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Friday, June 15, 2012 |
( 6/15/2012 07:03:00 PM ) Bill S.
“ENDLESS AGONY AWAITS THE EVIL!” For many modern comics readers, mention horror comics from the 1950’s, and the one comics line that comes to mind is EC, home to such groundbreaking titles as The Crypt of Terror and Weird Science. But there were a slew of EC followers in the fifties, most of which have been long-forgotten by all but the most devout comics maniacs, and pop oddity fanatic Craig Yoe has been doing his best to keep their memory undead. Editing a series trademarked “The Chilling Archives of Horror Comics,” Yoe has put out three collections of choice material from the pre-Code years, of which Zombies (IDW/Yoe Books) is the latest.
Co-edited with Steve Banes, the comic-sized hardbound is an engaging sampler of horror schlock. The zombies in this book are not the shambling brain-eaters of the Romero age, but walking dead creatures either returning to enact their horrible vengeance on some deserving victim or themselves falling prey to some sorcerous/voodoo curse. More than one tale is subsequently set in the southern bayou where, sonuvagun, there's plenty of big grisly fun. “How do I know what’s living and what’s dead down here in bayou country where the undead roam?” one hapless detective asks after his contact with a procession of zombies -- and the answer that that question is, “You don’t,” though most of the undead in these comics do look pretty messed up.
The horror fare from the early fifties may not be as outlandish as the stuff we see in movies half a century later, but it still manages to push the bounds of good taste. Take, for example, the Dick Beck-illustrated “Horror of Mixed Torsos,” which originally appeared in Dark Mysteries back in 1953. The tale concerns a grotesque mortuary assistant who falls for a gorgeous redhead from afar. When she dies suddenly and is placed in his hands, he steals her corpse and places it in a glass aquarium, only to learn to his dismay that the corpse is going to be disinterred for reburial in Europe. Our obsessed anti-hero winds up killing both the sheriff and the young girl’s uncle, chopping their bodies in two then storing them for a laugh with the halves mismatched. Of course, the two pissed-off corpses return wielding their own axes.
Zombies’ editors dutifully credit the artists for each story, though the writers behind these garish comics don’t receive their due -- in the days before Marvel Comics put credits on its stories, comic book writers, in particular, typically remained anonymous. For art fans, though, the book’s cover trumpets a top-flight marquee of big-name artists from the period, even if some of these (Frank Frazetta and Basil Wolverton, most notably) only appear in a cover gallery. Still, a few of the names who show up for full stories are definitely worth noting: Jack Cole’s “The Corpse That Wouldn’t Die” puts his typically manic style to fine use in a horror pulp setting, while Wallace Wood’s “Thing from the Sea” blends that artist’s slick penwork with some effectively eerie panels. The shot of a murdered sailor walking through an underwater ocean vista is particularly striking.
While most of the selections in Zombies are in (slightly murky) color, two entries are original black-and-white art pieces taken from the collection of artist Bill Leach. First of these, “Live Man’s Funeral” (from Black Cat), is illustrated by Al Eadeh, a prolific artist for Atlas/Marvel in the early fifties. The story of a grave robber who meets an unhappy end in a glass coffin, it has the aptly grotesque look of a less scratchy Graham Ingles -- just the thing for this tale of undead revenge. I was unfamiliar with Eadeh’s name before I opened this volume, but now that I’ve seen it, I want to track down more of it.
In this, the resurrectionists of “The Chilling Archives of Horror Comics” would doubtless say that they’ve succeeded in their mission.
(First published on Blogcritics.)
Labels: pulp comics fiction# |
Sunday, June 10, 2012
( 6/10/2012 01:05:00 PM ) Bill S.
“I WONDER WHERE ARCHIE WILL STRIKE NEXT?” Appearing as a part of “The Library of American Comics,” Archie's Sunday Finest (IDW) is a handsomely packaged selection of Sunday color pages from the strip’s first years. After initially debuting in comic books five years earlier, the enduring teen comic has had a strong run as a newspaper strip as well, starting in 1946. All the primary elements of the Riverdale Saga were in place by the time cartoonist Bob Montana started drawing gags for the McClure Newspaper Syndicate, though a few of the characters would be visually tweaked over the years.
The main character to undergo a bit of smoothing out is our title hero, Archie Andrews, who as presented in the earlier Sundays as buck-toothed and slightly more goofy looking. (“Why don’t you dress like an Easter rabbit?” Jughead notes early on. “You’ve got the teeth for it!”) Even as a kid reading the comics books in the late fifties, I remember wondering how a guy like Archie managed to snag the attentions of two high school babes like Betty and Veronica -- looking at him in the 1946 funnies, it’s an even bigger puzzle.The central components of the series -- the triangle between Archie, blond Betty Cooper and brunette Veronica Lodge; our hero’s friendship with the asexual Jughead Jones; his rivalry with slick-haired Reggie Mantle -- are already established in the strip, though Reggie seems to receive less attention than he does in the comics books. Whether this is matter of selection by editor Dean Mullaney or a reflection of the snarky Reggie’s lesser status in the early years is unclear.
It’s just as likely that Reggie’s minor role in the early years is due to the fact that he isn’t all that necessary. Archie doesn’t really need an antagonist: he’s his own worst enemy. Many of the Sundays lead to our hero either getting black-eyed or facing a pissed-off Riverdale-ian (in one, we even see an angry Jughead preparing to dunk Archie in a barrel of wet cement). Despite his propensity for bringing calamity on his friends and adult authority figures like rotund high school principal Mr. Weatherbee, Archie is essentially a good-hearted sort, which may be a key to his appeal with both Betty and Veronica.
It doesn’t explain why both he and the equally clumsy Jughead keep getting invited to swanky soirees at the Lodge estate, though, as the results prove as deadly as the Three Stooges’ adventures among the “hoi polloi.” One Sunday sequence even revolves on a gag that I’m pretty sure the Stooges did first: Jughead wreaking havoc at a Lodge party when he wears a tuxedo that originally belonged to a magician.
But if the gags aren’t always as fresh as they once might’ve been, Montana’s art remains a treat. If Archie initially seems a bit rabbity and Jughead a bit too reminiscent of Bowery Boy Huntz Hall, the look of forties era Riverdale is evergreen. Its two female leads remain pristine all-American pin-up gals, even if Betty’s hair does seem a mite ginger-y in the first couple Sundays. Montana’s skill with expressions saves more than one lesser gag, while the vibrantly reproduced color in IDW’s reprint definitely gets you longing for the days when newspaper comics were presented on the page with respect.
For many readers, the world of Archie and the gang is one of homespun small-town values, and while it’s true that the comics were initially inspired by the Andy Hardy movies, occasional elements of comic subversiveness sneak into the Sundays. In addition to the class-based Lodge party kerfuffles, there are two strips devoted to Archie’s dad and his fears of losing all his money -- a very real worry for a post-war audience that still recalled the Great Depression – along with several moments where different male cast members run afoul of the law. So it went in the world of America’s Typical Teenager.
(First published on Blogcritics.)
Labels: classic comic strips# |