« Mom, my teacher, Mrs. White, has invited me to a slumber party at her house this weekend. She’s really nice. Can I go? »
« Sure, why not? » — from a Jack Chick tract, The Poor Little Witch (1987)*
Today, we part the curtains and peek at the fair bosom of suburbia, circa 1972. In those gentle times of satanic panic, Tricky Dick’s political shenanigans, the oil crisis and all-around grooviness, the Manson ritual murders were recent history, Anton LaVey‘s The Satanic Bible (1969) and its sequel, The Satanic Rituals (1972) were all the rage, not to mention William Peter Blatty‘s The Exorcist (1971… the film another year away) and Ouija boards. DC Comics’ The Witching Hour (85 issues, 1969-1978) was well in keeping with the vibe of the times, and offered girls somewhat of an alternative to Archie, Little Dot and Young Romance. In fact, my recollection (and I’d welcome yours!) was that ghost and mystery comics overwhelmingly found favour with the ladies.
I’ve perhaps said it before, but DC’s mystery books were mostly well-drawn but mind-numbingly formulaic… but exceptions now and again slipped in.
Happy Deathday, Sweet 16! was a bit of lightning in a bottle. It was illustrated by the hardly-prolific Canadian Bill Payne, who drew a dozen or so jobs for DC’s mystery and war titles, lettered a few more, then vanished. I suspect he had a day job in some advertising agency and did a bit of comics work on the side for kicks. If that’s the case, he certainly applied himself, bringing actual realism and a bit of the old ‘Ghastly’ Ingels grotesqueness to the table. The writer, however, is uncredited. The writing doesn’t quite feel like the work of any of DC’s workhorses… it’s markedly better, rising beyond the stock situations and packing in plenty of credible detail to flesh out the players in its scant eight and a half page allotment. Sibling rivalry, social aspirations**, marital and parental discord, class warfare… Lucky Peter, though: he somehow seems to have continual access to Shock Theater; for me, that’s the main cause for suspension of disbelief.
These days, I suppose the fundamentals haven’t changed, though with so-called Christians behaving in most unchristian fashion, and Satanists displaying a puckish (honestly, kind of adorable) sense of humour, things are… interestingly confusing.
*Read it here; but remember, it’s “available only in multiples of 10,000 at half-price.”
** Let’s keep in mind that, as Lori Loughlin has pointedly pointed out, “Any mother would have done the same if they had the means to do so.”