Nightmares Illustrated 004
By Wayne Edwards

Nightmares Illustrated, the column for horror comics readers.

I. Always On My Mind…

All right, here’s what happened. I was reading Peter Straub’s introduction to his edited volume(s) American Fantastic Tales and came across his mention of the International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts (IAFA). It is the only organization I know of for academics (mostly English professors) interested in horror, science fiction, and fantasy in literature and film. I thought, well how about that? I am an academic (though not in literature or film). I tend to over analyze music, film, and literature to the extreme. I ought to fit right in with these people. So I joined the organization, paid the registration fee for their annual conference in March, booked a room, bought a plane ticket, packed a grip and headed to the airport. And that’s as far as I got. Flight delays and then cancellations left me on the sidelines for two days and after that I jumped ship. Anti-climactic? I’ll say. I will just have to content myself with the journals IAFA publishes and put the conference out of my mind.

IAFA is worth looking into if you like to read and participate in extended discussions about motivation of characters, interpretation of intent and expression, and modes of flux. I made that last one up, but the most recent thread I received a comment on was titled, “Question deriving from The Emergence of the Posthuman Subject.” The organization’s website is www.iafa.org. Sometimes the listserve discussions are interesting, and you get to interact with a whole new category of fan-slash-professorial-worker-bee. I am trying it out for a year. I’ll keep you posted.

 

II. This Just In…

Deadworld: Frozen Over. A little back story is in order. The first issue of the first Deadworld comic was published by Arrow Comics in 1986. In 1988, beginning with issue #10, Caliber Press took over. Caliber finished off series one with twenty six issues, and published the second series, fifteen issues worth, plus a couple of mini series. For the past several years, Desperado Publishing has been releasing new Deadworld material and, according to its website, Desperado has reached an agreement with IDW which should increase circulation considerably. Deadworld, then, has been around for a long time. Twenty years for a comics series from an independent publisher is nothing to sneeze at. What keeps readers so interested in a black and white comic about zombies?

For one thing, zombies are very popular. Consider a series like The Walking Dead, for example – another black and white zombie book. Published continuously since 2003, this series has consistently ranked in the top ten for sales of comics and collections. Marvel Zombies, the book that zombifies virtually the entire cast of Marvel characters, appears to be completely unstoppable as series after series shambles to the fore. And there are dozens of other series. Readers love zombies.

Deadworld couldn’t have survived all of this time just by being a zombie book. There has to be something else about it that keeps readers buying it year after year. And there is: it’s the story, of course. One thing about the series that was innovative at the time of its original run is that some of the zombies are intelligent and can talk. Because of this, there is an hierarchy, including regional zombie leaders. The artwork was always a draw, too. Despite the black and white treatment of the internal art, the covers featured colorful depictions of mutilation and zombie decay. How can you pass that up if you see it on the newsstand? Over the years, the mythology deepened, the artwork got even better and more varied, and the recent writing by Gary Reed has kept the familiar characters fresh (heh-heh, fresh zombies) and interesting.

Desperado Publishing has been quite effective in releasing not only comics but collected editions packaged to fly off the shelves (like Requiem for the World gathering the first six issues of the current on-going series). Besides collected editions, there are also products like Deadworld Chronicles which is a series of graphic novels (only one out so far) “entirely self-contained” that “do fit into the scheme of” the series, while remaining outside the continuity of the on-going series. Another innovation is the stand-alone graphic novel Deadworld Slaughterhouse, which continues the main storyline but experiments with artistic presentation through Sami Makkonen’s stunning images.

The latest mini-series is Deadworld Frozen Over. Written by Mike Raicht and illustrated mainly by Federico Dallacchio, this four-issue series takes place in New York and introduces a new set of characters. The city is covered by a seemingly perpetual snowfall and a group of human survivors are holed up in a skyscraper waiting for a chance to escape the city and head toward safer digs in the south. King Zombie, the iconic zombie leader from the main series, arrives and butts head with the local zombie sentient. See, in the Deadworld continuity, the zombie plague is supernatural, brought by beings from another dimension. King Zombie, then, is trying to open the gateway between the worlds permanently and he thinks what he needs, who he needs, is in New York. That’s why he drives his Harley through the snow and hands a beat-down to the locals.

Frozen Over is innovative for its setting in Deadworld and for its study of human behavior in the face of exceedingly trying circumstances, a hallmark of the series from its beginning in 1986. The artwork is consistently good throughout, although it does look a tad bit rushed in the second half of the last issue. In all it is a good mini for fans of Deadworld and for newcomers. The individual comics are already rather hard to find, but a collected edition is due out any time now.

If you find that you like the series and want to read more, you can get a CD-ROM collection of the first two series and two minis for less than $25. It is a great deal and a good way to catch up on the early years of zombie mayhem. Highly recommended.

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Creepy / Eerie Archives. In the 1960s, Warren Publishing started three horror magazines: Creepy, Eerie, and Vampirella. All three were comics anthologies and were published in magazine form (black and white only and of different dimensions than standard comics) in order to dodge the scrutiny of the Comics Code Authority (CCA). The CCA had no actual legal authority to do anything, but many distributors and retailers wouldn’t sell comics that did not have the CCA seal. Therefore, any questionable content was simply published as a magazine and sold anyway. It is another shining example that censorship is a giant pain in the ass that, in the end, doesn’t really work. But I digress. Creepy, Eerie, and Vampirella were next generation progeny of 1940s and ’50s publications such as Tales from the Crypt and other EC-like horror properties that featured violence and lurid situations, sometimes to a surprising extreme for the time. Creepy and Eerie lasted into the early 1980s, the former seeing a recent revival. Vampirella, being undead, fared better and received a more or less continuous publication stream all the way through to today. In fact, Vampirella recently sold to Dynamite Entertainment and is poised for another surge. But I digress. Again. I am supposed to be talking about the other two.

Beginning in 2008, Darkhorse started printing luxurious hardcover collected editions of the original Creepy series, and in 2009 began the same treatment for Eerie. Each book contains five issues of the respective magazine reproduced in the original black and white on high-quality glossy stock. Darkhorse also includes full-color reproductions of the covers, which were frequently stunning paintings by iconic fantasy artists like Frank Frazetta and others. What a marvel these books are. They are absolutely gorgeous and built to last. There is only on problem. The price.

Retail on these archive editions is a whopping $49.95 each. Ten dollars an issue. You know, you can buy an actual original copy of the five magazines in each volume in “good” condition for less than fifty bucks. I know—I’ve checked. The price is brutal. On the other hand, Darkhorse is not really printing that many copies of these beauties and their target audience is fairly small group willing to pay premium prices for the excellent presentation. We might stand around and wish Darkhorse would print less expensive editions for a larger group of people, but they are the ones putting the cash up to produce these books so they are going to do what they want. Fair enough. Besides, maybe one day they will release cheaper editions for the mass market. We will have to wait and see.

And the stories themselves? Well, look, they are not about to frighten many people these days, given what we all have ready access to at home. I appreciate the writing more from an historic and nostalgic point of view. The artwork, on the other hand, holds up very well for its type. The interior black and white work is rich beyond expectation and the covers, while sometimes hit and miss, and breathtaking when they hit. Ken Kelly, Richard Corben, Frank Frazetta (already mentioned but worth repeating), and an intriguing list of other luminary painters and inkers populate these pages and await your examination.

I know these books are not for everyone. They are very expensive for one thing, and for another the work is forty years old. For some of you out there, they will genuinely hit the spot. Recommended.

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American Vampire. The publisher is hitting hard the Stephen King angle to its new comic book series, American Vampire. As well it should – Stephen King, maybe you’ve heard of him…he’s a pretty popular writer. Before we all get too excited let’s read the press release together, shall we? For the first five issues of the series, there will be two story arcs. One of them is written by Stephen King. After the first five issues, no more Stephen King. Mr. King’s part is to tell the origin story of the first American vampire. Pretty cool idea, really, and this is the first comics series King has written based upon original material (as opposed to some other writer adapting something King wrote previously). After issue five I foresee a gigantic drop in sales no matter how good the other arc is. So I am not sure the other writer – the main writer – Scott Snyder is going to gain much by Stephen King’s participation in this project. Whatever the ultimate outcome, let’s now consider this first issue on its merits alone.

Scott Snyder’s arc is set near Los Angeles in 1925. Extras on a movie set are lured to a party where initially they are consumed by the atmosphere of wealth and privilege and then later they are consumed by vampires. Stephen King’s bit begins in Colorado circa 1880. Mere bullet wounds turn out to be ineffective on one of the transients. We all know why. The artwork for both arcs is executed with heavy-lined authority by Rafael Albuquerque and looks good against the broad strokes of vampire set-up.

One issue is not enough to tell whether we’ll want to follow this to the end. So far, no slip ups. American Vampire is initially compelling enough to keep at least one eye on. The publisher promises big surprises and a uniquely American take on the old curse.

 

II. Swamp Report…

What I wanted to do was lead a search-for-a-new-swamp-creature expedition into the Big Cypress Swamp while I was in Florida, but, as I mentioned above, I never got there. Just another disappointment in the journey of life. OK, it was not really all that disappointing, but I am left with a continuation of the winter swamp wasteland from last month’s column. The only news is of a couple of quick Man-Thing sightings in Punisher and Deadpool Merc With A Mouth books recently. There is very little to go on here, but the search will continue. More next time.

 

IV. Parting Shots…

Stephen King’s N. Marc Geggenheim has adapted Stephen King’s “N.” into an impressive four-issue miniseries (following his “mobisode” creation for mobile phones). Alex Maleev’s rich colors and poignant inking compliment perfectly the script that lifts the best elements from the original work and coordinates them into an elegant visual display. Issue number one is out now. Recommended.

We Will Bury You. More zombie fare for those of you with an endless appetite for chaos and corpses. Written by Brea Grant and Zane Austin Grant, the highlight is Kyle Strahm’s twitchy artwork.

Song of Saya. A nightmare love story with graphic violence, strange monsters, and brain surgery. The soft tonal acuity of Yair Herrera’s gorgeous artwork is the perfect contrast to the sharp writing of Daniel Liatowitsch and Todd Ocvirk. This is a horror story with enormous promise. Highly recommended.

Belladonna. This is an interesting action comic with plenty of bloody violence and eye-catching layouts. This one-shot written by Ben Ross and illustrated by J. K. Woodward has sequel written all over it.

 

V. Next time…

Blackest Night wraps up, Brightest Day takes over, and Elephantmen stomp the terra.

 

VI. Technical points…

If you have review material or suggestions you can contact me at we21011@earthlink.net.

 

The publishers are as follows.

Deadworld [first series 1-9] is published by Arrow Comics. Deadworld [first series 10-26 and second series] is published by Caliber Comics. Deadworld Frozen Over, Deadworld Slaughterhouse, Deadworld Chronicles, and Deadworld Requiem for the World are published by Desperado Publishing.

Stephen King’s N., Punisher, and Deadpool Merc With A Mouth are published by Marvel Comics.

All Blackest Night titles, tie-ins, and minis are published by DC Comics.

Elephantmen and The Walking Dead are published by Image/Top Cow.

Creepy Archives and Eerie Archives are published by Darkhorse.

We Will Bury You, Song of Saya, and Belladonna are published by IDW.
American Vampire is published by Vertigo.

Vampirella has recently been published by Harris Publishing.

Tales from the Crypt was published by EC Comics.

~#~


Wayne Edwards has been quietly writing, editing, and publishing for the past three decades. He divides his time between Anchorage [Alaska], Burlington [Vermont], and Mysore [India].


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