Hallowe’en Countdown V, Day 22

« 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.

Belgian fantastique master Thomas Owen (1910-2002) has written not one, but two chilling variations on the theme of this particular urban legend, La passagère, which appeared in his 1966 collection, Cérémonial nocturne et autres contes fantastiques, then La grille, which appeared in 1975’s Le Rat Kavar et autres histoires de vie et de mort. While the former is currently nowhere to be found online, you can read — in the original French — La grille. For our English readers, here’s a fine translation of Le Rat Kavar (as ‘Kavar the Rat’, of course) to give you a bit of that eerie Owen flavour.

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. »

As a bonus, here’s Evans’ lovely, light-hearted frontispiece for the issue. “Face to faceless” — clever!

-RG

Hallowe’en Countdown II, Day 16

« When the dark mists rise up from the graveyard, and shutters bang in the windows of old abandoned houses, and the lights burn late in the back rooms of funeral parlors, the hour has struck for the Autumn People. » — anonymous back cover blurb

Frank Frazetta‘s cover for Ballantine Books’ October 1965 collection of EC adaptations of Ray Bradbury short stories (such a string of possessives!), namely « There Was an Old Woman » (art by Graham Ingels) « The Screaming Woman » (Jack Kamen), « Touch and Go », aka  « The Fruit at the Bottom of the Bowl » (Johnny Craig), « The Small Assassin » (George Evans), « The Handler » (Ingels), « The Lake » (Joe Orlando, some of the finest, most sensitive work of his incredibly-brief peak, which he would coast on for the rest of his career), « The Coffin » and « Let’s Play Poison » (Both Jack Davis).

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I’m feeling foolishly generous, so here’s a panel from each story. Owing to personal bias, Mr. Craig is the only one who gets a full page to show off. Seriously, though, scripting his own stuff afforded him greater latitude in storyboarding his work… and how it shows!

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« Ghastly » Graham Ingels.

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Jack Kamen.

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Johnny Craig.

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Mr. Ingels again.

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George Evans.

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Joe Orlando.

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Jack Davis once…

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… and Jack Davis twice.

I first encountered Bradbury through « The October Country » (1955), which turned out, I was to discover later, to be a heavily-revised version of his initial, Arkham House-issued collection, « Dark Carnival ».

« When given the chance to rerelease the out-of-print collection in 1955, Bradbury seized the opportunity to revisit his first book and correct the things he deemed inadequate. (Ever the perfectionist, Bradbury was, throughout his career, often discontent with calling a book done, even after its publication.) He rewrote a number of stories, made light revisions on others, cut twelve tales altogether, and added four new ones to round out the collection. The stories Bradbury discarded he thought too weak, too violent, or too primitive, and not representative of where he was as a writer at that moment. »

As it happens, several of the stories that caught Gaines & Feldstein’s fancy were the very ones that Bradbury was in the process of disowning. Ditching « The Coffin » or « Let’s Play Poison » or, for different reasons, « The Black Ferris » (as he was to expand it into « Something Wicked This Way Comes » a few years down the line) I can understand, but losing the incredible « The October Game »? Especially since he was making (lots of) room for his most plodding story, the seemingly-interminable (at 44 pages) « The Next in Line ».

There was a companion volume devoted to EC’s adaptations of Bradbury science-fiction tales, « Tomorrow Midnight », also boasting a Frazetta cover.

– RG

Tentacle Tuesday: Carmine, Scarlet, Crimson Red

You’ve likely noticed it already, but people getting attacked by tentacles tend to be dressed in red. Now, red will not make a bull enraged (as a matter of fact, bulls are colour-blind to red – there, you learned something new today), but what effect would it have on an octopus? None at all, as it turns out, as red light does not reach ocean depths. One might want to wear red to become near-impossible to spot at a depth of a hundred metres or more, but that doesn’t explain why tentacles would persistently seek out red targets. Crap, there goes my theory.

Nevermind; we can still feast our eyes on some fetching mam’zelles and monsieurs clad in red, theories be damned.

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Alien Encounters no. 7 (June 1986, Eclipse Comics). Painted Cover by Corey Wolfe.

Music aficionados will notice that this cover is a tribute to something quite outside the comic field, namely this album art:

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Cover of 10cc’s Deceptive Bends album, designed by Hipgnosis, 1977. Where are the tentacles?! The girl’s dress is also somewhat more demure (though not by much).

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After Alien Encounters, we naturally move on to Alien Worlds. Admire the, err, tentacles on this cover:

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“If he had been watching his mistress as usual, if he had been at the controls instead of giving himself a lube job, the accident might have been prevented.” Moral of the story: no lube jobs at the wheel! That tentacled thing behind Princess Pam is actually Cynx, her guardian. The science-fiction comic anthology Alien Worlds, first published by Pacific Comics and then by Eclipse after Pacific went bankrupt, was edited by Bruce Jones, who wrote the bulk of the stories, and April Campbell. This is Alien Worlds no. 4 (Pacific Comics, September 1983), cover by Dave Stevens, with colours by Joe Chiodo.

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Mushrooms *and* tentacles *and* some pretty gams? Sensory overload! At first glance, the story (scripted and pencilled by Bruce Jones, inked by Dave Stevens, coloured by Joe Chiodo and lettered by Carrie McCarthy) is nothing but gratuitous cheesecake – a pretty, half-naked girl wandering around with her robotic servant – but it’s actually surprisingly touching. Check it out here. Fittingly, mushrooms save the day.

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It’s not just women who like to sport flashy red outfits, by the way. The men’s costumes might cover considerably more skin, but the vermilion remains!

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« The tentacles of a giant octopus emerge and grab him in a death grip. Almost as though the hideous creature has been standing guard over the treasure for all this time… » Of course it has! Any self-respecting octopus takes his job seriously. The Frogmen no. 2 (May-July 1962); the cover is by Vic Prezio, and the sumptuous inside art is by George Evans.

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There’s (also) an epic battle between a killer whale and the octopus in this issue (witness the aforementioned George Evans art).

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Of course he wants you, silly – who can resist a man in red swimming trunks? Nor octopus nor man. I retract my comment about men being more covered up. Do they have to tell their families, though?

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One more for the road and I’ll conclude this vernissage…

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“The bolts of current are merely absorbed by the rubber flesh of the octeel, which is part octopus and part electric eel!” Oh, for the love of puns. Weird Thrillers no. 4 (summer 1952, published by Ziff-Davis), with painted cover by Norman Saunders.

You’ll no doubt want to see what an electric octopus looks like, so here you go:

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“Tentacles of Death”? Sign me up, please! The gruesome cover story is drawn by George Tuska.

~ ds