Saturday, October 24, 2020

Ditko - Impossible Tales!

The Steve Ditko Archives Volume 4 is titled Impossible Tales and as this collection of Ditko tales from the latter part of 1957 and into 1958 show, the title is well chosen. Long gone are the space operas and the gruesome horror tales. They have been replaced by light and bouncy stories of science fiction and fantasy which focus on the destiny of one man. This is a collection filled with tortured souls looking for explanations for why they suffer of who they are. We have misguided robots, time travelers, befuddled scientists,  mutants and more.

These are stories mostly from Charlton and magazines such as Tales of the Mysterious Traveler and This Magazine is Haunted. It's the latter that really stands out in my estimation, the host of that comic Dr. Haunt has become a real favorite of mine in these readings. He's visually provocative and Ditko increasingly uses him in more and more creative ways fusing him into the stories. He does it with the Traveler as well, but somehow Dr. Haunt is a bit more engaging to my eye. I should also say that two stories from the earlier volume in the series are reprinted yet again because of some pages dropped in that first outing. 

One comic seems to be all Ditko, the St. John comic title Do You Believe in Nightmares. This is a heady book, almost in many ways to my eye what Dikto will do when he turns his sights on Marvel. There are two issues of this comic, the second features work by Dick Ayers and apparently both were the result of Al Fago, longtime Charlton editor selling these tales to St. John's when he was fired by Charlton. 

The rest of the stories appeared in Charlton comics such Unusual Tales and Out of this World. Ditko is exceedingly well represented in the Charlton line at this time but his covers do seem to diminish as he spends more and more time on the stories within. The covers he did produce though are real winners. 

The next volume will continue with Ditko's 1958 work and will also bring to light one of Ditko's most whip snapping aspects, his days as a pornographer. 

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Friday, October 23, 2020

The Boyette Chillers!

Steve Ditko was at Charlton for two reasons, they paid promptly and they left him alone to draw his comics he liked. That combination drew many talents to Charlton, not the least of which was Pat Boyette. Boyette was a "Renaissance Man" of sorts, a maker of early radio as a performer and later television and even movies as a producer and director. His most famous movie The Dungeon of Harrow is a drive-in horror flick not without its charms. And those charms are also evident in his artwork, which was incredibly distinctive and ideal for rendering tales of gothic horror. I daresay no single comic artist of any era was better at drawing ancient castles and musty denizens of same.  A heaping helping of Boyette's most distinctive work is included in the 2003Vanguard Press volume titled The Nightstand  Chillers. 

Most of the stories had appeared earlier in an issue of Vanguard's Tales from the Edge. That material plus more to plump it up a bit makes The Nightstand Chillers a nifty read. The stories included are from a wide array of publishers Boyette worked for through the 1970's. The list includes Skywald, Atlas-Seaboard, Globe Publications, Ace and of course Charlton.

Here are the covers of the magazines and comics the stories appeared in. They range from early in his career in 1971 to the early 90's. Two of them are from the period when Charlton was doing painted covers and Boyette was perfect for that kind of presentation. Boyette, co-creator of The Peacemaker died twenty years ago now in 2000, and for some more on him there is a very nifty interview with his career in the volume or you could check out this link. 

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Thursday, October 22, 2020

Kodti Is Out Of This World!

This cover for the January 1959 issue of Out of the World from Charlton Comics might well be my all-time favorite Steve Ditko cover, and I know that's saying a lot. Maybe I'll change my mind some time, but I find this image of golden armored spacemen perched atop equally golden gun mounts waging battle against orange orbs to be an fascinating and completely compelling image of space. 

From the get-go Ditko signed much of his work, but in this instance he does sign it but uses the anagram "S. Kodti". 

There's an elegance and deftness to this image which sometimes eludes Ditko. Almost never does he develop a cover in which people are such a small part of the composition. 

I first encountered this image as the cover for a 1978 cover of Charlton's reprint comic Space War. I didn't immediately recognize the cover as a Ditko production and somehow got it into my noggin that this was a Joe Staton effort. (I never saw or if I did, did not grokked the meaning of the signature somehow.)When I at long last learned of my error it gave me a fresh insight into how similar Staton's early work was to Ditko's early work. 

The art has been reprinted a number of times and always look good to my prejudiced eye. 

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Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Bubba And The Cosmic Blood-Suckers!

The movie Bubba Ho-Tep by director Don Coscarelli starring Bruce Campbell and the late Ossie Davis is among my favorite movies. As a bit of a probable joke it ends with the announcement of a possible sequel Bubba Nosferatu: Curse of the She-Vampires. There was some hubbub about a sequel but it came for naught and that's likely a good thing. Bubba Ho-Tep is a gem and to add to its universe is a problematic activity as the novel  Bubba and the Cosmic Blood-Suckers by Joe Lansdale demonstrates. Lansdale wrote the remarkable long short story (novella?) which inspired the movie and was encouraged to give the world more of his remarkable interpretation of Elvis Presley. 

Alas while I found the novel diverting and full of the typical Lansdale hijinks full of piss, vinegar and pungent death and sex, I found the whole far less satisfying than the sum of its many many parts. And it's those myriad parts which overwhelm this story for me. We get multiple perspectives in the story -- Elvis himself in his relative prime before his identity switch with imitator Sebastian Haff, one of his roadies named Johnny who carries much of the story as well as other asides and references. The story of course has the advertised "cosmic blood-suckers" which in a Lovecraftian way are hard to visualize. They seem more mood than menace sometimes, even when they are engaged with the small cadre of spook fighters employed by Colonel Tom Parker. It's a Parker who leads a secret operation which protects the world from ghosties and ghoulies and other assorted supernatural threats. He does so from his paddle-wheeler manned by zombies and assisted by blind psychics, sexy house ghosts, hammer-wielding tall tales, and others with a special "charisma" to battle evil. That's Elvis and he is the "Hellboy" of this particular version of the "BPRD". Much of the book is take up with the battle against the vampires and it's paced in a breakneck way. 

This ain't a bad book at all, but when compared to the yarn that inspired it, it falls far short in terms of import and theme. Bubba Ho-Tep is a magnificent reflection on mortality and plays with reality itself to drive home its points in a particular effective way. Bubba and the Cosmic Blood-Suckers is a rockem' sockem' misadventure which has more fury than feeling and while its diverting it ain't compellng, not even a bit. I'm not sorry I read it, but I don't think I needed it either. 

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Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Finding Ditko!

This Out of this World cover is another favorite of mine from the hand of Steve Ditko. One thing which jumped out at me when I saw the original black and white art is the angular nature of the composition. Ditko masterfully controls the eye as everything in this image points the same way. The diver's gaze is directed toward the peculiar mole machine which is appearing at the same angle. What really popped in this is the fact the two fish around the diver's head are pointed the same way, as is the school of fish in the background. Kudos to Ditko for a dandy.

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Monday, October 19, 2020

Curse Of The Undead!

Curse of the Undead is a flick I've been hankering to gather into my collection for many years now. I missed it somehow on VHS and have waited impatiently for it get a DVD release which has now finally happened thanks to the Kino-Lorber outfit. This is one of those Universal monster movies from the 50's which played on my TV in the 60's and slithered into my imagination at just the right time. The notion that this is a horror-western movie just makes it all the juicier. 

The story is dead simple. A small western town is suffering a plague and the viewer immediately knows vampires are afoot, though of course the locals aren't aware. The vampire in question (Michael Pate) is a man in black, a gunslinger who prowls around in the early stages of the movie before revealing himself to a young woman (Kathleen Crowley) who is seeking vengeance for the deaths of her father and brother. Turns out the vampire used to be a man who might have once owned the very ranch she's protecting, and it turns out much to my surprise (been a long time since I've seen it) that he genuinely falls in love with her. He's a depraved vampire of course, but he falls in love and that changes things. The scenes where he is preying on her neck are surprisingly sexy for a film of this vintage.

There's a preacher in town  (Eric Fleming) who finally figures out what the problem is and works overtime and often with little effectiveness to heal the many wounds in the community. Ultimately there's a showdown in classic western style. One of the weirdest things about this movie is that the vampire wanders around in the daylight though he complains at one point about being sensitive to light. This is never really brought up more than once and much of the movie happens in broad daylight undermining its effectiveness. The best scene, the one which is seared into my memory is one in which the vampire finds himself beneath the shadow of a cross and it gives him a problem. It's a beautifully shot scene and the film would've benefitted mightily from many like it. This movie ain't as good as I remembered in some ways, but in others it's better. That's fine too. 

As I said Curse of the Undead is one I've been aching for and it finished up my collection of these 50's Universals. Last year or thereabouts I got hold of The Thing the Couldn't Die and I've long had The Leech Woman, Tarantula, The Deadly Mantis, The Monolith Monsters, Monster on Campus, The Mole People and several more. These movies were my "classics", not the 30's Universals as good as they are. These are the stuff of my imagination. Nice to get to look at them yet again. 

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Sunday, October 18, 2020

Yoe - Ghosts!

Ghosts is the third volume in Yoe Books paperback set of pre-code horror stories and in some ways is better and in some ways weaker than the previous volumes featuring Mummies and Swamp Monsters. The strength is in the quality of the stories themselves, largely drawn with pretty decent acumen by a range of artists of the era such as Jack Katz, Kenneth Landau, Ed Ashe, Charles Nicholas, Bob Forgione and others. The weakness is that unlike Swamp Monsters in particular the stories are exceedingly similar in tone despite some clever twists. 

We get a ghost who doesn't know he's a ghost, a ghost who nags herself into Hell, a ghost who is able to get back to this side after all, some helpful ghosts, some exceedingly unhelpful ghosts and my favorite a ghost who exists inside tobacco leaves. For all that variation though these pre-code stories are becalmed by a sameness which makes the reading a teensy bit tedious, but I might be unfair to the collection. 

I do absolutely love the cover which is adapted from the cover by Al Avison for Witches Tales from Harvey Comics. There's a small cover gallery in this volume like the ones before. One of the major weaknesses of this collection compared its predecessors is the relatively tiny introductory essay which is only a few pages by John Rozum. It's good stuff, but I yearned for more. There's an afterward by editor Steven Banes but this tome really needed a more luxurious expository history of ghosts in and around comics. Perhaps I'm just spoiled by Bissette's wonderfully expansive work in the previous tome. 

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