than carved pumpkins, my dear…

In this faire land o’ olde Albion, there dwells an abundance of apparitions to chill anyone’s blood:¬†

From the gaunt cavaliers who pass through solid walls

To the ladies in white who glide through opulent halls; 

From the sprites and wights o’ wooded dells¬†

To the ragged children who fell into long-forgotten wells… ¬†¬†

You join me at Pluckley, in Southern England, reputed to be the most haunted village in the country. At the last count there were thir13en ghosts, but recently, locals have reported a few new apparitions. 

We shall begin the tour at the top end of town.

Park Wood¬†used to be an extensive forest, stretching off to the north.¬†A¬†colonel hanged himself here, but before the area was cut back to become grazing land,¬†he could still¬†be¬†seen from time to time, wandering among the trees…

The area has become better known as the¬†Screaming Woods –¬†no doubt other restless spirits lurk therein…¬†

Continue down the road until we reach¬†Dicky Buss’s Lane.¬†Shortly after the First World War,¬†a schoolmaster – who, perhaps, could no longer take the torment of lingering shellshock –¬†hanged himself from a laurel tree that once stood in the road.

What a mournful place –¬†it’s best not to linger here lest we catch sight of that phantom master swinging in the breeze…

 

Still she stands aglow before me,
Pale and tender, warm and rare.
Still, she runs through meadows laughing,
Locked in memory, slumber’s snare.

Why I come here every season,
driven by the ghost of dread,
I cannot in truth you answer,
‘Less ’tis guilt I’m blindly led” – Bruce Jones. ¬†

A short distance to the east, we arrive at the Church of St Nicholas.

Ghosts normally haunt the place of death. A graveyard seems the natural place to expect supernatural activity, but this is not the case. Generally. 

This parish, however, offers the exception. There she is! We can catch a glimpse of the Red Lady; the beautiful Lady Dering carries a red rose as she drifts majestically amongst the tombstones, wearing the same sumptuous gown as on that day so grim. Her body was placed in seven lead coffins, one inside the other, then put into an oak casket and laid in a vault under the church. 

But to rest? 

Surely you jest!

For nine centuries ‘pon this ground she has shone.

Certainly she will remain, long after the church has gone!

Some distance down the southern road, at a house called Greystones, the grounds are frequented by a phantom monk; and yet further down this very road, stands a house known as Rose Court. 

It is four o’ the clock in the afternoon;¬†the Lady of Rose Court appears, sitting by the bay window – she looks so forlorn.¬†She died many years ago – at 4pm – by drinking the juices of crushed poisonous berries,¬†looking out of that window, towards¬†Greystones; not surprising, then, to discover that she can often be seen with the monk.

It is so quiet here in this thrice-cursed hamlet, on this day of all days.

Eerily quiet. 

Too quiet.

Only the ghastly sound of my heavy boots trudging down this country lane breaks the unnatural silence.

Nobody comes out to meet and greet me. 

Nobody dares…

“My life’s turning pages, I see a promised day
Watchmen never age here, they just sleep in vain
Drowning people stare here, they don’t care to call
I rebury the pages, Cthulhu calls

You’ll see, you’ll see her when she starts to form
You’ll see, you’ll see her when she starts to call” – Carl McCoy.¬†

Near a house called the¬†The Pinnock¬†lie¬†the ruins of an old mill.¬†The black form of a miller’s ghost has been seen, but only during thunderstorms.¬†

The clock lopes to half past five.

Night descends much earlier now that Winter has arrived…

The clouds above look as menacing as e’er,

Yet it seems we’ll be spared any autumnal downpour, let alone¬†any peal o’ thunder. ¬†

So no phantom miller will pay 

Us a visit this day. 

Further down the southern lane on the way to¬†Maltman’s Hill,¬†the hoofquake of¬†four phantom horses¬†and the clatter of the coach it draws can only be heard on the darkest of nights.¬†

A short stroll westwards to the outskirts of the village, and we arrive at a crossroads, named – appropriately enough –¬†Fright Corner. ¬†

Take a closer look.

Under the crossroads sign¬†sits “Maggie,”¬†the little old gypsy woman, wrapped in a tattered shawl and smoking a pipe.¬†Burned to death – presumably for witchcraft – and yet she remains on this spot, staring at me intensely, flashing her toothless grin;¬†honestly,¬†it’s at times like these when yours truly wishes he was NOT so ridiculously good-looking…

Just yards away – my least favourite ghost story –¬†a notorious dandy highwayman was ambushed by a local mob, run through with a sword, and speared to the hollow oak tree¬†that¬†still dominates this spot.¬†The grisly scene is re-enacted on the last day of every month. Every year. Every century…¬†

His name?

Oh, YOU KNOW his name. All too well. 

What can we say about him? 

Bold and badass, dashing and devil-may-care – sound familiar…?¬†

Things that go bumptious in the night…?

An unnatural chill sweeps through¬†Fright Corner.¬†Way above, e’er-billowing clouds scud past the brilliant half moon.¬†Returning my gaze to the road,¬†Maggie¬†has already vanished; she remembers what transpires anon…

Always on time – ne’er fail – these wretched coves!

The gang of dark shapes emerge from the field yonder Рeach misbegotten soul brandishing his own blade, devilish hearts brimming with the fury of murderous intent.  

For this is the spot where Kismet decreed,

That the worst shall come to pass by such a frightful deed.  

For this is where I met my end. In deceit and gore, 

Countless times before… …

“Silently we went round and round,
And through each hollow mind
The memory of dreadful things
Rushed like a dreadful wind,
And Horror stalked before each man,
And Terror crept behind” – Oscar Wilde.

H. P. Lovecraft And The Cthulhu Influences On Modern SF And Horror

Where Space Ends, Hell Begins…¬†

at_the_mountains_of_madness_3_howard__lovecraft_by_ivany86-d6egxq7

“Lovecraft creates dark and sometimes horrific scenarios which, in their tense and gothic style, can seem like the visions of a madman.¬†The formless entity dominates his work, an impalpable threat which lies beneath everything he wrote…” – ¬†The SF Source Book.¬†

With Halloween just about a fortnight away, the focus shifts inevitably from SF to horror. One fine way to execute a clean transition between the two is to select one of the main masters of the macabre: Howard Phillips Lovecraft (1890-1937) who Рthrough his twisted scribblings Рmanaged to encompass both genres. Surely, you may think, his distorted visions were too dark and twisted to nestle satisfactorily within the boundaries of SF?

Nevertheless, there are good reasons for Lovecraft’s work to be included unquestionably into the realm¬†of¬†science fiction.¬†Primarily, a considerable proportion of those “unspeakable entities” that languished amidst “his cluttered prose” were not so much demons but aliens.¬†Moreover, he was one of the first authors to write and describe alien beings.¬†Outside of the Cthulhu Mythos, he certainly wrote more genuine¬†science fiction.¬†

The most striking examples include: In the Walls Of Eryx, set on Venus, reimagined as a jungle planet; and tales of unorthodox scientific experiments: From Beyond (made into a movie in 1986) and Cool Air (which deserves big screen treatment). A significant proportion of his short stories were published in Weird Tales, a predominantly SF magazine of the 1920s and 30s; The Shadow Out Of Time was first published in the June 1936 issue of Astounding Stories, then the most prestigious science fiction magazine available. 

Despite undesirable accusations of muddled prose and complicated storytelling, Lovecraft remains one of my favourite 20th century authors. Ironically, his complicated style is distinctive and had such a profound effect on me, helping to conjure some of my own fictional nightmares.

cthulhu

guillermo-del-toro-interview-02-420-75

“[Universal] were blown away by the visual presentation, they openly admitted to loving the screenplay, saying it was dead on…¬†I do not want¬†‘Mountains’¬†¬†to be bloody, I do not want it to be crass, but I do want it to be as intense as possible”¬†–¬†Guillermo del Toro.¬†

Guillermo del Toro¬†is one of the most talented film-makers working today.¬†It is no secret that, just a few years ago, the Spanish director should have made his own grandiose cinematic version of¬†Lovecraft’s¬†At The Mountains Of Madness.

In this¬†novella (first published in 1931 and serialized in Astounding Stories in 1936),¬†the geologist William Dyer – a professor from Miskatonic University – “writes to disclose hitherto unknown and closely kept secrets in the hope that he can deter a planned and much publicized scientific expedition to Antarctica.”¬†Allegedly, his¬†previous expedition¬†unearthed “fantastic and horrific ruins (including strange fossils of unheard-of creatures and carved stones tens of millions of years old)”¬†and¬†“a dangerous secret of the City of the Old Ones that lay beyond a range of mountains taller than the Himalayas.”¬†

Problem is, this encouraging project has been festering in development-hell for far too long.¬†No matter how awesome his pre-production designs were – they invariably are – the prospect of a Producer tag for James Cameron¬†and top-billing for Tom Cruise (?!)¬†were too off-putting.¬†Apparently he was just one week away from commencing production of¬†At The Mountains¬†in 2011 when Universal pulled the plug “due to budget issues.” ¬†

However, del Toro would not be perturbed for long; he resurrected his dormant plans for his Lovecraft project in 2013.

“I’m going to try it¬†one more time,” he said in one recent interview. “Once more into the dark abyss. We’re going to do a big presentation of the project¬†again… and see if any [studio’s] interested.”

(Unfortunately)… “Tom [Cruise] is still attachedHe’s been such a great ally of the project.”¬†

hellboy-seed-of-destruction-part-4-of-4

7-gods-of-chaos

hellboy-ogdru-jahad

“In the coldest regions of space, the monstrous entities¬†Ogdru Jahad –¬†the Seven Gods of Chaos – slumber in their crystal prison, waiting to reclaim Earth… and burn the heavens” – De Vermis Mysteriis, Page 87.¬†

A quick glance at modern strands of science fiction and horror – be it literature, movies or comics – it doesn’t take long to find the influence of the¬†Cthulhu Mythos.¬†

The most notable is the Hellboy comic, created by¬†Mike Mignola¬†in 1993.¬†Developed into one of the stranger – and better – of the recent crop of comic book movies,¬†directed by (what a surprise)¬†Guillermo del Toro¬†in 2004, the titular hell-spawned hero (played by the ever-reliable¬†Ron Perlman)¬†has to battle with not only Rasputin the “Mad Monk,” but the¬†Ogdru Jahad,¬†the most blatant nod to Lovecraft you’ll get in a mainstream comic book movie.

Lovecraft’s work may not seem best suited to the medium of comics, but in the ever-capable talented hands of the artistic genius:¬†Berni(e) Wrightson,¬†it works wonders.¬†A number of Lovecraft’s stories were adapted brilliantly by Wrightson and published in Creepy Magazine¬†during the ’70s.

In 1971, he did a splendid job on the aforementioned¬†Cool Air,¬†which came into my collection a decade later when Eclipse Comics compiled Wrightson’s best horror strips (in added colour!) in Berni Wrightson: Master Of The Macabre.

This – the third page – is¬†a fine example of Wrightson’s style: ¬†

coolair3

The seventh and final page is a creepy classic single splash and will be saved for a forthcoming Post!

Have just discovered this (below) online; how long will it take to track this particular issue down? 

heavy-metal-79

A portrait of H. P. Lovecraft by Mike Mignola, the creator of Hellboy.
A portrait of H. P. Lovecraft by Mike Mignola, the creator of Hellboy.

And, come on, if we’re going to end this Post with Hellboy gifs, might as well have the one with that dastardly mute puppet, the “freak in the gas mask”:¬†Karl Ruprecht Kroenen¬†(“Hitler’s top assassin and Head of the Nazi Cthulhu Society”)¬†performing his ubercool blade-twirling trick inside¬†Manhattan’s Metropolitan Art Museum. ¬†

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“What horrible will could keep such a creature as this alive?” – Professor Trevor Broom.¬†