Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Wouldn't a swamp monster dry out in New Mexico?

[More Halloween reposts]

As mentioned before, the Heap was the first of the comic book swamp monsters. As Don Markstein puts it:
The Heap was comics' very first shambling muck monster, tho he was undoubtedly inspired by Theodore Sturgeon's 1940 short story, "It", the template for all shambling muck monsters to come. "It" told of a man who died in a swamp, fermented in a broth of rotting vegetation, and eventually rose again, half man, half fetid vegetable matter, to wreak vengeance upon his foes. Another prominent "It"-inspired comic book character of the 1940s was DC's Solomon Grundy, who bedeviled Green Lantern starting in 1944.

In The Heap's case, the man in the muck was Baron von Emmelmann, who had everything to live for — wealth, social position, loving wife, baby he hadn't yet seen, etc. — when, on October 12, 1918, his plane was shot down over Poland's Wausau Swamp. Lying lifeless as his body slowly merged with the morass, he had nothing left but his will to live, to rise, to return to the world of humans.
I have no idea how our shambling hero made it to the American Southwest, but if questions like that bother you then you shouldn't be reading comic book in the first place.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Calling all horror artists -- another October repost

"It... is... later... than... you... think..."

The last post got me thinking, I don't know if someone has already tried this but the Light's Out scripts of Wyllis Cooper and Arch Oboler would make great comic books.

Here's a list of notable episodes from Wikipedia:
  • "The Ugliest Man in the World", a sentimental tale of a hideously deformed man seeking love in a cruel world, inspired by gentle Boris Karloff's typecasting in horror roles, and enlivened by strikingly expressionistic dramatic effects.
  • "Profits Unlimited", a still-relevant allegory on the promises and dangers of capitalism.
  • "Bathysphere", a political thriller about a scientist and a dictator sharing a deep sea diving bell.
  • "Visitor from Hades", about a bickering married couple trapped in their apartment by a hellhound.
  • "Come to the Bank", in which a man learns to walk through walls, but gets stuck when he tries to rob a vault.
  • "Oxychloride X", about a chemist who invents a substance that can eat through anything.
  • "Murder Castle", based on the real-life case of H. H. Holmes, Chicago's notorious serial killer.
  • "Spider", in which two men attempt to capture a giant arachnid.
  • "The Flame", a weird exercise in supernatural pyromania.
  • "Sub-Basement", which finds yet another husband and wife in peril—this time trapped far beneath a department store in the subterranenan railway of the Chicago Tunnel Company.
Listen to them here -- really amazing stuff.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Batty -- another Golden Age Halloween Puzzle

From Classic Word Problems for the Classroom.

Revisiting the strange story of the Heap

Have you ever seen one of those caper films where theft from the rightful owner takes place near the beginning and the gang spends the rest of the movie stealing the loot from each other? In the comic book industry, that's known as Tuesday.

For a beautiful example of the tangled web, take a look at this story from the B&W comic Psycho (itself a rip-off of Warren's Eerie). This would appear to be a rip-off of Marvel's Man-Thing until you check out the dates. The Heap story came out slightly before the original appearance of the Man-Thing which came out slightly before the original appearance of the Swamp Thing.

Comic book publishers spent much of the early Seventies looking for the next big thing (remember, the Golden Age wave of superheroes had come and gone in less than a decade). A number of publishers (particularly Marvel) bet heavily on horror. Is it possible that all three just happened to come up with the idea of a swamp monster at the same time?

Not really.

Both Man-Thing and Swamp Thing were obvious imitations of a well known character from the Forties and Fifties who had spent more than a decade lumbering around the pages of the popular comic book, Airboy (Hillman comics), sometimes even having a cover to himself. That character was known as the Heap.

So, was this obscure magazine from the obscure publisher Skywald the only player here not involved in intellectual property theft?

Hell, no.

The 'wald' in 'Skywald' was Israel Waldman, a notorious figure in the industry who had built a career on publishing things he didn't hold the copyrights to (Don Markstein has a good account of Waldman's business model here). Where the creators of Swamp Thing and Man-Thing lifted the broad outlines of the character, Waldman almost certainly stole him outright (not unlike the way another publisher approached Ghost Rider).

But we can at least credit Hillman Comics for coming up with the original concept back in the Golden Age, right?

Again, no.

The people at Hillman clearly got the idea from the original muck monster story, Theodore Sturgeon's classic short story, "It." Sturgeon, of course, never saw a cent of the profits from the Heap, Solomon Grundy, Man-Thing, or the Swamp Thing.

None of which should keep you from enjoying the fine Andru/Esposito art below.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Kubert's "Map of Doom"

Nice little tale of Fifties fantasy horror from the great Joe Kubert.