Monster Madness Month: Historian if Horror/Fiends in the Funnies, Creatures in Comics

Fiends in the Funnies, Creatures in the Comics by Mark Orr

One of my fondest memories of my pre-literate childhood is of sitting on the couch with my dad after he got home from work, or after church on Sundays, and he would read me the comic strips from the newspaper. He did all the voices differently, with lots of drama and humor and everything you’d want in a comics reader. Li’l Abner and Kerry Drake, Miss Peach and Grandma, Jimmy Hatlo’s They’ll Do it Every Time are all long-gone and forgotten now. Blondie and Dick Tracy and Nancy are still around, but who reads newspapers anymore?

Dad is eighty-eight and thinking about moving into an assisted living facility, so those memories are very much on my mind these days. I roll them over and over on my mind’s tongue, savoring as many of the minutes as I can call up after almost sixty years.

One thing I don’t recall is that any of our regular favorite comic strips in either of the Nashville papers of that time were in the least monstrous or horrific. Since I started accumulating material for my vast amorphous history of horror project some years ago, of which this column is a manifestation, I have looked for expressions of horror in all possible media, and generally found an abundance in each one. Except in the syndicated newspaper comic strips.

Full disclosure: I have not subscribed to a printed newspaper in years. However, I do subscribe to a daily service that sends approximately seventy-five comics strips to my email box every day. Of those seventy-five, exactly one has the kind of themes or characters one most often thinks of as horror-related. Almost all of them are more-or-less the typical gag-a-day strips usually found these days. Day-to-day continuity lasting over weeks and months is virtually a thing of the past.

Once upon a time, though, a significant proportion of the comics page was taken up with extended storylines in strips in all the genres represented in the medium – humor, drama, mystery, science fiction, fantasy, westerns, war, romance, soap operas, even religion. And thanks to the internet, a huge amount of that material is available for the perusal of historians of those bygone years.

I belong to what used to be a Yahoo group before Yahoo did away with groups, that mines online newspaper archives and stacks of slowly disintegrating newspapers for comic strips and disseminates them to the membership. I receive a minimum of sixty or seventy old comics strips every day, usually closer to two hundred. Some days, long runs covering years or decades of one or more particular strips will show up, and that count goes up into thousands or even tens of thousands. Of all the titles I receive, the ones with even peripherally or occasional horrific content go into a separate file on one of my external hard drives. The list is not a long one. It begins with…

Dinosaurs

Okay, so, if Dinosaurus can be sort of classified as a monster picture, or Jurassic Park or The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms or The Giant Behemoth, then dinosaurs are monsters, right? They are monstrously big, and there are plenty you wouldn’t want to meet in person. Several strips have been set in that mythical period during which humans and dinosaurs ‘co-existed’.

Wink-wink-nudge-nudge. 

The first was Our Antediluvian Ancestors, which ran from 1901 to roughly 1906. It was created by prolific cartoonist Frederick Burr Opper for the Hearst Syndicate.

There are only two currently running that I know of. One is B.C., a gag-a-day strip that only occasionally features dinosaurs, and then only in service of a specific joke. B.C. premiered seven months and eight days before I did, in 1958. Created by Johnny Hart (1931-2007), who also created The Wizard of Id (see the section on dragons, below), it is currently being produced by Hart’s grandson, Mason Mastroianni. 

The longest-running dinosaur strip is Alley Oop, which debuted in 1932, three months and a day after my father. Are we seeing a trend here? Alley is a caveman who rides a brontosaurus named Dinny. In 1939, he and his girlfriend Ooola were snatched out of time and brought to the 20th Century by Professor Wonmugg’s time machine. I know of no one in my immediate or extended family born around that time. His subsequent adventures sent him all up and down the timeline, where (when?) he encountered ghosts and witches, among many other characters. In 1953 he found himself in the time of Macbeth as the events of Shakespeare’s play occurred, despite the play having little to do with the historical Macbeth.

Peter Piltdown was another anachronistic prehistoric comic strip, created by Mal Eaton. It ran from 1935 to 1946, then re-appeared in the pages of Boy’s Life Magazine in 1953 under the title of Rocky Stoneax. It lasted there until 1970. It was retitled because the Piltdown Man fossils had been found to be a hoax in the meantime, which is a whole ‘nother discussion I’ll save for later, if ever. Boy’s Life was produced by and for the Boy Scouts of America, so every Boomer boy who spent any time in Scouts likely ran across the strip. I remember it fondly, now that its original version has recently been among those I get via email from time to time.

Gary Larson’s The Far Side occasionally featured dinosaurs in his daily gags, usually observing the meteor about the wipe them out. They weren’t necessarily the focus of the strip, though, so that’s all I have to say about that.

Which of course leaves The Flintstones, although they began as a prime-time animated television series before appearing in newspaper syndication, as well as in comic books and other media. More dinosaurs used as props, generally, for the prehistoric antics of Fred and Barney and the gang.

One step up the monster ladder from dinosaurs would be, naturally, dragons. Dragons tend to pop up in strips set in Medieval times, along with witches and wizards and knights in shining armor. The aforementioned The Wizard of Id has been running since 1964. The dragon in that strip is the pet of the title character. 

In 1937, Hal Foster turned the art chores on the Tarzan comic strip over to Burne Hogarth. He then began what has consistently been the most beautifully drawn comic strip ever since, Prince Valiant. Appearing only as a full-color Sunday strip, it has been drawn by John Cullen Murphy since 1971. Foster also gave legendary comic book artists Wally Wood and Gray Morrow tryouts before giving it over to Murphy. More of a Medieval adventure strip, the occasional dragons tend to be more-or-less lizards of unusual size, rather than true fire-breathers.

Two years before Prince Valiant, writer William McCleery and artist Ralph Fuller debuted Oaky Doaks, a strip about a Medieval farmboy who makes his own suit of armor out of a tin roof and goes about rescuing damsels in distress and slaying the odd dragon in the process. The strip ran until 1961. 

Sir Bagby, created by brothers Rick and Bill Hackney, ran from 1957 to 1967. I’ve only got eighteen examples in my collection, but those few strips do include a polite but not altogether trustworthy dragon and a gryphon having an identity crisis.

There have been a number of science fiction comics strips with the occasional monster popping up like the saarlac in Return of the Jedi, but they weren’t really the focus of the strips. In this class we find Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, Brick Bradford, Don Dixon and others, none of which warrant much more than a mention here. Worth looking at, but not particularly in this space.

Numerous comics strips have had the occasional spooky storyline, mostly ones that turn out to be less due to supernatural causes than the machinations of evil mortals. Oriental adventure strip character Ming Foo, who spouted more aphorisms in one strip than Charlie Chan managed in an entire movie, began life in 1934 as a ‘topper’ strip for the Little Annie Rooney Sunday page. Back in the days when Sunday comics were full page affairs instead of chopped up to fit five or six on one page, a secondary strip would often run at the top, over the main one, hence ‘topper’. Jungle Jim was the topper for Flash Gordon, Colonel Potterby for Blondie, and so forth. Ming Foo encountered a Mad Monster in 1940, a Sea of Mirthful Demons in 1941, and wandered about on the Graveyard Island in 1942. He vanished from the comics pages a year later.

In addition to his many years in the Saturday morning cartoon milieu, Bullwinkle enjoyed a few years as a daily comic strip. He spent a few months in 1963 in Transylvania, where everybody’s favorite moose encountered a Dr. Jekyll who looked suspiciously like Boris Karloff, Count Draculet, a ballet-dancing mummy, and a singing werewolf.

You would think that a comic strip about a character called The Phantom would have more supernatural content, but the Ghost Who Walks is no ghost. Rather, he was a generational hero whose costume and accouterments were passed down from father to son. He has faced the odd witch doctor since he was created in 1936 by Lee Falk, but that’s about it. His adventures are still appearing, and are even more popular in Australia, Scandinavia and India than in his home country.

Adaptations of popular books and stories in the daily comics were a fairly regular occurrence in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. I have three separate adaptations of the classic Charles Dickens ghost story, A Christmas Carol, from 1937, 1950 and 1957. A strip called Famous Fiction adapted a couple of Edgar Allen Poe tales, “The Gold Bug” and “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”, in the early 1940s. I’m sure there were others I have yet to track down.

There was a whole class of single panel comics during the Golden Age of Hollywood that were basically promotional strips for the studios, featuring the odd hobbies of the stars or hints that you really, really need to get out and see this or that movie when it comes around to your town. Horror movie stars such as Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney or Bela Lugosi were occasionally mentioned, which is just enough horror content to justify this paragraph. The titles of these strips included Closeup and Comedy, Private Lives and Seein’ Stars

And now, we’re down to the four strips that can honestly be considered horror, that are truly inhabited, from beginning to end, top to bottom, side to side by monsters. The peripherals and occasionals are dealt with, and we’re left with these favored few. Over one hundred and twenty-five years of comic strip history, and this is what it boils down to. 

And three of them are humorous.

Maybe the comic strip medium simply isn’t suitable for sustaining the tension of the genre. Perhaps three panels a day and a Sunday page just won’t bear the weight of true fright. Perhaps. Regardless, here they are:

Barnaby

Before creating the classic children’s book, Harold and the Purple Crayon, Crockett Johnson came up with one of the great comic strips of all time. Barnaby was a five-year-old child who wished for a fairy godmother. What he got was a cigar smoking and rarely competent fairy godfather named Jackeen J. O’Malley. Their whimsical adventures meandered through plots involving standard issues of the day like scrap metal drives and victory gardens, but also ogres, gorgons, witches and wizards, and of course, Gus the Ghost. Never a success, Barnaby limped along from 1942 to 1952, never appearing in more than fifty-two newspapers. Still, Dorothy Parker loved it. There have been several reprints of the strip since 1943, when Holt issued two hardback volumes, both of which occupy honored places in my library. Fantagraphic Books has issued four volumes of a projected five-volume set of reprints covering the entire run. A play based on the characters was written and produced in 1946. It was adapted to television in 1959, starring Ron Howard as Barnaby and former Cowardly Lion Bert Lahr as Mr. O’Malley. 

Broom-Hilda

Russ Myers’ 1970 creation is still running. The title character is an alcoholic, cigar-smoking witch whose best friend is a troll. There’s a monster in a cave named Grelber who insults anyone foolish enough to get close to him. It’s a gag-a-day about these monsters and a few other beings. I’ve always enjoyed it, but it’s not scary. Moving on.

Scary Gary

Gary is a vampire who has retired to suburbia with his demonic henchman, Leonard, a bedsheet-clad ghost named Owen, and a severed head in a jar named Travis. There’s also a zombie baby wandering around the neighborhood in one of those circular walker things all my grandkids had. Don’t try to tickle that baby. You’ll draw back a nub. It’s a gag-a-day, usually involving Leonard being horrible to anyone in reach, Owen whining about being dead or Travis wishing he still had limbs. Scary Gary was created by Mark Buford in 2008. It’s one of the seventy-five strips I get every morning in my email, and usually, the first one I read.

Dark Shadows

Finally, a serious comic strip with real continuity, starring daytime soap opera vampire Barnabas Collins. It was drawn by long-time comic book and comic strip artist Ken Bald under the penname Ken Bruce to avoid confusion with the other strip he was doing at the time, Dr. Kildare. Because those were so much alike. Dark Shadows had already been adapted to a Gold Key comic book that lasted thirty-five issues, and a long series of gothic romance novels by Marilyn Ross, who was actually William Edward Daniel Ross, because nobody would buy a gothic romance by a man in those days. Bald’s work on the newspaper version was beautifully done, a significant improvement over the comic books drawn by Joe Certa. 

Which was probably why the strip lasted, oh, let me see…

A year. A YEAR? Seriously? One measly year?!?!?

‘Fraid so. March 14th, 1971 to March 11, 1972. That’s it. That’s all we get of the only truly horrific monster-populated comic strip ever created in the century and a quarter of the existence of the art form. Unless I’ve missed one, which is possible. If I have, please let me know in the comments.

Maybe we’ll have another one, someday, if the medium survives. We can only hope. In the meantime, as always…

Oh, one last thing: the article in the link below came to me too late for Women in Horror month, so I’ll just leave it here and let the populace peruse it at will. 

https://www.the-screening-space.com/movie-tv-musings/wihm-elsa-lanchester-and-9-classic-film-actresses-of-horror

What was I saying before I interrupted myself? Oh, yeah. 

As always, be afraid. Be very afraid.

 

Chilling Chat: Quick Questions with EmoWeasel

chillingchat

Christie Crapeticio, known as “EmoWeasel,” is a San Francisco-based illustrator who draws comics, children’s books, horror art, and pattern designs. She went to the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. While attending school, she studied comic book art and children’s books. IMG_9422

EmoWeasel is a talented and fun woman. We spoke of art, the origin of her awesome name, and her comics.

NTK: Welcome to Chilling Chat, EmoWeasel. Thank you for chatting with me today.

EW: You’re quite welcome and thank you for having me.

NTK: Where did the name “EmoWeasel” come from?

EW: Oh no, that’s a fun story. So the name EmoWeasel came from my middle school years.  My friend and I were actually judging people for a talent show and I decided to doodle a sophisticated long cat and my friend said that totally looks like an EmoWeasel (Laughs.) And I love that name, so we sort of ran with it and built a mini-community around the name. We basically had the name EmoWeasel represent all the kids who felt like misfits or who liked art, reading comics, and anything else that was considered weird. We rallied under that name, the small group we were, and felt like we all belonged together.

I kept the name because my work is odd, different and not normal for most. And, that’s what EmoWeasel stood for back in my middle school years. Also, the name is just very catchy (Laughs.)

NTK:  What brought you to the world of art?

EW: That’s a good question. I guess I really got into art when I was young because I wanted to express my thoughts and stories through pictures. Because I’m dyslexic, writing and spelling are much harder for me. So, the idea of writing my stories out was more or less out of the picture. Art, to me, was always a way to share the stories that flow through my mind with everybody. And, I’d say most importantly, art always just made me so happy whenever I was doing it. Even if my hands were breaking under the pressure it was still always worth it in my eyes.

NTK: What are some of your influences? Whose work do you admire?

EW: Oh gosh, there’s so many who inspire me. But, the ones off the top of my head might surprise you (Laughs.) One of the biggest influences in my art and actually my comic writing, is Masashi Kishimoto, the creator of Naruto. Then there is Brom, Brian Bolland, Rob Guillory. These are just a few artists who have inspired me over the years. They’ve all inspired me for many different reasons such as drawing techniques, coloring, and overall storytelling abilities.

werewolf santa color(mini water mark)What influences me most when creating my work is music and dark creepy thought when looking at shadows (Laughs.) But mainly it is music. I love to listen to instrumental music from movie soundtracks and that really helps build the moods in my head to create monsters and stories.

NTK: Do you listen to horror movie soundtracks?

EW: So, the kind of music I actually listen to isn’t always from horror movie soundtracks. Because, to be honest, they sometimes make the monsters come a little bit too alive in my mind (Laughs.) A lot of the soundtracks I listen to are actually from video games and adventure movies. But, I usually just look into certain artist I really like and just buy up all the albums they have.

NTK: What got you into horror or scary things in general?

EW: Hmm…that’s also a good question. I think I’ve always just really had an overactive imagination so I really just see creepy things all around me. It’s almost like the scary art world just sucked me in. Ever since I was little, I’ve always drawn more gory and creepy things. But of course, I sprinkled in some cute things so my parents didn’t think I was completely nuts (Laughs.)

NTK:  What medium do you prefer when creating? Do you use ink? Paint? Pencil?

EW: My medium of choice is usually pen and ink. In most of the work I do, I like to try to use texture to tell a story along with the characters themselves. So, pen and ink is my best friend. But, I also like to do oil paintings and colored pencil illustrations. I’ll do a little bit of promotion here (Laughs.) I’m actually working on a mini-ghost-story children’s book that’s done in colored pencil on black paper. That book is going to be available for pre-order very soon.

So yes, I prefer to use pen and ink. But, if I decide to use color with a pen and ink drawing I’ve already drawn, I photoshop over it.

NTK: Do you have a favorite comic book?

EW: Oh man, that is a good question. I have a lot of things I like (Laughs.) But, to keep it simple I’ll just give you the top few. I really like Chew, Naruto, Berserk, Dissolving Classroom, and I Hate Fairyland.

NTK: Favorite movie?

EW: One of my favorite movies (it’s not quite horror but it’s a gory movie) is Overlord. I guess one of my favorite horror movies would be the new It.

NTK: What does the future hold for you? Aside from the children’s book you mentioned, what other works do we, as Horror Addicts, have to look forward to?

EW: The future does hold a lot for me as long as I keep overbooking my life (Laughs.) This year, I’m actually working on a big comic book series that will be launched in November. I am super excited and also super nervous.

Along with that new series that’s coming out, I’m going to continue my current mini ghost comic(water marked)comic strip that I share bi-weekly online.

But there is one big thing I’m trying to work on, and that is teaching classes in creating comics and horror art.

NTK: Congratulations! Does the comic series have a name? Who is the main character?

EW: The series is called Demon Eye. The main character is, as you might’ve figured out, a demon.  There are multiple Demon races in the series. She’s a special breed of demon which most think have gone extinct but, as you learn throughout the series, they were forcefully relocated.

Her name is Cirsto and she is best known as the Demon Eye assassin. So that’s where the book title comes from.

NTK: Thank you for sitting down with me today, EmoWeasel.

EW: It was a lot of fun.

You can follow EmoWeasel on Instagram and Facebook

 

 

 

 

 

David’s Haunted Library: The Howling issue 2

The Howling is a horror franchise that doesn’t get a lot of respect. It started with a trilogy of novels by Gary Brandner which was made into a movie in 1981. From there the movie had seven sequels plus a reboot that is coming out soon. The Howling doesn’t get a lot of attention because some of the sequels weren’t very good but it has its fans and now The Howling has become a comic series distributed by Space Goat publishing.

I recently received a copy of issue 2 of The Howling written by Micky Neilson with art by Jason Johnson and Milen Parvanov. The story is simple enough, we have Chris Halloran who is seeking redemption but is threatened by a conspiracy of epic proportions and we have Marsha Quist who is on a blood soaked quest to find the mysterious Hand of Akkara. This comic series is a direct sequel of the first Howling movie and takes place a few weeks later with the same characters.

If you are a fan of the original movie, you will love this series. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen the movie but the first issue of the comic gives you a recap and in this second issue we get into the conspiracy to keep Karen’s transformation into a wolf on live tv from getting any more attention than it has already gotten. This comic is like a trip down memory lane, being a fan of the first movie it was fun remembering it and seeing where this new story was going to go. The art here is excellent showing some great action scenes with a female werewolf doing battle with some armed gunmen. If you like werewolves, conspiracies and reliving a classic movie series then give The Howling series a try.

http://www.spacegoatpublishing.com/

https://merchgoat.com/product/howling-revenge-werewolf-queen-2/

David’s Haunted Library: Monster Smash-Ups and Pray For Darkness

David's Haunted Library

Monster-Smash-Ups-02I haven’t read a lot of comics over the last few years but recently I found myself wondering what good horror comics are out there? It didn’t take to long to find an indie horror comic publisher that’s putting out quality horror comics and graphic novels. Scary Tales Publishing is run by Kevin M. Glover and produces comic anthologies that are a throwback to the black and white horror comics of yesteryear, such as Tales From The Crypt and The Vault Of Horror.

The comic I read from Scary Tales Publishing was Monster Smash-Ups Issue 1.Monster-Smash-Ups-03This book contains 40 pages and 6 stories of monster mash-ups. Some of the things that you will see if you pick up this anthology is astronauts on a strange planet trying to escape a space monster, Dracula versus an Arthurian knight, a horde of mummies, a swamp monster fighting zombies and a diary written by Anne Frankenstein. If you love monsters then you can’t pass this up.

Every story in this book was good but the one story that really stood out for me was The Diary Of Anne Frankenstein. The year is 1887 and young Anne Frankenstein is hiding in an attic as the angry villagers are going through town killing all the creatures of the night and throwing them in a pit. Anne may be a child but she has skills and the villagers will be sorry they messed with her. This story is an obvious nod to  The Diary Of Anne Frank and looks at intolerance in a fun way. I would love to see a series based on this story.

Monster smash-Ups is a lot of fun and a must have for horror fans. It takes me back to a time when I liked to sit in my room with my friends looking through horror comics and saying how cool the monsters in it were. I got a great sense of nostalgia while reading this book. You can tell that the artists and writers who put Monster Smash-Ups together have a true love of the genre. Great art, a sense of humor and fun story-lines. This is everything a horror comic should be.

http://www.fracturedscarytales.com/

http://www.screamwriter4hire.com/

23791949Many explorers have died in the Amazon and their bodies were never found. The jungle has been called the Green Hell and its a vicious uncaring place full of predators of different shapes and sizes. But this fact doesn’t seem to stop thrill seekers and tourists from visiting the jungle. Ben and his friends are about to take the trip of their lifetime into the untamed jungle.

What starts off as a wondrous trip into a beautiful part of the world, quickly becomes a fight for survival. On their way to a campground their boat captain is murdered and the tourists are stuck in a remote location where no one can find them. Now they have to make their way back to lodge they came from while being stalked by something that wont let them leave the Amazon alive.

Pray For Darkness by James Michael Rice is a horror novel where the jungle itself is the main character. In the beginning its described as a beautiful place with exotic animals, luscious fruit and it has everything you would need to live off the land. Later in the book we see it as the ultimate killer that can end your life in a thousand different ways leaving your body where it will never be found.

The jungle is a living, breathing dangerous thing in Pray For Darkness and that’s what made this book great. One of my favorite scenes in this book didn’t include any people but instead focused on animals struggling to survive in the wild. The chapter starts with a family of capybaras being stalked by a jaguar. The author gets into the heads of the animals and you see how hard it is for them to thrive in this place. I found myself feeling emotion for the capybara trying to save its family and the starving jaguar just trying to survive.  Then the scene gets more horrifying when a group of bigger predators arrive.

The predators in question could be considered zombies but in my opinion they are faster, smarter and more vicious than zombies. There is one scene when one of the characters is turned into a zombie like creatures that is downright chilling. This is when the book changes from being about the beauty of the amazon to a horror novel. I also loved how we see the character’s personalities change when they are confronted with danger. You could say this book is two books in one.

The thing I didn’t like about Pray For Darkness was that it took a long time to get into the action. The first half of the story focuses on the characters which I didn’t find interesting. The book picks up in the second half though when we find out about the wild humanoids that are stalking the campers. My favorite part of this book was the descriptions of the jungle and I would have liked this book even if it didn’t have any characters. This book brings to life an exotic location that I have never experienced and that was what made it worth reading.