File this under "Things You May Not Have Known About Me" but I am a hu-u-u-uge old school horror comic fan. HUGE. I thank the popularity of the Goosebumps series and the SNICK tv show Are You Afraid of the Dark which temporarily made it plausible for elementary school age kids to be into the kind of Eddie Munster, harmlessly macabre stuff I was into, or I'm pretty sure my permanent record would have been red-flagged for school library checkouts alone. I remember specifically saving up money in the fourth grade or so to buy copies of the Randomhouse Books For Young Readers (no joke!) series Tales From the Crypt. What the slim, young adult interest volumes did was take old EC plot-lines from the comic books and create short, "novelizations" of them, so that the majority of the book was text, with one or two particularly gruesome panels excerpted just for fun. I had about five of them, which sat on a special shelf in my room, and were actually dogeared by the time I got to middle school. Add that to the House of Mystery and Unexpected comics my uncles left in two huge cardboard boxes in my grandmother's garage, and I spent a lot of time reading just mind-warpingly terrifying horror stuff as a bab. AND I LOVED IT!
Imagine my deeeeelite when I saw these old Vault of Horror, Tales from the Crypt, and The Haunt of Fear comics, nineties' reissues to coincide with Tales from the Crypt's massive popularity, at the Great Escape on Charlotte a couple months ago. Against my better (cheaper) judgement, I paid nineties' cover-value, minus a 25% sale discount, for a heapin' helpin' of mid century gruesomeness. And I'm not sorry!
Each of these softcover volumes contains between three and five original issues of the series. I spent most of this Sunday holed up in Matthew's video game den, sloshing through buckets of blood. SPOILER ALERT: Just try these storylines on for size:
- STORY SYNOPSIS: Man meets woman in Mardi Gras celebration, in which she's masked as a haggard old woman in spite of her Jayne Mansfield curves. They run off, get married, consumate the marriage (somewhat obliquely, but also somewhat straightforwardly). The man had a horrible dream that he tried to take the woman's mask off and it was her real face! He wakes up in a panic, tries to take the mask off his new bride's face, and it comes off with a wet, slithery smack! Last frame, woman with no skin on her face, all eyes and teeth, saying "I... never... *gurgle*... wore...a mask...Howard...", while dude is holding her face-skin like some used Saran Wrap in his hands. AAAAaaaaaAAAAaaaah!!!
- OMG FACTOR: **** out of *****.
- GROSS FACTOR: ***** out of *****.
- IMPLAUSIBILITY FACTOR: ** out of *****. Can a guy really rip a ladies' face off? I'm not sure. Is it ABSOLUTELY TERRIFYING for a last-panel illustration? Indubitably.
- STORY SYNOPSIS: A doctor is (wrongfully? rightfully? I can't remember) barred from practicing medicine by a panel of five professionals who revoke his medical license. While drowning his sorrows, he wanders into a vaudeville hall and an act of performing seals, from which he draws the inspiration for his REVENGE. He takes in five dogs from the pound, then systematically kidnaps the five members of the panel. He takes out the dogs' brains and replaces them with the human panel-member's brains. He puts them through a vicious series of routines that prepare them for a wildly successful vaudeville act of their own, from which the doctor makes all kinds of money. One day, he foolishly leaves one of the dog crate doors ajar! The lead dog lets the other dogs out, they rush the doctor...one of the dogs has a hypodermic needle in its mouth! Later, somehow, you figure out that the dogs' have put the doctor's brain into a horse and they chase him around everyday as the horse draws a delivery carriage.
- OMG FACTOR: ** out of *****.
- GROSS FACTOR: *** out of *****.
- IMPLAUSIBILITY FACTOR: ************** out of *****. Oh, as if it weren't crazy enough that a man could successfully transplant a human brain into a dog's head, where the human would then be sentient as the dog, let's go ahead and assume that a dog could take a human brain and put it into a horse. Sure! Why not! My friend Anna, on hearing this story: "They don't even have thumbs!" Lisa: "But the dog had a hypodermic needle in his mouth! See! It can be done!" We've been drinking on this story for like two weeks.
- STORY SYNOPSIS: Told from the point of view of a burial plot (ya heard?), the empty grave is lonely because no one's in it. Other graves laugh at the empty plot, brag about having people cry over them, love having a person to "make them whole" etc, etc. Some kind of weird child-having/childless metaphor is beaten across the narration with a subtlety stick for several panels; you get the picture. Later, a spinster aunt, swindled and murdered by her dead beat adopted son/nephew and his trampy girlfriend, Erna (who, in spite of my good nature, I kind of like...she's all raven hair, ruby lips, and skin-tight wiggle dresses ), is buried in the grave, and tells the grave the whole story about how she loved Ronald or whatever the kid's name was, in spite of all his faults, and in the end, she was left alone. Get it! Just like the grave! So one day, the spinster aunt slash now decayed corpse wraith demon, crawls out of the grave and the grave itself is all upset, worried about being alone again. Never to fear! Spinster Aunt Wraith returns with Erna and Ronald, dragging them by their hair into the grave, whereupon she/it effectively buries them alive. Now-- the part that's weird? Spinster Aunt doesn't JOIN them. Apparently, she's still out on the loose somewhere, probably turning up in someone's back yard to turn their hair white, while the grave is all excited, because she has not one, but TWO occupants now; making her exult her double status to all the other "single" graves.
- OMG FACTOR: ***** out of *****. The panel where Spinster Aunt Wraith (and she is NASTY with decomposition) drags the two young people back to the cemetery is for-real scary. It was one of the stories excerpted in that YA book I was telling you about, and I'm still bothered by it all these years later.
- GROSS FACTOR: ***** out of ***** (see above).
- IMPLAUSIBILITY FACTOR: **out of *****. If graves can't be self-aware and spinster aunt corpses can't walk the earth seeking vengeance, then I don't want to know
I'm actually excited to go home and read some more of these completely over the top stories...did I mention the artwork is gorgeous in most of these? Hey guess what...the art work is gorgeous in most of these. Being accustomed to the "sexy girls in pantsuits" illustrations from the aforementioned seventies' horror comics of my uncles' pooled collection, you can imagine how blown away I was by some of the vampin' mid-century gals and ghouls, not to mention the si-i-i-i-ick factor of some of these gruesome finales. Sadly, in 1954, juvenile delinquency hearings that targeted the violence and horror elements of comic books brought a quick death to what was one of the most flourishing periods of scary comic books. Le sigh. You can read about it here on Wikipedia, but I almost don't like to!
Do you like horror comics? New ones, old ones, in between ones? Or do shy away from the gross-out stuff in a lot of these ghouls and goblin rags?
If ARE into the scaries, check out Karswell's blog The Horror of It All, which features full story scans of horror comics from the golden age. IT IS GREAT.
If I don't get too spooked, I guess I'll see you guys tomorrow!!