Treasured Stories: “Don’t Play That Ukelele!” (1975) and “Tender Feelings” (1974)

« There’s something about guitars, they’re just so big, you know what I mean? You’re just like, ‘Ugh!’ It just seems so overwhelming. And the ukulele is, like, the opposite of overwhelming. » — Zooey Deschanel

It’s no big secret: the chief asset of Gold Key’s line of mystery comics (The Twilight Zone, Thriller / Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery, Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, Dark Shadows, Grimm’s Ghost Stories and The Occult Files of Doctor Spektor) was its (generally) painted covers, the bulk of the work handled by the prolific George Wilson, with occasional contributions by Luis Dominguez and Jesse Santos.

While the inside artwork also had its charms, the weak link in the chain was the writing. Pedestrian and formulaic, most of its anonymous load was borne by Paul S. Newman, one of the comics industry’s great cranker-outers. And so things ran their humdrum course, even with the arrival of talented DC expatriate Arnold Drake in the early 1970s. I strongly suspect rampant conservatism on the part of the editors, as even normally-compelling authors produced the same generic plots, ground out like under-seasoned sausage.

Then occurred a curious bump in the road: the unheralded, near-anonymous arrival of future Clown College alumnus*Connor Freff Cochran (1954-), who scripted (as Freff, when credited — a rarity at GK) a number of short tales for Gold Key’s anthology titles for a few years (1974-1977). Of those I’ve read, most docilely follow the publisher’s tame editorial formula. But there are exceptions, and they really do stand out. Here’s such a pair, which I’m boldly attributing to Mr. Cochran.

Interesting that writer Freff opted here for the obscure, alternate spelling of ukulele. Speaking of which, how do you think ‘ukelele‘ is pronounced? You might be surprised. Check here for the answer. And, er… 1907? “One of the earliest appearances of the word ukulele in print (in the sense of a stringed instrument) is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Catalogue of the Crosby Brown Collection of Musical Instruments of All Nations published in 1907.” [ source ]
Man, that lake monster looks familiar. I smell a swipe.
And for the full multimedia experience, you can sing and strum along with George!

Ahem — sloppy research on Freff’s part:

The ukulele was popularized for a stateside audience during the Panama–Pacific International Exposition, held from spring to autumn of 1915 in San Francisco.

[ source ]

It is therefore highly unlikely that anyone on the American continent would have been plucking a uke, let alone that two random Missouri farmboys would spot a specimen from a distance. Not to mention the fact that the uncredited and unknown artist (no, it’s not Bill Molno, dear ignoramuses at the GCD) drew… a plain old guitar. Let’s face it, a banjo or even a mandolin would have made more sense.

In his defense, Freff recalled:

« I absolutely did write “Don’t Play That Ukulele!” But I don’t deserve the ding for the misspelling — that was the letterer’s error, which no one fixed. I will cop to not knowing (in 1975) that the ukulele wasn’t introduced stateside until 1915…but even there the story is a bit more complicated than it appears on the surface. When I pitched the idea it was a guitar that brought doom down on our unfortunate swain, same as it wound up being drawn. But editor Paul Kuhn thought a ukulele was intrinsically funnier than a guitar, and he’s absolutely right about that. I remember us both giggling over the title when we came up with it. »

Oh, I fully agree. A pox on that sloppy letterer.

So, who is this Freff guy? Here’s a bit of self-provided biography:

At fourteen, he and his family moved to Placentia, California, east of Los Angeles, where he graduated from El Dorado High School a year ahead of the normal schedule. One of his fellow students had combined the words “friend” and “Jeff ” to coin the name “Freff ”— and while at first this remained only a nickname, by 1970 he had started signing his artwork that way, as well. Like many artists, Cochran entered the science fiction field doing “freebie” drawings for fanzines. His first paid job were pen and ink drawings for Andrew Porter’s semi-prozine Algol, done in 1972. In the same year he dropped out of Fullerton Junior College after two months of art classes to live on his own. He worked in various fields to make a living and “The rest was all just self-directed study and experimentation,” he says, adding “as a young pro, just starting out, I was lucky enough to be mentored ever-so-slightly by two of my early faves in the field: Kelly Freas and Jack Gaughan. At Kelly Freas’s suggestion Cochran moved to New York in September 1973 and started looking for work as an illustrator.

When that was not forthcoming, Cochran attended the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Clown College — class of 1974.

In that year he got his first big break from Jim Baen, the new editor of Galaxy and If. Baen needed people who would work fast and cheap and put up with being paid late — in other words, the perfect opportunity for beginning artists like Cochran. By this time he was aware that other professional artists and cartoonists were named “Cochran”— and feeling that using his initials “JC” would be presumptuous — the artist in 1976 went to court and legally adopted “Freff ” as his professional nom de brush, and kept it during his years of magazine illustrating. Baen was so taken with the name that he put it on the cover of Cochran’s first cover for IF, as if Cochran was an author with a story in the magazine. After that “Freff ” did a lot of work for Baen, primarily interiors in black-and-white. He also did drawings for Cosmos, Isaac Asimov’s SF, and did cover work for publishers such as Dell, Berkley, and Doubleday. Cochran was selected to be one the artists in the special 1975 NASA/Smithsonian Artists Tour. After early success illustrating Zelazny’s “Amber” novels for Galaxy, followed by cover art and interior illustrations for a set of hardcover novels by Zelazny for Gregg Press in the early 1980s, Cochran became disgruntled over nonpayment for the use of his art in foreign editions of John Varley’s novel Titan, for which he had done a frontispiece and 16 illustrations—and the argument led to the end of Cochran’s illustrating in the field.

He turned to other endeavors, but briefly “dipped a toe back into the waters by collaborating on the first (and only) issue of an SF comic book called D’Arc Tangent” in 1982–1983. He did inking and penciling for DC and Marvel comics: Star Trek** and Tomb of Dracula***.

This is Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery no. 64 (Oct. 1975, Gold Key), featuring a painted cover by Argentine master Luis Dominguez. Don’t Play That Ukelele! isn’t even the cover story… there’s just a lot of aquatic peril in this particular issue.

And here’s the uncredited, utterly batty Tender Feelings, recognizably illustrated by another hardworking Argentine, José Delbo. It saw print in Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery no. 53 (Apr. 1974, Gold Key).

Part of my reasoning for attributing authorship of Tender Feelings to Freff is his penchant for light, deftly humorous tales that conclude with several characters meeting dismal ends. Churrr...

But… nope. The mystery of this mordant little tale remains whole. Freff helpfully eliminated himself as a suspect, and proposed some intriguing leads:

« I can’t take credit for “Tender Feelings.” I certainly wish I could, since it’s a delightful mashup/piss-take on DC’s Swamp Thing and Marvel’s Man-Thing. But nope — not me.

The publication date I find online for that story is April 1974. But Gold Key titles usually hit the stands a month ahead of the printed date, and editors Wally Green and Paul Kuhn liked to have a solid backlog of finished stories on hand. That puts the likely writing window for “Tender Feelings” somewhere around August 1973, which means there’s a chance that “Tender Feelings” was written by Len Wein himself. Len did a lot of uncredited Gold Key stories, starting around 1969, but he stopped in late summer 1973. It would have been absolutely in keeping with his sense of humor to write something like “Tender Feelings” as a happy sendoff for himself.

My best second guess after that would be John David Warner…though if I really had to bet, I’d bet on Len. In any case, whoever did it was lightyears better than the usual Gold Key writer. Glad to see them get this recognition. »

-RG

*Class of ’74. As Freff himself stated: « The Really Famous Guy from our session was Bill Irwin, who went on to a great stage, TV, and film career, and was the first performer to win a Genius Grant from the MacArthur Foundation.) I did originally intend to apply for the ’73 class, but I learned about it too late to make that year’s deadline. So I went to NYC instead to pursue art, while waiting for my next chance to roll around.. »

**he inked two drawings (one of them a double-paged splash) in Who’s Who’s in Star Trek (1987). That seems to be all.

***a pair of frontispiece illustrations in Tomb of Dracula (the magazine, that is: six issues, published Oct. 1979 – Aug. 1980); he also conducted a fine interview with Stephen King, published in issues 4 and 5 of TOD. Freff provides some illumination: « plus the framing graphics for the magazine’s title/table of contents page, plus I got to ink a bunch of ads for the magazine. The one I know they used involved inking Gene Colan’s pencils, which was hella fun and a childhood dream come true. I grew up on Gene’s work in DAREDEVIL, DOCTOR STRANGE, IRON MAN, CAPTAIN MARVEL, etc, and he was easily as big an influence on my visual thinking as people like Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Neal Adams, or Jim Steranko. (I got to achieve another childhood comics dream when I got to re-pencil, ink, and color a Curt Swan drawing for the October 1988 cover of KEYBOARD magazine.)

I did a lot more writing than artwork at Marvel, but most of it was nonfiction material in their b&w magazines — 100+ articles for PLANET OF THE APES, DEADLY HANDS OF KUNG-FU, CELEBRITY, NOSTALGIA ILLUSTRATED, THE TOMB OF DRACULA, etc. »

Hallowe’en Countdown IV, Day 12

« I don’t know what’s wrong with him!
He’s in hellish torment!
» — there’s witchery afoot, clearly

I’ll grant you in a heartbeat that Nick Cardy‘s (and, to a lesser extent, Neal Adams’) earlier The Witching Hour (full original title: It’s 12 O’Clock… The Witching Hour!, hence its twelfth day appearance) covers beat out subsequent entries on the overall quality front, but this particular beauty, in my opinion, takes home the terror tiara as the very creepiest of the bunch. Is it the otherwise-innocuous daytime setting, the tension between the pastoral and the grotesque? In the end, it induces shivers, and that’s what counts.

Though it comes as the tail end of their involvement, Carmine Infantino and Cardy still had a hand in, as publisher and art director, and took an active rôle in the design of each DC cover of the era.

This is It’s Midnight… the Witching Hour no. 62 (Feb.-Mar 1976, DC). Edited by Murray Boltinoff. Argentine grand master Luis Dominguez’s cover art is loosely based on Carl Wessler and Fred Carrillo’s The Cat’s-Eye Stone. That aside, is it actually a picnic that Mr. Romantic has in mind, what with a “picnic place that no one will ever find“? Suspicious, to put it mildly.

And so — why not? — here’s the full tale, so that you may judge for yourself.

One small quibble: doesn’t Drusilla’s witch’s brew count for something in the spell? Surely the words won’t suffice…
For a devil-worshipper, she’s pretty biblical (‘cast the first stone’). Or maybe that’s the point.
This story anticipates the shock ending of Carrie by almost a year. Or had this twist already made the rounds? Perhaps the cycle began with Let’s Scare Jessica to Death… but I’m not sure.

Wilfredo Limbana ‘Fred’ Carrillo (1926–2005) was an underrated Filipino artist who produced some quite fine work for DC Comics’ mystery titles in the 1970s. I was particularly fond of his work on The Phantom Stranger, when he illustrated both the titular feature and its worthy backup, The Black Orchid, at the tail end of the title’s run.

-RG

What! You Call This Cold Weather?

« Polar exploration is at once the cleanest and most isolated way of having a bad time which has been devised. » ― Apsley Cherry-Garrard, The Worst Journey in the World (1922)

Here’s what happened: I was leafing through Paul C. Tumey‘s splendid comics anthology Screwball! The Cartoonists Who Made the Funnies Funny (2019, The Library of American Comics/IDW) when I came across a wonderful sample of Gene Ahern‘s Room and Board (1936-58) wherein the strip’s central figure, Judge Homer Puffle, feeds another boarder a steady line of bull in that grand, booming Baron Munchausen — Captain Geoffrey Spicer-SimsonColonel Heeza Liar Commander McBragg tradition.

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Gene Ahern‘s Room and Board (March 17, 1937, King Features).

Of course, it’s all piffle and bunk, but it brought to mind a passage from a favourite article on weather peculiarities in Siberia, Marcel Theroux‘s The Very, Very, Very Big Chill (published in Travel & Leisure in 2000):

« Local people told me that at minus 60 and below, a dense fog settles in the streets, and pedestrians leave recognizable outlines bored into the mist behind them. A drunkard’s tunnel will meander and then end abruptly over a prone body. At minus 72, the vapor in your breath freezes instantly and makes a tinkling sound called ‘the whisper of angels.’ »

Then I thought: « all very nice, but that makes for a rather meagre post »… so I decided to toss in a few bonus images featuring that venerable recurring motif… and got carried away.

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This is Astonishing no. 36 (Dec. 1954, Atlas), the title’s penultimate pre-Code issue… not that Atlas ever crossed the line into gruesome. The cover-featured yarn is The Man Who Melted!, an amusing load of utter rubbish you can read here. Cover art by Carl Burgos.

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This is Chamber of Chills no. 10 (May, 1974, Marvel), and most everything’s the same, save for the colour palette and the now-hostile expression on the caveman’s mug.

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And this is also Chamber of Chills no. 10 (July, 1952, Harvey)… the original, whose title Harvey Comics left curbside for Marvel to recycle when they went all kid-friendly in the Comics-code-ruled Silver Age. Cover designed and art-directed by Warren Kremer and illustrated by Lee Elias. For some insight into these collaborators’ working methods on the horror titles, here’s our post on that very topic. Incidentally, what’s up with the hifalutin Lord Byron quote, Harvey folks? This wacky fare is quite plainly fiction… what’s your point? [Read it here.]

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This is Tales of The Unexpected no. 101 (June-July 1968, DC). Layout and pencils by Carmine Infantino, inks by George Roussos. Infantino, promoted the previous year to editorial director (he would soon rise to the rank of publisher), brought in the versatile Nick Cardy to serve as his right-hand man on the artistic front; together, they designed all of DC’s covers until both men stepped down in 1975.

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This is House of Mystery no. 199 (February, 1972, DC), illustrating Sno’ Fun! a rare (possibly unique, really) collaboration between Sergio Aragonés (script) and Wally Wood (pencils and inks). Cover designed by Infantino and Nick Cardy, pencilled and inked by Neal Adams and coloured by Jack Adler.

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This is Unexpected no. 142 (Dec. 1972, DC); cover art by Nick Cardy.

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This is Unexpected no. 147 (June, 1973, DC); cover art by Nick Cardy.

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This is Unexpected no. 150 (Sept., 1973, DC); cover art by Nick Cardy.

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« Hey, look! The critter is frozen whole… it’s in pretty good shape! » Tom Sutton vibrantly sells Joe Gill and Steve Ditko‘s cautionary tale of arctic drilling gone awry, The Ancient Mine. Also in this issue: Steve and Pete Morisi‘s Surprise!, and Gill and Fred Himes’ touching Pipe Dream. This is Haunted no. 37, (Jan., 1974, Charlton), presented by the publisher’s blue-skinned, green-haired answer to Nana Mouskouri, Winnie the Witch.

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« … that face haunts me… was it a man or a beast? » Ah, the Seventies. Left dazed and frazzled by his whirlwind life of slow-mo violence, glamorous excess and substance abuse, not to mention radiation poisoning, the inevitable occurs: The Hulk wanders onto the wrong set, as well as the wrong publisher’s! Against all odds, he handles the rôle with aplomb and commendable gravitas. A page from Gill and Ditko’s The Ancient Mine. Read it here!

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This is Ghosts no. 37 (April, 1975, DC), featuring Luis Dominguez‘s first (or many) cover for the title, a passing of the torch from Nick Cardy, who’d handled every one of the preceding three dozen…. minus one: number 7’s cover was the work of Michael Kaluta.

Oh, and since I wouldn’t want any of you superhero aficionados to think I’m freezing you out, here’s another demonstration of Mr. Infantino‘s “encased in ice” idée fixe.

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Mr. Freeze, who first popped up in Batman no. 121 in 1959, initially known as, er… Mr. Zero (Celsius, Fahrenheit or Kelvin?) before being revamped and renamed for the mid-60s Batman TV show, a makeover that carried over to the comics, but tragically didn’t include his outfit. This is Detective Comics no. 373 (March, 1968, DC); layout by Infantino, finishes by Irv Novick. [ read it here!]
… and I can just about hear the « but what about Cap? » troops tromping down the hall, so…

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Namor goes all First Commandment on some poor Inuits (surely they’ve seen frozen bodies before?), displaying an unseemly level of insecurity for someone of his standing. This recap hails from King Kirby’s sensational feat of deadline rescue on the behalf of a tardy Jim Steranko (to be fair, it was worth the wait). George Tuska‘s inks are a surprisingly good fit! This is Captain America no. 112, Lest We Forget! (April 1969, Marvel). [ read it here!]
My co-admin ds was just telling me yesterday about a client who, upon remarking to a succession of winter-kvetchers that actually, we’d had a pretty mild January, was invariably met with goggling bafflement, as if he’d just then grown a second head. In related news, it was just announced that said month of January was, indeed, the planet’s warmest on record. There is, naturally, an xkcd strip about this sort of circular denialism.

-RG

Tentacle Tuesday: Toothsome and Monstrous

« Teeth are always in style. »  — Dr. Seuss

By now, we have surely established that in the compendium of made-up monsters, tentacles are an artistic short-cut for evoking an especially terrifying creature. As it turns out, if there’s one way to make an already spine-chilling abomination even scarier, it’s to equip its gaping maw with teeth. Be it fangs borrowed from some unfortunate vampire, the implausibly symmetrical dentures of a TV show host, or clearly carnivorous, sharkish chompers, artists have been inserting teeth where no teeth should be long before you or I were born.

« But Grandmother! What big teeth you have! », once quipped Little Red Riding Hood in the 19th century, and this fear of teeth has clearly followed us into the Modern Age.Take a look —

Sheldon Moldoff was probably thinking of a snake’s fangs when he came up with this cutie:

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A page from Horror at the Lighthouse!, published in Beware! Terror Tales no. 6 (Fawcett Comics, March 1953). Scripted by Bill Woolfolk, drawn by Sheldon Moldoff. Read the full story at The Horrors of It All.

TerroratheLighthouse-2-SheldonMoldoff-Beware! Terror Tales #6,

This cross between a dinosaur and a mole (or is that more of an ant?) boasts an enviable set of sparklingly white dentition:

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Challengers of the Unknown no. 22 (Oct-Nov 1961), cover by Bob Brown.

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Aw. You’d go “wacky”, too, if some jerk piled on grenades on you.

One thing you can say about tentacled monsters, it’s that they sure keep their denticulations (yes, it’s a word) impeccably clean. Maybe they choose their victims based on that, like cats gleefully enjoying the crunch of a good teeth-cleaning croquette?

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Holy crap, look at those white chompers (that are about to get a little marred with blood, gristle and whatnot)! Weird Mystery Tales no. 9 (Dec 1973 – Jan 1974), cover by Luis Dominguez.

On the other hand, some monsters could have used a set of braces (this one is an orphan, which is why it had to make do with a British set of teeth).

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Eerie no. 131 (June 1982), cover by Rudy Nebres. Can you imagine trying to chew anything with such a set?!

A somewhat similar (but a lot less overcrowded) set of ivories for gnawing and gnashing can be spotted in water:

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A collectible card (from sometime in the 2000s) by illustrator Chet Phillips. Here you can admire his series about Japanese monsters, or visit his website, chetart.com.

This toothy post is now at its end – happy brushing (and flossing — it’s important!) to all, and ’til next Tentacle Tuesday!

~ ds

p.s. Not particularly related to comics, but I found this photograph distinctly on the side of scary:

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Captioned « Women in London sit down for express teeth whitening ». I think they’re about to be transformed into aliens, or contaminated with some deadly germ, or perhaps just burnt to a crisp by some mysterious rays. Have I been reading too many comics?

Tentacle Tuesday: Bits and Bobs of Gold Key

« And pray that this beautiful stranger is pleasing to the taste of the demon DARGOMMA! »

We have already covered a lot of Gold Key territory… there’s Tentacle Tuesday Masters: George Wilson and his painted covers for Gold Key as well as Tentacle Tuesday: Gold Key’s Octopian Plenitude. But it is my credo to never leave an octopus behind (lest he creep up on you with evil intentions), so I’d like to add a few covers we haven’t seen yet.

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Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea no. 2 (July 1965). Cover by George Wilson.

Todd Franklin of Neato Coolville has actually transformed this cover into a groovy wallpaper (go to his website to download the high-res version).

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Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea no. 13 (August 1968). Cover by George Wilson.

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Brothers of the Spear no. 7 (December 1973), cover by George Wilson.

That previous cover has borderline tentacles, I agree, but the completist in me insisted on its inclusion. Also, it’s entertaining.

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The Tree That Walks is illustrated by Jesse Santos. The story tags as detailed by GCD are «chariots; draft elands; giant carnivorous plants; human skeletons; leopard; rock slides; saddle elands». I had to look up “elands” (it’s an antelope). How much more entertaining can one get?

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Tales of Sword and Sorcery Dagar the Invincible no. 11 (April 1975). Cover by the underappreciated Luis Dominguez.

A beautiful cover this may be, but the insides are distinctly underwhelming. The title story, It Lurks by Moonlight, is scripted by Don Glut and illustrated by Filipino artist Jesse Santos, who seemed like a likable artist with a wide-ranging career… but his art is not my cup of tea.

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Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery no. 93 (August 1979), cover by Luis Dominguez. The cover story is Dum-Dum’s Basement and we’ve covered it in Tentacle Tuesday: Domesticated Octopus Seeks Soulmate

The painting lost something in detail (a lot, actually) when it was made into a cover… this is more what it originally looked like:

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Crisp octopus!

~ ds

Hallowe’en Countdown III, Day 25

« You’re sure you want to spend the night out there? »

As an avid backyard camper, this effectively chilling cover by the versatile Argentine Luis Dominguez never failed to bring a pleasant tingle of dread. It has that quality of a silent, slow-motion nightmare. Barely-glimpsed but eerily tangible horrors shambling your way… and you can hardly move, helpless but with all senses on edge. Eek.

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Though it came late in Carmine Infantino‘s tenure, one can safely assume that DC’s publisher and his adjutant, art director Nick Cardy, had a hand in the cover’s layout. It certainly does tick Carmine’s boxes of « Leave Room for the Kids » and « Make It More Mysterioso. »

DC’s The Unexpected no. 166, (July 1975). The moody featured story, The Evil Eyes of Night, scripted by Al Case (one of editor Murray Boltinoff‘s several noms de plume) and illustrated by an inspired Ruben Yandoc, doesn’t betray or squander the promise proffered by the cover, though it hardly proceeds as one might presume. This isn’t The Expected, after all…

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I do believe that Yandoc did his own lettering, as it’s a consistent element across his American output. That’s always a plus, an added touch of personality. Love those sinister onomatopoeia!

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– RG

Treasured Stories: “The Servant of Chan” (1975)

« Followers in death: Attendants and relatives who were killed so they could be buried in the tomb with the person (normally someone very important or wealthy) who had died. » — The British Museum

Let’s face it, Gold Key’s would-be-spooky comics rarely lived up to their habitually fine painted covers (mostly courtesy of hard-working George Wilson, with Vic Prezio, Luis Dominguez, Jesse Santos or Jack Sparling occasionally chipping in); as with most things, there were exceptions: I’ve raved earlier about a particular issue of the generally ho-hum Grimm’s Ghost Stories, namely issue 26, boasting, along with the usual Paul S. Newman sleep aids, two excellent yarns from the undervalued Arnold Drake (co-creator of The Doom Patrol, Deadman, and the original Guardians of the Galaxy).

Ah, but today, we’re celebrating Drake’s co-conspirator, the prolific Argentine master (yes, another one) Luis Angel Dominguez, reportedly born ninety-five years ago to the day (Dec. 5, 1923), and still among the living… as far as we know. I like to envision him warmly surrounded by several generations of loved ones and well-wishers, an impish gleam in his eye.

Without further foot-dragging, here’s a vintage tale of quick wits in ruling class hubris from beyond the grave, The Servant of Chan, by that dastardly duo, Drake and Dominguez.

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George Wilson’s cover highlights a dramatic scene from our little story. This is Grimm’s Ghost Stories no. 26 (Sept. 1975, Gold Key).

Some further details on historical context, from Ancient China for Kids (!):

« Slavery in ancient China was not a pleasant experience. The lives of slaves were filled with hardship. Many were abused. Many slaves were children.

Most people who were slaves worked in the fields, alongside of peasants. They did the same job, and had the same hours, and pretty much the same clothing and food, as free farmers. But they were not treated with the same respect given to farmers. Some slaves built roads. Some worked in government.

But slaves who worked for the emperor, the royal family, and sometimes the nobles, had the worst of it. They could only do what they were told to do. They were treated in any way that their master and his family felt like treating them. Many were treated with great cruelty. When their master died, they were killed, and buried with their master in his tomb, so they could continue to serve their master after his death. »

Brr. All the same, if you’ve enjoyed this yarn, check out Arnold Drake’s other contribution to this issue, The Anti-13, which we enthusiastically featured some time ago.

¡Feliz cumpleaños, Señor Dominguez… wherever you may be!

-RG

Treasured Stories: “August Heat” (1973)

« Neither of us had seen a ghost, but I knew what he meant. »

I had planned to feature quite another tale this week, but seeing as we are in the torrid grip of quite the heat wave, I opted in the end for something more topical I’d been saving on the back burner.

Edward Nelson Bridwell (1931–1987) is one of those scarcely-noticed but greatly accomplished figures of American comics. At DC from the mid-1960s to the end of his life, he edited, wrote, packaged and compiled his heart out. Most impressive, in my view, were his erudition and discerning eye for a fine short story.

There’s always a blessed but mostly-powerless minority of comics creators that endeavours to improve the unwashed readership’s minds… nearly never at Marvel, most often at DC. In the mid-1970s, while working as Joe Orlando‘s editorial assistant, Bridwell adapted three excellent, but highly unconventional vintage spooky tales, as far afield as imaginable from the usual EC-by-homeopathy fare his boss favoured. These were William Fryer Harvey‘s August Heat (Secrets of Sinister House no. 12, July 1973), Ambrose Bierce‘s The Man and the Snake (Secrets of Sinister House 14, October 1973) and John Russell’s The Price of the Head (Weird Mystery Tales no. 14, Oct.-Nov. 1974); all three were splendidly brought to visual glory by WOT favourite Alfredo Alcala (1925-2000). All three are moody slow burners, with much introspection and little action.

On this scorching day (currently a sticky 35°F /95°F in Montréal, Canada) you’ll forgive me for not waiting until August to share this dark beauty with you.

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August Heat was the issue’s cover feature. Illustration by Luis Dominquez.

As evidence of Mr. Bridwell’s skill as an adapter, feel free to read the full (yet quite brief) text of August Heat. Or listen to one its several fine radio adaptations, the choice is yours:

The 1945 version on Suspense, starring Ronald Colman (presented by the Roma Wine Company of Fresno, California). Suspense’s 1948 remake or the 1956 Sleep No More adaptation, recited by Nelson Olmsted.

Oh, and in case you’re curious, here’s a peek at the picturesque English resort of Clacton-on-Sea:

Clacton-on-Sea

– RG

On This Day: Boris Karloff Crosses Over

« What’s that noise comin’ up from the cellar?
It’s the restless bones of Boris and Bela* »

It’s a cinch that William Henry Pratt, back when he was eking out a living in Canada, digging ditches or driving a truck, never suspected that his name, his stage name that is, would still elicit shivers of recognition long after his passing. Here we are, a whole hundred and thirty years past his birth, in Camberwell, South London, on Wednesday, November 23, 1887.

From his ascent to stardom in the early 1930s until his passing in 1969, he certainly lived to see his likeness appear in a bewildering array of toys and games and bedsheets and mugs and a zillion knicknacks and gewgaws, a parade that continues to this day. But he was likely never represented more consistently and abundantly than he was in comic books.

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Here, the Monster meets his… inspiration, in « Boris Karload, Master of Horror ». Dick Briefer‘s Frankenstein is a definite highlight of the Golden Age of comics. This is Frankenstein no. 11 (Jan.-Feb. 1948, Prize Comics). Read it here: http://comicbookplus.com/?dlid=39937 And if you, er… dug that, treat yourself to Craig Yoe‘s selection of Briefer’s rendition(s) of the Famous Monster. It’s a great package, and Mr. Yoe can always use the money… to unleash further wonders.

Here’s a gallery of cover highlights from Gold Key Comics’ long-running Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery (95 issues, 1962-80).

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Before there was called Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery, there was, for two issues, Thriller, based on the by-then-cancelled NBC series. Gold Key were often quite slow in making their licensing moves. The TV Thriller was often terrifying (“Pigeons From Hell”, “The Hungry Glass”…), but the comic book never scaled such heights, even sans the emasculating influence of the Comics Code Authority.

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« You know that one sideways glance from that bug-eyed banshee can turn your brains to prune-whip! » Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery no. 33 (Feb. 1971), Cover painted by George Wilson, illustrating Len Wein, Tom Gill and John Celardo’s March with a Monster.

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« I’m being scorched by something that shouldn’t even exist! » A laser cannon-equipped Evel Knievel tussling with a badass reptilian nightmare? That’s the Seventies for you. Gold Key’s mystery comics were generally pretty tame fare, but their covers, such covers! This one’s painted by Saint George Wilson. Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery no. 34 (April 1971.) You just know that Dragondoom is written by Lein Wein, because its damsel-in-distress shares his wife’s name, Marvel and DC colourist Glynis.

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A look at Mr. Wilson’s original painting gives us an idea of just how much was lost in the transition from brush to print. Sometimes it’s better *not* to know.

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« Feast your eyes upon them, mortal! Do they satisfy your appetite for witchcraft? Hee Hee! » Wayne Howard conjures up some decent monsters inside, but Psychotomimetic George Wilson, who painted this mind-melting cover, shows how it’s *really* done. Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery no. 43 (Oct. 1972.)

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« The car — being sucked in by this blasted fetid swamp! Goodbye car… goodbye, convention! » Roadside George Wilson strikes again! Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery no. 49 (March 1973.)

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« These computer cards are wonderful… almost as if they were alive! They tell me everything! » Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery no. 62 (July 1973). Luis Angel Dominguez‘s painted cover depicts a scene from (presumably) Arnold Drake‘s witty It’s in the Cards.

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« G-g-get away, B-Bobby! There’s a living horror out there! » « Aww, gee, dad! I’m sorry about that! It’s just my sea monster! » Meet The Mail-Order Monster, a gem from an uncredited scripter (likely Arnold Drake, if the sparkling wit is any indication), and illustrated by Ed Robbins. It’s a fabulously wacky yarn, combining to fine effect good old Sea-Monkeys (brine shrimp, really) and a generous sampling of Ray Bradbury’s Boys! Raise Giant Mushrooms in Your Cellar! 
This is Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery no. 65 (Dec. 1975), edited by Paul Kuhn. Also within: Don’t Put It on Paper, another of the handful of jobs José Luis García-López did for Gold Key, before settling down at DC later that year. The plot is basically that of Clark Dimond/Terry Bisson & Steve Ditko’s The Sands That Change! (Creepy no. 16, Aug. 1967, Warren), but with a much gentler outcome.

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« But — why would anyone create something so — so terrifying? » One thing you can nearly always count on in any given issue of BKToM: “scientific” experiments always go awry, and they nearly always yield rampaging monsters. Fitting! Luis Angel Dominguez provides this electrifying cover for issue no. 92 (July, 1979.) The man has such a peerless colour sense.

And remember, there’s far more to Boris Karloff than Frankenstein’s Monster: for evidence of his talent, check out The Body Snatcher (1945, directed by Robert Wise and produced by Val Lewton) or Targets (1968, directed by Peter Bogdanovich.)

Let’s reserve our closing words for the man (monster) himself: « Certainly I was typed. But what is typing? It is a trademark, a means by which the public recognizes you. Actors work all their lives to achieve that. I got mine with just one picture. It was a blessing. »

– RG

*Ships Don’t Disappear In The Night (Do They?) by 10cc (1973)

Hallowe’en Countdown, Day 25

« No, obese one. I am not dead… not in a manner you would comprehend. »

Here we present Luis Angel Dominguez’s (born 1923, Argentina) splendiferous cover painting for Marvel’s Dracula Lives no. 5 (March, 1974). Pure velvety ambiance.

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… and the printed version, bogged down with the usual Marvel ’nuff said (as if) hard sell copy. Now you know what you were missing. Sorry about that… it can be disconcerting.

DraculaLives5ATo give credit where credit is due, the colour reproduction is pretty faithful and quite a bit of detail is retained. That hardly ever happened!

– RG