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CSBG Archive

Halloween Cross-Hatchings

A little of this, a little of that… comics and TV and books, all with a spooky angle, none of which was big enough to warrant its own piece.

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Showcase Presents SCARY!: I’m very fond of the Essential and Showcase lines of reprint books, just in general. But what I especially love about them is that it’s an easy way to catch up with comics I used to kinda like, or was always interested in trying out, but not to the point of spending money and time trying to chase down back issues. For me they’re often impulse buys, especially if I stumble across one cheap.

All of this is by way of saying I’ve finally gotten around to checking out the DC horror books from the sixties and seventies. I’d always been vaguely aware of them as a sort of farm team for comics creators, but I was much more about the superheroes back then and a DC horror book was highly unlikely to get my quarter– if it did, it was probably something with a foot in each camp like the Spectre or the Phantom Stranger. But just for the hell of it I picked up the Showcase Presents Secrets of Sinister House volume one and House of Mystery volume two a little while ago, and Jesus, they’re AWESOME.

The stories are fun and clever, usually eight-to-ten page tightly-scripted tales with a twist. More or less on a level with the EC stories that inspired them, but because of the Comics Code, the writers are forced to rely on wit instead of gore. (I don’t necessarily view that as a bad thing, myself.) They’re sly without being nasty, macabre but not terribly scary.

But what sells these is the ART. My God, it’s a who’s who of Bronze Age brilliance.

Here’s Alex Nino.

Master after master, doing breathtaking work– older guys persuaded to try something different, and young ones that were new to drawing comics and anxious to prove themselves. But everybody was bringing their A-game.

Berni Wrightson….

Folks like Alex Nino, Jim Aparo, Neal Adams, Nick Cardy, and just to change it up you get the odd one-off from unexpected names like Ramona Fradon or Sergio Aragones.

And here’s Ramona Fradon.

I am completely in love with the eclectic, anything-goes nature of these anthology comics. Especially the early seventies stuff where you can tell the younger creators were really feeling their oats and wanting to try new things.

Psychedelic, man.

All of this side-by-side with old-school masters at the height of their powers. I love seeing Jim Aparo’s work in black-and-white, he was really in his prime and it looks so much better here than in color.

Secrets of Sinister House is an especially oddball entry… it started as one of DC’s short-lived Gothic romance comics, a brief experiment that didn’t really work.

Yet another example of a comic book spun out of a paperback craze in the Bronze Age. Gothics were HUGE in the seventies; Dark Shadows started as a soap opera version of one, though it eventually turned into its own thing.

At the time, I snooted them as lady’s books and as such inappropriately sissified reading material for a lover of adventure like myself. (I was young and foolish.) In recent years I’ve become a bit less rigid about what I read, and I’ve become quite fond of some of these writers’ work, particularly Susan Howatch.

Nevertheless, the experiment didn’t last long, and the books that weren’t canceled outright got folded into DC’s regular horror line. After four issues, Sinister House of Secret Love became Secrets of Sinister House and that was its title till the end of the run, with #18.

I loved these Showcases so much that I went out looking for more… and no comics retailer had any. They had all the superhero Showcases, but none of the horror ones. So I went to order a couple online and damned if they weren’t mostly commanding HIGHER prices than retail.

This is annoying on several fronts. First of all, I hate paying collector prices for anything. Second, it means the books are probably out of print. Third, if they’re out of print and retailers don’t stock them, they’re probably not selling well and we won’t get any more of them. And if that last is true, that’s just sad for everyone, because these were great comics, especially the art. I kind of wish I’d been more interested the first time around.

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Halloween in the Classroom: Usually, in my after-school writing and cartooning classes, I bring in a movie for Halloween… something obscure and fun from the home library. I’ll throw out a couple of possibles and let the kids pick.

Now, here’s something I need to explain, though long-time readers have probably already guessed. The most creative kids in my classes are usually the girls. Specifically, the nerdgirls. Bright young ladies who know all the words to the songs from Les Miserables and Dr. Horrible, who love Harry Potter and Once Upon A Time and Dr. Who. They work like demons on their stories and love every minute of it. They are awesome.

So anyway, in Young Authors last Monday, I explained that I was bringing in a movie and of course the kids wanted to know what movie.

I said, “Well, traditionally it’s been something from Richard Matheson…” and was about to launch into the explanation of who he was and the list of classic Matheson horror movies and television shows.

But little Sara cut me off. Before I got another word out, she squealed, “Oooo! You should bring The Last Man on Earth!”

I almost wept I was so proud. It’s going to be a GREAT school year.

Meanwhile, in Cartooning, the kids voted overwhelmingly for “vampire hippies,” so it’s going to be Dracula A.D. 1972. That should be a lot of fun.

I don’t really have anything to add to that… except that I just stumbled across an amazing Bruce Timm piece celebrating that particular film and this gives me an excuse to put it up.

So I’m not the only one that loves it.

I screened the movie again here a couple of nights ago just to make sure there wasn’t anything that the school would freak out over, and it still tickles me that Peter Cushing is cooler than all the ‘cool’ young people surrounding him. I think my students are really going to enjoy it.

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Anno Dracula Redux: I’ve talked in this space before about how much I love the Anno Dracula books by Kim Newman. Recently Titan Books reissued them in lovely new expanded versions and I talked to Mr. Newman about them here about a year ago.

Well, Titan just sent me the new one, Johnny Alucard, and I think it may be my favorite… it’s just so audacious.

It’s episodic, incorporating several previously-published Anno Dracula short pieces into a larger whole. The common thread is young vampire Ion Popescu, later Johnny Alucard, and his experiences in the entertainment industry. What’s so awesome is the ruthless extrapolation Newman does of how the presence of vampires has deformed Hollywood and popular culture as we know it– and yet at the same time, it hasn’t changed at all. “Coppola’s Dracula,” a tale of a troubled movie shoot and a horribly-out-of-control budget, with a bloated Marlon Brando as Dracula and a young Martin Sheen as Jonathan Harker, is just one example. In the hands of a lesser writer this would just be precious, but Newman makes it all work and has written a book that’s both gripping and horrific… and also slightly hilarious.

But it wasn’t till I screened Dracula A.D. 1972 a couple of nights ago that I realized he’d named his hero after the character Christopher Neame played in that film, the leader of the hippie Satanist cult.

I don’t know how I missed that earlier and I wish to hell I’d asked Mr. Newman about it when I had the chance, but I love it. Now, in my head the Johnny Alucard of the novel looks just like Neame in Dracula A.D. 1972.

Anyway, the book is terrific and I highly recommend it.

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Other Draculas redux: Against my better judgement, I decided I’d check out the new Dracula show on NBC. It was… okay, I guess.

It opened strong with a wonderfully nasty scene of a desiccated Dracula being revived in his crypt with the blood of an unwilling donor, but that was largely it for the good stuff. After that it was glacially slow, a lot of exposition and setup, and a couple of things that were just odd. (Why would Dracula impersonate an American industrialist in order to visit London, and why the HELL would he care about alternative energy sources from the ‘magnetosphere’?) The few vampire scenes felt perfunctory, like they were contractually obligated.

There’s a conspiracy story about something called The Order of the Dragon that apparently Dracula and Van Helsing are teaming up to fight, but… I dunno. Just didn’t do much for me. It was better than all the CW young-pretty-people supernatural shows like Vampire Diaries and so on, but it wasn’t that interesting. I might give it one or two more tries, but I’m not terribly optimistic. It was better than I thought it would be but that’s about it.

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And that’s all I’ve got this time out. Have a happy Halloween, everyone, and I’ll see you next week.

16 Comments

My stance on horror titles back then was pretty much identical to yours: I avoided them as they were outside of my super-hero (and occasionally Disney Duck and Archie) comfort zone. It was only later when I discovered comic shops and flipped through some issues in the cheapie box that I realized what I’d been missing. Also, another often outstanding title in this regard is Weird War Tales – which also seems to have stopped after only a single Showcase edition.

Great article as usual but … any love for Tomb of Dracula?

In one of the last couple of Previews catalogs, the flipside of the book had a ton of different horror type collections, presumably available to order from Diamond, so perhaps your retailer would be able to put in an order for something? I definitely recall the Sinister House one, and there were a few others that escape my memory right now. Burgas probably has the print copy around and could find it. I would guess it was Previews 301, but I’m not positive.

There were also a bunch of the PS Artbooks with Harvey Horror and ACG ones, some other stuff too. I know the Fantagraphics EC books were available, but I decided to wait on those because I saw that the first 4 of them are going to be available in a slipcased edition in the new year. (And, off topic, a 2 volume edition of Witzend is coming too. GAH!)

To quote Mitch Hedberg: “I went to the doctor. All he did was suck blood from my neck. Don’t go see Dr. Acula.”

Great article as usual but … any love for Tomb of Dracula?

I loved all the seventies Marvel horror books… Tomb of Dracula, Dracula Lives, Werewolf By Night, Vampire Tales, even the books that were mostly a hot mess like Tales of the Zombie, Son of Satan and War Is Hell. But I discovered those forty years ago, not last week. These DC books were all new to me, I’d skipped them the first time around.

I think that’s an Al Williamson page, not a Bernie Wrightson one.

That Bruce Timm drawing is incredible!

Great column, Greg. Full of my favorite things. I wasn’t a horror fan when those DC books were first coming out, so I skipped them. They just looked too creepy. But I when I heard the Secrets of Sinister House had gothic love stories I snapped it up when it first came out – I’m a big Mary Stewart/Victoria Holt/Phyllis A. Whitney fan – and I haven’t regretted it. The black and white art is just gorgeous and you get some pretty neat stories.

On NBC’s Dracula. If you’re going to change the relationships, why on earth use Dracula in the first place? Just create your own vampire. And I swear it almost looks like they’re going for some kind of weird Occupy Wallstreet/ the 1% thing – mixed with a bit of Green Energy – with the Order of the Dragon being the controllers of everything. I’ll probably just pop my new dvd of Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein in instead of watching anymore of it.

I have the following Showcase Presents: Jonah Hex 1, House of Mystery 1-3, Spectre, Phantom Stranger 1-2, and Weird War Tales 1. They are awesome for the very reasons you state. I love the various classic artists that pop up throughout. My favorites being Neal Adams and Jim Aparo, to name a few. The best thing is the bang for the buck you get when you buy these. They are relatively cheap and loaded to the brim with variety.

At first, I was reluctant to get the books b/c they are black and white, but that has turned out to be a very redeeming quality. The artists’ line work is so much more striking than in color.

nice article though surprised you did not try and include just to be equel with the comics tomb of dracula in the thing . and may have to now track down those horror show cases to see how the stories shown end. have a happy halloween

Speaking of Tomb Of Dracula and outrageous prices, have you seen how much the Omnibus editions for that series are going for on Amazon? I’d love to read them but now I’m doubly sorry I missed them the first time around…

Speaking of Tomb Of Dracula and outrageous prices, have you seen how much the Omnibus editions for that series are going for on Amazon? I’d love to read them but now I’m doubly sorry I missed them the first time around…

The omnibus editions are WAY out of my budget, even at regular retail. I like the Essentials better anyway, I think the Colan-Palmer stuff looks better in black-and-white. And they included everything from Dracula Lives! too.

Truthfully, my experience with comics omnibus hardcovers is that they’re kind of heavy and awkward to actually READ. Especially in bed at night, which is where most of my reading happens.

What I missed about about the post-Crisis DC at the time was how much smaller it was.

DC Comics published so many more comics in so many more genres than Marvel through the Silver and Bronze Ages that a superhero focused kid (like me) could really miss what they were about as a publisher. Going back as an adult is a little embarrassing. I never gave those 70s horror titles a chance and they are great. The same is true for the War stuff. DC had real giants spend the lion’s share of their careers in those genres.

Also, the anthology format is such a perfect way to develop writers that it is a shame that it is gone.

I read this column and had to run out and buy the Showcase House of Mystery vol. 1 & 2 at Half Price Books, because I remembered seeing one of them there the last time I was there.

Going back as an adult is a little embarrassing. I never gave those 70s horror titles a chance and they are great. The same is true for the War stuff. DC had real giants spend the lion’s share of their careers in those genres.

That’s kind of my experience, except I’m much more excited than embarrassed. For me it really is like having a whole bunch of new stuff to read from my favorite creators. 70s war books especially– UNKNOWN SOLDIER was brand new to me and just rocked my world. Same with Archie Goodwin on HAUNTED TANK.

I love those Showcase collections in general, but by Grodd, the horror ones are my favorites! I don’t have all of them– I’ve got Ghosts, The Witching Hour, Secrets of Sinister House, House of Mystery volumes 1 &2, and The Spectre and Phantom Stranger if you count those two– but the ones I do have are some of my favorite books that I own. The format is perfect for the horror books; the art really shines in black and white. (I was disappointed that the collection of the old I, Vampire stories we got a couple of years ago was in color.) It’s a shame that the Showcase line seems to be getting mostly neglected these days. Makes me wonder if they’re phasing the line out in favor of the increasingly numerous omnibus editions.

@ Druken Fist:

If DC is moving away from the Showcase format, then it is a shame.

The flat coloring of that era has not aged as gracefully as the line work. Seeing the stable of artists that DC had working in the sixties and seventies has been a revelation. Plus, there are characters and properties that had their history strung across multiple titles, because they weren’t that popular at the time.

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