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.


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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

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