Treasured stories: “Abide With Me” (1975)

« She stared at Douglas… at this man she had judged to be an ideal mate… yet he had this very fatal flaw. »

Even to the occasional reader of mystery or ghost comic books from the late 60s to early 80s, the absurdly narrow range of plot variations must have been glaringly obvious. Same goes for any genre, of course…

For instance, at DC, mainstays Jack Oleck and Carl Wessler drove the same hoary scenarios into the old sod with numbing insistence (editor Joe Orlando‘s insistence, presumably): the greedy nephew murdering his rich, elderly uncle, the avaricious white explorer / big game hunter / mercenary purloining the sacred idol and incurring its terrible vengeance, the bank robber on the lam getting his ironic comeuppance, satanists vs werewolves vs vampires vs witches and so on… Still, the occasional inspired yarn did crop up, often to the outraged bafflement of readers.

On the other hand, Charlton was the field’s top producer of ghost stories, wisely keeping away from Marvel and DC’s spandex preserve. While one hears (correctly) about artistic laisser-faire attracting maverick stylists, Charlton’s ace in the hole, and the backbone of its comics line, was the remarkably prolific and versatile writer Joe Gill (1919-2006). Unlike his counterparts at DC, Warren, and most famously EC Comics before them, Gill rarely resorted to the O. Henry “twist” ending. An overplayed strength becomes a weakness, and so the “sting in the tail” soon was anything but. Having to write most of Charlton’s line, Gill could afford to experiment and improvise. Fact is, he pretty much had to. In my view, Gill’s work stands out from most of his peers’ in that it seems nourished by high and extensive erudition. When a Gill character discusses business deals or the combustion engine, it’s not just hot air and a family-size tub of Fluff.

Here’s a favourite of mine, a tale scripted by Gill and illustrated by Sururi Gümen (1920-2000). It appeared in Ghost Manor #23 (May, 1975). The nearest it skirts a ghost story is when Regina says « I… I’ve heard that people who die unhappily haunt the place where they die! »

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I love how Abide With Me carves out its own niche between romance and horror without calling upon any of these genres’ habitual devices. It’s like a well-played game of chess, a philosophic two-character play, a gravesite deliberation. Hope you’ve enjoyed it too!

– RG

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