Panning the murky old print stream for the odd glimmering nugget
Hallowe’en Countdown 2021
When October arrives, we’re ready. For, this fifth time, Who’s Out There? will torment its faithful handful with manifold manifestations of the seasonal mood… in various shades from sombre to bright, but always true to the pumpkin spirit. At least that’s the plan.
« Carve out a pumpkin and fill it full of cake mix and raisins and bake for half an hour and then write me and let me know how it turns out. » — one of Patrick Dean‘s ‘Party Tips’
I never met Patrick Dean in person, but I did consider him a friend. I became aware of his work when we both contributed to the second issue of Danny Hellman‘s Legal Action Comics anthology, back in 2003. Looking back, it strikes me that we were among the very few participants not going out of their way to offend.
We began to correspond. Geography aside, we had plenty in common, and so we kept in touch over the years. Then poor Patrick was diagnosed with ALS and fell victim to that relentless degenerative disease a couple of years later. But that’s a well-documented tragedy, so I won’t dwell on it.
I know I’ll always be thinking of Patrick when the leaves turn to red and gold, and I do believe he would have liked to be recalled in that fashion. His own countdowns to Halloween were always heartfelt and delightful.
My partner ds is also a fan, and she shared her own appreciation here.
If you’ve missed any of our 154 previous instalments, here they are in handy and tidy fashion:
« And I haven’t even mentioned Stanley’s Nancy, nor her friend (and my favourite character) Oona Goosepimple. Next time… »
Well, that time has come. Despite my deep and enduring love of John Stanley, I never could warm up to what’s generally considered the cornerstone of his œuvre, Little Lulu. It’s hardly Stanley’s fault: I just happen to dislike Lulu creator Marjorie ‘Marge’ Henderson Buell‘s visual conception of her characters.
On the other hand, I’ve always been in thrall to Ernie Bushmiller‘s world. Purists will, and surely have, objected to the bold liberties that John Stanley took with Nancy and Sluggo, but I don’t care a whit. This collision between the singular visions of a pair of cartooning geniuses is every bit as delightful as I might have hoped.
While he worked for just about every New York comics publisher under the sun (and certainly some under a rock), let’s note that he displayed and gleefully indulged his flair for the macabre at Harvey in the 1950s, and his versatility while Illustrating the Classics for Gilberton, tackling for instance Poe’sThe Cask of Amontillado, Cooper’s The Prairie and Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment.
Palais kept a low profile during most of the Sixties, but turned up at Gold Key and Charlton around 1967. For the latter, he crafted his final work in comics. Between 1967 and 1974, he sporadically turned his hand to a handful of short tales in the western, war and mystery genres. As far as I can tell, his comics œuvre respectably concludes with the quite amusing Cry for Tomorrow, in Many Ghosts of Doctor Graves no. 46 and The Last Cruise of the Princess III in Ghostly Haunts no. 39 (both July 1974, Charlton), the latter also featuring some of Mike Vosburg‘s earliest pro work. As one door closes…
« The fog comes on little cat feet. It sits looking over the harbor and city on silent haunches and then moves on. » — Carl Sandburg
The first novel I ever read was a Bob Morane… so we’re old friends.
Bob Morane, created in 1953 by yet another Belgian writer* both talented and astoundingly prolific, Charles-Henri Dewisme aka Henri Vernes (1918-2021), has been the hero of over two hundred novels, movies, television shows, animated series, records, you name it.
A foray into comics logically followed in 1959, when, according to Vernes,
« Femmes d’Aujourd’hui, a women’s weekly, asked me to do a series. I said: ‘why not?‘ And so I did, that’s all. »
For brevity’s sake, we’ll stick to the comics, one album in particular at that (the series numbers, after all, over one hundred by now.) I’ve always been intrigued by this one, though I never have, as far as I know, encountered a copy in the wild. In fact, a couple of weeks ago, I queried my go-to bédé provider about it, and he responded that: « Bob Morane albums sell just as soon as they arrive. We can’t ever keep them in stock. » So I ordered a copy from Belgium. One must choose one’s battles with care.
Yet what had he to fear if this place were evil – was he not an upright and godly man who held no traffic with evil? If wicked spirits had power over such men as he, there would be no justice in it.
“That’s true,”said a voice behind him, “there isn’t.” — The Gibsons*
I must confess I had something else planned for today’s post, but I learned, at the last minute, of the existence of material that would vastly augment my intended post — and I wouldn’t want to drop the ball on that topic. One less piece to plan for the next Countdown, then!
I suppose I had thus far refrained from touching upon DC’s long-running Ghosts (1971-82) — too obvious? Well, here we are. Ghosts, like its presumed model, Ripley’s Believe It or Not: True Ghost Stories (1965-80, Gold Key), was always tame and rather formulaic, but frequently boasted wonderful artwork, and definitely great covers.
Within its pages lurks this gorgeous three-pager written by Carl Wessler, pencilled by the mysterious (how appropriate!) J. Noriega, and embellished by the peerless Alfredo Alcala.
*« A couple called ‘The Gibsons’ won a New Statesman competition in Britain with a 200-worder about a man who grows increasingly nervous while walking down a winding moonlit road. » — From Dr. Van Helsing’s Handy Guide to Ghost Stories, Part III, by Kurt Van Helsing, in Twilight Zone Magazine vol. 1 no. 7 (Oct. 1981, TZ Publications).
And now for a creepy tidbit with a sensibility at once contemporary and rooted in the somewhat faraway past — namely the 1930’s. From 1997, Amnesia drips from the mind and pen of the… unpredictableAl Columbia.
Young Mr. Columbia then resurfaced with a new style more his own, and created The Biologic Show (2 issues, 1994-95, Fantagraphics). He also contributed a handful of striking short pieces to the publisher’s Zero Zero anthology, and this is one.
To my eye’s delight, the chief outside influence at work here is early cartoon talkies, in particular those produced by the Fleisher Brothers (Betty Boop, Koko the Clown, Popeye, Superman). In fact, I can easily envision Koko himself starring in this macabre vignette, though I sure would not wish it on the poor lad.
You won’t often hear me recommend video games, but there’s one that appears to draw from the same bottomless, poisoned inkwell as Columbia: Limbo (2012), brought to you by independent Danish game developer Playdead.
Actually, no. Before that, there arose the idea in art director Warren Kremer‘s ever-effervescent mind:
Then, one year on…
More than two decades down the road, Marvel, since they were already borrowing Harvey’s Chamber of Chills title (did they even ask? I wonder), figured they may as well reenact one of its classic covers.
Say, what’s this about the day’s first shave? … is there shaving after death? Hassles, hassles.
Though most would nowadays call upon electric shavers or disposable plastic razors, I presume that straight razors have made a comeback among the hipster set. Still, a niche is hardly universal.
As a bonus, here’s one on the general topic by the immortal Chas Addams. It appeared in The New Yorker in 1957, then was reprinted later that year in his solo collection Nightcrawlers (Simon and Schuster). For more of that excellently-morbid Addams mirth, amble over to this earlier spotlight from our Hallowe’en Countdown’s initial edition.
A decade-and-a-half after his unceremonious cancellation, the Stranger was dusted off and given another shot in Showcase no. 80 (Feb. 1969), which was gorgeously illustrated by Messrs. Grandenetti and Bill Draut, and the Stranger, fedora, turtleneck and all, was soon spun off into his own title once more. It began well enough, but despite some often gorgeous covers, in no time descended into endless formulaic repetition: the PS makes vague, laughably pompous statements, his skeptic foil Dr. Thirteen fumes and rants, and my candidate for all-time most tedious arch-nemesis, Tala (introduced by Bob Kanigher and Neal Adams in issue 4) almost invariably turns out to be behind the issue’s menace.
A couple of years after the book’s cancellation, The Phantom Stranger and Deadman were teamed up again for a Halloween special. Beyond a decent cover, the results were rather… dire. I really, really wanted to like it, but it’s just a hodgepodge of overwritten mediocrity that can’t seem to decide what it wants to be or what its audience is: not scary in the least (even by Comics Code Standards), barely moody, a waste of trees.
*helpfully reprinted, though in dribs and drabs and all over the place, through the 1970’s.
« Drinking your own blood is the paradigm of recycling. » — Gary Busey
Say, isn’t there something… sorta quaint about that cover?
In the 1970s, while DC and Charlton consistently provided all-new material*, Marvel quickly switched to an all-reprint formula (the better to save money whilst flooding the market, my dear!), sometimes even on the covers, with some amusingly inappropriate updates at times.
Okay, here are another pair of before and afters:
*and if and when they didn’t, they’d tell you! Not so with Marvel. As for Gold Key, they would just pretend the material was ‘reprinted by popular demand’.
« People that pick up hitchhikers I believe are basically good people that believe in other people and understand problems and don’t judge people. That’s always the kind of person I’m looking for. » — John Waters
Let’s take a nocturnal drive with George Evans (1920-2001) behind the wheel. Best known for his stellar contribution as a member of the elite EC Comics bullpen, Evans had earlier crafted some impressive comics for Fawcett (his own favourite period of his work) and Fiction House, and later, post-Code, for Gilberton, Dell and Gold Key, Warren and DC. He also worked extensively in newspaper strips, notably on Terry and the Pirates (under George Wunder) in the 1960s. He took over Secret Agent Corrigan from fellow EC alum Al Williamson, a nice long stint from 1980 to 1996, at which point the strip wrapped up and Evans (and Corrigan, presumably) retired.
While Evans’ chief forte was aerial warfare, this piece highlights his way with a mood, his quiet grace and flawless draftsmanship. This story is an excerpt from Gilberton’s The World Around Us series (36 issues, 1958-1961); this is no. 24 (August, 1960), The Illustrated Story of Ghosts, an oft-told tale (but never better) of the urban legend widely known as The Vanishing Hitchhiker (here entitled The Hitch-Hiker). Can’t you just feel that rain?
The renowned folklorist Jan Harold Brunvant wrote, in his epochal study, The Vanishing Hitchhiker: American Urban Legends and Their Meanings (1981, W. W. Norton):
« A prime example of the adaptability of older legends is ‘The Vanishing Hitchhiker’ — the classic automobile legend. This returning ghost tale was known by the turn of the century both in the United States and abroad. It acquired the newer automobile motif by the period of the Great Depression, and thereafter spawned a number of subtypes with greatly varied and oddly interlocking details, some of which themselves stemmed from earlier folk legends. »