Hallowe’en Countdown III, Day 13

« Here’s to the thugs and maniacs who fill each book with concepts so damnable, so putrescent, that they make the EC horror magazines of yore seem like mere cocktail napkin doggerel. I salute you. Now I’m going to take a bath in quicklime. » — Harlan Ellison toasts Death Rattle (1986)

In the 1980s, with the Comics Code Authority in its death throes, you’d think horror comics would have made a massive comeback. Well, they did… and they didn’t. Since there had been plenty of black and white magazines to operate outside of the Code’s restrictions, bringing bloodshed and mayhem to colour comics made the much-anticipated liberation a bit of a non-event. For my money, the truly interesting horror material opted for different approaches, now more experimental, then rather whimsical, at times clinical, sometimes abstract. Underground comix publisher Kitchen Sink, surviving thanks to its eclectic spirit, revived its early 70s horror anthology in 1985, an adventure that this go-round lasted eighteen issues and unleashed cutting-edge, nostalgic, shiver-inducing, thought-provoking and gut-busting efforts by such talents as Richard Corben, Rand Holmes, P.S. Mueller, Jack Jackson, Stephen Bissette, Mark Schultz (his Xenozoic Tales were introduced in Death Rattle 8, in 1986), and, on this unsettling cover, Charles Burns.

This is Death Rattle no. 10 (April 1987, Kitchen Sink). Cover by Charles Burns, coloured by Pete Poplaski.

Before this cover, and speaking of clinical horror, Burns had earlier provided one of Death Rattle’s most harrowing gut-punches in issue one’s Ill Bred: a Horror Romance. I wouldn’t want to give away too much, but here are a few samples from this queasy masterpiece of gender fluidity, body horror and (justified) insect fear, seemingly inspired in equal parts by David Cronenberg films, Japanese art prints and Burns’ personal demons. Not for the queasy, but peruse it here if that ticks any of your happy boxes.


– RG


Tentacle Tuesday Masters: Rand Holmes

We have just come back from a lovely vacation in Nova Scotia, one of Canada’s maritime provinces. In the honour of this all-too-short getaway, this Tentacle Tuesday is about Canadian artist Randolph Holton Holmes, who was born in Nova Scotia in 1942 and passed away in British Columbia in 2002, completely at the other end of this big country.

« Rand Holmes was Canada’’s most revolutionary artist in his heyday, the star cartoonist at the Georgia Straight newspaper in British Columbia during the 1970s. His hippie hero, Harold Hedd, became the spokesman of the emerging counterculture as he avoided work, explored free love, and flouted drug laws. The Adventures of Harold Hedd spread across the globe in the wave of underground comix and newspapers of the era and Holmes became famous — or at least notorious. While his comic character was bold and blatant, the artist was shy and quiet, well on his way to becoming a complete hermit. » (excerpt from Fantagraphics’ The Artist Himself: A Rand Holmes Retrospective)

Glimpsing through Holmes’  body of work, one quickly becomes aware that he displays a special affinity for drawing busty women… and (of more interest to this current post) that he loves to insert tentacles at the drop of a hat, especially if ETs of some kind are involved. A lot of artists use tentacles as a short-hand for aliens, and he’s not alone in that… much to my personal satisfaction.

Slow Death no. 6 (Last Gasp, January 1974). Colonel “Saunders”?
Fog City Comics no. 2 (Stampart, October 1978).  “Science fantasy at its finest” may be an unfulfilled promise; by all accounts, Rand Holmes’ Killer Planet is the best story of the issue. Fog City Comics was an all-Canadian underground comix anthology and lasted a mere 3 issues.

As I mentioned Holmes’ story Killer Planet, here’s a peek at its manifold tentacles:

A panel from Killer Planet, both written and illustrated by Rand Holmes, originally published in the aforementioned Fog City Comics no. 2, coloured by Bill Poplaski and reprinted in Death Rattle no. 1 (2nd series, Kitchen Sink Press, Oct. 1985).
What kind of idiot eats fruit growing on an obviously life-threatening planet? Panels from Killer Planet, both written and illustrated by Rand Holmes, published in Death Rattle no. 1 (Kitchen Sink Press, October 1985).
Panels from Killer Planet, both written and illustrated by Rand Holmes, published in Death Rattle no. 1 (Kitchen Sink Press, October 1985). Note the cute mushrooms in the bottom left corner.

And lastly, for contrast with the cover of Slow Death and its throes-of-ecstasy coupling scene, there’s this:

Vagina Dentata! A page from “Junkyard Dog“, written by Mike Baron. It was published in Death Rattle no. 5 (Kitchen Sink Press, June 1986). The (telepathic) alien female wasn’t unjustified in, erm, chewing up her rapist (the intercourse wasn’t consensual) – he was an unapologetic asshole.

~ ds