Monday, September 9, 2019

The Warren Report Issue 16: February-July 1968 (The Dark Ages I)

The Critical Guide to 
the Warren Illustrated Magazines
by Uncle Jack
& Cousin Peter

Vic Prezio
Eerie #13 (February 1968)

"Wentworth's Day"
Story by H. P. Lovecraft & August Dereleth
Adaptation by Russ Jones
Art by Russ Jones & Frank Bolle
(Reprinted from Christopher Lee's Treasury of Terror, Pyramid, 1966)

"Ogre's Castle"
(Reprinted from Creepy #2)

"Tell-Tale Heart!"
(Reprinted from Creepy #3)

(Reprinted from Creepy #1)

"Spawn of the Cat People"
(Reprinted from Creepy #2)

"The Success Story"
(Reprinted from Creepy #1)

Turning off the highway in a storm, a traveling salesman in the rugged New England country north of Dunwich takes shelter at the home of Amos Stark, an old recluse who announces that today is "Wentworth's Day," the day he is due to pay back a loan made to him years before. The man who loaned him the money, Wentworth, died in a hunting accident awhile back and Stark was suspected of being behind the tragedy, so he's nervous as midnight approaches. And well he should be, for the shambling corpse of Wentworth arrives to collect, leaving Stark dead from strangulation.

"Wentworth's Day"
The first real post-Goodwin issue of Creepy is not off to a bad start with this reprint from the Christopher Lee paperback. I've never been a fan of Lovecraft or Dereleth but the story is entertaining enough to hold reader interest for nine pages, and the art is above-average without being remarkable.

The rest of the issue is filled with reprints from the first three issues of Creepy, which came out in late 1964 and early 1965. In comic book time, three to four years is not that long to wait to reprint something, and I expect some readers may have missed these the first time around. The Orlando story is not worth a second look, but the rest of the stories feature nice art by Torres, Williamson, and Crandall (twice). The writing is nothing special.-Jack

Peter-Archie Goodwin's departure from the editor's seat in late 1967 left a cavernous hole at the Warren Publishing office. Though it could be argued that Archie's scripts had become stale, it was obvious that Goodwin was the glue holding the empire together and his exit forced publisher Jim Warren to wear two caps for a time. It did not go well. Suddenly, the contents of Creepy and Eerie became stuffed with reprints and material licensed from Pyramid Books and the page count was cut.

Russ Jones, who had been the first editor of Creepy, was introducing a new concept in illustrated horror: original material for publication in paperbacks. Jones's most popular title in this new field was Ballantine's Dracula, adapted by Craig Tennis and Warren hack Otto Binder, with illos by Jones himself. Jones then headed over to Pyramid to release Christopher Lee's Treasury of Terror, an anthology of five "classic" horror stories done the illustrated way. Since Warren was hurting for original work (it might not have been a coincidence that Archie's exit occurred just as Warren the company was skidding on a long patch of black ice), it must have seemed a good idea at the time. Sales had leveled off and Warren had initiated a move from Philly to the Big Apple, a trek that proved almost deadly. Evidently, Warren must have struck a deal with Jones/Pyramid to reprint the stories within the Lee tome as all five tales would pop up in both titles in the next several months. The "Dark Days" as Jon Cooke labeled them in The Warren Companion (I'd look to author Guy N. Smith for a better sub-title for Warren 1968-1971--"The Sucking Pit!") is not an easy era to grade; reprints seem to be pulled at random and what little new material offered looked exactly like what it was: cheap crap, bought by Jim to fill pages.

The only "new" story here is the tame and lackadaisical "Wentworth's Day," with ho-hum graphics by Jones and Bolle (nothing more than dozens of panels of a character looking pensive), based on one of H.P.'s more average tales. The denouement, of the walking corpse strangling old Amos, was moldy by its original publication date (in The Survivor and Others) in 1957, thanks to the plethora of like climaxes found in Tales from the Crypt, etc., never mind its lack of anything chilling a decade later.

Creepy #19 (March 1968)

"The Mark of the Beast" 
Story by Craig Tennis
Art by Johnny Craig
(Reprinted from Christopher Lee's Treasury of Terror. Pyramid, 1966)

Story by J. Sheridan LeFanu
Adaptation John Benson
Art by Bob Jenney

(Reprinted from Eerie #3)

"Eye of the Beholder"
(Reprinted from Eerie #2)

In India, a hell-raiser named Fleete gets his just desserts when he insults the gods and is cursed by a leper. Luckily, his friends are able to reverse the curse and Fleete lives happily ever after. The second story ripped from the pages of Treasury of Terror is a limp noodle, boring and absent anything resembling thrills or chills. I haven't read Kipling's original story, so I can't comment on whether this was a faithful adaptation but, if so, I'll avoid tracking it down. Johnny Craig's art has never looked so rushed and lifeless.

The atrociously illustrated end of "Carmilla"

Now we're talkin'!
Vampiress "Carmilla" sets her sights on gorgeous young Laura, spinning a web of seduction and terror, until finally the monster is cornered, staked, and beheaded by vampire hunter, General Spielsdorf. Laura lives happily ever after. David Horne, in his mammoth (and essential) Gathering Horror, notes that "Carmilla" was probably crafted for a follow-up volume to Treasury of Terror that never appeared. The art, by Bob Jenney, is as stiff and uninvolving as the story itself and, for some inexplicable reason, the strip is bisected by the two Eerie reprints. A disaster. Much better is the Hammer version, The Vampire Lovers, starring the always-pleasant Ingrid Pitt.

Jack-Sadly, I agree with you on all counts, Peter. From the cheesy cover to the dull Craig reprint to the plodding version of "Carmilla," this issue is a chore to read. Rudyard Kipling's stories have not aged well and, read today, are somewhat embarrassing. Craig's heart just wasn't in this one. As for "Carmilla," a vampire story with lesbian overtones ought to be more fun than this endless (20 page!) retelling. The art is dull, too. One thing that has always bothered me about "Carmilla"--how dumb are these people not to see right away that "Carmilla," "Mircalla," and "Millarca" are all anagrams? One other observation: Eerie #13 reprints stories from Creepy, while Creepy #19 reprints stories from Eerie. Did Warren think people were not reading both mags and wouldn't notice? Unfortunately, the reprints this time out are at most two years old, from Eerie #2 and #3, and they are not very good stories.

Eerie #14 (April 1968)

"The Stalkers"
(Reprinted from Creepy #6)

"Pursuit of the Vampire!"
(Reprinted from Creepy #1)

"Howling Success!"
(Reprinted from Creepy #3)

"Untimely Tomb!"
(Reprinted from Creepy #5)

"Curse of the Full Moon!"
(Reprinted from Creepy #4)

"Blood and Orchids!"
(Reprinted from Creepy #4)

Jack-The first issue with nothing but reprints, Eerie #14 may have looked good to someone who was late to the party, but it was surely frustrating for those who did not want to have a hole in their collection. Six stories pulled from Creepy #1-6 and, while the art is uniformly good, the writing is weak for the most part. Three by Torres and one each by Toth, Crandall, and McWilliams certainly gives good value in the art department, if not in the originality department. Another uninspired cover by Prezio doesn't help matters.

Albert Nuetzell
Creepy #20 (May 1968)

"Thumbs Down!"
(Reprinted from Creepy #6)

"Inheritors of Earth" 
Story and Art by Hector Castellon

"Beauty or the Beast!" ★1/2
Story by Len Brown
Art by Sal Trapani and Dick Giordano (?)

"The Cask of Amontillado!"
(Reprinted from Creepy #6)

"The Damned Thing!"
(Reprinted from Creepy #4)

"A Vested Interest"
(Reprinted from Creepy #8)

Amateur night at the Warren Bijou
Chemist Mark Ansen works for the Hart Chemical Company, perfecting a spray that will wipe out the strongest strain of cockroach, when he's transported into a nightmare world where insects are huge and territorial. Now the bug people want Mark's spray to wipe out their enemies. Mark manages to make it back to our world in one piece, only to discover that his boss is a giant bug-man as well. "Inheritors of the Earth" is so badly written and illustrated that you'd be excused for thinking you picked up a Skywald rather than a Warren. The plot pinballs from one incomprehensible situation to  another, without involving the reader one iota. Castellon's art look rushed and unfinished, as if Jim Warren were calling down the empty bullpen hall that "the deadline is now, whether it's done or not!"

A space exploration crew lands on an alien planet and the men are picked off, one by one, by a vicious, unseen beast that may or may not be the gorgeous local girl the commander has fallen in love with. Spoiler alert: it's not the girl; it's her jealous octopoid husband! "Beauty or the Beast!" is not as awful as "Inheritors of Earth" in either department but it's not very good just the same. It's your average dopey space-horror-opera, combining elements from various other dopey space-horror-operas. Sal Trapani's art is serviceable and gets across what few points are included in Len Brown's script. This was Brown's sole contribution to the Warren empire, but the writer is chiefly known for co-creating (with Wally Wood) T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents for Tower. Note that the Fan Page and Letters Page has disappeared from Creepy, ostensibly because Jim Warren got tired of reading all the complaints from fans who were plunking down their four dimes for reprints and swill. -Peter

"Beauty or the Beast!"
Jack-"Inheritor's of Earth" is so bad in both story and art that it has me rethinking my career. I wrote and drew stories this good in junior high school. Perhaps I have a future in comics? If this can be published, maybe so! Slightly better is "Beauty or the Beast!," which the GCD suggests is inked by Dick Giordano. The art has a real DC Comics feel to it, which doesn't fit at Warren, and the story is tired. Both of these new stories seem much longer than the eight pages they run. As for the four reprints, the art by Williamson, Crandall, and Morrow is great, and the Poe adaptation is a winner, but why reprint a story by Tuska and Heck only two years after it was first published? There was much better stuff to mine from the early Warren mags than this. By the way, this is the first time Creepy is reprinting stories only from Creepy. The cover? Yecch. Bring back Frank Frazetta!

Peter: That cover, by the way, is a reprint as well (from Famous Monsters #4)!!

Eerie #15 (June 1968)

"The Graves of Oconoco!"
Story by John Benson
Art by Pat Boyette & Rocco Mastroserio

"Wardrobe of Monsters!"
(Reprinted from Creepy #2)

"The Demon Wakes"
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Bill Fraccio & Tony Tallarico

"Under the Skin!"
(Reprinted from Eerie #3)

"The Doll Collector!"
Story by Dave Kahler
Art by Gutemberg Monteiro

"A Change in the Moon!"★1/2
Story by Clark Dimond & Terry Bisson
Art by Jeff Jones

Archaeologist Frank Leeds arrives in Brazil, excited to explore "The Caves of Oronoco," which appear to be very old and man-made. Frank's friend Mitchell is a scientist whose lab is near the caves. Mitchell is working on figuring out how to extract nutritious food from dirt. Frank explores the caves and discovers skeletons dressed in warrior garb. Mitchell has no interest in the past and is focused on the future. Soon, his experiment is a success and he makes food from soil. Suddenly, the skeleton of an ancient wolf-dog from the caves comes to life and Mitchell strikes and kills it. He thinks the past is dead, but Frank points out that it is very much alive, as both men see the skeletal warriors from the caves approaching them by moonlight.

"The Caves of Oronoco"
Well, at least it's not a reprint! After the last couple of issues, I'm happy for something new, even if it is this muddled tale. The story doesn't make a lot of sense (and was not easy to summarize) and the art is passable, if nothing special.

It's followed by a reprint of a fun story from Creepy #2. By the way, this issue's letters column features readers complaining about the reprints in Eerie #13. The editor promises that things will get better soon.

Harry Willet seems down, but what's the matter? Even he doesn't know, as the other denizens of his favorite bar query him without success. Deep in a pit, "The Demon Wakes" as Moloch awakens and ascends to the surface, where he kills his guards and is finally free. Back at the bar, Harry Willet suddenly snaps, grabs the bartender's gun, and goes on a shooting rampage before the cop on the beat shoots and kills him. What got into Harry? Moloch!

"The Demon Wakes"
This leftover story by Archie Goodwin is much too wordy and the art is too busy. The whole thing is rather obvious and it's little wonder that it was not published till now. As I read it, I was reminded of the Police song, "Synchronicity II." Trust me, the song is better than the story.

A second reprint follows, this time another pretty good piece from Eerie #3.

Miriam Hollis is "The Doll Collector," and she's a pretty sweet dish herself, even if she treats men as disposable items whose only purpose is to give her presents. When she travels to the Italian Riviera, she is entranced by the Theater of Living Dolls and wants to buy one for her personal collection. Fantocci, the owner, refuses to sell, so she waits till everyone is gone and tries to steal a doll. To her surprise, they are alive and, though she stabs one, she is overcome and added to the collection herself!

I was impressed by the Good Girl Art of Gutemberg Monteiro in the opening pages of this story but, as it went on, it became clear that an intriguing premise was going to lead nowhere. The conclusion is predictable and has been done many times before, and Monteiro's skill at drawing a pretty girl does not extend to the rest of the population.

Eerie gets Kinky!
Tony and Diane Hartford are returning by ship in 1874 from a trip to Europe when Diane falls into the ocean; she does not know that Tony cut the rope against which she was leaning. A bald man rescues her and, when she and Tony get home, she tells her friend Sissy about having seen a wolf in the Carpathian Mountains. Tony visits Madam Zuchar, an occultist, and learns that the only way to kill a werewolf is with silver bullets. Soon, while waiting for a train, Tony pushes Diane onto the tracks and she is again saved by the same bald man who was on the ship.

The bald man explains to Diane that she was attacked by a werewolf in Europe and she assumes Tony is affected by "A Change in the Moon!" It turns out that Diane is the werewolf, not Tony, and the bald man wants her to join him in "the dark feast." Baldy and Diane turns into werewolves; Tony shoots Baldy Wolf but can't bring himself to shoot furry Diane, so he lets her scratch him and looks forward to hunting with her at the next full moon.

In a classic issue of Eerie, this would be a pretty good story, but in the new era the art by Jeff Jones marks it as the issue's highlight. I found the story a bit hard to follow and think it demonstrates that Jones, early in his career, was still learning how to tell a story in a sequence of pictures. The plot is fairly inventive and the ending unexpected, so we're left with some art that looks nice and a package that works well enough to give me hope that Warren will right the ship soon.-Jack

From the Department of Unforgettable Sound Effects;
a cousin of ELO's "Brooooooce!?"
Peter: "The Graves of Oconoco" isn't all that bad but it's confusing and it's all setup for a very rushed climax. But it's quite a bit better than most of what we've been reading lately and the Boyette/Mastroserio team continues to be dynamite. Sadly, this will be the last we see of Rocco's work, since he died of a heart attack in March of '68. "The Demon Wakes" is obviously a shelved Archie story and it's equally obvious that this should have stayed shelved, especially if Jim Warren was going to hand over art chores to Tony Tallarico, whose goofy, cartoony style I hated even when I was too young to know better. Boy, that cover really gets you ready for "The Doll Collector!," doesn't it? Forget it. What you get is a microwaved gimmick, really bad art (seriously, this looks like a bad romance strip), and a so-what twist at the climax. "A Change in the Moon!" is another story so confusing that, but for duty, I'd have given up halfway through. I'm still not sold on early Jeff Jones; way too much white space.

Gutemberg Monteiro
Creepy #21 (July 1968)

"The Rats in the Walls" 
Story by H. P. Lovecraft
Adaptation Uncredited
Art by Bob Jenney

"Room with a View"
(Reprinted from Eerie #3)

"The Immortals!" ★1/2
Story by Ron Parker
Art by Sal Trapani

"A Reasonable Doubt"
Story by Ron Parker
Art by Tony Tallarico

(Reprinted from Creepy #3)

"Timepiece to Terror!" ★1/2
Story by Bill Parente
Art by Gutemberg Monteiro

"The Rats in the Walls"
Edmund Delapore decides to travel to England to investigate his ancestral property of Exham Priory but discovers that the place is teeming with giant rats and a seedy history. H.P. Lovecraft spent most of 1968 rolling in his grave after reading the adaptations of "Wentworth's Day" and "The Rats in the Walls" perpetrated by Russ Jones and the folks at Pyramid (Warren deserves some blame as well for polluting his titles with these odious page-fillers). The story is disjointed and confusing, as if it's missing several chapters (as well as a satisfying climax) and it's hard on the eyes. I've harped on Bob Jenney's lack of talent before but this is a new low for the artist; Jenney's style is barely distinguishable from that of Joe Orlando.

In a future dystopian world, machines rule and man exists only to service "The Immortals!" and their mysterious "arrangement." One such servant, Oren 12-3429, dreams of breaking out of his chains and becoming an Immortal. When a group of servants attempt to enlist him in a rebellion, he reports them to management and his reward is to become an Immortal. His brain is removed and replaced with a machine. Comic books were awash with radical SF fiction in the 1960s--some ground-breaking, some coattail-riding, all written by writers who felt the urge to right all of society's wrongs. This badly-illustrated potboiler falls firmly in the coattail-riding camp and its eight-page length seems more like eighty. The only thing we learn from Ron Parker's "cautionary tale" is that folks would dress the same in the future as they did in the '60s. Well, except for the Immortals, who certainly look patterned after the forgotten 1960s' Archie Comics superhero, the Fly.

"A Reasonable Doubt"
Donald Landon comes across a shocking scene while riding his buggy through 19th-century Massachusetts when he spies a mob tossing rocks at a gorgeous young woman named Elizabeth (hmmm...). Landon quickly comes to the girl's aid and hustles her into his buggy, riding off to safety. On the way to his house, he listens to the girl tell her story: Elizabeth's mother's death had taken a terrible toll on the young girl but when her father quickly re-married and her stepmother treated her with disdain and a backhand, Elizabeth had to leave home. While away, her father and stepmother are murdered with an axe (hmmm...) and Elizabeth is put on trial, with the townsfolk crying, "witch!" as she takes the stand. Acquitted, the girl returns to the house that she has inherited, but the villagers won't leave her be. The couple arrive at Landon's house and he invites his new friend to stay but regrets it when he reads the daily paper and discovers that Elizabeth is... Lizzy Borden! What a shock! Well, it's supposed to be a shock to the reader but I would like any of you out there who didn't see the climax of "A Reasonable Doubt" coming from the get-go to raise your hand and then sit in the back of the treehouse for the remainder of the post. Landon, at least, has an excuse, since it's mentioned that he's been out of the country on business for several months, but the rest of you... uh uh. Tallarico is another artist whose work is what helped gain this era its nickname of "the dark ages." The penciling looks like an unholy union of Jerry Grandenetti and Ross Andru.

"Timepiece to Terror!"
By default, the best story this issue is the silly bit of nonsense known as "Timepiece to Terror!," wherein an old miser comes across the titular antique, which can transport him back in time or into the future. The only catch is that he has to be back to the start point, surrounded by a circle of pig's blood, by one a.m. or he'll be taken to Hell by a demon. Everything goes well and the old goat reaps a fortune from the horse races and the stock market until one morning he arrives back at his chair and the devil takes him. Seems he forgot it was time to set the clocks forward! Artist Monteiro, whose entire Warren output is limited to "Timepiece" and "The Doll Collector!," has a cartoony style reminiscent of Will Eisner but lacking style and polish. It's a dopey story but it's entertaining enough.

The Creepy Fan Club page announces Bill Parente as the new editor of Creepy and Eerie and features fan art by future Warren contributor Nick Cuti (who also co-created my partner Jack's favorite comic strip of all time, E-Man, for Charlton).

What's glaring, to me, after reading this big batch of dull, is how tame the Warren content had become. Not much blood or gore; no eye-opening risks. This despite the fact that the company had no worries about the Code and could take chances that Marvel and DC were denied.-Peter

Jack-I wouldn't say E-Man is my favorite comic strip of all time, but it's definitely in my top five. I was happy to see a new editor assigned and happier to note that he wrote the best story in the issue, "Timepiece to Terror!," which I enjoyed right up to the groaner of an ending. The other three stories were all average. My favorite line in "The Rats in the Walls" is the retort to the remark about having a cousin in Jamaica who runs a voodoo cult: "Every family has a few of those"!

"The Immortals!" is okay sci-fi but nothing special; I thought the Immortal looked like J'onn J'onzz, the Martian Manhunter. I have to admit they got me with the surprise ending of "A Reasonable Doubt," so I will slink to the back of the class. I had assumed that, since this is a Warren story, a gal who was accused of being a witch would turn out to be a witch. The two reprints are also solid stories. This issue, like the last issue of Eerie, gives me a glimmer of hope for the future.

Creepy 1968 Yearbook

"The Duel of the Monsters!"
(Reprinted from Creepy #7)

"Return Trip!"
(Reprinted from Creepy #3)

"Abominable Snowman!"
(Reprinted from Creepy #6)

(Reprinted from Creepy #1)

"The Thing in the Pit"
(Reprinted from Creepy #6)

"Vampires Fly at Dusk!"
(Reprinted from Creepy #1)

"Sand Doom"
(Reprinted from Creepy #5)

"Hot Spell!"
(Reprinted from Creepy #7)

What a perfectly fabulous idea: grab ahold of a batch of your best stories from the first four years and reprint them! Well, it would have been a better idea had it not landed smack dab in the midst of a reprinting frenzy. At least it's got a nice look to it, square-bound and all, and a generous 76 pages. I would argue with the choices but that's just me (no Ditko??!!). -Peter

Jack-I would argue with your characterization of this group as representative of the best stories. "The Duel of the Monsters!" is not good and most of the others are boring but have nice art. Once again, as in its first appearance, "Hot Spell!" is Best in Show but the best is saved for last.

Next Week...
Michael Fleisher arrives to save
Weird War Tales from itself.


Anonymous said...

Hate to be The Pedantic Guy but Russ Jones’s nifty Dracula paperback was illustrated by Al McWilliams, not Jones hisself.

If today’s post is any indication, I think I’m going to enjoy your coverage of Warren’s Dark Days. I’ve had complete sets of all the Warren mags for years and years, but I almost NEVER pull these out of their bags — so they remain relatively unexplored territory for me. I don’t even recognize the NAMES of some of these artists. And the really great thing is, reading about them and seeing random panels from the stories doesn’t make me want to re-visit them AT ALL. I’m all “Oh yeah, I have that comic, and Peter and Jack have read it so I don’t have to!”

- b.t.

Peter Enfantino said...

Yep, you caught me in a goof. Al McWilliams did indeed illustrate that Dracula novel released by Ballantine.
I'm waiting for some kind-hearted soul to volunteer to cover the rest of the dark ages for me and Jack but somehow I don't think that's going to happen. Being two posts ahead in my coverage, I can tell you that things... do not get any better.

Quiddity99 said...

The dark era begins! Garbage story after garbage story, when they’re not.reprints. The monster in Beauty or Beast is a swipe of the monster from the story Counter Clockwise in Weird Fantasy 18 as drawn by John Severin and Bill Elder. In starting to cover Skywald for my own blog, I can say that the Castellon story is even worse, aside from perhaps the 50s era reprints that litter their first few issues. You mention Ross Andru later on, he does some pretty good stuff for Skywald with The Heap, although gets help from Mike Esposito.

You know it’s a dark era issue when the Tony Williamsune stories start appearing. We’ll be seeing lots of goofy monsters drawn by Tallarico and Fraccio coming up as they do quite a lot of stories.

Peter Enfantino said...


Please post the address of your blog. I'm dying to read your coverage of Skywald, a company I'd like to cover in the future (but maybe, with your blog, I won't feel the need anymore!).

Quiddity said...

Covered nearly all the Warren mags as well years back (all but 5 or so that I don't own copies of), granted not at the critical level of depth that you guys do here. Very excited to be covering Skywald, which I've heard about for many years but am only getting to read for the first time now.

Peter Enfantino said...

I've linked your site on your main page and I'm itching to read your stuff on Skywald.