Hallowe’en Countdown VI, Day 29

« I’m alone with the ghost of the swamp, somewhere near the weeping willows. » — Steven Herrick

Today, we pull on our wellies and boldly venture into the depths of the mysterious swamp, but not entirely unprepared: on this occasion, I turn the microphone over to an acknowledged expert en la matière visqueuse, Mr. Stephen R. Bissette. I queried Steve about his early work for Scholastic and he most munificently lifted the veil on those wild days of youth:

« Well before my stint on Swamp Thing, I drew two swamp monster stories (one of which I’d also scripted) for Weird Worlds for Scholastic Magazines back in the day. The magazine’s editors were Bob and Jane Stine (Bob aka R.L. Stine), who wrote the first of the two stories; the magazine art director was Bob Feldgus, who was always a joy to work with, and trained me well.

The story titles are counter-intuitively reversed, in a way. “The Return of the Swamp Beast” was originally published in Weird Worlds no.3 (October 1979) in black-and-white, colored for its reprint in Yearbook no.1 (and only, 1986). Enjoy! »

The Return of the Swamp Beast was coloured by Brendan McDonough.

« These were among my favorite early freelance gigs, and remain my favorite magazine account and people I was fortunate enough to work with and for. The Stines and Bob Feldgus extended the best, most gracious, most responsive relations with this freelancer of any I had in those formative early years; it also was the best-paying of all the early freelance gigs, extending the greatest freedom for me to do the work itself, and they boasted the best production and printing of any publisher I worked for then (even better than Heavy Metal).

My entry into the Scholastic freelance pool was via a one-shot horror story for Scholastic’s then-new zine Weird Worlds. Joe Kubert brought me into his studio/office in the Baker Mansion (which has long since been the dorm for the Kubert School rather than its headquarters and main building, as it was during its first few years) and asked if I’d be willing to draw a short (three pages, if memory serves) horror story for a magazine intended for schools; I would be doing the whole art job working from a silly but fun script by Bob and Jane Stine, co-editors of the zine, and my name would not go on the job, it would be credited to The Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art, Inc. Fair enough! I was still a student after all, and this was my shot at doing something different.

I was overjoyed to have the shot, and did my best on it. Part of the appeal, mind you, was drawing a horror comic for schools. During my early ’60s childhood, any comics brought to school were verboten and usually confiscated, horror comics above (or beneath, in the minds of my teachers) all. So, drawing a horror story that was intended for distribution to junior high students—sanctioned horror comics for school!—was a hoot and a bit of karmic comeuppance I was happy to be part of.

Joe was delighted with what I did with the script, as was Scholastic. I wanted to do more. One of (many) great acts of generosity Joe extended my way was gifting me with the account with Scholastic when I graduated in the spring of 1978 from the Kubert School, and thus began my happy few years of working with Scholastic—an account that often paid the rent and kept me working when work in comics was hard to come by.

Scholastic treated me like a prince. They paid well, paid promptly upon delivery of the finished pages, and were always a joy to work with. Like all good things, this passed: Weird Worlds was cancelled after a few issues, and after a couple of jobs for Bananas I moved on to other things, including pencilling Saga of the Swamp Thing beginning in 1983. But I always loved working with and for Bob and Bob, and I miss ’em both. I eventually collected some of my work for Scholastic for two comicbooks in the late ’80s, and did so with Scholastic’s permission. »

That source, Bissette & Veitch’s Fear Book (Apr. 1986, Eclipse) is the one we tapped for this post, and the most affordable solution should one crave more of these sharp little tales. Here’s another, this one a Bissette solo (including the colouring), originally from Weird Worlds no. 7 (Jan. 1981, Scholastic).

« Who remembers these magazines? Bananas and Weird Worlds seem to be lost in the limbo of all school zines; no comics sites acknowledge them or offer back issues for sale (none I can find, anyway), and general online searches turned up little. Back in 1995, The New York Times ran an interview/article on Bob Stine when his Goosebumps TV series was about to debut, making mention of Bananas magazine. There’s a number of online sites dedicated to Stine’s famous and beloved Goosebumps books series, but Bananas and Weird Worlds are less than footnotes in the long shadow of Goosebumps.

There’s a handful of affordable back issues of Weird Worlds available on various online venues and auction sites; I’m in almost every issue. One cautionary note: If you go looking on eBay, though, don’t confuse the Scholastic media zine Weird Worlds with the lurid, gore-splattered Eerie Publications 1970s newsstand horror comic magazine Weird Worlds. Those are fun in their way, too, but you won’t find me in there—just my eye-tracks from reading ’em three decades+ ago.

I’ve long wished to convince Scholastic to consider a collected edition of this body of work, but each & every attempt to engage has fallen on deaf ears. I’m still proud of this work, and as a precursor to the very successful R. L. Stine Goosebumps franchise & Scholastic graphic novels of today, can still hope that one day someone at Scholastic will have the “lightbulb” moment… »

I truly can’t thank Steve enough for this bounty of information — you just can’t beat going straight to the source, particularly with a source this friendly and eloquent!

-RG

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