Tag Archives: Horror

Paul Buhle on Comics: ‘Lugosi: The Rise & Fall of Hollywood’s Dracula’

LUGOSI!

Koren Shadmi, Lugosi: The Rise & Fall of Hollywood’s Dracula. Foreword by Jon R. Lansdale. Los Angeles: Life Drawn/Humanoids, 2021, 160pp. $29.95.

Guest Review by Paul Buhle

It is best to admit that we live in terrible times, while we struggle to keep things from getting markedly worse, as they surely will without the needed collective effort that a large number of Americans (among others) seem not actually to want. How does this gloomy reality affect the creation of comic art, one of the more interesting artistic developments of our time, all the more important for its popularity among young people?

Horror comics once occupied the center of social controversy, along with the supposed gay relationship of Batman and Robin and other such McCarthy Era nonsense. The Congressional hearings that broke the booming comic industry of the 1940s-50s, reducing its successors to smaller fields, hit paydirt in one real way: those horror comics were indeed bloody and grim. Harvey Kurtzman’s widow Adele insisted that she and Harvey never allowed the children to read them, not even the EC horror comics whose heavy sales made Mad possible.

Did the controversy around horror comics connect somehow with the huge cult of horror films going back to the Silent days, getting hugely bigger in the 1930s and turning upon themselves as parody in the 1940s? Without a doubt. Nothing was bigger, nothing in the future of horror films all the way into the twenty-first century, could be bigger than Dracula and Frankenstein, aka Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff.

We have no Karloff comic yet, and we can hope that it is more politically attuned than the volume at hand for Boris’ leading role in the early Screen Actors Union, his ardent antifascism and his insistence that children watching the classic Frankenstein (1931) knew the supposed monster was the real victim of the ignorant, vicious villagers. His literary lineage, of course, traced back to Mary Wollstonecraft and the big metaphor about the degradations of modern aka emerging capitalist society with the monster as metaphoric proletarian body, both product and victim.

Dracula comes from a different place, of course, but is historically wound around a surprisingly similar character. The careful tracing in this comic of Bela Lugosi’s Hungarian background, his meteoric rise to stardom, his floundering personal life, downfall and notorious final engagement with Ed Wood, is enlivening but misses a whole lot. Hungary had a red revolution in 1919 followed by a rightwing takeover that placed the nation in a similar spot, a natural alliance, with Mussolini taking power in Italy, followed by Hitler in Germany.

What could have been….

Lugosi was not exactly a union or community organizer. But the artistic giant of the large Hungarian-American Left, Hugo Gellert, would have been well known to Lugosi, politically and culturally. Lugosi, asked by revolutionary leader Bela Kun to be the leader of the national trade union movement before his departure, seems to have become a New Deal Democrat in the US, but played a key role in the Hungarian-American Counncil for Democracy, that is, working closely with Gellart and with that other  famed  antifascist Bela: Bela Bartok. As the rampage of Fascism threatened the world, from the middle 1930s onward, the “two Belas” could be counted upon for financial contributions and public appearances rallying the immigrant communities, in wartime to raise funds and support antifascism, in this case, Russian and Hungarian in particular.

Of all this, we see nothing in the comic.  Nor the ways in which the descending Cold War moods brought depression and a sense of panic among erstwhile antifacists. Hollywood, in Lugosi’s last years, was the home of the Blacklist. He escaped by not actually belonging to any Left organizations. Or perhaps because he was already too beaten to subpoena.

All that said, the personal drama of Lugosi’s life is well told here, and the drawing is impressive. Too much seems to be about the complicated romantic life, women won and lost, the over-extended ego that seemed to take over his creative power, with too little about the complications of his Hollywood career, let alone the unique artistry with which he approached his parts.

There goes a great star…

The Black Cat (1935), directed by Edgar G. Ulmer, using a title from Edgar A. Poe’s work but bearing no other resemblance, was a masterpiece of horror and a brilliantly-wrought critique of the destruction brought upon humanity by the First World War. The two old military adverseries (the other is Boris Karloff) meet, and are seen with some of the staggeringly expessionist cinematography to that point in film-making anywhere. The subtle politics of the film are entirely lost to the comic artist, but the importance for Lugosi is clear. He was already a star, but now he became a super-star.

All too soon, the moment passed. By the time Robert Lees and his sreenwriting partner Fred Rinaldo delivered the script of Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein to the studio in 1947 (sadly, Karloff had been replaced by Lon Chaney, Jr., and Lugosi is strictly camp), the cliches of monster films were already being turned inside out and played for laughs. Actually, with Bud and Lou offering up the best comedy around, Lugosi and Karloff were perfectly straight-faced and perfect.

But of course, this suggested a drift downward. Where to go from self-satire? Lugosi’s life was turning bad in every way. As depicted, he was addicted to drugs, unable to make a living or a personal appearance in Hollywood’s clubs and restaurants in the old way. He died too late, if earlier would have meant avoiding Ed Wood.

Paul Buhle

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Review: The Gloaming (#1-5) by Hans Rickheit

THE GLOAMING

The Gloaming (#1-5) on-going series. by Hans Rickheit. Chrome Fetus. 2021. Five-issue multi-pack: print $20 and digital $15

Hans Rickheit is one of my favorite cartoonists. I have reviewed his work going back some twenty years and have seen it grow in stature. Back then, I was part of a crew of reviewers and I was known as someone with a taste for the offbeat and strange and who championed the misfit. For a taste of Rickheit’s work, check out his ongoing series, Cochlea & Eustachia. I relate to Rickheit’s touch of strange. I aspire to pushing limits in my own work in comics: seeking out distinctive storytelling paths; refining a signature style; challenging the reader. I see all of that happening in Rickheit’s work. Of course, I am not alone. His quirky, creepy, and overall gorgeous art has struck a chord with readers world-wide. Fast forward to now, and we find Rickheit raising the stakes higher with his most provocative comics ever. Has he gone out on a limb and is it worth it?

Be careful what you wish for.

Up until now, Rickheit’s work has maintained an otherworldly vibe with some restrained erotic undertones. For his latest project, The Gloaming, this adults-only comic book series finds Rickheit having crossed over to work that is beyond overtly sexual. He would be the first to admit that it is pornographic in nature: explicit sexual content; X-rated material without a doubt. Rickheit is an interesting case as he seems to be someone who can’t help but create artful comics. He seems to be gingerly navigating his way through terrain that would prove way too challenging for many cartoonists to justify. And maybe he doesn’t fully succeed and that’s alright. This is a daring experiment and one perhaps inevitable. It’s clear that it engages this masterful cartoonist and, in turn, it will engage the discerning mature reader.

Don’t look too hard.

Let’s say that your favorite auteur filmmaker made a film with some very strong sexual content. You might say that the film is a challenging departure for the filmmaker. Or you might throw your hands up and say the filmmaker has gone too far. That is where Rickheit finds himself. He has concocted a narrative about a mad scientist with a penchant for creating sex slaves and a lot of the plot involves the slaves servicing the mad scientist or servicing each other. There’s also a parallel story going on about a race of space alien sex slaves who are programmed to relentlessly pleasure themselves or whoever crosses their path, like some unsuspecting demon who appears out of nowhere. So, lots of freaky furry stuff going on. But is it art? Is it porn? Well, it’s both. But mostly it’s art. It brings to mind, or at least to my mind, “Made in Heaven,” the collaboration between Jeff Koons and his then-wife Ilona Staller (“Cicciolina”). Now, there’s a work that straddles art and, well, porn, or work of a highly explicit sexual nature. The intent is said to be art but you can argue that the couple’s sex act show is more hype than anything else; an odd curiosity that is part of a greater whole. I think Koons would agree with me on that.

Easy does it.

The actual narrative to The Gloaming does have its subplots and nuances. This is a story that features a cult of clones, who are all programmed to have an insatiable sexual appetite and are loyal to the hive, especially the leader, the mad scientist. Like every plan, there are variants that creep in. That explains four particular clones. These four young women seem to have minds of their own. For the most part, they basically behave like wild animals out to satisfy themselves save for one who is methodical. This one gets picked on by the other three sisters. This one is sort of like a Cinderella, but prone to ungodly mischief like the rest. These four are set apart from the rest of the clones and get to live in the mansion. Like I mentioned, there’s also this parallel story going on involving a race of space alien clones and that subplot is festering in the background presumably to reveal a greater truth by the time this series wraps up.

The loss of innocence.

Rickheit has moved past the stage of wondering if he’s made the right choice with this project. His main concern it seems, based on the bits of comments he provides to introduce each issue, have to do with craftsmanship. Rickheit repeatedly worries about whether or not he’s up to the task of depicting all the anatomical contortions, and related sexual activities going on in his comic. I think he is. But I do appreciate that he’s sensitive to consistently keeping the human figure alive and dancing upon the page. Sometimes a shortcut here and there can take the reader out of the story. And, as I say, there is a story, one of a growing uneasy tension between mysterious forces. This is mostly a mood piece as the title implies. That said, this is also an experiment to see what readers make of it. Do readers of Hans Rickheit prefer to keep the veil of mystery on or do they want it fully ripped off with nothing spared? I think this project is an intriguing departure but I do not believe it’s sustainable in its present form, not in the long run. More often than not, it’s nice to pull the covers up. Then again, it depends upon what the auteur cartoonist wants to achieve. Blutch, for example, has claimed he’d like nothing more than to create pure porn but then he doesn’t go and actually do that because artful and literary concerns kick in. I think what he really means is that he just wants the freedom to do as he sees fit. At the end of the day, usually that will mean that he wants to create something with integrity. That’s what Rickheit is after too.

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William F. Nolan Dead at 93; New ‘Logan’s Run’ Remains a Mystery

From Henry Chamberlain’s graphic novel, George’s Run

William F. Nolan was one of the grand old men from the golden age of science fiction and horror spanning pulp fiction, television and the movies. Starting out as an illustrator in Kansas City, Nolan ultimately made his way to Hollywood and became part of a group of writers within the orbit of Ray Bradbury, and subsequently Charles Beaumont, all trying to break into television. As part of the inner circle of writers, casually known as, “The Group,” little by little, Nolan gained some ground.

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Review: MAIDS by Katie Skelly

Maids

Maids. by Katie Skelly. Fantagraphics Books. Seattle. 112pp, $19.99.

An eyeball plops onto the floor, is picked up, and then turns into a doorknob. That is the best moment in comics for this year. 2020 has been a very spooky and sad year and so this little graphic novel is all the more made for this moment.

That eyeball!

There’s a lot of comics theory out there being tossed around. It’s very easy to start one of those erudite conversations about comics and ponder about what lies between the panels. Well, it’s a vast nothingness. It’s the gutter space. And, while you’re advised upon how you can manipulate the gutter space, slice it and dice it, the fact is that, in general, you don’t really want to call attention to it. No, it’s mostly the panels where the action is and that is what cartoonist Katie Skelly mindfully builds. Her gutter space is neutral. That’s where time passes. In fact, the panels could all be nothing more than a grid and we, as readers, would be satisfied. But a good variation in panels can do a lot of the heavy lifting in order to enhance the reading experience. Maids is Skelly’s latest graphic novel and it is quite an experience.

Beautiful narrative flow.

If you aware of this book, then you already know this is a stylish take on a true crime story, set in 1930s France, with the simple enough plot of two maids who murder the mansion’s inhabitants. For a story such as this, it is all in the telling–or showing. Skelly takes delight in presenting us the two culprits, two young women, Christine and Lea. These are two down-and-out girls who stumble upon working together for a rich family. By and by, we get to know the two girls, just barely out of their teens. What’s interesting is that they are far from likable. In fact, they are more likely to steal and loaf around than much of anything else. In turn, the rich family is not particularly villainous. They are more or less right to find the two girls to be repulsive. So, plenty of gray area to consider. No clear hero or villain. And yet, some may read a story here of a worker’s revolt. What is happening here is more open-ended than that. This is less a call for class warfare and more of a macabre journey we might enjoy on a cold winter’s night and, for that, Skelly has masterfully delivered.

Rise and shine!

For more details, visit Fantagraphics Books right here.

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Halloween Review: MY PRETTY VAMPIRE

My Pretty Vampire

My Pretty Vampire. by Katie Skelly. Fantagraphics Books. Seattle. softcover, 2018. 108pp, $16.99.

Katie Skelly is a cartoonist that I admire a lot. I was looking over my library of books and it occurrs to me that My Pretty Vampire is just the right book for Halloween. Of course, it’s right for any season, but the point is that Katie Skelly’s uncanny work is especially delicious at this time of year. If my web presence is helpful to you, well, then I find it most rewarding to share with you fellow cartoonists of this caliber. Basically, Skelly pulls together elements from many areas, both high and low culture. Her style is very smooth and clean. If you appreciate horror in its many forms, then you know that the good stuff can get pretty deep. Well, that is absolutely the case with this book. Even if you just give it a quick casual scan, you can’t help but sense there’s more than meets the eye. Skelly’s style defies easy categorization. I see hints of Edward Gorey or Dame Darcy or Richard Sala. Ultimately, Katie Skelly has put in the time, absorbed numerous influences, and emerged with a distinctive vision.

Highbrow Meets Lowbrow.

I love the irreverent vibe running throughout this book. You aren’t suppose to take anything too seriously. At the same time, the comic casts its spell upon the reader. The reader becomes immersed in the strange and creepy narrative. The deeper one gets into the story, the reader discovers a far more esoteric world than expected in the typical horror genre.

More Than Meets The Eye.

My Pretty Vampire is a beautifully pared-down work in comics with a unique haunting quality. Take any page at random and you can hang it up on a gallery wall. That is not an easy thing to accomplish. Some comics just aren’t meant to show in a gallery while some work, like Skelly’s, infused with such a rich assortment of elements, has the substance it takes to hold up to closer scrutiny.

When Horror is More than Horror.

Editor’s Note: Be sure to check out Katie Skelly’s most recent graphic novel, just out this month, Maids, published by Fantagraphics Books.

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Review: ‘Mary: The Adventures of Mary Shelley’s Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Granddaughter’

Mary: The Adventures of Mary Shelley’s Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Granddaughter

Mary: The Adventures of Mary Shelley’s Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Granddaughter. Written by Brea Grant. Art by Yishan Li. Six Foot Press. Houston. 2020. 144pp, $18.99.

On my radar right now is a graphic novel about a teenage girl who is a direct descendant of Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein, and has to deal with the pressure of living up to the name. She doesn’t see a career in writing in her future, worries about what her big purpose in life might be, and then she discovers she has special powers that help heal monsters. It turns out to be a really well put together read that is suitable for any age and, of course, a perfect book as we celebrate Halloween. But, beyond that holiday, this is also a wonderful gateway book to a better appreciation of reading, writing and the joy of books so it is totally something to be enjoyed by young readers, ages 12-18.

Good things come to life!

The winning combination of writer Brea Grant and artist Yishan Li makes this book very appealing. I sincerely believe you can create magic by teaming up two powerhouse talents who are genuinely having fun. This is such a book. And why? Well, there’s an endless number of ways to create a graphic novel but the notable ones manage to grab your attention in some unusual and distinctive way. Brea Grant has a very accessible and conversational style of writing. Yishan Li compliments this with her own very warm and personal style of drawing. Both manage to welcome and engage the reader. Even a somewhat jaded middle-aged guy like me will respond positively to this kind of presentation.

A most engaging graphic novel!

The opening page grabs the reader with plenty of fun and intriguing elements. We see what looks like a spooky shrine to all things Frankenstein and Mary Shelley. A couple of more panels and we get a close-up view of an oil painting portrait of Shelley. She, of course, says, “Hello.” It’s going to be that kind of book which we love, right? Just as much as we love the creepy vibe running throughout Netflix’s Bly Manor. A few more pages in and we see that a petite Goth girl is to be our main character. We go through some family history. And then, just as we’re settling in – Zap! – Mary has somehow achieved a cosmic connection with her frog specimen for Biology class. Something very unusual is happening and that’s just the start of it. Before long, Mary is becoming acquainted with a whole universe of monsters who are all relying upon her to cure their ills!

This is, as I say, an exceptional book. I go through quite a lot of books and I really need a wow factor to get my attention. I think the main reason that this is the right stuff is the book’s originality and sense of humor. Sure, we’ve all been down many a Sabrina-like road. The thing is, there’s room for more if done right. There’s a fresh approach here that wins me over much like all the attention to detail you find in a John Hughes film. I dare you to watch the last ten minutes of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and not be blown away by the impeccable timing. There’s a good amount of that to be found in this book. I think, for example, of the banter between Mary and Polly, a very smelly and anti-social harpy. Or, I really enjoyed some of the more subtle touches like the set-up establishing Mary’s mom engrossed in work on her laptop even while supernatural laser beams are darting across. This book is hard to resist, whether or not it’s Halloween.

For more information, go to Six Foot Press right here.

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Review: ‘The Necrophilic Landscape’ by Morgan Vogel

The Necrophilic Landscape by Morgan Vogel

The Necrophilic Landscape. by Tracy Auch (Morgan Vogel). 2dCloud. Minneapolis, MN, 2015, 32 pages, $12.

When I learned about The Necrophilic Landscape, it struck me as something that I needed to become familiar with. As an indie cartoonist, I was saddened to learn about the death of Morgan Vogel, someone who was at the forefront of creating avant-garde comics. That’s not an easy thing to do well. Yes, anyone might try but few truly succeed. I had posted how Morgan Vogel reveled in using pen names. Vogel credits The Necrophilic Landscape with the pen name,  Tracy Auch. And then she goes one better and pretends to be the editor of her own work. Consider this brilliant literary prank which you can find quoted on the 2dCloud Instagram:
Why did you release The Necrophilic Landscape as you did, with the color removed and the title changed?
Morgan Vogel: “The Necrophilic Landscape” was composed in 2010 and then shelved after being rejected for a grant. At that time the author was influenced by gothic and genre literature such as Melmoth the Wanderer and The Devil’s Elixirs, or Edogawa Ranpo’s Detective Stories. In my personal work I try to avoid nostalgia in the use of these generic references to male authors. I was asked to edit “The Necrophilic Landscape” and turn it into something suitable for release. I chose to foregoround a theme that was only partially worked out in the original, that is– that the narrative takes place in an almost entirely male world. The most obstructive editorial decision I made was to remove a central passage which contained the original’s only depiction of sex or a female character. The printed version of the book is more disjointed as a result of this decision, but it seemed to me that the only explanation for the narrative’s total mystification of sexual reproduction could be that it takes place in a fantasy world that contains only men and male children. The change in title reflects my critical distance as an editor and was meant to refer to a concept employed by a feminist theorist I like of a male drive towards necrophilia (versus female ‘biophilia’). I believe the color was removed because scans of the original artwork were not available.”
Indeed, it’s good to have some background going in. Now, buckle up, this is going to be a deliciously bumpy ride. Okay. Comics can be many things. When someone casually picks up a comic and dismisses it for being, for example, “disjointed,” they are really missing out. To say a work is disjointed sounds impressive and authoritative. It’s the most used dis in academic circles and usually means the reader did not even bother to carefully read the work. Anyway, I just mention that because so much gets batted around by neurotic experts, insecure gatekeepers and pathetic tastemakers, jetsetters, and knee-jerkers. It’s an ugly world with a lot of ugly people. But a lot of good people too, no doubt, so let’s take a look at a little book that comes out smelling like a rose. I turn your delicate attention to The Necrophilic Landscape.

Page excerpt from The Necrophilic Landscape

Morgan Vogel’s  life was cut short at the age of 34. By all counts, Morgan Vogel was the real deal: a bright light of creativity with a genuine sense of humor. A lot of works in comics, whether mainstream or alternative, barely register as worthwhile. The trouble, as I say, centers around a disrespect for the comics medium by various guilty parties. But dig around, and you find this. The key thing here is a sharp and subversive mind at play. The drawing looks crude but, in fact, it has a power to it. Gary Panter comes to mind. The writing seems dense at first but it has a way of disarming you. What you’ve got is a surreal poetic nightmare.

What you have is a work that employs the same kind of energy you can find in, say, the best contemporary painting or experimental theater. The actual narrative is about an all-male world in which sexual reproduction doesn’t exist and the primary class division in society is between men and children. So, heavy stuff but also an intriguing framework to explode upon the page, to explore the body and soul. And, amid the dark, there is some wonderfully light humor as in a scene showing how the children manage to outwit the men by disguising themselves as adults. The solution is as easy as something out of an early comic strip. One kid stands on the shoulders of another kid and they cover each other up with a big overcoat. Voilà, instant adult.

If this were a movie, it might be unwatchable but, thankfully, it’s a comic. There simply are things you can do in comics that you can’t do anywhere else. Lots of depictions of body horror can be uniquely finessed within comics and so it goes here. Top it off with the sort of melancholy you’ll find in a good Russian novel, and you’re all set and ready to go right into a morbidly happy oblivion. This book gets all the stars I can give it. I guess that’s five, right?  Strange. Loopy. Totally radically authentic. Talked about in smart circles but hard to find unless you know where to look. Simply put, this is the Maltese Falcon of indie comics. Seek it out.

Page excerpt from The Necrophilic Landscape

I’ll leave you with a parting thought. What makes me a good guide into the world of Morgan Vogel? Well, you can take your pick amongst a number of good souls. As for me, I happen to be someone who paid the price of admission into the indie comics community. I’ve experienced it in all its many facets and, I can tell you, it all can amount to a good kick in the teeth or a most rewarding loopy detour depending upon how you look at it. Believe me, I have nothing to prove. I choose to look at it as a natural extension of what I do creatively and I understand it within a broader context of all sorts of artistic endeavors. I just think that Morgan and I would have gotten along.

For more details on The Necrophilic Landscape and an impressive assortment of cutting-edge comics, visit 2dCloud right here.

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Book Review: IMPACT Comics from Dark Horse EC Archives

EC Archive: Impact

Guest Review by Paul Buhle

EC Archives: Impact. Milwaukie, OR: Dark Horse, 2020.  168 pages. $49.95.

Impact Comics, which lasted only 5 issues, would be memorable if for only one story. As Greg Sadowski, the forgotten fan-biographer of artist Bernard Krigstein suggests,”Master Race,” a mere eight pages and scripted by Al Feldstein (Mar., 1955), is the masterpiece of anti-fascism but also of comic art design and execution. It enters the mind of the Holocaust survivor as he discovers, tracks down and wreaks revenge upon a human monster within the bowels of Manhattan’s subway system.

How could this humble popular art carry the weight of serious modern art, so serious that it escapes the then-current cult of abstract expressionism? This is the story worth telling.

Impact Comics (1955) may be viewed simply as a technical triumph of popular might. The story lines are taut, the art is crisp, and if we were to choose a single outstanding feature, it might actually be the coloring work of Marie Severin, master craftsperson of the field. We might also view Impact within a broader context.

MASTER RACE, original first page, March, 1955.

Comic art, comic book art and narrative, must be amongst the most improbable subjects in all of art history. Or perhaps this was true until the recent rise of comic art studies in college courses, online journals,  and Comi-Con panels bringing together living artists with aficionados. But never, since the rise of the fan world and press, has the comics field been without its own small legion of self-taught scholars and devotees, going way back to the early 1950s. In this small world grown surprisingly larger, EC publications have had a special place of honor. EC war, science fiction and above all humor publications brought traditional comic book art to its apex and….edge of demise. Impact, with only a handful of others, remains or rather retains in its best stories, a treasured sample of what might have been.

The longer backstory will be familiar to most readers, and can be noted briefly here. Comics publisher Max Gaines’s sudden death in 1949 threw his mini-empire into the hands of his widow and son. The younger Gaines, to his own surprise a shrewd and driving businessman, hired some of the great talents of the field, including of course Harvey Kurtzman, destined to transform the field of printed humor with Mad Comics and, more famously, Mad Magazine.

By the early 1950s, time was truly running out for EC comics as constituted. Congressional investigations and the imposition of the Comics Code would drive the most lucrative EC genre, i.e., horror, to the wall, and with it the whole venture of EC comics. Perhaps television would have swallowed up the field soon enough anyway? We do not know. But millions of readers, not all of them under the age of 20, were reading and buying comics of a wide variety so long as they were available, with print runs often in the hundreds of thousands.

EC became known, through nearly all its lines of merchandise, for “snap” endings, the surprise on the last page or even in the final panel, carrying the message of the story at large. Strikingly unlike its competitors, EC also had an unusual propensity for what might be called social themes. Its Sci Fi line featured the world of post Atomic war destruction, or space travel revealing some weakness—less often, strength—in human nature. (Some of the best story lines were adapted, or swiped, from Ray Bradbury.) Military history offered something almost unknown in other companies’ war comics: the tragedy faced by civilians in both sides, and the horror that might be found in the eyes even of the victorious American patriots.

Artist Bernie Krigstein taps into the zeitgeist of an anxious era.

In the “Age of Anxiety,” when psychoanalysis was said to have replaced Marxism or any other social reform theory as a favorite pastime of intellectuals, EC actually had its own short-lived Psychoanalysis Comics. But seen carefully, psychological issues penetrated all of EC’s lines, as soldiers, space travelers and even perpetrators of murder seemed terribly troubled, driven by urges that they finally could not control.

Bill Gaines evidently viewed the creation of Impact as a kind of bracing mechanism against the end of his little empire. Al Feldstein, the all-purpose editor also taking over Mad Magazine from Kurtzman, who resigned in 1956, was the hard-driving editor seemingly willing to take on anything, and make Impact as nearly perfect as he could. The determination by writer (often enough, Feldstein himself) and artist, shine through in one way or another on nearly every page and every panel.

ShockSuspense (1954), the earliest entry in the then-new Impact series, was closer to horror comics with violent and sometimes supernatural stories. It was also more politically dramatic, now and then. A KKK-style lynching story of Southern life substituted a bosomy white dame for a black man, but dealt heavy blows to violent prejudice. Another story showed a redneck crowd beating to death an actual veteran who did not take off his hat to salute the flag because…he was blind.

Most of the Impact under review stayed closer to the hard-hitting, small films and often live television drama of the time, where a rising business executive realizes the more rottenness of the world he has entered, or the frantic striving for domestic happiness in the suburb leads to bitter alienation and heavy drinking. The protagonists here are cheating themselves and others of happiness, cutting corners in business and life, or even by accident of some childhood trauma cutting themselves off from adult fulfillment. What remains the most vivid, in the “snap” ending, is that uncertainty of life itself in the supposed paradise of modern consumerism at its apex.  And the possibility, if not perhaps likelihood, that wrong-doers will get their punishment in one way or another.

Steven Ringgenberg’s Foreword offers us a general picture of the publication within EC’s frantic efforts for life, Grant Geissman’s Introduction expertly guides us through the intentions of Gaines and Feldman as they marched through the bi-monthly schedule toward something that, as it turned out, was only a prelude to the fabulous success of Mad Magazine.

Excerpt from MASTER RACE, known as “The Citizen Kane of Comics.”

It would be almost inside baseball to note that Jack Davis, among the most brilliant of all Mad Comics artists, did all the front covers of the series, or that he was joined in the stories themselves by a distinguished crew of George Evans, Jack Kamen, Graham Ingels, Joe Orlando, Reed Crandall and of course, Bernard Krigstein. And of course Marie Severin, who was also the last of the EC bunch to live well into the 21st century.

Only those who went on to Mad Magazine, foremost Orlando, were to gain much recognition. Krigstein, who led the failed effort to unionize the field of comic book artists (publishers bought off the best talent and threatened to fire everyone else) during the early 1950s, became an art teacher and painted for his own pleasure, mostly landscapes.

Thus did a genre and its makers disappear. But not without leaving behind a legacy of sorts, and a print item to be repurposed for the next generations. Impact was first reprinted by Gemstone Publishing in 1999 and here, by Dark Horse, presented again in fine form with fresh introductory and explanatory material.

EC Comics Archives: Impact is published by Dark Horse Comics.

Paul Buhle‘s next comic, drawn by Sharon Rudahl, is a life of Paul Robeson (Rutgers University Press, October, 2020.

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Indiegogo: THE EIGHTH, a New Adventure Comic

THE EIGHTH

The Eighth is a very impressive new comic book (now on Indiegogo) by Adam Lawson (writer/director of the YouTube Original series Escape The Night, and the gaming shows Tabletop and Spellslingers) and Lawson’s longtime collaborator, Jorin Evers. First, this is the premise: an epic adventure featuring two teenagers, David Wells and Emma Adachi, who unlock a piece of ancient Sumerian armor, but mismanage its power and end up committing murder. Before they know it, they find themselves on a terrifying journey to change or destroy the world with no going back. Now, the goal of the current Indiegogo campaign is to collect all the issues of the comic book into a glorious 200-page glossy trade paperback. As Adam Lawson puts it:

For almost two years, Jorin and I have slaved away on the pages completing five of the eight issues and given away all of our free time. With your contributions, we can take this across the finish and deliver into your hands, in stunning glossy print, the 200-page story of David, the 8th and his misfit friends.

David & Emma

Taking a close look at the first issue in this series, I see a well-paced story that got my attention right from the start. Writer/creator Adam Lawson and artist Jorin Evers deliver a gritty story playing with teenage wasteland tropes that ring very true. David is the math whiz who is being raised by his mother and aunt. Emma is a teen who ran away from her foster family and lives in the same house with David. Things look pretty dire and bleak. But there’s something about both David and Emma that leaves the reader wondering. There’s that touch of strange that means everything. Infused with just the right doses of horror, science fiction, and dark fantasy, this all adds up to a most unique and compelling story.

Out to save the world.

It will be up to David to see if he can rise to the challenge. As they say in scientific circles, the cat in the box is both alive and dead up until the box is opened. David makes the choice to open the box and find out. All along the way, the reader gets deeper into the action and more involved with the characters in unexpected ways. For instance, aloof and quiet Emma has got quite a steamy crush on David. The art by Jorin Evers brings it all to life with vivid energy. Lawson and Evers nicely set it up and then, bang, the reader is rewarded with a new twist on the superhero mythos. That twist is definitely there with just the right set of circumstances. Like any good thriller, it all comes down to being careful for what you wish for. But what’s the fun in being so careful, right? That’s the devil’s bargain that David and Emma will have to deal with. The promo material already alludes to a cosmic connection with Sumerian antiquity. Well, without spoiling anything, Lawson and Evers bring you a superhero story for a new generation, full of ugly truth and full of righteous fury. The Eighth truly feels like something new, a fresh take on superheroes, and that’s saying a lot.

Heroes Emerge!

THE EIGHTH has got just what you’re looking for in a story that’s not afraid to blast through the page. Check out the Indiegogo campaign right here. And you really need to check out the animated book trailer, only available by visiting the Indiegogo campaign.

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Filed under Comics, Comics Reviews, Crowdfunding, Indiegogo

Comics Review: MeSseD

MeSseD

Comics Grinder continues to seek out and support the best in indie comics like this gem coming out of Cincinnati entitled, MeSseD, which is the nickname for the Metropolitan Sewer District! And, yes, if you sense a theme emerging here, you are correct. The main character is sewer worker Lilliput, a sort of tour guide to the weird, wild and wet world beneath our feet. Who exactly is Lilliput and what kind of misadventures does she get into? Let’s find out.

Issues of MeSseD

What wows me about this comic series is that creator/writer Jay B. Kalagayan, and lead artist Dylan Speeg, are not afraid to play with sci-fi tropes and just have some fun. Our main character, Lilliput, has one main responsibility and that’s to keep the effluent (sewage) flowing freely. But what fun is that? Well, it’s not exactly meant to be fun, is it? But it’s essential, right? You don’t want a day with the effluent NOT flowing, am I right? And it takes a lot to keep that flow going. There are all sorts of monsters out there, like the Clew worms, that need to be confronted and taken down. That’s where Lilliput comes in. Of course, she’s not perfect. For instance, she goes against regulations and keeps a pet rat. There’s much to love here.

Keep up with MeSseD by visiting the website right here.

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Filed under Comics, Comics Reviews