Nightmares Illustrated 008
By Wayne Edwards

Nightmares Illustrated, the column for horror comics readers.

I. Always On My Mind…

So, we can have black and white comics, color comics, and/or re-colored comics. Given a choice, which do we choose? Most people pick color comics just like people tend to prefer color movies. But given a particular state of nature --  the original comics being in black and white or in color, as the case may be – should it be changed? The answer from the big comics houses, increasingly, is “yes.”

Consider for example the exceptional Neil Gaiman series Sandman. I didn’t read this series when it was first published. Instead, I caught up to it with the ridiculously extravagant Absolute Editions – oversized hardcovers in slipcases and, for much of the work, re-coloring. These are beautiful books and seeing the series for the first time in this format offers and unfair comparison to the original. But I went ahead and compared them anyway. The original coloring does look flat and blocky (especially in early issues) compared to the recast spectacle of the Absolute Editions. If re-coloring is done this way (and with the original creators’ approval) then the new product can easily be called an improvement. Of course, it does not always happen that way.

Another example is coloring of the Roy Thomas and Dick Giordano adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula (reviewed below). Here the source material was originally published in black and white and now Marvel has come along and reissued in four installments the original panels colored by June Chung. In general I am against coloring artwork originally created as black and white renderings. It is like colorizing black and white movies. The original work was created using only black and white and so the choices the artist made about shading, line thickness, and every other thing were made to give the best image in black and white. If color had been used in the original creation, the artist probably would have made different choices. Therefore, coloring on average has the effect of reducing the impact of the image. Unsurprisingly, in the case at hand some of the panels look better with coloring and some of them don’t really look that much different. The greatest enhancement occurs in panels that are larger, and ones depicting exteriors where different colors add texture to the landscape. For tight interiors, adding a few colors to smaller panels really don’t much affect the impression you get reading the comic. The effort is wasted.

And then there is the worst of all possible worlds, de-coloring. The removal of color is nearly always a cost-cutting measure and examples are best found in Marvel’s “Essential” and DC’s “Showcase” lines of huge collections on cheap paper in black and white. Those books are great in the sense that they are inexpensive, you get to see the original ink (and sometimes shading) art, and you get to read the stories. But, seriously, you only buy them because you can’t get the original color comics for less than a bazillion dollars. The bare bones black and white product is clearly superior only to the complete absence of any version of the product.

In general, I think artwork and literature are best presented in their original form and intent. Sometimes, changes made to the original enhance the creation, as with Sandman. More often than not, however, the most we can hope for is that the changes don’t make worse the work of the creators.

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II. This Just In…

Creepy 6 (Darkhorse). I have mentioned a number of times in the past the Darkhorse program of publishing the Creepy and Eerie magazines in deluxe hardcover editions. The newest Creepy is volume six covering issues 26-32 from 1969 and 1970. These books are great, reproducing the comics in their original magazine size and on high quality enameled paper. They are a bit pricey at $49.99 and they weigh a ton, but they are worth it.

The stand-out writer from this collection is Harlan Ellison. Ellison’s story, “Rock God,” is illustrated by the great Neal Adams. The story itself was based on the Frank Frazetta cover to the issue in which it appears, a practice fairly common at the time. As you can imagine, that approach does not always work very well but with Ellison writing at the height of his powers, “Rock God” is one for the ages. The rest of the writing in the collection is fairly good, sometimes excellent, but it is “Rock God” I most remember.
The interiors to Creepy were black and white, but the covers were always full color paintings all of which are included (in full color) in these fine books by Darkhorse. Recommended for the Creepy/Eerie/Vampirella horror fan.

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Stoker’s Dracula (Marvel). Marvel has decided to reissue the Roy Thomas and Dick Giordano adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula (the coloring is discussed above). The story of how the work came to be in the first place is quite interesting and is retold by Roy Thomas in his introduction the hardcover collection (Marvel, 2005) and printed in the new reissue comic as well. The adaptation of Dracula was planned to be a serial that appeared as one of the stories in the Dracula Lives! magazine beginning in 1974. The magazine was cancelled when Thomas and Giordano were only about halfway through the story and, even though a tiny bit more of the story showed up in the sole issue of The Legion of Monster, it looked like, effectively, that was the end of that. Stand around and wait for thirty years. In 2004, Marvel contacted the creators and asked them whether they would like to finish the adaptation. The proposal was to rerelease the original work they had done plus the new pages to finish the story in a four-issue miniseries. The rest, as they say…

Thomas and Giordano claim that their adaption is the most faithful to the source material ever produced. I second that. If you are a big fan of Stoker’s original work and you are looking for a graphic novel serialization, look no further. The artwork done thirty years ago does look a little bit different from the panels done in 2004, but not much. If you really look hard you can see very mild stylistic discrepancies. For the most part, however, the art is in the style of comics magazines from the seventies, which is to say confident ink lines enhanced by rich grey shading. Beautiful work. If you missed the original black and white miniseries you now have a chance to get to altered one, colored by June Chung. I like having them both, but I am a bit of a fanatic. You can’t go wrong with either version. Highly recommended.

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N. (Marvel). Whenever I see a comic based upon work by Stephen King, I think about reading it. King is a great storyteller who is particularly gifted in character development. Comics, on the other hand, often work best with a well developed plot (action). We are always better off when these two things are both great but that doesn’t usually happen. So, whenever I see a comic based upon work by Stephen King, I think about reading it before I actually do read it because, like movies based on his work, the comics often fall flat.

The comic in question is based upon King’s story “N.” Interestingly, this story appears originally in the collection Just After Sunset (Scribner, 2008) and was never published in a magazine or anthology. In his notes to the story, the author remarks that it is heavily influenced by Arthur Machen’s novella The Great God Pan (originally published in 1890). With all this in mind, before reading the comic N., adapted by Marc Guggenheim and illustrated by Alex Maleev, I went back and read King’s original story for a second time and then reread Machen’s novella because I hadn’t looked at it for a couple of decades. Having performed this work of due diligence, I finally felt ready to read the comic.

The serial adaptation is actually preceded by a motion comic version (available for free on the web, by the way). The only thing I’ll say about the motion comic is that the static version is far superior to the moving one. So let’s stick with page and print. The basic question the story asks is whether a person’s psychological state can be contagious. In the story, several people who come in contact with the patient known only as “N.” begin to exhibit symptoms of his Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. This condition is not passed along as a physical contagion – it is not a virus or bacteria. Instead, once people talk to N. or read his rambling writings, they get pulled into his psychotic vision of the world. It is a great idea for a horror story and Maleev and Guggenheim play up the brooding psychological murkiness of the original text with gospel aplomb. In some places Geggenheim directly quotes the King text while in others he expands on it. The comic rearranges the order of the story here and there and also extends it, always keeping true to King’s original thesis (and echoing Machen’s haunting concept) and at the same time giving it a fresh interpretation.

This comic is a rare example of an excellent adaptation of Stephen King’s work that can be read along side the original as an enhancement rather than a derogation. Highly recommended.

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III. Swamp Report…

The Swamp Report is going on sabbatical, folks, and will recur periodically when news and interest swell. I will still be making regular trips to the swamp and I hope to bring back tasty delights on a common but irregular schedule.

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IV. Parting Shots…

Death Ship 2 (IDW). Gary Gerani and Stuart Sayger continue to deliver high octane horrors in their back story of what happened on the Demeter during Dracula’s transit to England. The evil of the undead beast leaks into the thoughts and dreams of the crew in issue two, and more blood is spilled. You should be reading this book.

Robert Bloch’s Yours Truly, Jack The Ripper (IDW). A Robert Bloch story adapted by Joe R. (and John L.) Lansdale? Are you kidding me? It sounds a little too good to be true, and it turns out to be just that way: not all that great. Kevin Colden’s line art is shaded in blue with some red highlights giving an austere feeling to the well-trodden story. The adaptation is a bit clipped and jittery. Not quite what I was expecting although there are a few nice surprises.

Zatanna 2 (DC). The neighborhood heats up as Zatanna is attacked in her sleep by the Lord of Nightmares while an archenemy conjures a plot to destroy her. This book, featuring the magical side of the DC Universe, is already playing a little thin. If the plot doesn’t pick up soon I’ll be droipping this one from the monthly reading list.

Hellblazer 268 (Vertigo). John Constantine is clawing is way back to sanity. Again. This arc, though, written by Peter Milligan, is much darker than similar approaches to Constantine in the past and has my full attention. Read on.

Heavy Metal Summer 2010 Forbidden Special (Heavy Metal). This issue is unusually disappointing. The specials typically feature three “graphic novels.” The first one this time is serviceable and the second two look like computer games. I don’t like that kind of art. It is all right if video games look like video games but things that are not video games shouldn’t look like video games. Put another way, I don’t find video-game-style art engaging. The figures looked like posed mannequins. It is not something I want to look at in a comic.

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V. Next time…

Woe is me. I struggle to cast forward the intent of NI007 even now as we move toward NI009. Only time will tell whether the sorry saga of delayed review copies will be rectified before my next deadline. No matter what happens with those lovely Blackest Night hardcovers that fell off the truck, there will be plenty of plunder to ponder in the next installment. Never weaken.

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VI. Notes…

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

The publishers can be found here:

Darkhorse.
DC Comics.
Heavy Metal.
IDW.
Marvel Comics.
Vertigo.

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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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