"As oblivion strikes you in an agony of pain, the last thing you see from the enshrouding darkness is those figures, dividing up into four torsos again and - collapsing on the floor - unmixed at last!"
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Now and then, John and I will pop in with a "miscellaneous" column. These will feature quick reviews of books or zines we've picked up recently (and might even include the random film or TV box) but can't get to fit into the context of another column.
by Steven Brower
304 pages, Illustrated, color
I'm not quite sure what I expected when this was first announced on Amazon. Well, no, hang on. Let me back up. I'm positively sure what I was expecting: "A visually dynamic homage to the paperback," which is exactly what the publisher promised. With a title like this one, I'm expecting some downright vile and sleazy cover repros. All right, maybe some classic Gold Medal crime? How about those gritty Lion cover paintings? Lancer and Ballantine did mind-bending work in the late 1960s. We could cover that! Well, no, what you get is a lot of hum-drum like the images above and, aside from a bit of skeletal history, very little text. A paucity of words never killed a project like this (witness the superior Sin-A-Rama (Feral House, 2005)) as long as you have visuals to fall back on. To be fair, not all the illos are as grating and lifeless as the three I've chosen, but the rest are fairly common. I've seen most of them in dollar boxes at paperback conventions. So then, who is the target audience for this book? The casual browser? I don't see that. His ideal consumer is typing these words right now and, given 300 glossy color pages, I'm convinced I could do a hell of a lot better than Steven Brower, Conceptual Design teacher.
Years ago, in the first issue of bare bones, I wrote a very large article in very small font about the classic kitsch digest Super Science Fiction, a guilty pleasure for all who will admit to it. If you don't like its cargo of elephantine worms and wolves with four heads, then you're a stick in the mud and shouldn't be reading this blog. Two bits of news about SSF: First, next year Haffner Press will be publishing Tales from Super Science Fiction, a 400+ page collection of 14 stories from the digest. You can find info on ordering here.
Second, that original article I wrote all those years ago is up on the web decorated with full color SSF covers (as opposed to the dingy black and white we were forced to use in BB). Phil Stephensen-Payne has done a remarkable job (as usual) putting this together.
As far as The Haffner Press collection goes, I've seen the contents (as have you if you visited their website). As someone who's read all the stories, I have to say that the book looks to be a good representation of SSF. There are some unknown gems here ("Every Day is Christmas" by James E. Gunn and "First Man in a Satellite" by Charles W. Runyon) and some that should remain unknown ("Song of the Axe" by Don Berry and "Broomstick Ride" by the usually dependable Robert Bloch). I'm very much looking forward to the book as it's a nice way of getting the largely-forgotten SSF back in the public eye and Haffner should be commended for taking a chance on something so obscure. I'd love to see a publisher take a similar chance on The Best of Web Detective Stories.
Fantagraphics used to publish The Comics Journal, a bi-monthly devoted to all aspects of the comic world. For a time, during the late 70s and early 80s, TCJ was a must-read. You literally never knew what would pop up in an issue. Groundbreaking (and litigious) interviews, lengthy reviews, and a general "screw you" attitude permeated its pages. I've got a run from its first proper issue (before #37 it was variously an adzine and a tabloid) up to its 100th (when the fun started to leak out). Now Fantagraphics focuses its energy on publishing nice hardcovers and trade paperbacks. One of them, Four Color Fear: Forgotten Horror Comics of the 1950s has just come out and it's a winner. 320 pages of pre-code horror and not a single EC story among the batch. That's not a complaint, by the way. I think we need more books spotlighting "The Other Guys" (as Lawrence Watt-Evans called them in his exhaustive study of pre-code horror in The Scream Factory #19) and it looks as though we're in the midst of a mini-wave of "vintage horror comics reprinting." Next month sees the publication of The Horror, The Horror (Abrams), a similar exploration of pre-code, written by Jim Trombetta; Dick Briefer's Frankenstein (IDW); and the book I'm most looking forward to, Mike Howlett's The Wild World of Eerie Publications (Feral House), a bloody examination of Myron Fass' empire of pre-code reprints. There's a vast wealth of untapped gold in them thar comics (there is, to be sure, lots of guano packed in those pages as well) as Four Color Fear shows. $20 on Amazon for 300+ pages of color horror comics. Any idea what these things would cost if you could find them? Try trolling eBay a bit. Here's to a second volume. John and I will be listing our five favorite Four Color Fears stories in a This 'n' That column in the near future.
Four Color Fear reminded me of another great horror comics project from the early 1990s: Tales Too Terrible to Tell, editor George Suarez's loving tribute to pre-code that ran for 11 issues from 1989-1993. I wrote extensively about TTTTT , appropriately enough, in the "worst horror" issue of TSF (#10) and wanted to include a bit of that here:
TTTTT reprints some of the worst slop to come out in panels, and shows us some of the most colorful covers to grace a newsstand. A couple of the more memorable tales to grace the first six issues include:
"Clumsy" (from TTTTT #1) about an oafish, yet ingenious scientist who discovers how to freeze bodies and bring them back to life years later. When his money-hungry wife finds out about this, she talks the dope into icing her and collecting insurance money. But this guy is so clumsy, he shatters her body into a thousand icecubes and has to reconstruct it. Unfortunately, so eparts had already started to melt, so...
The title of "Horror of Mixed Torsos" (TTTTT #2) speaks for itself, but doesn't begin to divulge the inanity of the story. Hunchbacked mortician's assistant Garth Hunt has the hots for lovely Faith Wales. Luckily, Faith dies an early death, and Garth gets to spend some intimate time with her good-looking corpse, until the family shows up to move the body overseas. Garth starts chopping folks down right and left, chucking their halves into big barrels. Unfortunately for Garth, he mixes halves up, and as any good horror fan knows, when you mix parts from different bodies, they will rise from the dead! The last panel shows Garth getting an axe in the head:
The comics are a hoot. Even, or maybe especially, the really deranged, badly written strips. But the prize here is the research Suarez shares with us on these long-dead comics companies. We get in-depth looks at the publishers, checklists of publishers and titles, individual issue and story synopsis, and panel and cover repros. Suarez titled this research project "Terrology." Unfortunately, the series ended at #11 and Suarez's promised "Terrology" book was never published. I recently touched bases with him and he let me know that his "real job," running a series of comic stores in the Boston area (New England Comics) takes up most of his time but he hopes to finish his project when he retires.
You can still order all 11 issues of TTTTT here, and I recommend that you do!