Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Monster of Dread End...

Originally Published: “Ghost Stories” #1, Dell Comics, September 1962
Writer: John Stanley
Art By: Ed Robbins

Submitted by: E.M. Tonner

Ghost Stories #1

The year was 1962.

The Beatles had signed with Brian Epstein earlier in the year and released their debut single, “Love Me Do”. In response to the Soviet Union agreeing to remove its missiles from Cuba, US President John F. Kennedy ends the quarantine of the Caribbean nation. Film actress and sex icon, Marilyn Monroe is found dead in her Los Angeles, California home after apparently overdosing on sleeping pills. Amazing Fantasy issue 15 (the first appearance of Spider-Man) is released in August. Dell Comics releases “Ghost Stories” #1 one month later. The Comics Code Authority had been in effect for eight years.

Dell Comics never joined the Comics Code Authority. Their comics were clearly intended for young children, having the Disney license as well as other children’s properties. Dell refused to join the Code and instead began publishing in its comics a "Pledge to Parents" that promised their editorial process "eliminates, rather than regulates, objectionable [sic] material" and concluded with the now classic credo "Dell Comics Are Good Comics." (Thanks Wikipedia)

However, 1962 was a transitional year for Dell. The long partnership Dell Comics had held with Western Publishing dissolved. Western decided to create its own in-house comic publishing company, Gold Key Comics. With the departure of Western went the Disney and Warner Bros. licenses and left Dell Comics at a crossroads. Not only had it lost a large portion of its licensed titles, many artists and writers had followed the titles to Gold Key Comics.

One writer who didn’t jump ship was John Stanley. Fans of comics will associate John Stanley with “Little Lulu” and “Nancy and Sluggo”. He scripted “Little Lulu” from 1945 to 1959 as well as providing the artwork with Irving Tripp. With the loss of most its licensed titles, Dell knew they had to come up with something fast. They also knew that the Code had left a rather large vacuum in the field of horror comics. Simply put, there were none.

It was this set of unique circumstances that led Dell to tap on the shoulder of Mr. John Stanley to pen issue one of their new title “Ghost Stories”. The consummate professional, John Stanley pulled off one of the greatest horror comic stories of all time. That’s right, he only wrote one issue in what could be considered one of the greatest style departures in the history of comics. He also contributed to “Tales From The Tomb” a month later, which is also very memorable. John Stanley brought a new direction to the horror comic, as he knew how children thought, and certainly knew how to fire the dark side of their imagination.

You can find "The Monster of Dread End..." all over the internet. I have it in Submissions as well.

For those interested in the works of John Stanley, Frank M. Young has a fantastic blog entitled Stanley Stories that includes much of Mr. Stanley's work in comics.

In the next post...

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


In the next blog...

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The iComics Card

Y'know ya want one....

Art by Luke Ross from the cover of Jonah Hex #12 (2006 Series)

With the debut of Apple's iPad, there's a really great discussion about digital comics over at the Comic Book Resources Forum. :)

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Fantastic Future of Comics

Could anyone draw women like Matt Baker could?....

The comic distribution system as we know it is changing. In the old days, titles were monthly. Shops ordered the most issues they figured they could sell. Excess inventory was returned for a rebate. These comics were destroyed. James Warren of Creepy fame was one of the first publishers to actually sell back issues. Clever guy.

So what did this mean for a publisher? Basically, you had one kick at the can to make money. That's why comics are made after all. Profit. Oh sure, there were reprints. It used to be comics were reprinted in, well, comics (usually 20 to 30 issues later). You just had to pay a printer that way, you already owned the content. Then came graphic novels (and respectability!).

I want you to think really hard about this next question. Seriously, let the gears in your mind grind for awhile...

How many comic issues have ever been published?

Use "Action Comics #1" in 1938 as your starting point, the beginning of The Golden Age. That was 72 years ago. Greater Comics Database currently boasts over 542,000 issues indexed and more than 40,000 series. Marvel and DC have about 80,000 issues currently indexed. I'm sure that's not all of them by any stretch.

OK, that's a lot of old comics, so what?

You remember when iTunes™ came out? I mean, up until then people just went to music stores and bought the CD when it came out, or picked it up used from a store. Music companies had one kick at the can to make their money. Oh sure, they could do a reprint, errrr.... 'Best Of' collection later on. There was always royalties too. But who would have thought any sane person would be paying 99 cents for an old Neil Young song...

Well they did.

And you know all these back issues? The comic companies still have them... They own them outright.

Do you see where I'm going?

Just consider for a moment an iTunes™-like distribution system for back issues. You don't even have to own the back issue. You can rent movies from iTunes™. Would you pay 50 cents for 48 hours with a back issue? A high-quality back issue. Maybe even with some interviews from the creators. How about 40 cents? Would you pay $10.00 per month for the ability to download ANY twenty-five issues from DC or Marvel you wanted?

Would you buy a gift card from a supermarket with your favorite comic book character on it that was worth $10, $20 or $50 or these downloads. Easy birthday present. (Personally, I would buy anything with the Two-Gun Kid on it...)

And this dear publishers, I give to you. Please hurry.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Philosphy of Horror - Part 2

Nihilistic Horror

There is a point beyond any meaningful redemption, where horror becomes tragedy (or, in the eyes of the court, obscenity). I call this nihilistic horror. There is no morality, no right, no wrong - just things that make me upset and ultimately depressed with the human condition. It's a sad story where bad things happen, well, just because. Natural disasters such as earthquakes or volcanic eruptions could be classified as nihilistic horror. Nihilism Defined.

This horror is simply a bastard child of tragedy and this tragedy wants to crush all hope, morality and value. It's the perfect vessel for the 'gross-out'. With that in mind...

Mr. Arashi's Amazing Freak Show

Suehiro Mauro
pushes boundaries you never knew existed. This one will test your views of the first amendment and free speech. It really is that nasty. Midori, the 12-year old main character, suffers every physical and emotional indignity imaginable, including rape. It would seem easy to write this off as child pornography. In the manga however, Mr. Mauro does not exploit the sexual aspects and keeps the scene horrific. The anime didn't and was banned in Japan. You know it's bad when it's banned in Japan.

I am not going to launch into a review of "Mr. Arashi's Amazing Freak Show". I've read it once. It made me depressed, especially since I have two young daughters and it hit a little too close to home. Yet I would never push to have it banned (although it is only for a very mature reader). This is not entertainment, this is artistic tragedy and steeped in impressionsim. It is the 'gross out'. Originally published 1984, go figure.

The Philosphy of Horror - Part 1

Stephen Bissette in a 2003 interview with Comic Book Resources said this about the horror genre:

"Horror is a genre founded on emotion. There's many such genres. Romance is a genre founded completely on emotion. Comedy is a genre completely founded on an emotional state. Horror is in that same nebulous realm.

To me, the keystones are not the artifacts and the archetypes that people tend to associate with horror, but the unconscious well springs that are touched by horror. There are the obvious negative ones: fear, dread, the feeling of being profoundly disturbed, frightened. But I think there's also an expansive and very positive side to horror, which is usually ignored. There's a very real feeling of awe and wonder that is tapped in some of the best exercises in horror..."

Mr. Bissette is (in my opinion) one of the foremost authorities on horror today in comics. Besides being a talented artist and comic book veteran, he also gives lectures about the history and state of horror in comics to universities. He's intimating that at its most poignant, horror becomes a religious experience. We become small, we are humbled. Let's consider one of the most horrific developments of the twentieth century:

At the height of the cold war, we lived with an all-too-real-fear; nuclear war. The supernatural tales of vampires, werewolves, and ghosts seemed like childish fairy tales. You could wake up tomorrow to the end of the world. The words 'nuclear' and 'atomic' became our bogeymen. It's no coincidence that horror went underground at the height of the cold war. We were already in awe, afraid and horrified of a mushroom cloud.

Perhaps that's why much of the eighties (and early nineties) horror denigrated to the "gross-out". While the desensitized reader may not be able to be terrified of the work, there's always the gross-out. Whether as extreme depictions of violence, broken taboos and social mores, or out-and-out indecency. Schlock. As long as we live in some degree of safety, there is always sensationalism and schlock.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The One You Read As A Kid

There's a simple answer to this question:
"What's the best comic you've ever read?"

The answer is:
"The one you read when you were ten."

I expect everyone who reads this blog will have a childhood favorite, that comic that stuck with them through the years. Or maybe there's a dozen. Mine was DC's 'Unexpected' issue 202, published in 1980.

Unexpected, Issue 202

Did it terrify me? No, not really. What it did was disturb my young sensibilities. Pretty much everything I had read in horror comics had followed the formula EC had made famous, the twist ending that resulted in eye for an eye justice. The 'big payoff', that final gruesome conclusion where the villains got what was coming to them.

The DC horror covers were famous for the 'kids in jeopardy' motif. The Fantasy Ink blog has a nice post of the Neil Adams 'kids in peril' covers. Sometimes there were even kids as the characters in the stories. However, I had never seen kids murdered in one of these stories. And they weren't even bad kids! Biting off the head of a chocolate Easter bunny is not a bad thing. Biting off the head of a boy covered in chocolate is. This wasn't part of the script... The monster wasn't supposed to eat the kids!

At that tender age I learned that horror (even the comic book kind) is not safe. If we cage Horror and poke it with a stick, we lose our freedom. You see, if we cage anything and stare at it, we lose our freedom, because that cage is not a place we're willing to go. The cage goes both ways.

With that philosophy...

In the next post:

Thursday, January 21, 2010


Originally Published: “Big Comic Spirits” Uzumaki, Shogakukan, 1999
Story and Art: Junji Ito
Editor: Nakaguma-san
English Adaptation: Yuki Oniki c/o Viz Media

Uzumaki, issue 7

You'll never see a spiral the same way...

Had anyone ever based a horror story on a shape before? Junji Ito did, and he did it terrifyingly well. The Japanese Uzumaki translates as spiral (or vortex). The shape of the spiral has cursed the small coastal town that's the setting in this masterpiece of madness. Junji Ito is a very recent discovery for me. I hadn't read any horror manga until I stumbled across Ito's "Museum of Terror". I was sold!

The evolution of manga has always been of interest to me. There has never been a Comic Book Authority Code in Japan. There have been comics aimed at mature audiences for some time. I've read a lot of Western horror comics. The twist ending with its dark karmic justice formula is embedded into my brain. EC was famous for this 'big payoff' ending. It works in comics. There is no big payoff in Uzumaki. There is only survival from the all-consuming vortex and a twisted study of humanity.

I have Chapter 7 'Jack-In-The-Box' in SUBMISSIONS. This chapter is a good primer for the rest of the story. The entire series is easily found online but as always I implore you to support the medium by buying the graphic novels.

I wonder if Mr. Ito was inspired by Van Gogh's "The Starry Night"?

In the next post...
The one you read as a kid.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

24 Hours

Originally Published: “Sandman” Preludes and Nocturnes, issue 6, DC Comics (Vertigo), June 1989
Writer: Neil Gaiman
Pencils: Mike Drigenberg
Inks: Malcolm Jones III with special thanks to Don Carola
Colorist: Robbie Busch
Lettering: Todd Klein
Editor: Karen Berger

24 Hours

When I was five or six, I honestly believed Manhattan was a magical place of sky scrapers and superheroes. I thought that if I were to go there, I could catch a glimpse of Spider-Man or Superman. What a great place to live!

Of course, as I grew older (eight years old), I knew that superheroes didn't really exist but I still enjoyed reading comics anyway and my childhood memories of living in the same apartment building as Clark Kent or Barry Allen became pleasant childish memories. And then I read "24 Hours"...

If nothing else, know this: Neil Gaimen is a star. I don't mean he's a Hollywood celebrity. I mean the man is physically a light in the night-time sky in the constellation of 'Writer'. This star shattered my childhood vision of living with superheroes. You see, Mr. Gaimen knew that in a world with super heroes, there would be super villains. And they would be terrifying. His stripped down portrayal of a third-string Justice League of America super villain gives you a shivering dose of reality. It gives emotional depth, insight and consequence to the 4 color world of our youth. Suddenly, comics were growing up. And damn, were they good!

I have "24 Hours" in Submissions and it can be found on the web. The 'Preludes and Nocturnes'graphic novel is also widely available. The entire "Sandman" series is a landmark in comics and should be required reading. It's sixth issue was a revelation in the world of the horror comic. OK, enough gushing, go read it.

In The Next Post:

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


Originally Published (black and white): “Creepy”, issue 63, Warren Publishing, July 1974
Writer: Bruce Jones
Art: Bernie Wrightson
Editor: Bill DuBay


I consider Jones and Wrightson’s “Jenifer” the best horror comic story of all time. It wasn't an easy choice. Many would disagree (although it does make a lot of Top 10 lists). This story doesn't rely on a 'twist' ending. Everyone sees the ending coming, it just makes the man's plight all the more terrible as he's helpless to avoid his fate. It is gory, but nothing worse than what we'd expect from 'Creepy'. This story just works. And this is prime Bernie Wrightson, which is a pleasure onto itself.

I've put the colour version from PC Comics on my SUBMISSIONS page as most fans would not have seen that version. The original black and white version is all over the Internet. Try doing on image search for 'Jenifer Wrightson'.

More comments available on the pdf on the Submissions page! Feel free to comment :)

In the next post...

Monday, January 18, 2010

The 100m Dash of Horror

How does anyone determine the best anything?

Usually, there are two methods:
1. Measurements
2. Opinion.

But how does one measure art? Do we judge how closely it mimics reality? Seriously?
How about effectiveness? Do we judge it on a scale of 1 to 10? Isn't that just an opinion?

Even informed judgment that assigns measurement is still just an educated opinion.
There's 'popular opinion' and 'experts agree' sorts of consensus as well.

Then there's the criteria. What makes a great horror comic story? Art? Writing? The ability to emote? Sales?
Yes. yes, yes and heck no. Should its impact on the medium be taken into account?
If we're looking for 'greatest' probably, if we're looking for 'best' then no.

Is the best horror story the one that scares you the most, or are horror stories just cautionary tales cloaked in nastiness?
The best horror stories are the ones that get to you. They wiggle that long, gnarly finger through your sterile shields of rationality to stir your psyche like a cauldron.
They relate to us and make us panicked and unsettled. You actually carry them around, like any memorable experience.

In horror comics, the long gnarly finger is the art. How much it stirs us is the story.
Please notice I did not say writing. I said story. In comics, writing is a part of the art.
Great art can burn onto the retina, a great story can boil the brain behind it.

My hope is that with enough discussion, we can arrive achieve a consensus. I need your input. If you've ever read a great horror comic, tell me which one. Please!

In The Next Post!

Sunday, January 17, 2010


Welcome! This is a blog dedicated to discussing the best horror comics ever made. It is the official blog of