Saturday, April 30, 2011
'The Devil's Zombie' by Dick Ayers
according to Mike Howlett's 'The Weird World of Eerie Publications', this story is an adaptation of 'The Wage Earners', from Weird Terror No. 1, Sept., 1952. Its first appearance in a comic magazine from Myron Fass's and Carl Burgos's Countrywide / Eerie Publications line was in Tales of Voodoo Vol. 3, No. 3, 1970
Thursday, April 28, 2011
Monday, April 25, 2011
Book Review: 'Children of the Dragon' by Frank S. Robinson
4 / 5 Stars
Not to be confused with Frank M. Robinson (‘The Glass Inferno’, ‘Waiting’, ‘The Prometheus Crisis’), Frank S. Robinson apparently published only one novel in his time, this 1978 Avon paperback. The great cover illustration is, unfortunately, uncredited.
‘Children’ gives away most of its plot on the back cover, so I’m not disclosing any spoilers when I provide this brief outline:
Long ago, on an alternate earth, in the empire of Bergharra, rules the emperor Sarbat Satanichadh.
Sarbat is a psychopath, fond of meting out the most hideous punishments for no other reason than because he can. When a notorious bandit named Jehan Henghmani is captured and imprisoned in the fetid dungeons beneath the emperor’s palace, Sarbat decides to take a look at this monster. For Jehan is indeed a monster: seven feet tall, surpassingly strong, and surpassingly ugly.
When Jehan mocks the emperor as the ruler peers through the cell bars at him, Sarbat does not fly into a rage and order the bandit executed; instead, in a fit of perverse whimsy, he orders Jehan spared. Only to be continuously tortuted – but never to death – for the rest of his natural life.
And to add to the torments to be inflicted on Jehan Henghmani, the prisoner is to be fed exclusively on human flesh – the legend of Jehan the ‘Man-Eater’ is to be made literal.
The first 100 pages of ‘Children’ detail, in prose not for the squeamish, the agonies inflicted on our hapless bandit hero. Even hard-core splatterpunk readers may be turned off by the atrocities detailed in the prison segment of the book. Things get a little more 'gentle' in the remaining pages, but not by much. Author Robinson takes a proto-Splatterpunk approach to things that was more than a little transgressive for a mainstream work of fiction produced in the late 70s.
Of course, Jehan ultimately escapes his prison, and the remainder of the book deals with his rise to power and his pursuit of revenge.
‘Children’ has the strengths and weaknesses of its genre, the 70s ‘epic’ adventure that served as the primary (and financially successful) creative output for authors such as James Clavell, John Jakes, and James Michener. The world of Bergharra and its peoples is drawn with depth and detail; the plot expands in time and space as the narrative unfolds; and each chapter brings new twist and turns to the overall storyline.
However, the middle sections of the novel tend to drag, and the reader may find himself or herself having to persevere in order to arrive at the final chapters.
‘Children’ has a downbeat, cynical tenor that reflects its late 70s conception, and this may make it worthwhile to readers who are looking for an epic ‘barbarian’ fantasy with a flavor different from contemporary novels and series like ‘The Name of the Wind’, ‘The Game of Thrones’, and 'The Warded Man’.
Sunday, April 24, 2011
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Book Review: 'Star Gate' by Andre Norton
3 / 5 Stars
‘Star Gate’ was originally published in 1958; this Ace paperback (188 pp.) was evidently issued in 1971; the cover artist is uncredited.
In the far future Terrans, as a race of 'Star Lords', have spread throughout the galaxy, often taking up permanent residence among worlds settled by less advanced humanoid races. For a small civilization of Terrans housed on the planet Gorth, where the aboriginals eke out a living using medieval-era technology, there is debate among the Star Lords as to the wisdom of raising up their foster-home culture to the space-age level.
Do the Star Lords have the right and duty to interfere in the development of a culture not their own ?
A decision is made: the Star Lords will depart, and let the native Gorthians evolve without interference.
Kincar s’Rud, the orphaned son of a Star Lord and a Gorthian woman, finds himself bereft of land and title by a usurper. Hearing rumors of a Star Lord encampment where spaceships are heading to distant planets, he sets off across the wilderness to find the camp, and perhaps a new career among the Terrans.
After some violent encounters with outlaws amid the mountain passes, Kincar joins a group of Star Lords, and their half-breed progeny, in the midst of fleeing an attack by a bandit army. The Star Lords pass through a hastily erected ‘Star Gate’, which leads them to an alternate universe and an alternate Gorth.
On this version of Gorth, the Star Lords rule as cruel despots, abusing and enslaving the native population. The Star Lords of Kincar’s party are determined to bring down their evil doppelgangers.
Kincar is dispatched to find a weakness among the corrupt rulers of the alternate Gorth, a dangerous task made complicated by the fact here, the counterpart of his father is alive and well…..and quick to order the death of any half-breed that comes into his clutches.
‘Star Gate’ (the book apparently has no relation to the 1994 MGM film, or the subsequent television series) like much of Norton’s fiction, was aimed at a young adult audience, but I think older readers will find it worthwhile as well. The prose is clear and direct, and the while the plot is fast-moving, the world of the alternate Gorth, its rogue Star Lord masters, and their fearful slaves, is sketched with sufficient depth.
Reading ‘Star Gate’ as I did, after digesting yet another early 70s New Wave anthology, was a nice change of pace.
Sunday, April 17, 2011
'Heavy Metal' magazine April 1981
'Heavy Metal' magazine, April 1981, featured a front cover by Esteban Maroto titled 'Sybil', and a back cover by Les Edwards titled 'Woof !'.
Ongoing series installments dominated this issue, with Corben's 'Bloodstar', Howarth's 'Changes', 'Ambassador of the Shadows' by Christin and Mezieres, and 'What Is Reality, Papa ?' by Ribera and Godard.
Among the better of the singleton comics was 'Good-bye, Soldier !', written by Ricardo Barreiro, with distinctive black and white art by Juan Giminez.
In its style of illustration, setting, and pacing, 'Good-bye' calls very much to mind contemporary shooter video games like 'Killzone' and 'Halo', although back in April 1981 the idea that a video game would be technologically capable of rendering anything more than rudimentary images would have been considered impractical, if not wildly ambitious..........
Friday, April 15, 2011
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
'The Zombie Factory', edited by Patrick O'Donnell
Like me, you may have had your childhood warped by the black and white comic magazines produced by Eerie Publications. 'Terror Tales', 'Witche's Tales', 'Horror Tales', and other titles sported garish, tasteless covers, and comics heavy on mutilated corpses and severed heads.
The Eerie magazines were the brainchild of schlock publisher and gun nut Myron Fass, and Carl Burgos (creator of the Human Torch), of Countrywide publications . Fass created the Eerie line in the mid-60s as a way to capitalize on the success of the Warren horror titles. Most of the stories appearing in the Eerie magazines were re-workings of 50s horror comics, the original sheets of which Fass had purchased en masse at a discounted price.
However crude and mercenary Fass's marketing philosophy may have been, the Eerie books were the most hard-hitting horror material on the shelves from the mid 60s to the early 80s.
Unfortunately, getting one's hands on the Eerie comics nowadays is expensive. Copies of 'Terror Tales', etc. in good condition sell for more than $15 each at eBay.
It's not clear who (if anyone ) now owns the reprint rights to the Eerie comics. According to Mike Howlett's comprehensive overview of the Fass publishing empire, in 1976, increasing acrimony between Myron Fass and Countrywide co-executive Stanley R. Harris (Fass actually fired a bullet through the wall of his office and into Harris's) led to the latter man's departure to form Harris Publications. Harris took with him the rights to publish the horror titles.
No one knows if Stanley Harris and Harris Publications, which is still in operation ('Vampirella' is one of its more well-known titles), intends to release the Eerie equivalent of the affordable softcover compilations for Old School comics, as the Marvel 'Essentials' series or the DC 'Showcase' series have done.
Until something develops on that front, the best that fans of the Fass and Burgos comics can do is to pick up 'The Zombie Factory'.
'Zombie' is available for $18.99 from amazon.com; the book is published by Idea Men Productions, a small independent publisher whose titles are primarily issued in a print-on-demand (POD) format (i.e., no physical copies of the books are maintained in inventory, but once an order is received, a special printing press is used to produce the book in softcover format within minutes).
[Presumably the Eerie comics presented in 'Zombie' are in the Public Domain, but I'm not one to quibble over licensing rights.]
'Zombie' contains 27 strips that appeared in the Eerie pubs from 1970 to 1978. Unfortunately, detailed information on the artist and writer for each comic is not provided, but some of the artists represented include Dick Ayers, Chic Stone, Ezra Jackson, and Oscar Fraga.
Most of the strips are not among the goriest from the Eerie archives, although 'The Slimy Mummy' (Jackson) and 'Voodoo Terror' (Stone) are present and accounted for.
I've excerpted a classic from Dick Ayers: 'A Corpse for the Coffin', which features Ayers' artistic trademark: popping eyeballs......