Friday, October 31, 2014

Witches by Colin Wilson and Una Woodruff

Witches by Colin Wilson and Una Woodruff

This offbeat art book first was released in the UK in 1981 by Dragon’s World; this edition, from the ‘budget’ publisher Crescent Books, also was published in 1981.

‘Witches’ (158 pp) is an overview of the myth and legend of Witches, and in a broader sense, the Occult, in Western culture. It appears to have been aimed at an audience of New Age adherents, neo-pagans, Wiccans, Goddess worshipers (although many of these categories didn’t really exist as such in 1981), and those with an interest in the occult.

The book’s text was contributed by Colin Wilson, who, of course, was very well-read on the Occult, having authored a number of books on the topic. In ‘Witches’, he suffuses his writings with his own philosophy (what he eventually called ‘New Existentialism’) regarding occult phenomena. In short, Wilson believes that witches and witchcraft were and are, in some instances, ‘real’, and this involves tapping psychic forces as yet-undiscovered by science. 

The chapters are usually two or three pages in length, and cover such diverse topics as The Earliest Witches, The Destruction of the Templars, Werewolves, Mother Shipton, The Witches of Salem, and The Golden Dawn, among others. It goes without saying that Wilson's desire to use anecdotes of 'supernatural' events as evidence supporting the idea of 'man's latent powers' (a touchstone facet of his New Existentialism) makes him quite gullible.

The primary appeal of ‘Witches’ comes from the illustrations, provided by UK artist Una Woodruff (b. 1951), an artist who I had never heard of prior to seeing this book. lists her as the illustrator for four books, all from the late 70s / early 80s, dealing with New Age / fantasy topics. [She has a Facebook page.]

Woodruff’s art - uses both graytone and color - showcases delicate linework, skillful composition, and careful coloring. It contains traces of New Age-inspired art, folk art, and, in some instances, the meticulous style of natural history illustration. Overall, her art has the sort of highly attuned approach to its subject matter that is characteristic of British children's book illustration.

While most of the book's illustrations have a fantastical, eccentric quality to them, perhaps the best piece in the book is the outstanding entry for 'The Witches of Salem', p. 119. This illustration adopts a 'realistic' style, and its dull umbers, blacks, and browns, contrasting with the blue and white of the sky, lend it an appropriately grim atmosphere.

Anyone with an interest in fantasy art, or New Age art, will want to have a copy of 'Witches', which is available at reasonable prices from your usual online retailers.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Book Review: Fiends

Book Review: 'Fiends' by John Farris

2 / 5 Stars
Fiends’ (438 pp) was published by Tor Books in September, 1990, and features cover art by Joe De Vito.

The story certainly has an interesting opening: in rural Caskey County, Tennessee, in August, 1906, a terrible calamity befalls the small town of Dante’s Mill. Only Arne Horsfall, and his father Enoch, survive. But his father has been seriously injured in a confrontation with a creature known as Theron, the Dark Man…...the leader of a clan of malevolent, Icelandic elves called the ‘Huldufolk’. Regarded in Icelandic mythology as the unwanted children of the biblical Eve, the Huldufolk are relentless in their hatred of mankind.

By crafting artificial wings from moth silk and human skin, the Huldufolk are able to fly at night. And the Huldufolk like to skin their victims…..while the victim is still alive and screaming !

Despite his terror of the Huldufolk who have ravaged Dante’s Mill, Arne must summon all his courage if he is to subdue the invaders and prevent them from extending their depredations beyond the borders of the doomed village….

The narrative then shifts to August, 1970. Following the death of their parents in a car accident, teenager Majory Waller, and her older sister Enid, are making a modest, but comfortable, living in rural Caskey County.

Enid decides to invite one of the members of her therapeutic art class at Cumberland State Hospital, the nearby asylum, to dinner. Marjory is less than thrilled with having an asylum inmate over for dinner, but she relents in the face of Enid’s unswerving devotion to Christian charity. And so Arne Horsfall, now a semi-catatonic man in his 70s, comes to the Waller house for dinner.

That night, everyone at the Waller house is astounded to see large numbers of Luna moths descend on the house. These are no ordinary moths; not only are they twice as large as a normal Luna moth, but when alight on the skin, they cause a painful freezing sensation.

When Arne Horsfall sees the advent of the Luna months, he screams in fear and runs off into the night. And as Marjory and Enid Waller, and the people of Caskey County, are about to discover, the Huldufolk have returned…….flaying knives in hand……….

Despite its interesting approach to mingling Icelandic myth with the modern American, 'Stephen King-style' horror story, ‘Fiends’ is one of the more mediocre novels I have read. 

It’s at least 100 pages too long, and suffers from being badly overwritten, probably because its written in the style of a screenplay, rather than a novel.

The narrative regularly interposes long sequences of exposition on topics that are tangential to the main storyline. For example, at one point in the story, as our heroes are sinking even deeper in danger and the suspense (presumably) building, the narrative shifts to devote more than an entire page to the conversational exchange between a deputy and an elderly widder woman, who rambles about her experience with seeing a UFO in her backyard (?!).

Author Farris also insists on using a labored, screenplay-friendly style of dialogue: characters don’t just speak, t-t-t-t-they stutter and s-s-s-s-stammer because they’re cold..... or terrified...... or both. And the exchanges between human and Huldufolk are telepathic, which calls for extended sections of italicized text. And every minor supporting character is dutifully given their own extensive interior monologues, further clogging the narrative.

The verdict ? ‘Fiends’ has an imaginative theme, but in the end, it’s poorly served by a clunky, labored prose style. This isn’t one of Farris’s more entertaining efforts.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Growing Pains by Bob Toomey and Mike Zeck

'Growing Pains' by Bob Toomey (writer) and Mike Zeck (artist)
from Eerie #108, January, 1980

One of my favorite horror tropes involves homicidal little kids.....

This neat comic from Bob Toomey and Mike Zeck provides a clever take on the theme....and while the strip pulls its punches in terms of depicting gory mayhem, well, it was late 1979 when this issue of Eerie was published, a more innocent era, and one some decades before the advent of the 'Chucky' movies made little-kid-related grue more socially acceptable......

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 the 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'............