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


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