Sunday, December 23, 2012

...And All Through The House...

Merry Christmas Johnny Craig...
Wherever you may be.

Vault of Horror, issue 35

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Karen Berger Leaves The House of Mystery

Another of the seven signs of the comic book apocalypse...

My favorite editor of all time is leaving DC comics. For those of you who do not know Karen Berger (and you should), she is/was the executive editor and senior vice president of DC's Vertigo imprint. She also brought Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman to DC and was editor on "The House of Mystery" back in the 'I...Vampire!' days until the end. She has three Eisner awards.

The very fact that Vertigo is folding is very sad. These were among the best comics available over the past 20 years. With tiny print runs. A lot of printed literature has small print runs these days, replaced by the pixel. That's evolution.

Whatever her future endeavors, I wish Karen Berger all the best and thank her for her stewardship of the many works which impacted my life.

How cool is Karen Berger?

The above page of Karen Berger, Len Wein and Paul Levitz in the House of Mystery's dungeon would have Women's Rights advocates... on edge... as we see a young lady (Karen Berger) in chains with throwing axes embedded into the walls around her. Obviously some sick, fanboy, bondage fantasy...

Karen Berger scripted that page.

Looking at it artistically (as you should), it can be interpreted as the editor saying "I live and die by my work." That's Karen Berger everyone.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Next-To-Best Two Pages In All of Comics

On the previous post, I speculated that the legendary Alex Toth created two pages (he scripted, drew, inked and lettered those two pages) that were so powerful, they launched a new title into DC's months-old 'mystery' boom for 85 issues. That was 1968 and the title was "The Witching Hour".

Jump forward to 1984.

Horror comics are all-but-dead with the last regular issue of House of Mystery #321 having appeared on stands exactly one year earlier in 1983, the last of DC's big mystery line. Charlton Comics canceled its long-running Ghostly Tales and Scary Tales the same month this next comic was published. Marvel's Secret Wars plows over the rest of the field to set the new stage for comics, the blockbuster super-hero cross over. Kids just don't like that scary stuff anymore.

Alan Moore wasn't writing for kids.

You may think I'm going to showcase the ground-breaking work of Moore et al in the 'Saga of the Swamp Thing' #21, The Anatomy Lesson. This one even made JK Parkin's and Chris Mautner's #1 spot on their Six comics that scared the $#!@% out of us list. Fantastic issue and revolutionary treatment of the title character. Launched the horror genre in comics into an entirely new direction.
What's interesting is that the Swamp Thing actually made his debut during the peak of DC's mystery titles in House of Secrets #92. One wonders what would have happened had Alan Moore taken over 'The Witching Hour'?...

But issue #21 wasn't the one that disturbed me.

No, that came eight issues later.  'Saga of the Swamp Thing' #29's Love and Death gave me two of the most powerful pages I can think of. Pages 2 and 3 scared me. I wonder how many people noticed that something was missing from the cover of 29 when they bought it? Take a look below and see if you can figure out what's missing:

Did you find it?


That's right, it's missing the Comics Code Authority. Couldn't get it through the censors. Issue 21 got through, this one did not. DC was forced to put it out without Code approval... and discovered a remarkable thing. It was still  carried by vendors. This single issue (in my humble opinion) led to the formation of DC's Vertigo imprint 9 years later, the irrelevance of the Code and the "Suggested For Mature Readers" tag.

The two pages?

First of all, I've always liked Abigail Arcane. She was 'Beauty' to Swamp Thing's 'Beast'. She's been cast as the victim on numerous occasions, but she's a pretty remarkable lady. Unlike many characters in comics, she's not motivated by hate, revenge or even a sense of justice. Nope, Abigail is a lover. Despite being the niece of one of the most evil characters in all of comics (and that's saying a lot!), Abby always pushes forward and leads with her heart, for better or worse.

Can you imagine how I felt, when after turning one single page, I had to bear witness to this?!

Right away, Moore has you.

Abby had suffered some immense tragedy that has (quite literally) brought her to her knees. You will read the next 18 pages feeling slightly sick to your stomach until... There's hints, there's foreshadowing, but... When you finally get to the 'big payoff' on the 2-page spread of the third and second last pages, you see why this issue never made it past the censors at the code and never could...

Moore's run on Swamp Thing has been collected numerous times in numerous editions. Pick it up.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Best Two Pages In Comics

It's a little known fact that Alex Toth is responsible for the best two pages in ALL of comics throughout the entire history of the medium. It's true. It's now on the Internet so it's got to be true. The likes of Action Comics #1 and Detective Comics #27 were well-worn paving stones to the path of immortal perpetuity that Toth was able to tread when creating these two pages.

The two pages in question are pages 3 and 4 of issue #1 of The Witching Hour. First published in 1969, these two pages were so powerful, they allowed the title to carry on for 85 issues, a full 9 years, based solely on their artistic merit. They set the entire premise for the series in a blaze of atmosphere, character design and conception.

Even beyond their untimely demise, the characters have inserted themselves in other seminal works of comic canon. (ahem, The Sandman) OK, not Egor, but still...

So without adieu, I give you the TWO MOST IMPORTANT PAGES IN ALL OF COMICS!

That these two pages are the first appearance of Cynthia is merely a happy coincidence. Honest.
And for all the fan artists out there, she has Cat's Eyes.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Two Horrifying Tales About ... Honey

If I asked you to name two comic stories about HONEY, could you do it?

You may think of some old Gold Key Whitman 'Winnie The Pooh' comics or 'Yogi Bear' comics from Dell. I'm sure there was lots of honey in those. Maybe even Honey West comics if your mind doesn't automatically go to kid comics. Or more than likely, you thought of the bee from those Honey Nut Cheerios ads.

But Horror Comics?

Well, in the spirit of Hallowe'en, I will give you two. Two very different tales of the horrors of honey from different times and places.

The first is 'Almost Human' from DC's House of Secrets number 129, published in 1975. As told by Jack Oleck and illustrated by Franc Reyes, this tale explores the nasty ramifications of culture shock when a group of entomologists get mixed up with the mysterious bee people of South America.

The second tale is from Japan's 'Céléb d'Horreur', Junji Ito. I've featured Mr. Ito's 'Uzumaki' in a previous blog. In 'Splatter Film' (first published 2004-2006), Mr. Ito brings us another honey from South America, so addictive that one taste is not enough, even though your next taste may be your last!

Happy Hallowe'en Everyone!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Just Megawatt

Happened across this web site while looking for some Junji Ito.
Great collection of horror manga!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Nothing Dies On The Internet... Except Careers

No my friends, comics are not dead.

Back issues will go online and we will pay for them. Perhaps we'll even pay the original cover price. I would drop 35 cents to read Daredevil 158 online. Fifteen cents for House of Mystery 181, you bet! Or maybe a flat rate of $10 per month. It will happen.

How will this onslaught of old-time comics change the landscape?

One big change will be sales stats. Let's say DC puts their old Romance titles online and sales go through the roof. How long will it be before the New 52 includes 'Falling In Love' among its titles? Yes, they used to make comics for girls.

The second change (hopefully) would be education. Favorite artists emerge, lost genres re-appear, and an understanding of the art form blossoms from the shadows of digital media. Comic fans become comic connoisseurs!

I guess what I'm saying is that there has to be the next BIG thing. What iTunes did for music, what NetFlix did for movies, what Amazon did for books. Right now, old comics pretty much have blogs...

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Nothing Dies On The Internet... Except Profits

When was the last time you purchased a brand new comic?
You know, the kind you hold in your hands.

How about a physical, music CD?
Was it a new artist or someone you used to listen to marked down?

The last new comic I bought was Detective Comics #854 after reading this review on Comic Book Resources in 2009. That was three years ago.* That's not to say I don't buy comics. I've spent hundreds of dollars on comics since 2009. They're all second-hand and usually cost 100 times their cover price from a dealer.

But what does a multimillion-dollar back-issue industry mean to the publisher?
I'm sure they're glad that people are still buying their comics, and maybe it keeps comic shops (who also sell new comics) in business. Beyond that...

Let's just say that I'm really glad that Hollywood is making these comic-book movies/television shows and showing $$$ profit. 'Cause I have the feeling that comic-book publishers are getting their teeth kicked in at the P n' L meetings based on comic sales alone. Comics still sell (thank God), they're just not as prolific. Explains the $4 price tag.

But I'm not hear to sound the death knell for the sequential art-form we call comics. One day all those back issues will be readily available. I just keep wondering if Netflix will do the same thing to my local comic shop as it did to Blockbuster...

* You can still buy a near-mint Detective #854 for its cover price by the way.
   J.H. Williams III is incredible!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Eufronio Reyes “E.R.” Cruz

One of the cool things about the appreciation of art is that it's timeless. We still admire paintings in galleries that are centuries old. For myself, I approach comics from the late 60's and early 70's with a fresh set of eyes and start to recognize some of the truly great works that were available during this time period.

One of the Filipino artists often overlooked from this period is Eufronio Reyes “E.R.” Cruz. I have already featured Mr. Cruz's stellar artwork in "The Haunted Mountain" from DC's 'Unexpected' issue 175. However, every time I read one of the tales featuring his work, my admiration only grows. Today, we look at another of Mr. Cruz's offerings, this time from "The Witching Hour", issue 36 entitled "Death Held The Goblet".

Mr. Cruz's realistic style has always reminded my of Seinen manga from Japan. Not surprising, considering the proximity of Japan and its influence of Filipino culture throughout the seventies. And yet, Mr. Cruz is a style onto himself, immediately recognizable and distinctive. His style even predates most Seinen manga. His use of various points of artistic view and scenes lend support to Wally Wood's 22 Panels That Always Work. Mr. Cruz knows where to position the camera of the viewer's eye.

So, without further adieu, let us drink to the tragic tale of Helga the Magnificent only to learn that in the end, 'Death Held The Goblet'.

The Witching Hour 36, E.R. Cruz

Click on image to open pdf.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Saying Goodbye to Tony DeZuniga

For those who may not know DeZuniga's work, do yourself a favor and pick up some early "Weird Western Tales" with Jonah Hex. They're fantastic. But DeZuniga did more than Westerns. He did romance, fantasy, superhero, and horror. And could he ink!

I was lucky enough to meet Mr. DeZuniga and his wife a couple of years ago and pick up this very affordable Red Sonja original pencil drawing.
(Still have to frame that.)

It's hard to measure the impact DeZuniga had a comics. Not only was he a prolific artist in the seventies for both DC and Marvel, he also was the harbinger of the Filipino invasion of artists in the 70's. On his recommendation, Joe Orlando and Carmine Infantino visited the Philippines in 1971 to recruit such talent as Alex Niño, Alfredo Alcala, Nestor Redondo, Fred Carrillo, Vicatan, Gerry Talaoc and others.

This influx of artists was immediately evident in the art of comics. Let's compare early horror art to Alex Nino (who we in North America may never have heard of if not for DeZuniga):
Wow. That's why I love 70's comics.

Tony DeZuniga passed away on May 11, 2012.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Time To Practice My Inking...

Why yes, that is an original Berni Wrightson pencil sketch...

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Sorry for the inactivity.
Working 80 to 100 hours a week doesn't leave much time to post.
I am going to the Calgary Comic Expo this weekend which will be GREAT.
Looking forward to meeting Berni Wrightson :)

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Horror Host In Comics, Part 1

Over the next few months, I will be examining the history and role of the horror host in comics. We must begin with the Big 3, the ghoulunatics, The Crypt-Keeper, The Old Witch, and The Vault-Keeper. The first popular iteration of the horror host in comics, these three had simple roles:

1. They branded the title. The Crypt-Keeper opened 'Tales From The Crypt', The Vault-Keeper had the lead in 'The Vault of Horror' and The Old Witch served first course in 'The Haunt of Fear'. A 10-year old could easily identify an EC Horror comic simply by the host (if not the artist).

2. They opened the story with the title, usually flavoring the plot with alliteration.

3. They closed the story with groan-inducing puns.

It's interesting that all three are quite similar in appearance (old with robes) but distinct as well. Almost as if they were part of a ghoulish family of story-tellers. Let's open our examination of the horror host with a little ditty called...

Monday, February 20, 2012

Horror Hosts In Comics

The Early Years...

The role of 'horror host' was not an invention of comics...

Many ghost stories and tales of the supernatural are told from the point of view of the mournful protagonist, who acts as narrator (e.g. Victor Frankenstein's narrative from Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein"). Was this a 'Horror Host'? Not really.

Where horror hosts really made their debut were the old radio mysteries such as "radio's outstanding theater of thrills" Suspense! and "Radio's Top Mystery" The Whistler.

"I am the Whistler, and I know many things, for I walk by night. I know many strange tales, hidden in the hearts of men and women who have stepped into the shadows. Yes... I know the nameless terrors of which they dare not speak."

Radio shows need narration. Why not a spooky one to match the tone? These hosts set up the ghastly stories every week with their own unique 'hook'.

And I believe that William Gaines and Al Feldstein realized something else...
These hosts created a BRAND.

And thus, in Crime Patrol #15 appeared The Crypt Keeper.

In the fifties, there were a dearth of weird/mystery/crime comics. Check this out. Having a spooky narrator present your stories was genius. The average 11-year old might not know 'Mysterious Adventures' from 'Mystery Tales' but by golly they knew 'Tales From The Crypt'.

That was the one with The Crypt Keeper. The old guy who kept cracking nasty puns, injecting humor into a scary story to diffuse the tension... Why, just like you and your friends did. Make fun of it and it's not so scary. Right?

And if one horror host worked, why not more? ...
And thus 'The Vault Keeper' (The Vault of Horror) and 'The Old Witch' (The Haunt of Fear).

These narrators were the brand of their own series. While each series employed different artists, from Ingels to Craig to Davis to Kamen, you had no doubt whose title it really was...
It was the Crypt Keeper's, Vault Keeper's or Old Witch's. The artists and writers worked for them to present their tale of the macabre.

Oh sure, Al Feldstein, Harvey Kurtzman and Johnny Craig were given occasional credit...

Friday, February 17, 2012

Great Covers

One of my favorite 'House of Mystery' covers of all time, issue 267 by Michael Kaluta.
As with many great comic covers, the story behind it is a let-down, but hey, still a great cover!

It's the menagerie of grotesque heads forming the border that really makes it.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Splash of Slash

In comics, splash pages are simply full-page panels meant to grab your attention.

In horror comics, splash pages usually serve one of two functions:
1. They open the story (providing setting and mood)
2. They close the story (with the big payoff)

We've all seen the big payoff, the twist ending presented in full-page art used effectively in horror comics. Take for example the last page of John Stanley's "Crazy Quilt". (If you want to read the entire story on Frank M. Young's 'Stanley Stories' blog, be my guest.)

However, we're here to talk about opening splashes.

Most horror comics are 5-8 page one-trick-ponies printed in an anthology. Some use splashes, some don't. An opening splash may follow a one-page prelude, or it may start the tale. Heck, it might even be a 2-page splash and will usually contains the credits. But there is one thing it should always do:

Set the mood and setting.

Wally Wood's splash page to 'V-Vampires!', (a parody of EC Comics from "Mad" issue #3) is AMAZING! It's a shame they didn't leave the original alone. It tells you everything you need to know about the setting, the mood, and grabs your attention... A beautiful, young lady named Godiva walks the fog-shrouded streets of London... alone... at 5 to midnight. The 'Klek klek klek klek klek' of her high heels along the cobble stones gives the panel a sense of motion, urgency... perhaps even a little fear. Yet the 3 silly looking vampire bats flying above and title tell you this is a parody.

Jeff Jones' "An Axe To Grind" from Vampirella #5 is perfection for an opening splash.

The sense of isolation and fear is palpable. We know this girl's alone, in the dark, and in serious trouble. The negative space surrounding the title character is your setting highlighting the mood. In fact, the darkness almost seems to creep up from underneath, as to engulf the girl.

On a side note, check out how close panel 4 on page 6 is to the 'Hh-ere's Johnny!' scene in "The Shining". Stephen King published 'The Shining' in 1977. Vampirella #5 is around 1970. Hmmmm... I wonder...

And if there was ever a splash that was made for page-turning, go no farther than Johnny Craig's opening to "Dead -Ringer" from Crime Suspenstories #2.