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

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