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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What a fascinating blog! Thanks so much for sharing these stories. Harry Turner