Saturday, July 17, 2021

Highlights of Warren Publishing (Part 4)

Today I cover three separate stories from Jose Bea. Bea provided among the most bizarre stories and artwork that Warren would feature in its magazines, and these three stories, all of which were written and drawn by him are a perfect representation of his style.

The Picture of Death (Published in Creepy #45, May 1972)

Herbert Wilson, a young painter makes his way through the Scottish town of Lairg, as he heads back home towards London. Having difficulty finding a place to sleep due to a monthly celebration that takes place in the town, Wilson eventually finds an available room at a small inn. A man at the inn’s bar warns Wilson about the room, claiming nobody else would take it. Four people who have rented the room have completely disappeared. The man claims that the disappearances started when a strange man left a painting as payment for the room. Wilson doesn’t believe him and makes his way up to the room to sleep that night. He sees the painting, which is elaborately filled with bizarre creatures and appears influenced by the works of Hieronymus Bosch. While he doesn’t believe the story about the room, he nonetheless holds a knife with him as he goes to sleep that night. As he sleeps, the creatures start making their way out of the painting and towards his bed. Wilson wakes up with the creatures all around him. The knife he holds has no effect. The creatures drag the frightened Wilson with them into the painting. Suddenly a beautiful woman appears before Wilson. The creatures claim she will be his mate throughout infinity. The woman claims she had also slept in the room. Shortly afterwards though the woman transforms into a horrible monster, and Wilson flees. He makes his way past more of the bizarre creatures and begs that they leave him be. He continues to run until he reaches what seems to be an invisible barrier, locking him in the world. The next morning a maid goes to the room and sees it a total mess; believing Wilson to have left early. Spotting the painting on the wall, slightly crooked, she corrects it, not realizing that Wilson is now a part of the painting.

Wilson is brought into the painting

It’s tantamount to just how bizarre Bea’s work is that I am able to pick other stories that are as odd as this one is! The story’s initial premise seems quite similar to the story “Room With A View!” which had appeared in Eerie #3 as drawn by Steve Ditko and written by Archie Goodwin. Like “The Picture of Death”, that story features a traveler who stays in a room at an inn for whom no one has lasted the night. Each time the traveler looks in the large mirror in the room, more and more creatures start appearing behind him, until there are too many for him to bear. A really interesting premise that Bea goes with here and takes to even further extreme as he introduces a wide variety of bizarre creatures, each looking stranger than the last. As our protagonist puts it, it is like a Hieronymus Bosch painting. Across 6 pages we see the creatures overwhelm Wilson and drag him into the painting.

The woman transforms!

Particularly fun is the sequence where the creatures bring Wilson to a normal-looking woman, who promptly transforms into a creature just as horrifying as the others. Across 6 panels we see the woman transform from a beauty into a horrifying monster, its large mouth open as it it’s going to consume him! This sequence reminds me of the story “The Closed Door”, also written and drawn by Bea, which had appeared in issue 10 of the Buru Lan publication Dracula. In that story we see a sequence where the protagonist is attacked by a horrific looking green monster which transforms into a human-looking boy. Here we are treated to the opposite.

"The Closed Door"

While Bea did many stories with bizarre creatures, in no other would we see such a wide number and range as we get in this one. Bea would years later write and draw the series “Tales of Peter Hypnos” for which Warren would publish three stories of, in Eerie #72, 73 and 76. These stories would also feature a protagonist, this time a young boy, brought into a world of bizarre creatures, although that series has a more fantastical element to it and isn’t as horrifying as this story is here.

Creatures crawl out of the painting

The Accursed Flower (Published in Creepy #49, November 1972)

This story takes place in the City of Cataluna in Spain, a rich city where men’s love of money is inordinate. A farmer, Jordi Valls works all day on his farm, wishing he had more time to get everything he wanted done. One of his neighbors tells him to find some Maneiro roots, and that all his problems will be solved. He speaks to a friend of his, who tells him more of the Maneiro. They are jealously guarded in a cave by beasts beyond human imagination, and one can only safely obtain them during the twelve rings of a bell that occurs on the night of San Juan. If one is unable to keep them busy with tasks, the Maneiro will fling themselves at him and claw him to pieces. Jordi is able to find the cave and make his way past the various beasts as a bell rings, signaling the first stroke of twelve. He is able to find Maneiro seeds and make his way out of the cave in time.

Jordi meets the Maneiro

Jordi plants the seeds and after waiting 24 hours finds thousands of the Maneiro waiting outside for him! The bizarre tiny creatures claim they are bored and ask for work. Jordi comes up with various tasks for them to do across the farm, which due to their strong work ethic and large number, they are able to complete in only a couple of hours. Jordi provides the Maneiro with more tasks; and he soon finds himself having to spend his day thinking up new tasks for them. Eventually Jordi has had enough and claims it’s impossible, everything he can think of has been done. The Maneiro ask for more work and with Jordi having no possible answer, they fling themselves at him, killing him.

The Maneiro work on their tasks

Whereas “The Picture of Death” had a wide variety of different strange creatures throughout the story, “The Accursed Flower” mainly focuses on one, the Maneiro, although there are thousands of them! I’m not sure if this story is some Spanish folktale or just something that Bea completely made up, but it provides us with quite the odd tale. Bea often makes someone like a farmer, fisherman or peasant the protagonist of his stories, including not just this one, but also stories such as “The Other Side of Heaven” (see below) or “The Strange, Incurable Phobia of Mad Pierre Langlois!” from Vampirella #31. Jordi’s greed gets to him, as his desire to have the Maneiro complete labor for him eventually overwhelms him. Having these bizarre creatures, who are quite pleased to do any task he desires seems like quite the benefit at first, but the Maneiro are too good at what they do. Their numbers are too great. Jordi’s problem becomes not the various tasks he needs done, but his need to think up new tasks for them to do. And when he runs out of ideas, the Maneiro find a new task, killing him! I wonder what becomes of the Maneiro after this story. Do they ravage the countryside, seeking someone else to give them tasks to do (and eventually killing that person too when they run out of ideas)? Or do they revert to flowers or seeds, until another foolish person decides to use them?

Jordi runs out of ideas

The Other Side of Heaven (Published in Vampirella #28, October 1973)

The story begins as we are told by a being that it exists in an endless world without restrictions, its own personal heaven. The landscape before us whirls with a variety of bizarre shapes and masses. Our protagonist says it is difficult to explain its existence in a way we’d understand, as humans are limited to their five senses. The being tells us of when he was a human, a fisherman in the village of Fornells. At that time he was a normal man, named Thomas. Life for Thomas was good and simple. He was ignorant of the complexities of the world, but happy in his naiveté. This all changes one day as Thomas comes across a bizarre creature lying on the beach. The creature appears like an octopus smothered in peanut butter and jelly. Thomas feels afraid of the creature, which soon crawls towards him. As Thomas touches the creature he feels a level of ecstasy and the creature seems thrilled itself. Thomas thinks to himself about how he must share this creature with his wife and friends and goes to get a wheelbarrow so he can take it home with him.

The creature speaks!

Once he gets home Thomas puts the creature on a table and waits for his wife to come home. He wonders why, if the creature is a gift from heaven as he believes it to be, why it lays there in silence. Suddenly, the creature speaks, saying they had been communicating only via touch to this point. The creature claims to be the being that created the land he walks on, the seas he fishes in, as well as the sun and stars, all forms of life! It has been called upon, prayed to and mocked. It is what people would consider to be God! It claims however that despite this it is a living creature just like Thomas and nothing is immortal, even itself. It will soon die. The creature claims there isn’t anything Thomas can do for him, but perhaps it can do something for Thomas. The creature instructs Thomas to go to a pharmacist to obtain some things. Thomas heads there, his religious beliefs shattered. As if under the command of the creature, the pharmacist has created the chemical mixture desired and Thomas returns with it. The creature explains to Thomas that the solution he has brought is a pain killer, but not for the creature but rather Thomas himself! In its dying moments, the creature is going to create a new being who will carry on where it has left off. Thomas is to be that creature, this world’s new God. Thomas grabs hold of the creature and immediately starts feeling unbearable pain. He grabs a knife to prevent the creature from enveloping him, but it has no effect. As the creature absorbs more of Thomas’ body it tells him that his world will expand and he will fill the universe with beauty, just as it had. As the story ends we see Thomas as he currently exists, explaining how he has started creating as a God would and that he’s got a long way to go and a lot of things ahead of him.

Thomas becomes God

I conclude with a story that reduces the strange monsters to just a single one and rather than being scary or malicious is actually good in nature. In fact the creature in this story is what we’d consider to be God! Humans often think that God created humanity in his own image, yet in this story we find that what we believe to be God actually looks like an octopus smothered in peanut butter and jelly. Quite the bizarre revelation! As if drawing upon theories of ancient aliens for inspiration, God claims it is not a divine being, but a living mortal creature, albeit one with considerably more power and ability than a human has. Through what may be sheer luck, our protagonist Thomas comes across the creature and is able to gain such God-like powers for himself!

A new God

This story seems like an expanded upon version of another story that had appeared in Buru Lan’s Dracula, a story titled “A Story of the Stars” that had appeared in the 11th issue. In that story a man who continuously watches the night sky comes across a bizarre alien being that decides to share the stars with him and absorbs him into itself.

A Story of the Stars

While these stories are my personal highlights of Jose Bea’s work for Warren, he did just over 30 stories for them, many others of which contain bizarre creatures and concepts such as these. If you find interest in stories like these as I have I’d strongly recommend checking out his other Warren stories, as well as the work he did for Dracula. Among those who worked for Warren, very few are able to compare with Bea on this front. Alex Nino, who did a considerable amount of work for Warren in the late 70s and early 80s, I’d put up there, as well as Bob Morello who had a few stories appear in Eerie in the early 80s.

A Story of the Stars

Friday, July 9, 2021

Highlights of Warren Publishing (Part 3)

Mondo Megillah (Originally published in 1984 #4, October 1978)

Art by Alex Nino

Written by Jim Stenstrum (credited to Alabaster Redzone)

Nuclear war ravishes the Earth, with thousands of nuclear bombs detonated in cities across the world. Some of mankind is able to escape to the moon; however when a Bio-Chem lab crashes into their new society a biological agent called Anti-DNA mutates all the men into monsters. Women are completely unaffected. The story begins by introducing us to our heroine Kitten and Lucius, one of her 71 ex-husbands who now is in the form of an anteater-like monster. 15 years after the war a ship heads to Earth in order to scout it. Kitten and Lucius are able to bribe their way on board and return to Earth in the post apocalyptic ruins of Canada. The two of them soon come across a man named Terry. Having been on Earth all this time, he has not been tainted by the Anti-DNA and looks completely normal. Kitten immediately lusts after the first normal looking man she has seen in years and the two soon have sex, to Lucius’ annoyance. Terry claims he lives in the underground Cavern City and worship a god called Megillah. The next morning Kitten finds that Terry is gone. She and Lucius search for him and when Kitten decides to head underground to Cavern City, Lucius refuses and stays above ground. Kitten is soon found by the inhabitants of Cavern City who claim she will be a sexual sacrifice for Megillah, although she is permitted her freedom until it is ready for her. Kitten eventually finds Terry, who reveals that he left her behind on the surface because he felt regret over his mission to lead her here. Kitten decides to flee and Terry goes along with her, although is dismayed when she has to murder numerous people in order to do so. They meet back up with Lucius on the surface who has been hurt by an attack from other inhabitants of the ship that came to Earth. Seeing that Kitten still cares for Lucius, Terry tells her off and returns to Cavern City. Kitten is disappointed to see him go, but is soon consummating things with Lucius instead.

A Boy and His Dog... I mean, A Girl and Her Monster

Mondo Megillah is like much of the content of 1984 in that its overly sexualized and sensationalistic, as well as providing a lot of exposition through its captions that you don’t actually see in the artwork. I certainly do not include the story here for its narrative quality, as it is nothing special on that front. It is overwritten and despite its interesting setting fails to provide the level of excitement that I would hope. Alex Nino’s artwork is fine as usual, although not as ambitiously done as that included in much of his other work for 1984, which is among the most bizarre and elaborate artwork one can find in a Warren magazine. I include the story as part of this series not due to its quality but rather its notoriety. In fact this story was one of the factors that caused Warren Publishing to go out of business!

To understand the full background of this story one must go back to the origins of 1984 magazine. Over the years Warren had several unsuccessful attempts to launch a more adult magazine including ”Pow” via Wally Wood and Nicola Cuit and “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” with Josep Toutain. A sci-fi specific magazine had also been requested for years by the fan base, and Warren had historically refrained, although did periodically include a sci-fi story in Creepy, Eerie or Vampirella. When Heavy Metal magazine premiered in 1977, it quickly became a big hit and Warren finally decided to try its hands at a sci-fi magazine, with Bill Dubay, former editor of Warren’s horror comics line being in charge of it.

Kitten and Lucius on a post apocalyptic Earth

The original intent of 1984 magazine was to provide adaptations of well regarded science fiction stories. With this in mind, Dubay approached several of his writers about stories they would be interested in adapting. Gerry Boudreau, one of Warren’s more prolific horror comic writers expressed interest in adapting “A Boy and His Dog” by Harlan Ellison. Boudreau was confident that he could get permission from Ellison to adapt the story and Dubay told him to go ahead and write it. Ellison had worked with Warren back in 1970 when he wrote the story “Rock God” as inspired by a cover painting by Frank Frazetta (a story which would be published in Creepy #32). Relations between Ellison and Warren had soured however in the years after that story had been published. Ellison refused to let Warren adapt the story, and since Boudreau had already written his adaption, it was thrown in an inventory pile with other bought for, but unusable stories.

Kitten makes her way to Cavern City

Some time had gone by and Bill Dubay was desperate to keep Alex Nino, the star artist for 1984 magazine, busy with work. Low on quality scripts to provide Nino, Dubay went to the inventory pile and took Boudreau’s story and had Nino draw it. Some of the specifics I’ve read on this varies; in an interview, Jim Stenstrum claimed Dubay had changed any references of a boy to a girl and of a dog to a monster prior to the story being drawn. However I’ve also read that Nino had drawn the story as is, then had to go back and make changes to it due to Ellison’s refusal of the adaption. Dubay then sent the story to Stenstrum to redo. Over the years Dubay had often asked Stenstrum to take stories that had originally been written by someone else and completely rewrite them into something else. This practice was quite common at Warren, whether it was trying to use old inventory stories, or using stories that had originally been done in foreign countries. It was especially common in 1984 magazine. Stenstrum, who used the pseudonym “Alabaster Redzone” for such works wrote a new story fitted to Nino’s artwork, including rearranging the panels, and it would finally see print in issue 4 of the magazine.

Kitten escapes from the Megillah fanatics

Mondo Megillah would eventually be raised to Harlan Ellison’s attention by a writer from The Comics Journal who had been doing articles on Warren’s magazines. Ellison sued for plagiarism in 1981. Internally at Warren it caused conflict between Dubay and Stenstrum, with Dubay requesting Stenstrum lie about it and claim it was all a big coincidence. Stenstrum refused which resulted in him departing Warren, despite the fact that he was being groomed to be its new editor at the time. Stenstrum would in fact testify in support of Ellison’s claim. Warren would end up going bankrupt in 1982, with the lawsuit being one of several factors behind it.

If you’re interesting in reading more about this, I’d recommend checking out Jim Stenstrum’s interview in The Warren Companion; there is also a lengthy discussion of it in the book James Warren: Empire of Monsters by Bill Schelly.

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Highlights of Warren Publishing (Part 2)

A Wall of Privacy (originally published in Creepy 32, April 1970)

Art by Ernie Colon (Credited as David Siclair)

Written by Nicola Cuti

Our protagonist, Dannon, lives in a dystopian future where the populace has sacrificed all semblance of privacy. Small hovering cameras called Eyes capture people’s every move. Dannon desires to travel to the “free zone”, an area outside of the giant wall surrounding their society, a place where the Eyes cannot go. One day upon his evening walk home from work Dannon comes across a woman named Wanda and we find that both of them have the power of telepathy. Wanda is part of a group that plans to destroy the power plant for the Eye center, which will enable their group to escape to the free zone. Dannon decides to participate. The night the attack on the power plant is made, Dannon makes his way to the wall, police tanks in pursuit. He catches up with Wanda, who reveals they are the only two from their group still alive. They make their way up the wall and Wanda is killed. Dannon makes his way over, into the free zone. However we find that the free zone is a walled off area only five feet wide!

Dannon, being pursued by one of the Eyes

Although coming out during an era where Warren was still making its way out of its dark ages, this is a fun story, with a great final twist ending. Stories of dystopian authoritarian societies are quite common, enough so to be a cliché and we’d see many other Warren stories return to this type of setting in the future. George Orwell's 1984 seems an obvious inspiration, with the constant surveillance and the protagonist meeting a woman and conspiring along with her. The story also throws in a telepathy angle which I felt wasn’t really necessary but does help move along the brief six page story in swift fashion.

Wanda and Dannon

Ernie Colon was one of the better artists in my eyes during Warren’s dark era (perhaps surpassed only by Tom Sutton). For me that was largely due to his willingness to be experimental and try some out of the ordinary looking layouts and designs. Certain panels are done in considerably more detail than others (including several in this story) and my recollection was that he even included photos in his art sometimes. The downside to Colon’s art is that oftentimes many panels look quite rushed and haphazard. His artwork can be really all over the map, not only from story to story, but within the same story. Nicola Cuti was a rather prolific writer for Warren over the years, doing over 100 stories and for a time worked as an assistant editor for them, although this was one of his earliest published Warren stories.  

Colon's varying art styles

The ending to this story reminds me of an anecdote from Bennet Cerf’s “Try and Stop Me”, a book which was used as a source for a number of spring boards for EC comic stories. The anecdote was adapted in faithful fashion in the book “More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark”. If you were a kid who grew up in the 90s like I did you’ll remember this book series as having some fairly good ghost stories, but in particular having absolutely horrifying artwork from Stephen Gammell. The story involves an old man in a nursing home who is bound to his bed and who fondly listens to his roommate tell him of all the wonderful things happening outside, via the window next to his bed. The protagonist desires to be able to look out the window so much that he kills his roommate by knocking away his heart medication. Upon being moved to the bed next to the window, he looks outside, only to see a brick wall. Presumably his roommate was making it up the entire time. This anecdote also inspired the EC comics story “Out of the Frying Pan”, which was published in Crime SuspenStories #8. In that story a man murders his wife’s lover and is temporarily blinded after being hit in the head with a trash can. He is held in a hospital until he recovers before being moved to jail. He listens to one of his fellow patients, an old man sitting in a bed by the window who tells of all the things going on outside. The night before being moved to jail, our protagonist makes his way to the window and jumps outside, only to realize it was a really a small area surrounded on all sides by brick walls. He is promptly caught and sent off, although the old man continues the ruse for the other patients.

Dannon discovers what life in the Free Zone is like

Friday, July 2, 2021

Highlights of Warren Publishing (Part 1)

After a lengthy writing absence, I’ve decided to revive this blog and focus on its original purpose, highlighting my love for Warren’s horror comics. This has been primarily inspired by my trip back through Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella for the first time in years as I follow the Bare Bones Ezine which I highly recommend checking out for Peter Enfantino and Jack Seabrook’s journey through Warren which is currently featuring Warren’s publications in 1975.

My new focus is to analyze particular story highlights of Warren’s nearly 20 year run of horror comics. Years back I had a post on my favorite Warren stories and I would consider this a sort of enhancement of that, providing a particular focus on stories that either are among what I consider Warren’s best, or at least ones that are historically significant. My ranking of Warren’s top stories has changed somewhat since I originally posted it years back (see here), and while I do plan on including in this series posts on those stories that I had included in my top 10, there are also many others I have interest in featuring as well. The frequency of posts or how many particular stories I will cover in a given post I cannot say at this time, and I do overall consider it a rather open ended initiative; Warren had such a large output that there should be enough to keep this series going for quite a while.

With that said, my first feature is going to be on a story that I reread for the first time in years just within the past few days.

The Wolves at War’s End (Originally published in Vampirella #43, June 1975)

Art by Luis Garcia

Story by Victor Mora and Budd Lewis

Taking place in the aftermath of the Crusades, this story features a wary soldier who returns to his home village after a lengthy absence. The village is far different than what he remembers; he faces jeers from the villagers, the streets absent of children and the plague having ravished things. Eventually the soldier comes upon his home, boarded up. His family is mostly dead, with only his sister still alive, accused by the local villagers as being a sorceress as she was the only one to survive the plague unscathed. The soldier attacks the villagers, taking off with his sister into the woods, with the holy men left behind proclaiming they will pursue them. The soldier and his sister make their way towards the castle occupied by the family of his lover Elenore. As they sleep in a tree that night he dreams of seeing Elenore again, only to find her as a skeleton. Wolves have gathered below the tree, although his sister claims he had simply conjured them up in his head. Eventually they come across the castle and the soldier heads inside, finding Elenore alive and unharmed, exactly as he remembered her. The soldier embraces her lovingly but she soon vanishes; their pursuers have found them and killed his sister. His sister truly was a sorceress and created the vision of Elenore, revealed to be long dead as he comes across her grave. The soldier leaves the castle, and his sister’s body, returning to the woods where the wolves eventually come upon him again.

The soldier returns to his home village

The Wolves at War’s End has a rather interesting history and back story behind it. The story was not a Warren original, but rather was originally published in the French magazine Pilote under the title “The Winter of the Last Combat”. The story was part of a series called “The Chronicles of the Nameless” as written by Victor Mora and drawn by Luis Garcia. The series, across 7 stories told of a being that explored the lives of different individuals across various times and places. Other stories in the series featured a contemporary comic book artist, a woman in an old west brothel, a downed World War I pilot and others. Warren would purchase the rights to 4 of these stories (along with one additional Garcia/Mora collaboration) and publish them in Vampirella in 1975. In all cases the stories were rewritten by regular Warren writers including Budd Lewis, Gerry Boudreau and editor Bill Dubay.

The soldier and Elenore

“The Winter of the Last Combat” appears to be the most well regarded of the stories in this series, and ended up also being reprinted in Heavy Metal magazine in issues published in February and March 1978. This version appears to be a more accurate translation of the original story and is properly credited (it should be noted that when Warren published the story, Victor Mora was not credited at all and Garcia was miscredited as Jose instead of Luis). Reading this version identifies several key differences with the version published in Vampirella. In particular the sorceress character was not actually the soldier’s sister. Also the wolves were not simply imagined up by the soldier but were real, and originally attracted to the area by the men pursuing him. We also get a better explanation of why these men disappear at the end of the story, they were only pursuing the “sorceress”, and they ended up getting killed by the wolves, the fate that the soldier suffers himself as the story comes to a close. Budd Lewis also adds in a lot of musings about war which wasn’t in the original story. In a way this reminds me much of the series he had written shortly beforehand for Eerie, “Apocalypse” which examines the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, War, Famine, Plague and Death. In fact it comes off as if The Wolves at War’s End is building on themes explored in the first three stories of that series and I think in a way is a good companion piece to it.

Effective forest shot

Warren evidently liked this story quite a bit, as a mere two issues later in Vampirella #45 we get an extremely similar story titled “The Winter of Their Discontent” as written by Gerry Boudreau and drawn by Isidro Mones. This story also features a soldier returning home to find his village ravished by the plague and the villagers showing no respect or appreciation for him. His parent dead, he searches for his sister, eventually finding that too she has died from the plague. Unlike the Wolves at War’s End, his lover is still alive and in good health, but feels so devastated by what has happened that she has no desire to live any longer. She requests he kill her, which he reluctantly does before committing suicide himself.  

From the Spanish version

This story is considerably acclaimed by David Roach, one of the co-writers of the Warren Companion, who rated it as his #2 Warren story of all time, behind only “Thrillkill” which by general consensus is the most acclaimed story Warren would publish. Richard Arndt also expressed praise of the story in his book “Horror Comics in Black and White”. I personally rated this as my #3 Warren story back when I rated my top 10 stories. It possesses arguably the strongest artwork to appear in a Warren story, at least for my tastes (as one who considers Garcia his favorite Warren artist). Garcia provides a dark and frightening atmosphere that really fits the nature of the story well, particularly after the soldier escapes into the woods. Lewis enhances what was already a strong story with his changes and dialogue. I particularly enjoy the final lines, “In my search for justice I created war. In my search for war, I created death. In my search for death… I have lost my soul.”

The soldier meets his fate

Saturday, May 9, 2020

My Top Skywald Stories

Many years back when I covered Warren I made a post of my favorite Warren stories; now the time has come to do the same for Skywald. For Warren it was fairly easy to determine my top stories, as there were quite a number that really stood out to me just from memory. For Skywald it was a bit harder. Very few stories were as striking to me, especially from an intellectual level. Not that I didn't enjoy going through the Skywald library; I absolutely did, but it unfortunately never hit the heights for me that Warren did. That said, I've spent the time going back over my prior posts and synopsis and have come up with my list of what I considered the highlight of Skywald. While my picks were primarily based on the writing, I will admit that the art at times also came into play, and many of the stories were concentrated from a few artists. Hewetson was the writer for all but one of those included in my top 10 list.

This list is specifically one-time stories; all ongoing series have been excluded. This wouldn't have had that major an impact on the list aside from a few stories that come to mind including one of the stories in the Shoggoths series, one of the stories in the Autobiography of a Vampire series and the Saga of the Victims series as a whole. I'm not sure if all 3 would have made my top 10, but they'd at least rank among my honorable mentions, which I have included below:

Time Stop - Nightmare #2
Gruesome Crewcut - Psycho #3
Slime World - Nightmare #5
Broken Sparrow - Nightmare #6
Horror Has 1 Thousand Faces - Psycho #7
Alone - Nightmare 1972 Special
The Transplant - Psycho #10
The Comics Macabre - Scream #1
What the Hell is Dracula Doing Alive and Well in 1974?! - Nightmare #19
A Tale of Horror -Nightmare #20
I Never Heard of a Ghost Actually Killing Anyone! - Scream #9
Kill, Kill, Kill, and Kill Again - Nightmare #22

My Top 10 Skywald Stories

10. "Whether Man or Scarecrow" - Nightmare 1973 Winter Special; story by Al Hewetson, art by Felipe Dela Rosa

This one is a fun combination of a Pinocchio-type story (with a scarecrow coming to life instead of a puppet) and the concept of having wishes. A scarecrow named Perry is approached by an old man one day who claims he can grand him three wishes. In a traditional tale, Perry would take advantage of this to become human and be with his crush, the farmer's daughter, Judy. And well, while he certainly tries for that, things go spectacularly bad for him in every way possible. Like many stories on this top 10 ranking, Hewetson takes things really over the top here, and its a blast.

9. "...Suffer the Little Children" - Psycho #9; story by Al Hewetson, art by Xavier Villanova

A governess arrives at a mansion to take care of two young children, Flora and Miles, only to find that things are totally not what they seem. Both children are mentally disturbed, impacted by the recent death of their brother. From here the story takes a lot of twists and turns, bringing the reader on an exciting ride up to its surprising ending.

8. "A Plot of Dirt" - Psycho #9; story by Doug Moench, art by Felipe Dela Rosa

Like EC comics, Skywald did a number of stories featuring corpses returning from the dead; this story was one of the best. It features Philip, a corpse summoned from the grave by the evil Craig, who was responsible for his death due to jealousy over a woman. Largely told from Philip's perspective, we have a sympathetic protagonist, despite being a corpse and hope he will be able to come out of Craig's spell and get his revenge.

7. "The Old Vampire Lady" - Psycho #16; story by Al Hewetson, art by Jesus Duran

Every once and a while Hewetson would eschew the typical type of plot and instead provide us a story that acted more as a historical account or biography. This is one of such stories. A young photographer comes across the titular vampire lady, who tells him her horrifying life from her childhood to now. Jesus Duran was one of my favorite Skywald artists and he does an effective job providing a scary atmosphere throughout.

6. "Now... Another Maniac!" - Psycho #18; story by Al Hewetson, art by Maelo Cintron

This story was a rare one drawn by Maelo Cintron that did not feature the human gargoyles characters. It also is unique for a Skywald story in that it has no supernatural element to it. Our protagonist plans to kill a man. While he is able to successfully pull it off, a bike he ran over comes back to haunt him in a big way. The story also is memorable for me as the first Skywald story I ever read, due to coming across it in a collection of horror comic stories years ago.

5. "The Artist's Other Hand" - Psycho #14; story by Al Hewetson, art by Jesus Suso Rego

One of the really fun things about Skywald was their willingness to break the fourth wall, and this story is a perfect example of that. It stars the story's artist, Suso, who gets sick of the ridiculous story his editor, Hewetson, writes for him. The two get into a big conflict over how to improve the story, and neither can come to an agreement resulting in a fist fight between the two. Hewetson loved to put himself in his stories (off the top of my head I think this happened at least 10 times, if not more) and this is the best such example.

4. "Limb from Limb from Death" - Nightmare 1972 Special; story by Al Hewetson, art by Pablo Marcos

One of Skywald's most gory and over the top stories. A trio of men are trapped in the Sahara desert. One of them, a doctor, convinces the other two that the only way they have to survive is to eat each other. Each of the other two men gives up an arm for this, under the promise from the doctor that if they are saved he will have his own arm sawed off. Well, they are saved before that happens, so the big question is whether the doctor will actually go through with it?

3. "Diary of an Absolute Lunatic" - Nightmare #14; story by Al Hewetson, art by Felipe Dela Rosa

A man named Munro appears in the 1920s in an insane asylum, claiming to be a time traveler. Coming from 70 years from the future, he tells of how a madman threatens to destroy the Earth if his demands are not met. Munro makes his way through time, including witnessing the Earth blow up! Is he telling the truth? While we don't know with absolute certainty, the ending to the tale provides a pretty strong indication. Beyond being a fun story to read, this story also boasts some strong artwork from Dela Rosa, particularly during the time travel sequence.

2. "The Day That Satan Died" - Psycho #13; story by Al Hewetson, art by Felipe Dela Rosa

This story proves that Hewetson could turn out a great story even if the ending is literally spoiled in the title. A young woman hijacks a small plane and then purposely causes it to crash into a snowy mountain. Its all part of a plot on her part to get one of the other passengers to sacrifice their soul so she can satisfy a deal with Satan to preserve her youth. Only she soon learns to her dismay that her fellow passengers include the abominable snowman, a vampire and Satan himself! The sheer ridiculousness of this story makes it quite a fun one to read and Dela Rosa's artwork serves the story quite well.

1. "The 13 Dead Things" - Psycho #15; story by Al Hewetson, art by Jesus Duran

An imprisoned count in the 17th century sits in a cell in a tower, and comes up with an idea about how to fake his death so he can escape and take revenge. For pages on end we see our protagonist imagining himself going on a rampage and brutally killing those who have wronged him. When he realizes a possible flaw in his escape plan this doesn't stop him from continuing to plot his revenge, and we see him once again slaying those who have wronged him, but this time as a corpse! The story is topped off by a hilarious, but very fitting ending. This story is so ridiculously over the top it needs to be seen to be believed. Just when you think it can't get any more absurd after seeing our protagonist kill so many people in horrifying ways, we get it repeated with him doing it as a rotting corpse.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Skywald's Recurring Series

Today I'll be discussing many of the various ongoing series that we saw in the Skywald magazines. Which ones were good? Which were bad? Or are you just looking for an index of any such stories within them?

The Heap
The Heap (Psycho #2)
The Heap Meets The Horror Master! (Psycho #3)
Night of Evil! (Psycho #4)
Cavern of Doom (Psycho #5)
Dark Victory (Psycho #6)
A Spawn of Satan (Psycho #7)
What Has Hell Wrought? (Psycho 1972 Annual)
Even a Heap Can Die! (Psycho #10)
A Ship of Fiends (Psycho #11)
And the World Shall Shudder (Psycho #12)
When Dies a Lunatic… So Dies a Heap (Psycho #13)

At 11 stories, the Heap was the longest running series to run in Skywald. Like many long running Skywald series, its creative talent changed up during its run. Ross Andru and Mike Esposito provided the artwork initially, with story by Andru and Chuck McNaughton. Al Hewetson would eventually take over writing the series, with Pablo Marcos coming in as artist, then later Xavier Villanova to wrap things up. Jim Roberts, a crop duster, becomes the titular Heap after he is contaminated by falling into some chemicals. After realizing his best friend and fiance were going to screw him over, he goes on a rampage, killing them. From here on the Heap experiences a series of adventures, including a memorable early story where he fights the corpses of some of the most horrible individuals in human history. For much of the series we see the struggle of Roberts and his periodic ability to turn back into human, only for things to go horribly wrong and for him to turn back into the Heap. As the series starts drawing to a conclusion though, Hewetson goes in a different direction with the last 2 stories, making the Heap a mindless beast for whom the authorities try to capture. As the series ends he ends up on the farm belonging to his parents and stays with them! The Heap was a fun series for much of its run, although it did eventually hit a point where it was drawn on too long. I wasn't a big fan of Hewetson's decision to abruptly change the Heap's character as the series came to its conclusion though.

The Human Gargoyles
A Gargoyle - A Man (Psycho #8)
I and I Equals 3 (Nightmare #10)
Only the Strong Shall Survive (Nightmare #13)
And They Did Battle with the Thing From Underneath (Nightmare #14)
Once Upon a Time in Alabama: A Horror (Nightmare #15)
The Human Gargoyles vs. The United States of America (Nightmare #19)
The Freaks (Psycho #20)
I, Gargoyle (Nightmare #20)
The Human Gargoyles vs. The Human Dead (Nightmare #23)

The Human Gargoyles is one of the most well known series that Skywald published. It was written by Al Hewetson and Maelo Cintron handles the art for all but the first story, which was done by Felipe Dela Rosa. The series features two humanoid gargoyles, Edward and Mina, and eventually their son Andrew as they make their way from Germany to America and struggle as outsiders. Nearly every story in the series has Satan sending monsters of minions after Edward to fight him, which gets him in bigger and bigger trouble with the authorities, eventually making his way into jail after the mental toll it has on him. Edward is able to tell his tale via an autobiography though, and through the help of an understanding judge is let out and tries to build a life with his wife and son. While Cintron's art throughout the series is strong, Hewetson's story is quite awful and this was one of my biggest disappointments of my tour through Skywald. Edward taking on Satan's minions is repeated ad nausea throughout the series. The series' attempt to show the struggle of our titular character's life in America is undercut by how stupid they come off as characters, such as multiple times leaving their young son alone to be kidnapped. The series is quite sprawling, nine parts in total with no end in sight when Skywald folded. Regardless of any possible hype surrounding it, this is a series worth skipping.

Saga of the Victims
What is Horror? No, Who is Horror? (Scream #6)
I Am Horror (Scream #7)
I... Am Torment (Scream #8)
I am Treachery... I Am Horror (Scream #9)
I Am A Proud Monstrosity (Scream #11)

The Saga of the Victims is one of Skywald's most well known series, and for good reason, it is one of, if not their best. The series was written by Al Hewetson, with art from Jesus Suso Rego. Suso was one of Skywald's best artists, and it was always a treat to see in these stories, each of which was 20 pages in length. I have heard that Hewetson put this story together with the goal of it being very unpredictable, so no one could guess how it would end. The series features two college students, Anne and Josey who suddenly find themselves in one horrifying moment after another. Across 5 stories and 100 pages they are captured by monster and set to be executed, meet a man with no skin, a vampire robot, are seized by a dinosaur, are taken a hold of by a dwarf Nazi in a sea craft made to look like a giant squid, are seized by an African warlord, travel through the desert attacked by snakes, fall into boiling water, hide from an army of dead Nazi corpses and even more. This series goes all over the place and Hewetson absolutely succeeds in his quest to make it unpredictable. Unfortunately Skywald went out of business before the final story could see print, but as covered in my recent feature for Scream #11, I was able to track down the final part online, which would be published many years later and its a pretty good and fitting conclusion.

Where Lunatics Live (Scream #1)
The Name is Sinner Cane... And the Name Means Evil! (Scream #2)
The Tale of Another (Scream #3)
When the Dusk Falls... So Does Death (Scream #4)
And the Gutters Ran With Blood (Scream #6)
Satan's Third Reich (Scream #7)
My Prison in Hell! (Scream #8)
Who Killed the Shark? (Scream #9)
I Kill to Live (Scream #11)

Nosferatu ran for 9 parts, all of them in Scream, with writing from Al Hewetson and art from Zesar Lopez. This series was a lot more anthology in nature than most, with the titular Nosferatu acting more as a framing device. Nosferatu has summoned approximately a dozen hooded and masked individuals to dine with him. In each story one of the individuals, each who wearing their own unique animal mask, tells their tale. This series succeeds quite well from an atmosphere standpoint. Lopez's art, with rare exception is quite strong, and as one of Skywald's best artists, you are assured of nearly always getting high quality, scary artwork. The downside to the series is that after a bit the conclusion of the stories become a bit repetitive. Each story ends with the teller removing their mask and/or hood and revealing the horrifying state their body has now become. There is only so far they can go with this concept, and we do eventually hit a point where things seem somewhat repetitive (such as multiple stories featuring the teller consumed by animals). Despite that, the stories in this series were often a highlight of the issues they were in and it goes down as one of my favorite Skywald series. Its unfortunate Skywald went out of business before it concluded.

Monster, Monster
Monster, Monster on the Wall! (Nightmare #12)
Monster, Monster in the Grave! (Psycho #13)
Monster, Monster Rise From Thy Crypt (Psycho #16)
Monster, Monster Heed Death's Call (Psycho #17)
Monster, Monster Watch Them Die (Psycho #18)
And in this Land... A Monster (Psycho #19)
Visions of Bloody Death (Psycho #24)

This seven part series was written by Augustine Funnell (the first being his Skywald debut) and went through 3 artists, starting with Pablo Marcos, then going to Ricardo Villamonte, with Paul Puigagut handling the final segment. Its focus began on a boy who was ugly and made fun of, but became a werewolf and as he grew up came back home to take his revenge. At the conclusion of the second story in the series he shoots himself in the head, which ordinarily would end our series right there, but somehow he is brought back to life, despite the bullet lodged in his head and the series continues for several more parts. From here the series takes a turn and our protagonist gets involved in a conflict involving gypsies which goes on for several parts, primarily surrounding a magic amulet. Many side characters entry the fray and die, and the series seems to hit a logical conclusion with its fifth part, only to continue on even further, bringing the setting to America where our protagonist finds a werewolf friend although loses him after a battle with a demon in the final part. Like several Skywald series, this one went on a bit too long. Its initial concept was a fairly good one and I would have enjoyed reading more about it. Unfortunately the whole gypsy element I was never a fan of and that dominated much of this series that I just couldn't get into it enough. Changing artists multiple times didn't help either.

The Shoggoths
The Skull Forest of Old Earth (Nightmare #9)
Where are the Inhabitants of Earth? (Nightmare #11)
This Archaic Breeding Ground (Scream #1)
The Grotesque Green Earth (Nightmare #15)
The Vault (Nightmare #19)
The Scream and the Nightmare (Nightmare #20)

The Shoggoths were beings originally brought up in the works of H.P. Lovecraft, and while none of the stories in this series are explicitly adapted from a Lovecraft tale, the stories of this series show clear influence, especially starting with the third story in the series. From that point on the stories are predominantly a protagonist (eventually becoming Al Hewetson himself) leading journeys into the lairs of the Shoggoths, typically just barely escaping with their life. The first two stories don't have the Lovecraft style as such, but are still quality tales. Zesar Lopez provides artwork for three of the first four stories (with Jose Gual providing the outlier) and Jose Cardona takes over starting with the fifth story, also appearing in the series himself. Each of the artists do an effective job portraying the Shoggoths, which come off as quite scary, although our protagonist repeatedly escaping from them alive lessens things.

Chapter One (Psycho #3)
Freaks of Fear! (Psycho #4)
The Sewer Tomb of Le Suub! (Psycho #5)
The Phantom of the Opera (Psycho #6)
Frankenstein 1973 (Nightmare #13)
Frankenstein 2073: The Death of the Monster (Scream #6)
The Descent Into Hell (Scream #7)
The Brides of Frankenstein (Psycho 1974 Yearbook)
Die, Frankenstein's Monster! (Psycho #22)

Skywald's take on Frankenstein is two separate series, with the first 6 stories above under the "Frankenstein Book II" moniker and the series restarting for the final 3 stories. Tom Sutton originally wrote and drew the series (with some help from Dan Adkins and Jack Abel), for the first 4 parts, but once he departed Skywald the series goes on a long hiatus before being taken over by Al Hewetson and drawn by Xavier Villanova, for a single story, before going on another long absence, wrapping up with a final story, now drawn by Cesar Lopez. I presume as a way to quickly wrap up the series and go in another direction as desired by Hewetson, as very soon afterwards another Frankenstein series kicks off, also drawn by Lopez. Sutton's take on Frankenstein is quite an entertaining one, and takes place right after the book ends. Victor Frankenstein is really brought through the ringer, being brought back to life by the monster, getting torn to shreds by an angry townsfolk, then brought to life again, ends up as just a head, and other hilariousness. The monster goes on his own journey, meaning a companion in Lilith, fighting off a sewer octopus and taking part in a crazed experiment by the Phantom of the Opera. Things go in a sci-fi direction after that, with the monster transported to the future, first where he takes on Nazi corpses then a society of all women who intend to make him their king, only for him to accept death instead. The restarted series is a bit calmer but is still pretty good, focusing on storylines such as a bride fo the monster and him meeting Dracula. While at its peak when Tom Sutton was handling it, these series were typically of good quality.

Lady Satan
The Macabre Beginning (Scream #2)
What is Evil and What is Not (Scream #3)
Satan Wants a Child (Scream #4)
The Son of Lord Lucifer (Psycho #19)

The Lady Satan series was written by Al Hewetson, with art primarily by Ricardo Villamonte, although Pablo Marcos handled the final segment. This series features a woman named Anne, whose body is hijacked by a black witch Satanist, the titular Lady Satan. Throughout the series she struggles with control of her body with Lady Satan, and is eventually impregnated by Satan himself, causing her to throw herself in a fire, killing it and horrifically burning herself. It is here where the series ended, although I don't think intentionally. That said, it ended a good while before Skywald went under. At the very least this overall mediocre series ended at a logically enough place.

Autobiography of a Vampire
The Autobiography of a Vampire, Chapter 1 (Nightmare #17)
The Autobiography of a Vampire (Scream #5)
My tomb is My Castle (Nightmare #19)

This three part series was written by Al Hewetson and Ricardo Villamonte. It features a vampire calling himself Judas, who tells the story of his life. We start with how he became a vampire in the first place, due to Prince Rodion Zosimov, who slays his parents and later abandons him, only for Judas to later take revenge. The second part tells of Judas' failed attempt at love, which results in him slaying his beloved. The third tells of his time living with an old blind man and the misfortune he was responsible for. While not as ambitious as some of Skywald's other series, this is one I constantly enjoyed, and wish we had more of.

Nightmare World
The Nightmare World of James Edgar (Nightmare #9)
The Nightmare World of Trisha Hamlin of Livingston, Kentucky: They Crawled Out of the Crater (Nightmare #10)
Nightmare World: The Beasts of Tomb Beach! (Nightmare #11)

Nightmare World was a short lived series, only going for 3 stories, but was an interesting concept. Hewetson would take the dreams or nightmares of one of his readers and turn it into a story! This results in a non-serialized approach, with more variety added by the fact that each story was drawn by a different artist. The first two stories feature some considerable bizarre monsters and events and were quite memorable. The third such story was a little less out there and not as memorable, but still worth a read.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Skywald's Most Prolific Contributors

In this post I'll be identifying who were the most prolific contributors for Skywald. I had done a similar feature a number of years back for Warren.

Most Prolific Story Artists

1. Ricardo Villamonte - 29
2. Pablo Marcos - 27
3. Jose Cardona - 20
4. Felipe Dela Rosa - 17
5. Zesar Lopez - 16
6. Jesus Duran - 14
6. Jesus Suso Rego - 14
6. Xavier Villanova - 14
9. Mike Esposito - 13
10. Maelo Cintron - 12
11. Antonio Borrell - 11
11. Ferran Sostres - 11
13. Cesar Lopez - 10
14. Fernando Rubio - 10
15. Tom Sutton - 9
16. Ross Andru - 8
16. Serg Moren - 8
16. Maro Nava - 8
16. Juez Xirinius - 8
20. Luis Collado - 7
20. Jack Katz - 7

Ricardo Villamonte being Skywald's most prolific story artist wasn't much of a surprise to me. He really dominates the magazines once he arrives, often having 2 stories for many issues that he appears in. Despite how prolific he was, it wasn't for that long a time, as it was only a run of 7 issues or so for each respective title that he was around. Marcos being #2 is also pretty expected, like Villamonte he dominates Skywald during the time he worked for them, which incidentally enough was coming to an end right around when Villamonte appeared. Like both of them, Cardona also dominates the magazines when he arrived, often having 2 stories per issue, coming close to the end of Skywald's run.

Selecciones Illustrada artists dominate the listing, with 15 of the 21 slots here (I went with 21 rather than 20 because both Collado and Katz have the same number of stories). Mike Esposito was Skywald's most prolific American artist, although his work is primarily from early in Skywald's run, with one story from Psycho #14 likely an inventory story, appearing far after the others.

Most Prolific Frontispiece Artists

1. Pablo Marcos - 20
2. Maelo Cintron - 12
2. Domingo Gomez - 12
4. Gene Day - 7
4. Bill Everett - 7
6. Felipe Dela Rosa - 5
6. Ferran Sostres - 5
6. Ricardo Villamonte - 5
9. Juez Xirinius - 4
9. Zesar Lopez - 4

Most of the frontispiece artists are ones who appeared on the above story list. Domingo Gomez's work was primarily frontispieces, with him doing only 2 full length stories (both of them in the same issue). Gene Day arrived very close to the end of Skywald's run but despite that put out a lot of frontispieces getting him near the top of this list.

Most Prolific Cover Artists

1. Vicente Segrelles - 10
2. Sebastian Boada - 7
3. Salvador Faba - 6
4. Ken Kelly - 5
4. Boris Vallejo -5
6. Fernando Fernandez - 4
6. Xavier Villanova - 4
8. Jose Antonio Domingo - 3
8. Jose Miralles - 3

Skywald's cover artist again are dominated by foreign artists, most of them from Selecciones Illustrada. Ken Kelly, the top American artist was also a prolific cover artist for Warren, and in fact their most prolific American cover artist too.

Most Prolific Writers

1. Al Hewetson - 232
2. Ed Fedory - 27
3. Augustine Funnell - 16
4. Doug Moench - 11
5. Chuch McNaughton - 10
5. Gardner Fox - 10
7. Marv Wolfman - 9
8. Ross Andru - 6
8. Tom Sutton - 6
9. Bruce Jones - 5
9. Chic Stone - 5

Al Hewetson, as expected, massively dominates Skywald's writing, having nearly 10 times as many stories as the second place finisher, Ed Fedory. Only Fedory and Funnell were regular contributors after Skywald's early years, with the other writers making up this list being ones that primarily appeared before Hewetson became editor.