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

Hallowe’en Countdown III, Day 11

« Is it true your first concert is going to be at a cemetery? »

By the summer of ’74, the Archie brass was getting sick of those no-account Didit Brothers (You know, Dan, Dippy, Dick and Clyde) and their groupie Fran the Fan, so the Madhouse Glads were tossed out on their collective ear in favour of… a horror anthology. It made sense: in the 1970s, there was considerable overlap (largely female, but not exclusively) among readers of, say, The Witching Hour, Betty and Me, and Romantic Story.

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The final fate of Fran the Fan? This is Mad House no. 95 (Sept. 1974, Archie); cover art by Gray Morrow. Read the issue here.

It’s fair to assume they were envisioning a companion title for their Chilling Adventures in Sorcery / Red Circle Sorcery. This was something different for Archie, all right: they sought out top talent, but in a fairly consistently sober visual style. Gray Morrow‘s photo-based approach was the baseline, and small wonder: he was the editor. The bulk of the stories was penned by Marvin Channing, and while the ‘twist’ endings weren’t exactly fresh, some of these tales were surprisingly nasty and nihilistic.

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Page two from The Terrible Trident!, written by Don Glut and illustrated by Vicente Alcazar.

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Page three from the cover story, The Happy Dead. Written by Marvin Channing and illustrated by Doug Wildey. Whoever handled the colouring here was smart and discerning.

However, this version of Madhouse lasted but three issues before the book was returned to its original, pre-Glads format. Sorcery endured for nine issues, the first three done in the Archie house style, with narration by Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. By the end of 1974 (with a book cover-dated February, 1975), the experiment was over. But these things come in cycles, don’t they? Witness the recent Afterlife With Archie… which incidentally reprinted much of this material.

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And in other media, amidst the current glut of Archie product, one finds a direct scion of a timid, decades-ago exploration, Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.

– RG

Happy Birthday, by Crom!

« Whatever got Juan is coming for me, too! »

It’s birthday number one hundred and twelve for pulp wordsmith Robert Ervin Howard (January 22, 1906 – June 11, 1936) who, in his tragically short lifespan, yet found time to unleash upon the world Conan the Barbarian, Solomon Kane, Kull of Atlantis and, more significantly for this reader, the chilling classic Pigeons From Hell, a short story posthumously published in Weird Tales’ May, 1938 issue.

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Howard’s The Horror From the Mound, originally published in the May, 1932 issue of Weird Tales Magazine, presumably had its title sanitized here because the H-word was still verboten in the early 1970s. Hailing from the second issue of Marvel’s Chamber of Chills (January, 1973), it was reprinted in glorious black and white in 1975’s Masters of Terror no. 1 (original title restored, hurrah!)

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And here it be. Seems a bit inaccurate to refer to a group of mostly pulp writers (some long dead) from the 30s to 50s as “Modern-Day Masters of Terror”, but I suppose it depends on one’s definition of “Modern-Day”. Cover illustration by Gray Morrow from a drawing by noted fabulist, fervent Trump supporter and fellow Hair Club for Men habitué Jim Steranko.

Gardner Fox and Brunner give it their all, but the story could have used more pages to truly do justice to Howard’s moody proto-weird western.

Read the full adaptation here:
http://thehorrorsofitall.blogspot.ca/2009/02/monster-from-mound.html

Better yet, read Howard’s tale:
http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks06/0601761h.html

And Pigeons From Hell, while you’re at it:
http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks06/0600721h.html

-RG