Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Alfredo Alcala, Master Draftsman

Alfredo Alcala, Master Draftsman

'Black Colossus', Savage Sword of Conan #2, October 1974

Starting in the late 60s and accelerating in the early 70s, many Filipino artists were recruited as freelancers for the major comic book publishers in the US, such as Marvel, DC, and Warren. These artists included Tony DeZuniga, Gerry Talaoc, Nestor Redondo, Alex Nino, Ernie Chan, and Alfredo Alcala.

'A Night in the Unlife', Dracula Lives #9, November, 1974

Alcala (1925 – 2000) was self-taught and had an established reputation as a skilled artist, and the creator of the Filipino comic book ‘Voltar’, when he began working as an inker and artist for US publications. He initially worked primarily for Marvel and DC, but starting in 1977 he worked mainly for Warren. Alcala turned to animation in 1990 and afterwards did very little comic book art.

'Garden of Evil', House of Mystery #226, August-September, 1974

Alcala was a superior draftsman, whose work – which had something of a 19th-century flair to it - showcased his skills at cross-hatching and shading. Despite what must have been a heavy workload for him from Marvel, Warren, and DC in the 70s and 80s, all of Alcala's stuff that saw print is of very high quality.

'They Hunt Butterflies, Don't They', House of Mystery #220, December, 1973

Unfortunately, a compilation of Alcala’s comic book work is not likely, nor, given the multiple publishers he worked for, feasible from a licensing / reprint rights standpoint. However, the Comic Book database lists the myriad individual comics for which he provided inking and penciling, and some of these can be obtained from comic book shops. 

Probably the best approach for admiring Alcala’s penmanship is to obtain the inexpensive black-and-white trade paperback compilations of 70s four-color comics, such as the DC ‘Showcase’ series, or the Dark Horse compilations of the ‘Savage Sword of Conan’ magazines, excerpts of which are posted here.

'The Curse of the Crocodile', House of Mystery #119, November, 1973

Because they are printed in black and white, these compilations really allow for the appreciation of Alcala's draftsmanship, without the interference of the low-quality color separations used in the original comic books. It's much easier to see the intricate cross-hatching and shading that Alcala routinely brought to almost every panel. Some of the larger panels must have taken him a day or longer to complete – this was back in the days when Photoshop and other drawing / art software simply didn’t exist.

'The Deadman's Lucky Scarf', House of Mystery #224, April- May, 1974

It's tempting to think just how good Alcala's penmanship might look, were he to be here to submit his work to modern comics and graphic novels, with their superior reproductive technologies and print quality. 

'The Man Who Dies Twice', House of Mystery #225, June - July 1974

Then again, given how so many contemporary comics are formatted to publish flat line drawings that are colored and shaded using Illustrator and Photoshop, it's unclear if artwork like Alcala's would even have a market at either the big publishers, or the indie publishers............

In any event, here are some selected panel's of Alcala's work for DC, Warren, and Marvel.

'The Promise', Weird War Tales #9, December, 1972

'October 30', Weird War Tales #11, February, 1973

'The Ultimate Weapon', Weird War Tales #15, July, 1973

'Death is A Green Man', Weird War Tales #20, December, 1973

'Black Colossus', Savage Sword of Conan #2, October 1974

'Iron Shadows in the Moon', Savage Sword of Conan #4, February, 1975

'The Citadel at the Center of Time', Savage Sword of Conan #7, August, 1975

'The Citadel at the Center of Time', Savage Sword of Conan #7, August, 1975

'The Trouble With Tin Men !' (The Rook), Eerie #105, September,1979

'The Inheritance', Vampire Tales #8, December, 1974

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Book Review: 'Salem's Lot

Book Review: 'Salem's Lot by Stephen King

5 / 5 Stars

In August 1976 I walked over to the local branch of the Binghamton Public Library, which was housed in a wing of a nearby junior high school. On rack of ‘new paperbacks’ was the initial Signet printing of Stephen King’s ‘’Salem’s Lot’.

The 70s was the era of elaborate experimentation in paperback covers, and ‘Salem’s Lot was one of these…...the front cover was pitch black, save for the presence of a tiny drop of red blood dripping from the lip of the face of a young girl embossed on the cover. 

It was necessary to examine the back cover to see the book’s title and sales blurb….

(For a gallery of 'Salem's Lot covers, as well as a review, readers are referred to the 'Too Much Horror' blog here).

I read ‘Salem’s Lot in a few days, back then in ’76, and found it one of the best horror novels I had ever read. I’ve since re-read it many times, most recently this month, and in my mind, it remains one of the best novels King ever wrote. 

The theme – evil befalls a small town – has been steadily recycled in King’s later works, with ‘It’, ‘Desperation’, and ‘Under the Dome’, but ‘Salem’s Lot’ continues to be superior to all of them.

New English Library edition cover illustration by Tim White

As the novel opens, it’s a brilliant day in early September, 1975, and writer Ben Mears (a stand-in for the author; his physical description is that of King himself) is driving through Maine, on his way to the small town of Jerusalem’s Lot. Mears is seeking to recover from personal tragedy, and he hopes that relocating to the small town where he grew up will provide both artistic inspiration, and a chance to reconnect with the innocence of childhood.

In short order, Mears takes a room at a ‘Salem’s Lot boarding house, begins work on a new novel, and becomes romantically involved with a local girl. This being September '75, 'Fallin In Love', by Hamilton, Joe Frank, and Reynolds probably is playing on the FM radio. For Ben Mears, life is worth living again.

 art print by Glenn Chadbourne

But Ben Mears isn't the only person who has decided to move into the Lot. Richard Straker, a European man of mockingly courtly manners, has purchased an empty store in the downtown district; there, he sets up a business selling expensive furniture.

Straker also has purchased, and moved into, the Marsten House, the local haunted mansion. Ben Mears knows that the Marsten House is more than just a legend....and Straker's decision to live there is not the innocent act of an eccentric.

 Marsten House model by John Stewart art

When a local dog is found mutilated, it is the signal that the quiet, mundane rhythms of life in a small town are about to be replaced by something much more disturbing, and for Ben Mears and 'Salem's Lot, the coming of Fall will bring with it "....the high, sweet, evil laughter of a child....and the sucking sounds......'

If you haven't yet read 'Salem's Lot, then it is mandatory that you pick it up. It's a pop culture touchstone, the embodiment of the 70s horror boom. 

The story is a bit slow to get underway, and some of the dialogue can be trite at times, but once the Vampire Action starts up, the narrative begins to unfold with the right degree of momentum. And the battle between our heroes and the forces of darkness is by no means a battle with an assured triumph of good over evil.

[It's also worth getting King's 1978 short story collection Night Shift, which features two tales linked to the novel: 'One For the Road', and 'Jerusalem's Lot'.]

 still from the November, 1979 miniseries from CBS

Friday, October 17, 2014

Car Warriors issue 2

Car Warriors
issue 2
Epic Comics / Marvel, July, 1991

Issue 2 of 'Car Warriors' introduces some supporting characters, including Diamond, the punk rock chick; Spanner, the ace mechanic who keeps pissing off the wrong people; and my favorites, the Wysocki family: mom Agnes, dad Curt, daughter Sissy, and son Curt Jr. We learn that the 'Wysockis don't run from a fight !'

As word of the Big Race spreads, it becomes clear that the bandits and mutants of the Wasteland are in no mood to be accommodating......

Here it is, the second installment of 'Car Warriors'............