Halloween is upon us and is one of my favourite holidays, apart from Christmas and Easter, for obvious reasons. Although I don’t find a lot of things scary any more, what still gets me is disturbing imagery — that uneasy feeling you get when you see something creepy for the first time. I’ve been seeing more and more of this in comics, particularly in The Tales From The Crypt. I began reading this series when I was in my late teens and was a late fan of the television show. This lead me to go looking for the original anthologies, Tales From The Crypt, Tales from the Vault, etc.
A couple of years ago, I stumbled onto a horror anthology that basically gave the low down on the history of horror comics from 1940-2005. Boy, did they have some creepy stories. It was called ‘The Mammoth Book of Horror Comics’ and it claimed to hold over 50 of the greatest horror comics and graphic art stories ever produced. I plan to do something a little more in depth about it next year — maybe even pay homage to the comic boy wonder, Lewis Louhavg, who creator of ‘A Top The Fourth Wall’ on That Guy With The Glass. But for now, I’m just going to go through two of my favourite stories that I’ve come to love.
The Black Cat
The first story comes from the Dark Age of Comics (1940s and 1950s), when Hollywood was filled with Monster and Alien movies. Comic books weren’t very popular and were viewed as a medium aimed towards children due to the blast of superhero comics that had been established a decade before, i.e. Superman, Batman, etc. ‘The Black Cat’ is an interpretation of the short story by one of my favourite horror writers, Edgar Allen Poe.
It follows the story of a man who loves animals and has a special bond with his black cat, Pluto. That bond turns to hate when the man becomes an alcoholic. His paranoia gets the better of him and he attacks the cat, killing it. Sometime after, he finds another cat that looks like Pluto but with one difference. This second cat has a white patch on its chest. After taking the cat home, all seems well until he begins to fear it. One day, while visiting the cellar with his wife, the cat gets under his feet and almost causes him to fall down the stairs. In a fit of fury, the man attempts to kill the cat but his wife gets in the way and he makes a mistake.
The Black Cat is often compared to another one of Poe’s stories, ‘The Tell Tale Heart.’ Both have the same kind of atmosphere and the same outcome, although they take two different turns to get to the same conclusion. The comic book version was released under the title “Famous Tales of Terror”’ YellowJacket Comics No. 1 and was published in September, 1944. The E.Levy Company would later become Charlton Comics.
The illustration was amazing for that time and told the story very clearly. Like the short story, the comic tells the tale from the point of the narrator, barely having the characters speak. It doesn’t have any creepy imagery and the shocks come from the ending. Poe was never known for “creepy” horror — his stories were about human evil. He didn’t really need any skeletons to tell his story, although ironically, his stories were about skeletons coming out of closets. The comic stays true to the story, just adding illustration to it.
The Monster of Dread End
Debuting in Dell Comics’ Ghost Stories No. 1 in 1962, ‘The Monster of Dread End’ was an awesome read. It was penned by John Stanley of “Tales of the Tombs” fame and is one of the few stories in this anthology that doesn’t resort to gore. Stanley was good at writing for atmosphere, allowing the story and the illustration to provide the shocks.
The Story of the Monster of Dread End goes like this: There is a part of an urban city that is marked off with a sign that says ‘Keep Out’. It was originally called Hawthorn Place and was a busy, noisy area filled with happy sounds of children playing. Then one day the first one was found. It looked like a balled up empty wrapper, but different some how. This was when everyone noticed that children were disappearing. No one knew who was causing the disappearances; members of the community began to move away fearing for the safety of their families. The police were clueless and were thinking it was just some maniac running around taking children. Jimmy White, the younger brother of one of the victims, notices that the police are doing nothing to find his sister’s killer and takes it upon himself to find the person that took his sister from him. Poor little lad has no idea what he’s in for.
The Monster of Dread End is a nice little horror story and I love it! The identity of the killer is kept a secret throughout the pages of the comic until the very end, as well as what happened to the children. I feel so sorry for the Jimmy White character — all he wanted was to find the person who killed his sister, but he never thought that it would be what it was. He’s a great main protagonist, and when the killer is revealed, it makes the story all the more chilling. I know this came long before him, but the illustrations remind me of the work of Jinjo Ito of Uzumaki fame. It just has that shock and scare feeling to it that Ito can create.
In February 2004, Peter Von Sholly, reprinted the story for a modern audience, using the photo-montage style. Simply called ‘Dread End’, Sholly pays tribute to John Stanley’s original creation. According to Sholly, he was a fan of Stanley’s when he was a kid and it inspired his career. This version of ‘Dread End’ was placed in From The Tomb No. 12 and in Sholly’s “Morbid Collection” for Dark Horse Comics.
There are a lot differences between Stanley’s version and Sholly’s retake on the story. It’s the same plot, but it has a different look due to the photo-montaging. The Monster does look unsettling because it looks like something that could exist in real life, but still doesn’t have the same impact that the older comic did. While in the older comic you didn’t see the victims (you just took the word of the characters) you do in Sholly’s and that is where the scares happen. It is bone chilling. A nice little call back to the original is that the name of the main character isn’t Jimmy;he’s called Stanley, an obvious reference to John Stanley.
Overall, I’ve grown to love these stories because of their terrifying nature. I promise that more will come. This is just a taste. Have a Happy Halloween!