Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Horror Comics Curved My Spine! Part One

As with most horror geeks raised in the 1960s, the incidents that truly shaped my youth were not civil rights, assassination, and war, but rather late night viewings of Creature From the Black Lagoon with my dad, TV Guide, and Forry Ackerman’s Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine. From five years on, I was hooked on everything horror.

The four color variety arrived to me in 1969 in the form of Ripley's Believe It Or Not #14, published by Gold Key. Four decades plus later, the majority of the Ripley's stuff seems pretty tame, if not downright silly. The same can be said for its sister publications, Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery and The Twilight Zone.

Re-reading Ripley's #14 recently, though, the same kind of goosebumps ran down my spine as when I sat in the treehouse in my backyard with my stash of comics and Mountain bars. The leadoff story, “The Demon of Beachy-Head” tells the tale of evil Sir Robert of England, cursed by an old abbot to die and wander the cliffs of Beachy-Head in chains for all eternity. Sir Robert’s demonic identity, complete with horns and Spock ears, was enough to swear me off solo stints in the treehouse for quite a while. The two back-up features “The Foxes of Doom” and “The Monster of Croglin Grange” are also very effective shockers.

Other early comics in that stack included Gold Key’s UFO Flying Saucers (a greatest hits of alleged Earth visitations by aliens friendly and not so friendly), and Dell’s Ghost Stories. The un-numbered first issue of Ghost Stories from September 1962 includes “The Monster of Dread End...”, a story about a giant hand that haunts the sewers and “The Werewolf Wasp,” starring Bobby, who finds out his Entomology professor is actually a giant spider who’s been cocooning and draining the kid’s classmates. The panel that features Bobby unraveling one of the mummified boys presages the gruesome antics of the Alien films. Luckily, Bobby has found a werewolf wasp and unleashes it on the attacking Professor, who quickly becomes dinner for the insect. The last panel shows Bobby chugging down a hill, gasping “Got to get help...those boys...may be all alive...”

Never mind that it’s badly drawn and Professor Larvay (!) is not introduced until he unmasks... and the fini is anticlimactic and..., well, what the hell is a werewolf wasp and why does the professor fear it? It’s still very cool and a comic reader who respects this kind of stuff will still dig it big time on first read. “The Monster of Dread End” is cited by many as being one of the most frightening and influential comic stories ever written.

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