Hallowe’en Countdown VI, Day 31

« Clocks in disagreement are worse than no clock at all. » — David Mitchell

There’s simply nothing that gets me more into the proper Hallowe’en spirit than a spectral Joe GillSteve Ditko yarn.

Back in 1999, Mr. Ditko shared this intriguing insight about his most frequent — and preferred — collaborator:

« Joe Gill is one comic book story/script writer who understands a comic panel. Many other writers believe a single panel is a long, continuing strip of a movie film, containing numerous, changing, point-of-view frames. »

Here, then, is a moody tale that originally saw print in Haunted no. 7 (Aug. 1972, Charlton).

I could be wrong, but this, to my recollection, is the only Charlton ghost story wherein Ditko gave us a full-page splash.
Incidentally, the pint-sized ghostly narrator is Impy, a Ditko creation who later had the dubious honour of being evicted from his own book (with issue 21, Apr. 1975) by one Baron Weirwulf. Bah, I liked Impy better.

A few notes: The title design is among the best I’ve seen from Charlton; it wasn’t generally their forte.

I’m wondering whether I’m just imagining the Benny Goodman / Don Ellis jazz subtext. Joe Gill is just the type of guy to surreptitiously toss that into the mix. Goodman, the ‘King of Swing’ was an paradigm of the big band school of jazz, while Ellis, though he began his career with Glenn Miller’s band, soon fell in with the avant-garde side of things. I see a natural dichotomy at work here… though I’m a fan of both myself.

Also, this seems to me like another instance of the suave villain / obnoxious hero setup (think Night of the Demon)… I mean, who would you rather spend an evening with, dapper Howard R. Clark, or with those two boorish, meddlesome stuffed shirts? Oops, I think I’ve given my bias away.

For a bit of mood setting, listen to some of those fabulous Lights Out radio shows that Mr. Clark so rightly digs.

And here’s a swingin’ Miller performance, circa 1937, of the Louis Prima standard Sing, Sing, Sing. And to balance things out, here’s Don Ellis performing his Bulgarian Bulge in 1969. Now, now.. can’t we all just get along?

So we’re done, countdown-wise, for another year. If that’s not enough to satisfy your odious cravings, take a stroll through our voluminous-by-now archives, at this point one hundred and eighty-six posts strong (or at least long!):

Hallowe’en Countdown VI

Hallowe’en Countdown V

Hallowe’en Countdown IV

Hallowe’en Countdown III

Hallowe’en Countdown II

Hallowe’en Countdown I

Wishing you all a bloodcurdling Hallowe’en — thanks for tuning in!

-RG

Hallowe’en Countdown VI, Day 27

« Now these men have no need for words… they know! » — Anonymous

Now I won’t claim that Dick Ayers (1924-2014) was all that great an artist. In the early Sixties at Marvel, as an inker of Jack Kirby’s pencils, he was at best neutral, more likely than not to defuse much of the explosive excitement of the King’s pencils*.

However, Ayers’ chief strengths lay elsewhere: it was demonstrated time and time again that he could quickly put together dynamic and easy to parse — don’t laugh, it’s no cakewalk — layouts, and if you paired him with a dominant inker (such as John Severin (on Sgt. Fury) Alfredo Alcala (on Kamandi), Jack Abel (on Freedom Fighters) or Gerry Talaoc (on The Unknown Soldier), you’d get some quite presentable results — and quickly at that. Guys like Ayers should be saluted instead of dismissed, because they were the glue that held the funnybook business together and operating more or less smoothly.

I won’t claim either that Eerie Pubs’ product was anything but shoddy, shlocky goods, but I won’t deny that it can be fascinating… in small doses. While still working for Marvel, Ayers produced a memorable bunch of stories for a pair of former Timely/Atlas colleagues, publisher Myron Fass and editor Carl Burgos (creator of the Golden Age Human Torch). This is Ayers’ first published effort for those rascals. It appeared in Horror Tales v.2 no. 1 (Jan. 1970, Eerie Pubs). Brace yourselves!

«… Dick Ayers understood what ‘Carl and Myron’ were asking for and gave it to them in spades. They wanted gore? They got it! Ripped-off limbs, lolling tongues, gouts of blood and oh my… those popping eyes! Ayers’ trademark was the eye-poppin’. Socket just couldn’t contain ’em! » — from Mike Howlett‘s definitive study The Weird World of Eerie Publications (2010, Feral House).

« House of Monsters » is a Grand Guignol remake of « The Castle of Fear », from Weird Mysteries no. 3 (Feb. 1953, Stanley Morse). Read it here! Myron Fass held the rights to a lot of old inventory, so he had the old stories touched up or redrawn, some of them multiple times. Grotesqueness aside, I do prefer the original version. It had a better monster and a stronger ending… but you be the judge!

I came across this saucy bit of Ayers carnage in 1976, in one of the first Eerie Pubs mags to surface following a hiatus imposed by a severe contraction of the black and white horror mag market (thanks, Marvel). At the time, it just seemed like the oddest item: at once something of another, earlier time (it was an all-reprint affair), but also extremely garish in its goriness, even by slack contemporary standards.

Here’s my beat-up original copy of Weird vol. 9 no. 3 (Sept 1976, Eerie Pubs). Cover by Bill Alexander. I didn’t realise at the time that it was a bit of an Eerie’s Greatest Hits collection, so every other Eerie mag subsequently encountered rather paled in comparison.

-RG

*But then, with the splendid exception of Steve Ditko (and that was a waste of precious resources), I’d argue that virtually all of the inkers he was saddled… er, paired with before Joe Sinnott were rather underwhelming.

Hallowe’en Countdown VI, Day 26

« I was already doing a lot of splendid research reading all the books about ghosts I could get hold of, and particularly true ghost stories – so much so that it became necessary for me to read a chapter of Little Women every night before I turned out the light – and at the same time I was collecting pictures of houses, particularly odd houses, to see what I could find to make into a suitable haunted house. » — Shirley Jackson

This one’s from the department of historiated text. What text? “those fiction pieces that nobody read” in comic books, prose pages mandated by the United States Postal Service. The USPS insisted that comic books «… have at least two pages of text to be considered a magazine and qualify for the cheaper magazine postage rates. »

By the Sixties, most of these pages consisted of letters to the editor, but not every company followed this practice. After EC pioneered the letters page idea in the early 1950s, ACG, DC, Archie and Marvel followed suit. But not Dell/Gold Key, Harvey and Charlton.

For its mystery titles, Gold Key naturally opted for a ‘unusual history’ format, enlisting, to provide spot illustrations, veteran cartoonist Joe Certa, best-known for his co-creation of and long run (1955-1968!) on J’onn J’onzz, the Martian Manhunter and his stylish run on Gold Key’s Dark Shadows comic book series (1969-76). While Certa started out with a pretty mainstream approach, as the Sixties wore on, his style got increasingly angular, spare and expressive. Personally, I love it… but I know it’s not for all palates.

This one appeared in Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery no. 17 (Mar. 1967, Western); « It was more than two centuries ago when the monstrous creature known simply as ‘the Beast’ appeared in the province of Auvergne, in France. » Perhaps you’ve seen the action-packed, *slightly* fictionalised cinematic account of the events, 2001’s Le pacte des loups, aka Brotherhood of the Wolves.
This one’s from Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery no. 28 (Dec. 1969, Western); « When Gustave Labahn appeared in Munich, Germany in 1890, he was indeed a man of mystery. Nothing was known of his except that he was tall, lithe and powerful, with strangely hypnotic eyes, and a possessor of unlimited wealth. »
This one, from Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery no. 28 (Dec. 1969, Western) states: « He was a man of a hundred names and countless identities. No one knew his true origin. It was said he was descended from an evil medieval warlock. Others said he was a reincarnation of the Count de St-Germain… a man who claimed to be more than 2,000 years old. He called himself Raoul Plessy, but his followers he was known as La bête… The Beast. »
Appearing in Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery no. 50 (Oct. 1973, Western), this one concerns the 1793 murder of French revolution leader Jean-Paul Marat by Charlotte Corday. Exceptionally, the art on this one is the work of John Celardo, a lovely, delicate composition.
One from Grimm’s Ghost Stories no. 5 (Aug. 1972, Western). The cat’s name is Satan, we are told.
From Ripley’s Believe It or Not! no. 8 (Feb. 1968, Western), this piece tells the story of a coffin that found its way home to one of my favourite places, Canada’s Prince Edward Island. Here’s a more sober account of the legend.
From Ripley’s Believe It or Not! no. 15 (Feb. 1968, Western), this one concerns the purported haunting of Scotland’s Meggernie Castle.
A cozy one from Ripley’s Believe It or Not! no. 21 (Aug. 1970, Western): « In the northeastern corner of Mississippi, near the town of Aberdeen, lies a stretch of deserted country road which has lately become known as one of the most haunted spots in the United States. »
A great drawing from Ripley’s Believe It or Not! no. 41 (July 1973, Western); The text opens with « Ash Manor House in Sussex, England, was over six hundred years old when bought in 1934 by a man named Keel. Mr. Keel did not believe in ghosts. Neither did his attractive wife. »
This hails from Ripley’s Believe It or Not! no. 42 (Aug. 1973, Western). The piece recounts anecdotes about such thespians as Burl Ives, Jackie Gleason, Rudolph Valentino and our beloved Vincent Price.
And here are a couple of samples of full pieces to give you an idea of how they looked in print. This thoroughly seasonal one saw print in Grimm’s Ghost Stories no. 6 (Nov. 1972, Western).

One more? Here’s a favourite from The Twilight Zone no. 42 (Mar. 1972, Western):

-RG

Hallowe’en Countdown VI, Day 25

« The thing to do was kill it. Obviously. » — Ira Levin, Rosemary’s Baby

Last year, in the course of my post celebrating Luís Dominguez’s life and covers, I noted in passing, about The House of Mystery no. 235 (Sept. 1975, DC), that it held the only DC ‘horror’ story I ever found actually scary.

Since I’d hate to just leave you with such a tease, here it is, so you can be your own judge of the yarn’s merits (or its failings, however the chips may fall).

Don’t ever fall for the notion that cartoony and scary are inversely proportional. Brr.

That poor, fragile, lonely woman! It’s not enough to be trapped in a loveless marriage with the world’s coldest fish, but any sympathy and hope she seems to receive from anyone is mere pretence in the process of gaslighting her. Of course, the plot is redolent of Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist and other, and much needed, contemporary critiques of the obligations and ambivalences of motherhood — unthinkable in earlier days — but it has its own points to make.

This is, to my knowledge, one of the few horror stories in mainstream comics of that period to be both written and illustrated by women: Maxene Fabe and Ramona Fradon, respectively. While Fradon is justly celebrated for her defining work on Aquaman in the 1950s and on Metamorpho in the 1960s, Ms. Fabe’s is likely a less familiar name to most comics readers. In the 1970s, she wrote around twenty-five scripts for DC comics, almost exclusively short horror and humour pieces for editor Joe Orlando. Of these, four are Fabe and Fradon collaborations: the (almost) equally dark conte cruel Last Voyage of the Lady Luck in House of Secrets no. 136 (Oct. 1975, DC); the more conventional The Swinger in Secrets of Haunted House no. 3 (Aug.-Sept. 1975, DC), working from a plot by Mike Pellowski, and finally, the sardonically humorous Bride of the Pharaoh in House of Mystery no. 251 (Mar.-Apr. 1977, DC).

-RG

Hallowe’en Countdown VI, Day 24

« I love the scents of winter! For me, it’s all about the feeling you get when you smell pumpkin spice, cinnamon, nutmeg, gingerbread and spruce. » — Taylor Swift

It occurred to me, just the other day that I’d failed to feature, over the course of five and three-quarters countdowns, anything by Gene Colan. And this despite the fact that I’ve always enjoyed his work and his undeniable adroitness within the horror genre.

Still, I decided to sidestep the obvious touchstone, his monumental run on The Tomb of Dracula, and opted instead for another of his big series at Marvel: Howard the Duck.

I was a fervent fan of the series as a kid, but I honestly haven’t returned to it in decades. Which is not to say that I’ve forgotten it. There’s no doubt that I should give it a fresh look — I’d probably get more of Steve Gerber‘s jokes than I did as a twelve-year-old — but in the interim, let’s focus on a couple of pertinent issues.

This is Howard the Duck no. 6 (Nov. 1976, Marvel); cover pencils by Gene Colan, inks by the recently departed Tom Palmer (1941-2022).
Colan’s style meshes surprisingly well with Mr. Gerber‘s madcap comedy… he plays it straight, and that’s why it clicks. Savvy move.
I wasn’t sure about Steve Leialoha‘s appropriateness as a Colan inker at the time, but I really don’t see what I could have objected to.
Let’s see, what have we here? The Addams Family, Shelley’s Frankenstein, gothic romances, Nathaniel Hawthorne, religious sects… in this case the reverend Sun Myung Moon‘s Unification Church, better known as The Moonies

I won’t leave you in suspense! On to the following issue…

This is Howard the Duck no. 7 (Dec. 1976, Marvel); pencils by Colan, inks by Palmer.

And that’s it! Steve Gerber had a refreshing knack for subverting and upending the Marvel formula: instead of some drawn-out, epic standoff, Howard disposes of the threat — a threat worth two cover features! — in a couple of panels, then the story moves on… to another range of targets.

– RG

Hallowe’en Countdown VI, Day 23

« It’s like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way. » — E. L. Doctorow

Once more rooting around Europe for properly atmospheric material, we unsurprisingly dig up some gold in Belgium, a land rife with longstanding traditions of the fantastic.

While there never were — if memory serves — any explicitly supernatural elements at play in Maurice Tillieux and Arthur Piroton‘s chronicles of FBI agent Jess Long’s colourful investigations, the creators used every opportunity to instill the oppressive fog of atmosphere.

While never a massive hit, the series had solid legs, lasting from its 1969 introduction in Spirou magazine, surviving Tillieux’s tragic demise in 1978 and finally coming to the end of its road with Piroton’s own passing in 1996.

Today, we feature excerpts from Jess Long’s sixth investigation, Les ombres du feu (‘Shadows of fire’), from 1972. Fasten your seatbelts!

Pretty good spotting, Agent Corey Hart!
The story runs fourteen pages, a bit long for our purposes… but I’m sure these highlights will properly convey its nocturnal essence.
This is Jess Long, Police spéciale no. 2 (1977, Dupuis), comprising the fifth and sixth adventures. For some reason, the publisher didn’t start collecting the series until 1976. In the end, twenty albums were issued, a fine run!
This is Spirou no. 1787 (July 13, 1972, Dupuis). Cover by Piroton, with a lower left vignette by André Franquin.
Another spooky Jess Long cover, this time it’s Spirou no. 1897 (Aug. 22 1974, Dupuis), with another Franquin comment.

I’ve heard that Piroton’s style was considered a bit too ‘American’ to be that popular in Europe. Amusingly, it looked like nothing published in American comics at the time — I’d say his approach was a throwback to a mix of Bernard Krigstein and, say, Alex Raymond in Rip Kirby and Secret Agent X9 mode.

Something else worth noting about the Tillieux-Piroton collaboration: while Tillieux was the complete package — writer and artist — he was essentially forced, by some disastrously myopic editorial decisions right from the top at Dupuis (a stubborn failure to grasp that not every cartoonist can be his own writer) Tillieux had to almost entirely give up drawing, even on his own series, Gil Jourdan, to take on writing duties for a great many features. But since he was, one might say, the “Anti-Stan Lee”, he painstakingly storyboarded each page of his scripts, acting not only as scenarist, but also as metteur en scène. Thankfully, some examples of these fascinating breakdowns have survived. Check out this one and especially that one. -RG

Hallowe’en Countdown VI, Day 19

« — I don’t know about zombies, doctor. Just what is a zombie?
A ghost. A living dead. It’s also a drink. » — I Walked With a Zombie (1943)

Has any of the classic monsters undergone more radical changes over the past century than the lowly zombie? I believe my first encounter with the walking dead (in comics, that is) came through a reprint of a relatively obscure Archie GoodwinRocco Mastroserio story, the imaginatively titled Zombies!* (read it here!) from Creepy no. 17 (Oct. 1967, Warren); in it, uncle Archie schooled me about zombies’ aversion to salt and, it follows, sea water. Which I presume is what kept them cooped up on tropical islands.

Confirmation of this vulnerability came in what I consider the scariest scene in the uneven Kolchak: The Night Stalker TV series, from its second episode, the imaginatively titled The Zombie, wherein Kolchak does his level best, under trying circumstances, to pour salt down the throat of a massive, dormant-but-not-for-long zombie.

But the damage to zomboid tradition had already been inflicted, for better (my vote) or for worse, by George Romero‘s ravenous shamblers in 1968’s Night of the Living Dead. While I had no trouble accepting Romero’s savvy upgrade, I recall being offended by the cheesy, mindless, anything-goes approach adopted by Lucio Fulci in his imaginatively titled Zombie**, namely this sequence.

Marvel’s resident Zombie, Simon Garth, had débuted all the way back in 1953 (what is time, after all, to the living dead?) and Menace no. 5‘s imaginatively titled Zombie! (check it out here).

Aside from his Bill Everett-drawn premiere, I frankly have little use for the character, but I have a soft spot for this one story, intended as a time-buying fill-in for the feature’s regular team, writer Steve Gerber and Peruvian artist Pablo Marcos. It’s written by the often-interesting Doug Moench (Master of Kung Fu, Moon Knight) and illustrated by the masterful Alfredo Alcala, a sure consensus favourite around here. The plot itself is rather on the thin side, being one of those Agatha Christie’s Ten Little… er — And Then There Were None scenarios, with Garth mindlessly hovering around and peering in windows, until…

But the artwork is a delight. Like all of Marvel’s supernatural antiheroes (save the Man-Thing), Garth absurdly boasts the physique of a bodybuilder (despite being long dead and not eating anything), but at least Alcala truly knows his anatomy.

The original story is over thirty pages long, so I’m just providing highlights, including the conclusion, which is quite cute. While it must be incredibly hard to write mindless, invulnerable characters, Moench had a good punchline in mind all along.

This is Earl Norem‘s cover for Tales of the Zombie no. 7 (Sept. 1974, Marvel).

-RG

*set in Brazil for the sake of the twist ending — not a bad one, either.
**To be fair, called Zombi 2 in Italy, since “Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1978) was released in Italy as Zombi.” At least the Italians, as the French once did, understand that Zombi is the male, and Zombie the female of the, er… species. Or is it simply the plural?

Hallowe’en Countdown VI, Day 16

« Trouble with you is the trouble with me / Got two good eyes but we still don’t see / Come round the bend, you know it’s the end / The fireman screams and the engine just gleams » — Robert Hunter

Better watch your speed.

Another quite slight tale, but I’ve always loved this one for its nocturnal, storm-tossed ambiance. And it takes considerable illustrative skill to bring to life such a compact vignette with clarity and visual interest. Especially while hobbled by pedestrian colouring and hazy printing.

While the scripter goes uncredited (though it’s presumably editor Murray Boltinoff), the artist is Rodolfo “Rudy” Florese (1946-2003) was one of the band of solid Filipino craftsmen that brought extra style and diversity to the US Comics industry in the 1970s. The lion’s share of Florese’s American contribution went to DC’s Tarzan titles. Take it away, boys!

Yeah, that’s right: in such stories, Death always betrays himself by picking an oddball moniker like “Mort Todd” or some such dead giveaway. To be fair, Satan and Dracula also indulge in the corny practice. Dr. Shreck, anyone? Think it never happens in “real” life? Let us consider the case of smarmy Albertan reprobate Pierre Poilièvre, whose name basically translates as Pierre Pea-Hare.

The Roaring Coffin originally saw print in Ghosts no. 40 (July 1975, DC), which bore this enticing Luis Domínguez cover.

-RG

Hallowe’en Countdown VI, Day 9

« I love you more than anybody in the world… I love you for millions and millions of things, clocks and vampires and dirty nails and squiggly paintings and lovely hair and being dizzy and falling dreams. » — Dylan Thomas

We’ve just had quite a nocturnal downpour over here, and so it seemed entirely à propos to feature that finest of all rainy night ghostly tales, Dylan Thomas’ The Followers, a late-career short story written in 1952. I would have loved to direct you to the full text of it, but can’t seem to find anything of the sort online.

« It was snowing. It was always snowing at Christmas. December, in my memory, is white as Lapland, though there were no reindeers. But there were cats. Patient, cold and callous, our hands wrapped in socks, we waited to snowball the cats. »

I’ve long been fascinated by English publisher J.M. Dent’s ‘series’ of Dylan Thomas illustrated booklets. First came the highly successful ‘A Child’s Christmas in Wales‘, in 1959, which kick-started the storied career of Ellen Raskin: « A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas was the book that Raskin first printed herself to show as a sample to publishers in an effort to become a free-lance illustrator, a project that set her on her way to success in the field. Though the Christmas poem had been illustrated often, this was a memorable edition. »

A Child’s Christmas in Wales was followed — striking the iron while it was hot — by The Outing in 1971(!), then by Holiday Memory the following year. Then, finally, in 1976 came the final, and possibly finest, entry: The Followers. These last three were superbly illustrated by Meg Stevens.

Miss Stevens demonstrated her mastery of the scratchboard medium through her three Thomas adaptations.

« It was six o’clock on a winter’s evening. Thin, dingy rain spat and drizzled past the lighted street lamps. The pavements shone long and yellow. »
« A silent man and woman, dressed in black, carried the wreaths from the front of their flower shop into the scented deadly darkness behind the window lights. Then the lights went out. »
« We walked towards the Marlborough, dodging umbrella spokes, smacked by our windy macs, stained by steaming lamplight, seeing the sodden, blown scourings and street-wash of the town, papers, rags, dregs, rinds, fag-ends, balls of fur, flap, float, and cringe along the gutters, hearing the sneeze and rattle of the bony trams and a ship hoot like a fog-ditched owl in the bay… »
« We walked on heavily, with wilful feet, splashing the passers-by. »
« “I wonder what’s the point of following people”, Leslie said, “it’s kind of daft. It never gets you anywhere. All you do is follow them home and then try to look through the window and see what they’re doing and mostly there’s curtains anyway. I bet nobody else does things like that.” »
« “Doesn’t anything happen anywhere?” I said “in the whole wide world? I think the News of the World is all made up. Nobody murders no one. There isn’t any sin any more, or love, or death, or pearls or divorces and mink-coats or anything, or putting arsenic in the cocoa…” »
« “Good night, old man,” Leslie said. “Good night,” I said. And we went our different ways. »

Regrettably, in the absence of a full text of the story, I can’t convey to you the supernatural component of the story. But I assure you, it’s well worth the looking up, and I dare hope that the palpable mood of Mr. Thomas’ prose and Ms. Stevens’ sublime scratchboard renderings were sufficient to put you in the proper, receptive frame of mind.

-RG

Hallowe’en Countdown VI, Day 5

« I lived on a houseboat in Amsterdam for a year. It was intense, and it’s possible that I even had a few blackouts. » — Wolfgang Beltracchi

Today’s featured tale is an old favourite illustrated by one of American comics’ perennial mal-aimés, the much-maligned Jack Sparling (1916-1997), a prolific, reliable, distinctive stylist who toiled for just about every publisher on the block. Of course, he’s persona non grata with the superhero set (a compliment in my book!) but his chief strengths lay just about everywhere else, in humour, horror, crime and adventure… you name it.

I love how cosy — that pervasive, foggy ambience! — yet harrowing this tale is. Nice to see one of those insufferable, know-it-all ‘ghost busters’ get his bitter requital. And who knew that some witches were so neat, so domestically inclined? Work that mop, boy!

The writer’s uncredited, and that’s a shame, because this is anything but formulaic — and DC’s mystery books were formulaic to a fault, especially under Joe Orlando‘s guidance. I suspect the author to be editor Murray Boltinoff — he often pitched in, under sundry bynames.
This is It’s Midnight… The Witching Hour! no. 21 (June-July 1972, DC), edited by Murray Boltinoff and with cover art by Nick Cardy.

-RG