Hallowe’en Countdown IV, Day 25

« He was offered a sloe gin fizz in a pink frosted glass by a young woman who removed her glass eye and sucked on it while discussing the moral imperatives of the sponge boycott in Brooksville, Florida. » — Harlan Ellison, ‘Neon’.

In 1973, Marvel was trying all sorts of things to bolster its market presence. They even dared to tread where even the venerable Weird Tales had never quite succeeded. The Haunt of Horror was a prose fiction digest that strongly showed its comics roots. It offered a mixture of classic material (Fritz Leiber’s Conjure Wife, a piece by Robert E. Howard) and of contemporary genre practitioners: Harlan Ellison, Ramsey Campbell… featuring a score of illustrations slapped together by Marvel’s less superhero-limited alumni, namely Gene Colan, Mike Ploog, Frank Brunner, Walt Simonson and Dan Green. After two issues, Marvel called the whole thing off, licking its wounds, but soon revived the title as a b&w comics magazine, this time eking out five issues (May 1974 – Jan. 1975) plus a 1977 issue of Marvel Preview.

This is The Haunt of Horror no. 1 (June, 1973), edited by Gerry, no, make that *Gerard* Conway (in full ‘take me seriously, I’m not just a hack comics writer!‘ mode), with a striking cover by Gray Morrow.

As for me, I picked it up for the rare short story by the nonpareil R. A. Lafferty, Ghost in the Corn Crib.

Dan Green‘s illustration for Lafferty’s story.
One of Frank Brunner‘s illustrations for John K. Diomede (alias George Alec Effinger)’s The First Step.
Werewolf by Night originator Mike Ploog didn’t have to stretch far beyond his comfort zone for this illustration for Alfred Angelo Attanasio‘s Loup Garou (french for Werewolf, if you still feel the need to ask).
It’s nigh-impossible to fully scan some these images without destroying the source document, but here’s the opening splash for Haunt of Horror’s publication of Fritz Leiber’s 1943 classic Conjure Wife, adapted in the movies as Night of the Eagle (in the UK) and Burn, Witch, Burn (in the US). Here, a fine, committed but uncredited Gray Morrow pebble board illustration is ‘corrected’ by Marvel’s number two Yes Man (Consulting Editor Rascally Roy Thomas would surely be numero uno), who replaces whichever figure Gray had drawn by an image of Mary Jane Watson, not even bothering with the slightest effort to match the style. John Sr. had gotten plenty of practice ‘fixing’ Kirby and Ditko, so Gray Morrow was just ‘all in a day’s work’.
Gene Colan was called upon to whip up a few quick pieces for the rest of the feature.
The Haunt of Horror ran just one more issue, graced by a lovely, quite pulpy cover by the nonpareil Frank Kelly Freas, whose efforts Romita Sr. has also seen fit to ‘fix’. See Unknown World of Science-Fiction no. 1 (Jan. 1975). This, however, is The Haunt of Horror no. 2 (Aug. 1973, Marvel). Come to think of it, that evil priest kind of anticipates a latter-day Nicolas Cage, doesn’t he?

In the end, you might say that this short-lived publication is best known for a screwup: indeed, the notoriously disorganized Marvel Bullpen messed up the page order of Harlan Ellison‘s contribution to the first issue, Neon. Never one to let such things slide, Harlan made sure that a correct version was printed in the second issue. Score one for the good guys.

-RG

Tentacle Tuesday: Paging Doctor Strange

It’s difficult to impress me with a magician, unless we’re talking real-life magicians with a strong skeptical streak, like James Randi or Ricky Jay. Given that the concept of a person who has access to ‘mystical’ forces and who can manipulate beings (supernatural or otherwise) has been around for as long as humans have been able to communicate with one another, be it through grunts and squeals, it’s pretty damn difficult to come up with a new wrinkle to this old tired nag. Having no previous experience with the series, I had no high expectations for Steve Ditko‘s Doctor Strange, but I was pleasantly surprised. I liked the earnest, solemn Dr. Strange from the beginning, but it’s Ditko’s mind-boggling, soaring surrealistic landscapes that bloomed over time that really impressed me. It’s not an easy feat to make the reader feel like he’s being transported into another dimension, but Ditko pulled it off beautifully, making us feel Dr. Strange’s disorientation as he gets sucked into yet another psychedelic terrain.

To quote comics historian Mike Benton:

The Dr. Strange stories of the 1960s constructed a cohesive cosmology that would have thrilled any self-respecting theosophist. College students, minds freshly opened by psychedelic experiences and Eastern mysticism, read Ditko’s Dr. Strange stories with the belief of a recent Hare Krishna convert. Meaning was everywhere, and readers analyzed the Dr. Strange stories for their relationship to Egyptian myths, Sumerian gods, and Jungian archetypes.

What does this have to do with the current post? Precious little, actually. I’m a firm believer of not recycling dramatis personae past their due by date (defined, of course, as that time when their creator/author moves on to greener pastures, by design or because he has to). Doctor Strange moulded by other hands loses his raison d’être and becomes just another Joe in a funny cape, uttering ineffable, paranormal gobbledygook. Oh, sure, he’s aided by more mystical artifacts than before. How exciting… if you are excited by gadgets and gimmicks, that is.

He also encounters a lot of tentacles, apparently the most mystical, otherworldly apparitions *this* crew could think of. Welcome to 70’s (for the most part) Doctor Strange!

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Marvel Premiere no. 6 (January 1973). Cover by Mike Ploog and Frank Giacoia.

The Shambler from the Sea is scripted by Gardner Fox, pencilled by Frank Brunner, and inked by Sal Buscema and Ralph Reese:

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Dr. Strange no. 1 (June 1974). Cover by Frank Brunner.

Through an Orb Darkly is scripted by Steve Englehart and Frank Brunner, pencilled by Frank Brunner and inked by Dick Giordano:

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Doctor Strange no. 21 (February 1977). Cover pencilled by Gene Colan and inked by Tom Palmer. Is Clea basically humping the (impeccably, gleaming clean) side of the car, basically?

Mind Trip!, scripted by Marv Wolfman and drawn by Rudy Nebres, was published in Doctor Strange no. 22 (April 1977):

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That’s quite a group scene *slurp slurp slurp*

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Why does your image haunt me? Why are my boobs perkily gravitating towards the light?” I can’t even muster a passing interest in figuring out what’s happening in this mess.

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Doctor Strange no. 23 (June 1977). Cover pencilled by Gene Colan and inked by Tom Palmer.

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Doctor Strange no. 30 (August 1978). Cover by Frank Brunner.

A Gathering of Fear! is scripted by Roger Stern and illustrated by Tom Sutton:

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I like Tom Sutton, a Tentacle Tuesday master on this blog.

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Doctor Strange no. 45 (February 1981). Cover by Dave Cockrum and Steve Leialoha.

Wizard of the West Village is scripted by Chris Claremont and pencilled/inked… by a whole bunch of people:

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… and there you have it!

∼ ds

Tentacle Tuesday: Dracula Drops In

« Kate’s death scream gags stillborn in her throat as the tentacles dart toward her, slithering hungrily across her body. »

Here’s a quick association exercise: as fast as you can, name words that come to mind when somebody says “Dracula”. Um, fangs! Stake! Blood, cape, biting! … Tentacles? Say what?

It would have never occurred to me to look for tentacles in Dracula, giant-size or otherwise, so thanks to admin RG for this splendid suggestion.

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Giant-Size Dracula no. 2 (September 1974). Cover by Pablo Marcos.

You’re not sure those green things were tentacles? If it quacks like a duck, it may well be an aquatic bird – and if it slithers towards female “human flesh”, count it as tentacles! Call Them Triad… Call Them Death! is scripted by Chris Claremont, pencilled by Don Heck and inked by Frank McLaughlin. I have to say that the art is distinctly subpar, as far as I’m concerned.

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The writing isn’t brilliant, either.

Words are inadequate”.

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Perhaps it’s the drab colours that weigh this down, and the original art would be a considerable improvement? Nope, sorry.

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As further example of the ineptitude of this art team, a quick question: does this look like he’s slapping her?

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She was lying face down, but she somehow manages to flip over instantly.

However, I have no wish to engage in Don Heck bashing – he had his moments, it’s just that this story wasn’t one of them. Instead, I will direct you to this article explaining how Harlan Ellison mocked Heck once upon a time, several lifetimes ago. Also, ouch.

Harlan Ellison: There are guys who’ve got very minimal talents and it doesn’t matter whether they corrupt it or not. I could name them and would happily name them, but why bother? There’s no sense kicking cripples. I mean, all you have to do is open up comic books from Marvel and DC and take a look at them. You see these guys have a very minor-league talent and, to say, “Well, these people are wasting their talent” is ridiculous. I mean, they’re never going to be any better. What’s the name of the guy who used to do… over at Marvel… he use to do… [Pause]… the worst artist in the field.

Continuing our foray into Draculas of colossal proportions tangling with tentacles…

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Giant Size Dracula no. 4 (March 1975). Cover pencilled by Gil Kane and inked by Tom Palmer.

Sadly, the tentacles promised on the cover don’t really appear in the cover story. Time to move to another series —

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Tomb of Dracula no. 62 (January 1978), pencilled by Gene Colan and inked by Tom Palmer.

What Lurks Beneath Satan’s Hill? (tentacles, obviously) is scripted by Marv Wolfman, pencilled by Gene Colan and inked by Tom Palmer.

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This has been scanned from the reprint, which in my opinion looks worse, not better.

The story continues in number 63 –

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Tomb of Dracula no. 63 (March 1978). Cover pencilled by Gene Colan and inked by Tom Palmer.

The Road to Hell! is scripted by Marv Wolfman, pencilled by Gene Colan and inked by Tom Palmer:

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« All-you-can-eat-calamari — dive in! »

Next up (eventually), an equally random concept: Werewolf VS tentacles!

∼ ds