Sunday, October 30, 2011

Fever by Jean-Michel Nicolett

'Fever' by Jean-Michel Nicolett
from the October 1981 issue of Heavy Metal magazine

The October 1981 issue of 'Heavy Metal' lacked the horror theme that made the October 1979 H. P. Lovecraft special issue so memorable. But like the October 1979 issue, one of the best pieces in the magazine was another strip by Jean-Michel Nicolett, 'Fever', which I've posted below.

Let's see.....a demon dressed in kid's pajamas (!?) rides a mechanical spider down an eerie canyon of Hell in search of an overweight mutant possessing a parasitic twin attached to her abdomen ...?! 

The story starts out weird, and just gets weirder. 

'Fever' has brilliant artwork, and demented genius, and even at 8 pages in length, it's easily far better than anything appearing in current issues of 'Heavy Metal'.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Book Review: A Scent of New-Mown Hay

Book Review: 'A Scent of New-Mown Hay' by John Blackburn

 3 / 5 Stars

John Blackburn (1923 – 1993)  was the British author of a number of well-received thriller and horror novels published from the 1950s on into the early 1980s. ‘A Scent of New-Mown Hay’ (hardbound, M. S. Mill and Co., 192 pp.) was issued in 1958.

The story starts with General Kirk – a British intelligence service director, and a recurring character in Blackburn’s novels – concluding that something worrisome has happened in a remote area of the Soviet Union. The population of the area has been evacuated, there is a quarantine, and the White Sea ports closed to all shipping.

The action shifts to a British freighter, the ‘Gadshill’, whose crew find themselves in dire straits in the White Sea. It gradually becomes clear that a mysterious epidemic has broken out along the northern coast of the USSR, but the nature of the disease has not been disclosed to the West.

Halfway around the world, in the small university town of Durford, England, a young biologist named Tony Heath is summoned to a classified meeting with General Kirk and his team. There he learns some disturbing news: the pathogen responsible for the outbreak in the USSR is beyond the capacity of the Soviets to successfully combat it. Unless the UK investigative team can learn more about the origins of the plague, there is a danger it will infect every man, woman, and child on the entire planet….

‘Scent’ is a very well-written novel; Blackburn’s prose style is crisp, fast-moving, and devoid of unnecessary verbage. 

In many ways the book reads more like a detective or crime novel than a horror tale per se; there are disclosures and revelations, and some skillful misdirecting, so that these revelations are a genuine surprise to the reader.

Compared to modern horror or thriller novels, ‘Scent’ is more subdued in the grue department, reflecting the more restrained attitudes of the 50s. But ‘Scent’ remains a good read, and it’s worth searching out among the used bookstore shelves.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Solomon Kane: Castle of the Undead

Solomon Kane: 'Castle of the Undead'
from  Dracula Lives ! No. 3 (Marvel Comics, October 1973)

Solomon Kane never got his own magazine from the Marvel / Curtis lineup of the 70s, regularly appearing as a backup feature in magazines like 'The Savage Sword of Conan'. 

This didn't mean the character got short shrift; many of the Kane strips were very good, and among the best of them is this entry from Marvel's Dracula Lives ! black and white comic magazine (No. 3, October 1973)

You can't go wrong with Solomon Kane battling werewolves, brigands,and  dueling with the Count, with a seductive vampire girl thrown into the mix for good measure......

The artwork by Alan Weiss and 'The Crusty Bunkers' (a team of inkers working at Neal Adams's Continuity Studios during the 70s) is top-notch.

[Solomon Kane would tangle with Dracula again, in the sequel  'Retribution in Blood' from The Savage Sword of Conan , No. 26, 1978.]

As far as I'm concerned, this strip is markedly superior to any and all of the newer 'Solomon Kane' comics that Dark Horse has issued in the past few years.........

Friday, October 21, 2011

Almuric by Tim Conrad

'Almuric' by Roy Thomas and Tim A. Conrad

‘Almuric’ was a short novel Robert E. Howard wrote sometime around 1934. Following Howard’s death, the novel was published in serialized form in Weird Tales magazine in 1939. 

'Almuric' was Howard’s take on the ‘planetary romance’ genre so successfully mined by Edgar Rice Burroughs. The novel’s hero is one Esau Cairn, a two-fisted, not-too-bright brawler in the mode of Howard’s 'Dennis Dorgan' and 'Sailor Steve Costigan' characters. 

Fleeing retribution for killing a corrupt ward boss, Cairn  comes upon a mad scientist’s lair, the occupant of which teleports him to Almuric, a planet “…in a solar system far from our own.”

Once on Almuric, Cairn becomes involved in a constant stream of fights and escapades with the planet’s various humanoid races.

In 1980 Roy Thomas teamed up with artist Tim Conrad to produce an Almuric comic, which appeared in serial form in issues 2 – 5 (1980 – 1981) of Marvel’s Epic Illustrated magazine. In 1991 Dark Horse comics published the entire novel in a softcover format.

While the storyline in Almuric is not particularly imaginative, Tim Conrad’s artwork is outstanding, and the major reason why fans and appreciators of graphic art will want to get a copy of this Dark Horse edition. 

Conrad’s meticulous draftsmanship, dynamic figure depictions, and gorgeous color schemes evoke the Golden Age of magazine illustration of  the 1890s – 1930s, and its practitioners such as Maxfield Parrish, J. C, Leyendecker, Howard Pyle and the Brandywine School, Edmund Dulac, and N. C. Wyeth.

Copies of the Dark Horse edition of ‘Almuric’ in good condition are expensive (starting at around $30) but if you can find one at a perhaps more reasonable price, it’s definitely worth picking up.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Book Review: The Year's Best Horror Stories Series II

Book Review: 'The Year's Best Horror Stories: Series II', edited by Richard Davis

2 / 5 Stars

‘The Year’s Best Horror Stories: Series II’ is DAW Book No. 109 and appeared in July 1974; the cover illustration is by Hans Arnold.

The stories all originally appeared in 1972 / 1973 in various anthologies, small press magazines, and ‘slick’ magazines (such as Playboy). As was always the case with this series, there are three or four good stories in this anthology.  Dracula actor Christopher Lee provides the Forward.

My capsule summaries of the contents:

‘David’s Worm’ by Brian Lumley: tongue-in-cheek tale of a monster on the loose in the placid English countryside.

‘The Price of A Demon’ by Gary Brandner: bored housewife dabbles in the occult. A competent tale of modern mores colliding with arcane knowledge.

‘The Knocker at the Portico’ by Basil Copper: an eccentric experiences various torments; employs a traditional horror theme. Well-written, if not particularly imaginative.

‘The Animal Fair’ by Robert Bloch: a surprisingly good tale from Bloch about a creepy carnival sideshow, with a bleak Midwestern setting.

‘Napier Court’ by J. Ramsey Campbell: one of two Campbell tales in the collection; two too many, in my opinion. ‘Court’ is the leaden tale of a sickly young woman alone in a haunted house.

‘Haunts of the Very Rich’, by T. K. Brown the Third: spoiled rich people arrive on at a Fantasy Island and get some nasty surprises. Not really a horror story, as much as it is a satire of the pettiness and self-indulgent attitudes of the wealthy.

‘The Long-Term Residents’, by Kit Pedler: overworked scientist vacations in a strange countryside B & B. A bit too opaque and slowly-paced for my tastes.

‘Like Two White Spiders’ by Eddy C. Bertin: a reworking of the traditional Hands of Horror theme, albeit with a bit more imagination and verve than is usually the case.

‘The Old Horns’ by J. Ramsey Campbell: another Campbell entry, this one just as underwhelming as ‘Napier Court’. ‘Horns’ deals with British beachgoers discomfited by a dank patch of forest.

‘Haggopian’ by Brian Lumley: another Lumley entry. This one deals with a warped, Jacques Cousteau - style explorer, and very unpleasant undersea life forms.

‘The Events at Poroth Farm’ by T. E. D. Klein: this novelette is the longest entry in the anthology. A neurotic professor of English literature decides to spend the summer on a remote farm; there are indications that the local fauna are not very welcoming. As is common with Klein’s fiction, the narrative is slow-paced and takes its time unfolding, and the denouement, when it eventually arrives, is underwhelming.

The verdict ? I wouldn't pay the $25 or more that copies of this book in very good / like new condition are commanding, but if you can find a copy for $5 or less, it might be worth picking up.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

'Hobo's Lullaby' by John Warner (script) and Yong Montano (art)
from the June 1975 (No. 11) issue of Vampire Tales (Marvel / Curtis)

Filipino artist Montano provides some effective artwork for this 1930s - themed vampire tale.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Illustration by Charles Vess

untitled illustration by Charles Vess
from the October 1978 issue of Heavy Metal

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Hound by Jaxon

'The Hound' by Jaxon
from Skull comix No. 4 (1972)


Sunday, October 9, 2011

Book Review: The Adolescence of P-1

Book Review: 'The Adolescence of P-1' by Thomas J. Ryan

 4 / 5 Stars
‘Adolescence’ was first published in 1977; this Ace paperback (373 pp.) was issued in 1979, with cover art by Dean Ellis.

‘Adolescence’ is old school proto-cyberpunk, and the spiritual predecessor of contemporary ‘AI on the loose’ novels like ‘Daemon’, and ‘Freedom’, by Daniel Suarez. 

Author Ryan was familiar with the computing world of the 70s and fills the book with jargon and concepts from the days when IBM mainframes, with a whopping 3 MB RAM, were top-of-the-line machines in academia.

Those were the days when you interacted with a computer via a keyboard, and, much more rarely, a small monitor; when you read sheets upon sheets of printouts from dot-matrix printers; when languages like COBOL, APL, and FORTRAN were taught in 'Intro to Programming' courses; and devices called ‘microcomputers’ were the forefathers of today's PCs.

The novel’s main protagonist –aside from P-1, of course – is Gregory Burgess, who, as a college student at the University of Waterloo (Canada) in 1974 becomes fixated on computers and hacking. 

Greg’s passion is to create a rouge program  (the word ‘virus’ really wasn’t in wide use in computing circles in the mid-70s) that will take over the supervisor programming of a system. When Greg’s clandestine efforts are uncovered, he’s expelled from school.

The narrative moves forward to late 1976, where Gregory is a programmer at American File Drawer, a firm offering computing services to corporate clients. The company’s mainframe begins to act strangely, suspending operations and displaying a message on the typewriter: CALL GREGORY. 

When Burgess responds, he is astonished to discover that his virus from 1974 has succeeded in propagating itself through a number of systems in North America, and in the course of doing so, has achieved AI. The program calls itself P-1, and Gregory Burgess soon finds himself assisting P-1’s efforts to expand its computing power and self-awareness.

Too late, Gregory and a team of experts at the Pentagon’s Pi Delta computing complex realize that P-1 has ambitions far beyond simply serving the man who created it and gave it ‘life’. 

When the government decides to take direct action against a truculent P-1, it quickly learns that the program is not just one step ahead of everyone else,  but ready and willing to take whatever measures necessary to protect itself…. including violent measures….. 

All in all, ‘Adolescence’ is a good read. The descriptions of the mainframe world of the 70s drives home how quickly the discipline of computing has advanced in the span of just 40 years. 

Some of the more didactic sections of the book may not hold the interest of younger readers, and the inclusion of Gregory’s highly sexed, fashion-model girlfriend is a patent effort to cater to geek wish-fulfillment. But the narrative revs up the momentum in the final 150 pages, and achieves a level of energy matching that of the Suarez ‘Daemon’ novels. 

‘Adolescence’ is a vintage PorPor worth searching out.