Again and forever, never forget. And if you weren’t there, find out about it.
Like most people I remember my first date and my first car, but being a comics creator I also remember the first time a comic book peeled my eyes.
Yes, I’m speaking metaphorically.
What I mean is… over time a young person created to create comics will begin to notice the techniques and mechanisms that go into telling a comics story, such as the dovetailing of art and words, and then eventually he will begin practicing these techniques until a light (hopefully) turns on and he starts writing or drawing increasingly better comics stories. But before you can become a tyro creator you have to heed a comics story.
You have to pay attention to it!
You have to become consciously aware of its beauty and its clockworks.
This is what I mean by having a comic book peel your eyes.
Iron Fist #13 was the first comic book to peel my eyes. Specifically the splash page by penciller John Byrne and inker Dan Adkins. I can remember where I was when I first saw it (standing at the spinner rack at May’s Drug Store) and approximately when it happened (shortly after school on a cloudy early spring Thursday in 1977). There was something about the splash’s layout and composition and colors that lured me in like nothing I had seen before in a comic book and I commenced to grabbing every issue of Iron Fist and any other Byrne-drawn comic book on the rack. Then I went to every store I knew within reasonable driving distance that sold comic books and grabbed more Iron Fist comics and more Byrne-drawn comics plus any other comic books that caught my eye, the most memorable being Mike Grell’s lush artwork on Green Lantern/Green Arrow #91. A couple of hours later I arrived home with a six-inch stack of comic books that only cost thirty-five cents each and enjoyed some of the happiest hours of my life as I began to really discover and enjoy comics storytelling.
Good memories, but while Byrne was the first to peel my eyes, it was Korean writer/artist Sanho Kim who first got me to heed comics.
I am embarrassed to say I had forgotten this until a few weeks ago when I came across a spotlight about Kim in The Charlton Comics Companion from TwoMorrows Publishing. In the seventies I was a fan of Charlton’s Doomsday +1 (with stories drawn by Byrne) and its horror anthologies, in particular Ghost Manor and its awesome host Mr. Bones, which is where I discovered Kim’s work, although I cannot tell you exactly where or when this happened. And unfortunately the Companion’s bio spotlight was light on details, although to be fair not much biographical information exists on Kim. There is a brief bio in Eerie #35 (“New Staff Artist: Sanho Kim”), Kim’s introduction to his self-published 1973 graphic novel (or what he called a montage book) Sword’s Edge: The Sword and the Maiden, and an article by Kim Dong-Hwa, Chairman of the Korean Cartoonists Association, commemorating Sanho Kim receiving Korea’s Medal of Cultural Merits in 2008, and that’s about it. According to these sources Kim was born in 1939, raised in a refugee camp, and studied fine art at the Seorabeol Art College in Soeul. Prior to coming to the United States he spent eight years creating Korean comics or manhwa like his first full-length comic book The Brilliant Twilight Star in 1958 and the bestselling Lifi, Korea’s first science fiction comic, in 1959. In 1969 Kim immigrated to the United States where he became one of the first, if not the first, Asian-style artist published in American comic books, most notably for Charlton but also Skywald Publications, Warren Publishing and Marvel Comics.
Prior to discovering Kim in Ghost Manor I had taken no more notice of the art in a comic book than its newsprint. Kim changed that and in the process became my first favorite comic book artist, someone whose work I recognized the instant I saw it.
But what was it about Kim’s work that caught my eye?
If you had asked me then I would have told you it was because his horror stories looked creepier, his Westerns looked grittier, and his adventures looked more exciting than what other artist’s drew. Oh, and there was something neat about the way Kim drew people with square heads and emerald eyes! Yep, I could pick out a Kim-drawn character from a mile away, but it never occurred to me that the reason for this might have been because I drew people in a similar fashion (see sketch on the left), or that I might have thought Kim’s stories looked more effective than those of his peers because he was a master manhwaga (manhwa creator) proficient at marrying realistically drawn bodies with unrealistic faces and detailed clothing and intricate backgrounds with simplified dialogue, all of which struck a cord with me as a budding comic book writer.
Again, to be fair, I hadn’t learned yet that amateur creators are drawn to the works of professionals who have a similar style to their own. Heck, I wasn’t even aware what my nascent writing style was, so how could I have been aware of the similarities in my stories and the ones drawn and written by Kim? For example, Kim’s stories not only employ simple dialogue but frequently incorporate Korean history, and I write spare dialogue and often incorporate history in my stories. I can see all that now, but what I don’t understand is how I could have been such a fan of Kim’s art and stories but failed to notice when I stopped seeing his work and then forgot about Kim for so many years. I suppose it because I was young and susceptible to juvenile out-of-sight-out-of-mindness. It’s not much of an excuse but there you go.
There is something to be said for auld lang syne, though, and after rediscovering Kim it was heartening to find out that — besides our creative similarities — we share an admiration for the comics medium and a belief in its potential. Kim expressed his hopes for the medium — which parallel many of the ideas comics grandmaster Will Eisner was beginning to propound about the same time — in his Sword’s Edge introduction:
“I come from Korea where for eight years I wrote, illustrated and completely controlled the creation of my comic books. At the same time, I dreamed about the “great” American comic book. I expected its overall quality to be much higher than was I found in the small number I read in Korea. “However, when I came here, I discovered that the American comic book isn’t as fine a product of American creativity and imagination as I had dreamed it is. And, I also noticed, it really hasn’t changed since its first days 35 years ago. “For five years now, I have been living in the United States, illustrating those comic books. Now, for the first time here, I am making my own. “This book—we call it a montage book—is not like other comic books. At its core is the idea that the artist and the writer must be in harmony: the illustrations and the story must be conceived together; the illustrations and story must be executed together. “Unfortunately, the American artist and writer today rarely work together. Too often, a comic book story with merit, has poor art. And one with good art has bad writing. “Most people who follow comic books seriously, believe that a good comic book is the result of good art. They believe the writing is of secondary importance. That is wrong—entirely wrong. Good cinematography alone does not make a good motion picture. Nor does good art alone make a good comic book. Everything—art, writing, reproduction—must be outstanding for the comic book to be outstanding. “There are fortunately, many worthy artists in the United States. I respect their work very highly. There are also many fine writers here. Yet, the two rarely get together. “That is sad. American comic books are in a rut. American artists are too. Neither experiment. They have fallen into deep and deadening mannerisms. “I feel now, after these five years of illustrating someone else’s stories, of meeting some editor’s conceptions of what a comic book should be, it is time that I make my own comic book. “I do not think that Sword’s Edge is my best work. But I feel that it is new and different to America. In fact, it is similar in some respects to my old, Korean style. Whether it is good or bad—and that is only for you to decide—at least I am trying to show you what I feel a comic book can be.”
But even as Kim was trying to coax American comics out of their rut by bringing manwha to the United States in a graphic novel format, he was also experimenting with mixing elements from manwha and traditional American comics, most notably in “The Promise” from Charlton’s Ghostly Tales #101 (1973). (If you’d like to read “The Promise” click on this link. You can also watch an in-depth critical appreciation of “The Promise” from an American and a Korean perspective at Old Folks Comic Talks at the link below.) Ghostly Tales #101 also features “A Word from Sanho Kim” in which he explains how “The Promise” was inspired by a popular type of Korean ghost story and how his story differed from typical American comic book stories of that time.
Sword’s Edge and “The Promise” are variations of the same plot: a warrior chances across a maiden during his travels and faces consequences that arise from that meeting. But “The Promise” is a supernatural story, unlike Sword’s Edge, which might be called a coming-of-age adventure. And where Sword’s Edge is presented in a traditional manwha manner, “The Promise” is simultaneously told in Korean and English, something Kim would never have been permitted to try at Marvel, DC, or Warren with their conformity to United States storytelling standards. Perhaps the only reason he got away with at Charlton is because, being a smaller company, the publisher did not have the time or resouces to demand changes.
Kim only worked on American comics between 1969 to 1976 but he did not return to Korea until 1996. Even then Kim did not stop pushing the limits of comics storytelling. His Korean comics focus on historical topics, like his three-volume magnum opus Daejusinjeguksa (History of Great Korean Empire), and he has developed a new way to tell comic book stories he calls “picture scenario” that combines Western painting with comics art for a new way to tell comic book stories.
I was too young and inexperienced in comic book communication to know how to do more than enjoy Kim’s art when I first discovered it. If I had been a few years older or discovered Kim’s work a few years later I have no doubts he would have peeled my eyes as effectively as Byrne did. But Kim did get me to notice comic book art and stories and for that I am grateful. Now having rediscovered him and having learned about his impressive accomplishments in the comics medium I can truly say that I will never forget him again.
My newest Sherlock Holmes pastiche “The Adventure of the Absent Crossing Sweeper” is now available in The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories Part XXXVII – 2023 Annual (1875-1889) from MX Publishing.
January 12, 1882, a few months after Holmes and Dr. John H. Watson’s first adventure A Study in Scarlet. Scotland Yard Detective G. Lestrade, a man not known for being over-tender of heart, has taken it upon himself to find a crossing sweeper who has been missing from his corner on Oxford Street since St. Andrew’s Day. Lestrade’s private search has reached an impasse so he comes to Holmes to request the assistance of the Baker Street Irregulars, unaware that Holmes has already engaged them as part of his own private investigation, a diplomatically delicate matter for the British Foreign Office (and his brother Mycroft) involving a noble but disreputable lodger in the building at the Oxford corner.
“The Adventure of the Absent Crossing Sweeper” marks my fifth appearance in this popular anthology series from MX Publishing, the world’s largest Sherlock Holmes publisher. It is also just one of the 59 new traditional Canonical Holmes pastiches you will find in Part XXXVII and its companion volumes Part XXXVIII (1890-1896) and Part XXXIX (1897-1923). Together this trilogy presents the Great Detective and the Good Doctor in Untold Cases, sequels to Canonical adventures and stories that progress along completely unexpected lines from their early friendship at 221B Baker Street to Holmes’ retirement and the post-War years.
And if you enjoy “Adventure of the Absent Crossing Sweeper” you might want to check out my other Holmes pastiches in audio and print. All books are available in hardcover and paperback unless otherwise noted. And for a bigger view of any cover or illustration just click on the image.
The Adventure of the Coal-Tar Derivative (Audible Book)
Case of the Petty Curses: Further Adventure of Sherlock Holmes, Imagination Theatre (Audio Production)
“Case of the Petty Curses” : The Art of Sherlock Holmes – West Palm Beach
Case of Unfinished Business: Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Imagination Theatre (Audio Production)
“Case of Unfinished Business”: Imagination Theatre’s Sherlock Holmes: A Collection of Scripts from “The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes”
“Case of the Petty Curses:” MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories – Part VII: Eliminate the Impossible (1880-1891)
“The Case for Which the World is Not Yet Prepared”: MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories – Part XVII: Whatever Remains Must Be the Truth
“A Case of Unfinished Business”: MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories – Part XX: 2020 Annual (1891-1897)
“The Case of the Un-Paralleled Adventures”: MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories – Part XXIII: Some More Untold Cases (1888-1894)
MORE ABOUT THE MX BOOK OF NEW SHERLOCK HOLMES STORIES AND UNDERSHAW SCHOOL:
Parts I-III of The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories were published in 2015 and featured over 60 stories in the true traditional Canonical manner. That set, the largest collection of new Holmes stories assembled up to that time, was originally planned as a one-time event but readers wanted more. And now with the release of Parts XXXVII, XXXVIII, and XXXIX the series has grown to over 800 new Holmes adventures by over 200 contributors from around the world. All contributor royalties from every collection go to the Undershaw school for special needs children, located at one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s former homes, and to date the project has raised over $110,000 for the school.
It is Memorial Day Weekend. More than ever remember and give thanks to all those who gave their lives for our freedom.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER!
Do you remember the glory days of Saturday morning cartoons?
I sure do!
Which is why I am amped to be a part of the creepy but loving new anthology from Castle Bridge Media, Castle Of Horror: Thinly Veiled Saturday Mournings, that pays tribute to those great animated television programs with my Jonny Quest homage “QED: The Cosmic Spectre.”
Visitors to my website may remember that my series Max Q is partially inspired by Jonny Quest. (And since we’re on the topic I should mention that my Max Q screenplay as well as my Nightlinger screenplay are still represented by Caliber Entertainment but have also just been posted on the Script Revolution and The Black List websites.) But instead of racin’ and reverbs in the near future, QED is set in the early sixties and follows the adventures of Dr. Peregrine White (FRS, MD, DSc, etc.) and her family:
- T. Paine White: Peregrine’s husband and retired sergeant in the Special Investigation Branch of the Royal Military Police.
- Quetelet Edison Dalton White (Q.E.D): Peregrine and Paine’s eleven-year-old son, born with his mother’s insatiable curiosity and his father’s love for adventure.
- Xami Zoey Tauri (X.Z.): Peregrine’s eleven-year-old niece and goddaughter, as brilliant as her aunt but usually more levelheaded than her cousin.
- Dr. Duck Hawk Linn: Peregrine’s father, Sorbonne graduate and Georgia native with a voracious appetite for knowledge, discovery and American Southern cuisine.
The Whites live and work at Linndorsa, their home of the future on isolated Lost Key, Bermuda, a former pirate haven. As one of her generation’s best minds Peregrine is often consulted by USINT, a covert agency whose Scientific, Prototypical, and Unique Research (SPUR) Branch is dedicated to expanding the limits of technology and science. In “The Cosmic Spectre” Peregrine and family help USINT and the US Air Force investigate a rash of unnatural deaths that begin when a prototype stealth plane, Model 853-21 Quiet Bird, crashes in the Nebraska sandhills after crossing through the bizarre plasma tail of a meteor. The pilot’s body is found in the plane’s cockpit having rapidly aged and soon more such bodies are found in an expanding vicinity. It doesn’t take long for Peregrine to realize what appeared to be a meteor is actually a space coffin and for the Whites to figure out they are battling an alien ghost.
This is my second appearance in the Castle of Horror anthology series. The first was in last year’s Love Gone Wrong and if you checked out that collection then you have a really good idea of the kind of great stories you will find in Thinly Veiled Saturday Mournings!
Oh! One more thing for the sake of full disclosure. If you remember Saturday morning cartoons then you may also remember eighties television genre programs. If you do then you might recall a short-lived 1982 show that — if you looked at it sideways — sort of crossed steampunk with Doctor Who called Q.E.D. It starred Sam Waterston and was created by John Hawkesworth, whose other credits include developing the classic Granada Television Sherlock Holmes series with Jeremy Brett two years later. And if you do remember Q.E.D. then you might be wondering, “Did Steve borrow that show’s title? Could QED not only be an homage to Jonny Quest but a nod to a nearly-forgotten television program he enjoyed long ago?” To which I would reply, “What do you think?”
So I recently stumbled across a neat blog by author and screenwriter Paul Finch called The 20 Scariest Moments in British TV Horror History.
I don’t normally read “Top 10” or “Favorites” lists since most are just click bait, but British genre programs like The Prisoner and Jack the Ripper on Iowa’s PBS station were big with me when I was growing up so I checked it out. As I read I got to reminiscing, and as I reminisced I got to jotting down my own admittedly subjective list of my scariest and favorite moments from American horror TV and films from when I was a kid in the sixties and seventies. But what good is a list if you can’t share it with anyone? Right?
So ready or not here ’tis:
* #1 Scariest Moment: “The Cemetery” (Night Gallery 1969)
* #2 Scariest Moment: “Amelia” (Trilogy of Terror, 1975)
* Honorable Mentions
* #1 Favorite Moment: Willie Frees Barnabas (Dark Shadows 1967)
* #2 Favorite Moment: “Michael!” (Count Yorga, Vampire 1970)
* Honorable Mentions
Before we begin how about some accompanying mood music? Or should I say “moog” music. (Quote The Crypt Keeper, “Tee-hee-hee.”) This synthesizer version of Windmills of Your Mind by The Electronic Concept Orchestra was used by The Acri Creature Feature as its theme song. The Universal Classic Monsters and the early Hammer Horror films were major influences on me as a young writer and the ACF was where I and other horror fans in my neck of the woods could watch them in days of yore before DVRs or even VCRs.
#1 Scariest Moment: “The Cemetery” (Night Gallery, 1969)
Five years after Rod Serling‘s classic Twilight Zone (1959-1964) ended that tanned man with the distinctive monotone and obsequious squint and cigarette was back hosting a new anthology series. But where TZ had ostensibly been a science fiction program that occasionally delved into horror (“Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” anyone?), Night Gallery was a quick walk through a graveyard.
Serling did not have the creative control that he had on TZ, but NG was still three cuts above other horror anthology series on TV at this time. It not only presented the melancholy They’re Tearing Down Tim Riley’s Bar, which won the Emmy for Outstanding Single Program in 1971, but frequently featured above average adaptations of tales by notable genre authors like H. P. Lovecraft (Cool Air, Pickman’s Model) and Algernon Blackwood (The Doll). It also presented some genuinely chilling moments that have remained with original viewers all these decades like Elsa Lancaster’s resurrection in “Green Fingers” (“Everything I plant grows. Even me.”) or the denouements of “The Caterpillar” (“And females lay eggs.”) and “A Question of Fear” (“There is nothing in the cellar.”)
But the scariest damn thing I watched as a kid was “The Cemetery,” the first of three stories in the 1969 Night Gallery pilot movie. That pilot is primarily remembered now for its second episode Eyes because it was directed by Stephen Spielberg two years before he made a name for himself with the TV movie Duel. All three stories in the NG pilot and many in the subsequent series are morality stories with O. Henry endings, but the pilot’s only out-and-out supernatural story is “The Cemetery.”
The story is EC Comics simple. Jeremy Evans (Roddy McDowell) murders his frail rich uncle William Hendricks (George Macready). Everyone knows Jeremy did it but nobody can prove it. So Jeremy inherits his uncle’s isolated antebellum mansion and the entire Hendricks fortune except for an $80 a month stipend for the family retainer Osmund Portifoy (Ozzie Davis). Hendricks spent his golden years painting and some of his works hang along the mansion’s stairway including his last: a Southern Gothic idyll of the mansion’s facade and the Hendricks family graveyard as viewed through his bedroom window. (This and all other paintings in the NG pilot were created by Jarsolav Gebr, head of the Scenic Arts Department at Universal Studios.)
Hendricks has barely been pronounced dead before Jeremy notices an alteration in the idyll: there is a fresh grave pit in the cemetery. Jeremy points it out to Portifoy but the butler claims to see nothing wrong, so Jeremy ignores it… until one dark and stormy night when an oblong box appears propped up in the pit. Jeremy rushes outside but his Uncle William’s grave is undisturbed. Going back inside he burns the painting in the fireplace, but as Jeremy goes upstairs the painting is back on the wall. And the oblong box is open and William Hendricks lies within it.
As you might guess there are further alterations to the painting over time. When Portifoy insists he cannot see the changing images of William Hendricks escaping the grave and shuffling ever closer to the mansion Jeremy fires the butler in a fit of pique.
It is a horror movie.
Jeremy is now alone and that night he hears someone trying to open the locked front door followed by a resounding pounding. In the idyll William Hendricks reaches the mansion and in a paroxysm of terror Jeremy trips and tumbles down the stairs. The front door opens… and Portifoy enters. He examines Jeremy and finds the black sheep nephew’s neck is broken. It turns out that Portifoy had hired an artist to forge fifteen paintings so he could switch them in hopes of driving Jeremy mad. (How’s that for Southern Gothic?) But Portifoy is not exactly upset Jeremy died since it makes it simpler for the family retainer to inherit the Hendricks fortune as per William Hendricks’ will.
So Hendricks has been avenged, but this roller coaster ain’t over.
There is a fresh grave pit.
Then in rapid succession an oblong box appears propped up in the pit, its lid opens to reveal Jeremy, and Jeremy heads for the mansion. Portifoy collapses, screaming for Jeremy to get “Back in the ground where you belong!” The front door opens and as Portifoy shrieks again and again the camera pans through the threshold into blackness.
Fifty years later “The Cemetery” still gets under my skin whenever I watch it, but what makes it my scariest moment is the genius of its climax.
First, unlike the forgeries with William Hendricks, the genuine images of Jeremy’s vengeful spirit glare out of the painting at Portifoy. Second the climax defies THE BIG BUG BEHIND THE DOOR problem that has plagued horror writers since the folktale of Bluebeard. Horror grandmaster Stephen King describes this problem in his non-fiction horror retrospect Danse Macabre (1981):
Nothing is so frightening as what’s behind the closed door. The audience holds its breath along with the protagonist as he/she (more often she) approaches that door. The protagonist throws it open, and there is a ten-foot-tall bug. The audience screams, but this particular scream has an oddly relieved sound to it. ‘A bug ten feet tall is pretty horrible,’ the audience thinks, ‘but I can deal with a ten-foot bug. I was afraid it might be a hundred feet tall.’
Our imagination can generally conjure worse horrors than anything described to us or seen by us. To get around this dilemma some writers take advantage of the reader’s imagination by not showing the bug behind the door in their stories. Famous examples of this are W.W. Jacobs‘ “The Monkey’s Paw,” Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness (1931) and the movie The Blair Witch Project (1999). Some writers, however, will crack the door open a smidgen to keep the bug at a distance so we only get an obscured peak at it. Effective examples of this approach are M. R. James‘ “Oh, Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad” (1904) and most of the movies Jaws (1975) and Alien (1979). But every once in a while a writer will go for broke, throw open the door and manage to exceed our imaginations as in Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu” and the 1982 movie The Thing.
In “The Cemetery” we never see the bug… except we do. We definitely see Jeremy glaring at Portifoy… but always at a distance through the static medium of a painting. Unlike the onryo of Sadako Yamamura in the movie Ring (1998), Jeremy’s vengeful spirit never makes an appearance in reality or even in a realistic dynamic visual medium like video tape. Then when the front door opens at the end of “The Cemetery” we see only darkness… but we know Jeremy is there because of Portifoy’s shrieks. For we the viewers the bug remains behind a closed door that nevertheless has been simultaneously opened a crack and thrown wide open.
An unprecedented triple play!
A (PROBABLY) UNNECESSARY SIDEBAR: Now I am sure there are members of the Buzzkill School of Literary and Motion Picture Criticism who would suggest what Portifoy is seeing is nothing but a product of a guilty conscience. Such explanations are often prescribed to even non-supernatural horror stories like Edgar Allan Poe‘s The Tell-Tale Heart. If that works for you, fine, but as for me I did not make this list to bury Caesar, I made it to praise his ghost.
#2 Scariest Moment: “Amelia” (Trilogy of Terror, 1975)
My admiration for “The Cemetery” made me a little long-winded, so I will keep this one brief.
Trilogy of Terror is an ABC TV Movie of the Week produced by Dan Curtis (Dark Shadows, The Winds of War) and Robert Singer (Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, Supernatural) and directed by Curtis. TOT presents three stories adapted by their author Richard Matheson, who wrote sixteen Twilight Zone episodes (including Nightmare at 20,000 Feet) and several influential horror and fantasy novels and short stories (The Shrinking Man, I Am Legend, “Born of Man and Woman“) and genre screenplays (Duel, The Night Stalker, House of Usher).
“Amelia” is famous for its fetish doll — which contains the spirit of a Zuni hunter named “He Who Kills” — that stalks a young woman named Amelia (Karen Black) in her high-rise apartment. Everything about this episode is tour de force as Amelia battles the nigh indestructible doll until finally getting the upper hand long enough to hurl it into the kitchen oven. There the doll struggles and howls as it burns. When its wailing stops Amelia opens the oven to make sure the doll has been destroyed only to be overpowered by a rush of black smoke. Something in it (the Zuni’s spirit) makes her scream and Amelia collapses. Moments later she telephones her mother — an overbearing woman bent on dominating Amelia’s life — to invite the woman to her apartment. Amelia then rips the lock off the front door, grabs a large knife, crouches to wait, and begins stabbing the floor in front of her again and again. Gradually she smiles, revealing a set of nice, big pointy teeth like the doll’s.
That final shot really really really creeped me out. And no gushing explanations here. It just did and I’ll leave it at that.
- The before-mentioned “The Doll” from Night Gallery: Fans of the Twilight Zone remember Talky Tina but this doll gave thousands of kids like me nightmares, including Guillermo Del Toro, who wet his pants the first time he watched it.
- “Poetic Justice,” Tales From the Crypt (1972): I love Peter Cushing and I love Amicus portmanteau movies. My short story “Expiration Date” is a tribute to both. Cushing’s performance here is heartbreaking, but the first time I saw his shambling and decomposing Arthur Edward Grymsdyke reach for the snobbish and detestable James Elliot (Robin Phillips) is the only time I have ever screamed in a movie theater. And I even knew it was coming! The scene appeared in the television commercials!
- Danny Glick bites Mike Rayerson: Salem’s Lot (1979). One of the few seventies mini-series that gets better with time. Directed by Tobe Hooper (Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Poltergeist) and based on Stephen King’s bestselling novel, Salem’s Lot was broadcast over two nights and part one ends with young vampire Danny (Brad Savage) sitting up in his coffin and biting the gravedigger Ryerson (Geoffrey Lewis) in a shock shot that stuck with me for a long time. That said, I would be remiss not to mention an earlier scene where Danny’s dead little brother Richie, now a vampire, floats outside Danny’s bedroom window scratching at the glass to be let in. This became one of the most memorable moments in the mini-series for most viewers and I will admit that it’s darn eerie, just not as unnerving to me as Danny biting Ryerson.
- “Bobby” (Dead of Night, 1977): Another trilogy directed by Curtis and written by Matheson. “Bobby” is based on one of Matheson’s own stories and is the best-remembered episode of the three. It is similar to “Amelia” except here the pushy mother, Helen (Joan Hackett), is the protagonist. Helen cannot accept that her young son Bobby is dead after he drowns in the family swimming pool so she uses black magic to resurrect him. Bobby returns, but there is something off about him, and eventually he begins hunting Helen around the house. Except this isn’t Bobby. Helen’s son hated her so much that he drowned himself in the pool to escape her and when Helen tried to resurrect him Bobby did not want to come back. “So,” the Bobby imposter says, “he sent me instead.” And who Bobby sent isn’t very nice. (And I am sure any resemblance between this little demon and and the white faced demon from The Exorcist  is completely coincidental.)
- Dracula Has Rise From the Grave (1968): This is the first film that my parents let me go to a movie theater to see without their supervision. In all honesty DHRFTG is not one of Hammer’s better Dracula films, but when I was eight years old I hid my face in my seat every time the Count showed up. At the time I found the movie scary as all get out… except for the ending. Bloody as it was, I thought it was kind of neat.
#1 Personal Favorite: Willie Frees Barnabas (Dark Shadows 1967)
This weird soap opera was can’t miss TV for the playground set in the sixties. Parents could set their watch by their kids sprinting home after school to catch the latest episode.
Set in the tiny village of Collinsport, Maine, Dark Shadows (1966-1971) began life as the kind of Gothic Romance that was then popular in paperbacks with covers that often showed a woman in a nightgown running from a spooky mansion. After a year of so-so ratings DS veered into Creature Feature territory starting with this scene in which indolent and greedy handyman Willie Loomis (John Karlen) opens a sepulcher expecting to find a legendary treasure horde but instead releases soon-to-be-superstar vampire Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid) from 150 years of imprisonment. (If you check out the accompanying clip it is fun watching Willie’s eyes change from wide-eyed avarice to soul-draining terror after he opens the lid.)
This is not only my favorite horror moment from the sixties and seventies but also one of my earliest horror-watching memories. Even better it represents a pivotal moment for the horror genre, which was in the process of transitioning from the traditionally Gothic to something more modern and urban. This transition was playing out in stories by authors like Matheson and Ray Bradbury, in films like Psycho (1960) and Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and in TV programs like The Twilight Zone (1959-1964) and The Outer Limits (1963–1965). From where I stand only the untimely demise of Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) in Psycho did more to further the evolution of Gothic horror than this scene, which takes place in a secret chamber of a crumbling crypt in a creepy cemetery but the year is 1967. Soon after Barnabas is introduced as he makes a call at his ancestral home, Collinswood, but instead of wearing stereotypical evening clothes and high-collared cape he (inexplicably) dresses Savile Row dapper. (You can also see this in the accompanying clip.) In a seamless turn of hand the Gothic and the 20th Century united and proved they could comfortably, entertainingly and profitably co-exist.
Three years later Curtis remade both these scenes when he retold the tale of Barnabas Collins in the film House of Dark Shadows (1970). Curtis originally intended Barnabas to be a monster that was killed off after a few weeks, but Frid played the vampire as a sympathetic villain and not only became the soap opera’s most popular character but sparked a huge spike in ratings. House of Dark Shadows gives us Curtis’ abominable vampire in color plus more blood, violence and a better budget than Dark Shadows. The movie was successful enough that its studio, MGM, requested a sequel but Frid refused to participate, fearing he would end up being typecast. In all honesty it was already too late to shut that barn door, but Frid was adamant and Curtis knew recasting Barnabas would prove disastrous so he didn’t try. It is too bad, really, because having the same-yet-different character appearing simultaneously on TV and film would have been unprecedented and could have been fascinating.
#2 Personal Favorite: “Michael!” (Count Yorga, Vampire 1970)
The little horror film that could!
This is a nasty movie that started out as a soft-core porno flix called The Loves of Count Iorga, but when actor Robert Quarry (A Kiss Before Dying, WUSA) was offered the script he suggested the film would find a wider market if it was made as a straight horror picture.
Apparently he was correct since Count Yorga, Vampire was popular enough to spawn a sequel, The Return of Count Yorga (1971), which was popular enough to inspire talks of a third Yorga film that unfortunately never materialized.
Count Yorga, Vampire was released the same year as House of Dark Shadows but ups the gore and violence. Yorga likewise modernizes some popular vampire tropes dating back to the novel Dracula, but unlike House of Dark Shadows or Dark Shadows it often takes an unblinking “What if this was real?” approach. (If you love cats there is one such scene where a kitten is treated like a milk carton that you probably will want to skip.) Two years later the rating-shattering The Night Stalker — another ABC TV Movie of the Week produced by Curtis with a screenplay by Matheson based on Jeff Rice’s unpublished 1970 novel The Kolchak Papers — took this realistic approach even further to become a modern horror classic, and in many ways Yorga not only heralds The Night Stalker but could fill in as the backstory for its vampire Janos Skorzeny and how he might have come to Las Vegas. Heck, House of Dark Shadows, Count Yorga, Vampire and The Night Stalker are practically a trilogy tracing the evolution of Gothic-to-modern vampirism.
Yorga drops its centuries-old vampire into bustling contemporary Los Angeles, where he acclimates to modern life as adroitly as Barnabas Collins by passing himself off as a Bulgarian mystic. Unlike Barnabas, however, Yorga is never sympathetic and always supercilious. After so many centuries he knows he is the smartest and most interesting man in any room, and, like Count Dracula, takes no prisoners in his search of fresh blood and new conquests.
My number two personal favorite moment is generally cited as the film’s best scene. The story’s Van Helsing character is Dr. Jim Hayes (Roger Perry), who doubts Yorga is a vampire until it is a trifle too late. When Yorga lures a young woman named Donna (Donna Anders) into his gated manor in the Southern California hills Hayes and Donna’s boyfriend Michael Thompson (Michael Macready) follow to rescue her.
Things do not end well for our heroes.
Michael and Hayes split up to find Donna as quickly as possible. (It is a horror movie). Yorga knows the two men have invaded his home, of course, and Hayes ends up in the cellar which has been converted into a throne room where Yorga’s female vampires sleep on slabs during the day. From this point you really have to watch the scene to appreciate it as the desperate and over-matched Hayes keeps Yorga at bay with a cross while calling for Michael to come help. All the while Yorga plays cat and mouse with Hayes, baring his fangs, chuckling and taunting him by shouting, “Michael!”
It is so good!
To see the scene click on the review below from the Graveyard Show Podcast and start at the 16:30 mark.
A (PROBABLY) UNNECESSARY SIDEBAR: The distributor of the two Yorga films, American International Pictures, enjoyed great success in the early sixties with a series of adaptations of Poe stories directed by Roger Corman, starring Vincent Price and with screenplays often written by Matheson. Price later appeared as the disfigured genius Dr. Anton Phibes in AIP’s quirky but profitable The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971) and its equally popular sequel Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1972). Between the Poe, Yorga and Phibes films it almost seemed like AIP was trying to follow in the footsteps of Universal Studios and Hammer Films. There were even rumors of a movie pitting Count Yorga against Dr. Phibes but it all turned out to be wishful thinking. AIP never produced this match up or any further Yorga or Phibes films and once more all we can do is wonder what might have been.
The Conclusion of The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958): Talk about what might have been! Revenge of Frankenstein is the second and I think best installment in Hammer’s Frankenstein series and concludes with the most frustratingly intriguing ending of any of the studio’s great Gothic pictures. Dr. Victor Frankenstein (Cushing), believed executed by guillotine, is alive and hiding in plain sight in the fictional Tyrolean village of Carlsbruck as Dr. Stein, physician to the wealthy and owner of a pauper’s hospital. When the hospital’s patients discover he is Frankenstein they pummel him. And I mean PUMMEL him! Not just with their fists but with anything they can grab. What they leave of Frankenstein lies at death’s door but his apprentice Dr. Hans Kleeve (Francis Matthews) transplants his mentor’s brain into a waiting patchwork body shown earlier in the movie. While Frankenstein’s dead body is buried in unhallowed ground in Carlsbruck, Frankenstein in his new body flees to England with Hans. There he sets up a Harley Street practice where Frankenstein is again catering to the wealthy, this time under the name Dr. Frank. I absolutely love this ending — even the unimaginative alias — and still wonder at its promise of another sequel where Frankenstein will go about his business in the foggy streets and alleys of London. But Hammer went a totally different direction in Evil of Frankenstein (1964), which has next to nothing to do with its predecessors, leaving all these possibilities unfulfilled. (For what it is worth I was eventually inspired to take this concept and spin it off into my sequel to Lovecraft’s Herbert West stories: “The Empty House on Harley Street.”)
- “I’m Not You Know.” (Curse of the Demon 1957): I watch this movie at least once a year. It is so good and solid. And my favorite moment is when the blandly sinister warlock Dr. Julian Karsell (perfectly played by an understated Niall MacGinnis) is chatting with skeptic and psychologist Dr. John Holden (Dana Andrews), a man Karwsell claims to have cursed to be killed by a demon, a threat that Holden refuses to believe. During an annual children’s Hallowe’en party at Karswell’s estate Holden spots some children playing snakes and ladders and Karswell confesses that when he was their age he preferred sliding down the snakes to climbing up the ladders. Karswell asks Holden what he thinks that might mean and Holden answers, “Maybe you’re a good loser.” To which Karswell matter-of-factly confesses, “I’m not, you know. Not a bit of it.” A-W-E-S-O-M-E!
- Jack Palance in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (1968) and Dracula (1974): Maybe AIP didn’t want to follow in Universal and Hammer’s footsteps but Dan Curtis did. Or at least it seemed that way for a few years as Curtis not only produced The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, Frankenstein (1973) and The Portrait of Dorian Gray (1973), but directed Dracula (from a script by Matheson) and The Turn of the Screw (1974). What sets Curtis’ Jekyll & Hyde and Dracula above his other Gothic adaptations is Palance, who proved as adept at portraying Gothic villains as he did the Western and film noir varieties. Palance is vigorous, intelligent and brutal in both these films. His Hyde is unapologetically evil and hedonistic while his Dracula knows how to feign being a cultured gentleman but at heart is a merciless warrior. Palance’s brilliance is most evident during the climax of Dracula where he is kept at arm’s length from vampire hunters Abraham Van Helsing (Nigel Davenport) and Arthur Holmwood (Simon Ward) holding crosses. This standoff appears in most vampire films, but here Palance paces back and forth like an angry bear straining on a leash, searching for cracks in his adversaries’ defenses that will allow him to reach them and rip them to pieces. His is truly a frightening and memorable Dracula.
And there you go.
But one last memory before we go our separate ways.
I am sure you noticed some commonalities in my list. Among the most obvious are Curtis, Matheson, vampires and thingies with skull-like faces and pointy teeth, but a less obvious commonality that touches upon all these memories is my parents. Most prominently my father.
I know you have heard this song before but my Mom and Dad grew up poor and worked hard to give my brothers and me a better life than they had as kids. And they succeeded. But they also had a hard time figuring out their youngest son and not just because they were products of the Great Depression and I am a product of the Space Age. Unlike everyone in our immediate and extended family I was a writer who loved horror, mystery, adventure and the fantastic. Dad and I especially had a hard time connecting because many of the things that interested him like restoring antique cars, playing pool and listening to country music did not appeal to me, or so I thought at the time. We both liked professional football so sometimes we would watch a game together but not often since he was a Minnesota Vikings fan and I love the Denver Broncos. Dad did like to watch movies though not as much as me and his tastes ran towards old Roy Rogers and Gene Autry westerns, but every once in a while he took me to a movie like House of Dark Shadows because I wanted to see it so much. I am also a lifelong Sherlock Holmes fan so when The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970) came out Dad and Mom both took me to a packed downtown theater to watch it. And when Theater of Blood (1973) with Price came out Dad agreed to take me because it was rated R and I was still too young to go to it on my own. As I grew older our roles reversed and I started going to movies with Dad because he wanted to see them but Mom did not. Films like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) and Rocky (1976), which Dad told me he wanted to see because he had boxed a little at the Salvation Army as a kid. The last film I remember us seeing together was Star Wars (1977). It had been out for several months and he decided to see it because it was so popular. (FYI – Dad didn’t care for it.)
So while I was reminiscing about these scary and favorite moments I also remembered my father and the part he played in my fascination with them. For that I would like to say, “Thanks, Dad. I never said it at the time but what you did meant a lot to me then and still does today.”
Okay, yes, I am tardy with my 2022 writing review and previewing what I can about what’s coming in 2023. I was hoping to share more news about some of my 2023 projects than I am able to right now, but instead of postponing further I am going to go ahead with what I can.
The biggest event in 2022 was my Kymani Jones story “A Forty Grain Weight of Nephrite” appearing in the anthology SECRETS IN SCARLET from Aconyte Books. The character and situations are based on Fantasy Flight Games’ new addition to their ARKHAM HORROR role-playing game, and it was very gratifying to see how well “Forty Grain” and Kymani were received by many fans of the game and of Lovecraftian horror in general.
Another cool thing about “A Forty Grain Weight of Nephrite” is that it is my second story to be available on Audible, in this case as part of the SECRETS IN SCARLET audio book. Narrator Jennifer Jill Araya did a terrific job reading the story and I really can’t recommend it and the entire anthology enough!
Caliber Comics also completed their reissuing of my H. P. LOVECRAFT’S WORLDS individual adaptations and graphic novels. It took some time but now all the interior artwork has been cleaned up, all the editorial material has been re-edited and updated with new information, and the “Dagon” adaptation even includes an incredible new cover by artist Sergio Cariello.
My short story homage to Amicus portmanteau horror films “Expiration Date” was anthologized for the second time! First in 2019 in THE MONSTERS WE FORGOT, VOL. 1 from Soteira Press and now in Castlebridge Media’s CASTLE OF HORROR, VOL. 7: LOVE GONE WRONG. I was unable to place this story anywhere for several years so it is very heartening to now have it accepted by two such distinguished publishers.
Last but not least I attended my first comics show as a creator since the pandemic . The inaugural COMICS CURING CANCER show in November was also my first comics show in Utah and I am looking for to attending again later this year.
Which brings us to 2023.
There is no date set yet for the next C3 comics show but I will be attending OGDEN CON – VOL. 1 on April 15.
Unfortunately I won’t be able to attend MICROCON III in Minneapolis on April 8th, which will represent the end of the road for the truly incredible MSP ComicCon. For 34 years now the MSP ComicCon has been a shining example of how excellent and fun a fan-run comic book show can be and I eagerly awaited attending each May. MSP was a place where you could go to remember and enjoy the simple and innocent wonders of comic books, but unfortunately, like Rocky Balboa said, “You know, the older I get, the more things I gotta leave behind. That’s life.” I just wish this part of my life could have gone on a little bit longer. To everyone who was a part of MSP thank you for what you did and for letting me be a very small but appreciative part of it.
No surprise here, I’m sure, but my relationship with Sherlock Holmes and H. P. Lovecraft continues starting with “The Adventure of the Absent Crossing Sweeper.” This Holmes pastiche will appear in the latest installment of THE MX BOOK OF NEW SHERLOCK HOLMES STORIES edited by Sherlockian extraordinaire David Marcum. I will share more about this story after the publication date is announced, but I am proud to say “Crossing Sweeper” marks my fifth appearance in this marvelous anthology series.
Next up is “The Adventure of the Immutable Scourge” in the latest Belanger Books anthology SHERLOCK HOLMES: ADVENTURES IN THE REALMS OF H. P. LOVECRAFT. Again I will share more after the publication date is announced, but if you’ve ever wondered what would happen if Holmes and Watson tried to solve the strange deaths from Lovecraft’s story “The Alchemist” this pastiche is for you! (And if you’re unfamiliar with this story you can check out Blue Oyster Cult’s musical version of it here:)
As for what could be coming in 2023:
As of this writing I just finished a submission for Castlebridge’s next CASTLE OF HORROR anthology and I am waiting to hear back. I wish I could say more than this because this should be a really cool and super fun and very different horror anthology, but if and when I can reveal more I will do so.
Last year I mentioned a story I wrote for a new anthology featuring an overlooked pulp hero created by one of the medium’s most popular authors. Hopefully this anthology will be announced this year but until then all I can say about it is that it will absolutely be worth the wait!
Work continues on “Call of Cthulhu,” the second Lovecraft adaptation by me and artist Trey Baldwin. When it comes to Lovecraft’s stories it doesn’t get any bigger than this tale and Trey and I are doing everything we can to make sure this is one knock-out comic. Like all my Lovecraft adaptations “Call of Cthulhu” will be published by Caliber Comics.
I may or may not write some more short stories this year, but right now my plan is to concentrate on two new novels that I very much want to submit before year’s end. That should keep me busy for the duration, but it’s hard to predict what opportunities life will throw my way… so who knows?
That’s all for now!
Hey, all, the gang at Bleakhaven Comics was kind enough (or foolish enough) to invite me to join their most recent podcast:
I had a great time talking about writing comics, novels, short stories and audio dramas and reliving experiences like…
- how my desire to write the Planet of the Apes comic led to me becoming known as “The Lovecraft Guy”
- or when special effects maestro Tom Sullivan read a bedtime story from the Book of the Dead from Evil Dead to me and Chris Jones
- or meeting Dave Olbrich at the Chicago Comicon in 1987 and getting my foot in the door at Malibu Graphics
Joining me on the podcast is The Birdman and Bleakhaven writers Stanley Bostwick and Alex McCaulley. And if you haven’t checked out the great stuff Bleakhaven has to offer then run, do not walk to their website to find out more about Welcome to Bleakhaven, their anti-bullying comic Stand for the Silent, and some awesome merch! Also be sure to check out their audio series The Tome of Daniel Blake.
Hey, all, it’s time for me to get back on the convention scene! And what better show to start at then Comics Curing Cancer (C3)? It’s this Saturday, November 12, from 10:00 to 6:00 at Davis Applied Technology College in Kaysville, UT!
This is not only my first con in over two years but will also be my first con in my new stomping grounds and I can’t wait to meet a new world of comics fans and readers. I will be selling copies of my H. P. Lovecraft Worlds comics adaptations like Shadow over Innsmouth and The Lurking Fear… my Sherlock Holmes comic book pastiches The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Holmes, The Adventure of the Opera Ghost and the new novel The Adventure of the Coal-Tar Derivative… and graphic novels Dracula, Nightlinger, and Tatters, along with books and texts like Comics Writing and Lovecraftian: The Shipwright Circle. I will also be bringing some comic books from back in the day that I haven’t offered at conventions for over a decade like Street Heroes 2005, Mighty 1, Invaders from Mars and Re-Animator!
If you’re in the area I hope you will drop by and say hello!