Showing posts with label Creepy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Creepy. Show all posts

Saturday, September 9, 2023

Thane #01 - City of Doom

Warren Publishing experienced success with one of their flagship comic magazines, Creepy. The black and white magazine escaped the Comic Code Authority because their rules and regulations didn't govern magazines. While the book would mostly consist of traditional horror storytelling to match its title, by the late 1960s the contents began to alter. This era of comic and paperback publishing found success by concentrating their efforts on sword-and-sorcery tales. This was a fertile landscape dominated by the reprinting of Robert E. Howard's Conan stories in the Lancer paperbacks and the birth of the character in comic format. Additionally, this was the prime-time for artists to show off spectacular genre paintings that sometimes even surpassed the quality of the sword-and-sorcery stories they celebrated. 

In the June, 1967 issue of Creepy (#15, cover by Frank Frazetta), longtime Warren writer Archie Goodwin introduced a new barbarian for readers to cheer, Thane. This character debuts in “City of Doom” with artwork by Steve Ditko (Spider-Man, Daredevil). Uncle Creepy sets the table on the first page: “They had left Thane staked out to die on the black sand of volcanic wasteland, bait for the beaks and talons of the great albino vultures which hunt there.”

This story doesn't prove to be much of an origin tale as very little information is provided on where Thane lives and what role he serves. From the text, and the tradition of the genre, it seems as though he is an adventurer and mercenary. As the strip unfolds, readers learn that Thane was hired by Ultor, leader of a band of raiders called Scythians, to help them fight a battle. After the campaign ends, Thane was promised his share of the plunder. But, the Scythians double-cross Thane and leave him to die. Thane escapes being bound to stakes in the desert and trails his betrayers through the wasteland.

Thane is surprised when a woman calling herself Livia, the High Priestess of the ancient city of Kadith, appears on his path. She requests Thane's help in defending her city from the Scythian raiders. With a chance at vengeance, Thane follows Livia into a large fortress with plenty of winding stairways and dark halls. Soon, Thane realizes he has been betrayed again when he discovers that Livia is actually an evil servant of the city itself. Inside the fortress, the walls and floor come alive as writhing tentacles suck the flesh from bone. Thane finds Ultor being eaten alive by the hideous creature, then must find a way to slash his way through the monster to escape this terrifying living city. 

This is obviously Conan worship, with Thane displaying brutal tendencies, a fiery temper, and the typical dialogue that accompanies the Cimmerian. Like Conan exclaiming “By Crom!”, Thane declares, “By Thoth!” He also expresses his anger by calling his enemy “Scythian Dogs”, recalling Howard's hero throwing down "Stygian Dogs". Ditko's artwork, which is really the highlight, comes alive as Thane enters the dark passageways. His artwork on the bottom of page eight captures the hero's shock when he finds hordes of savages awaiting him. The wide panel on page nine showcasing Thane's sword slicing through the enemy is remarkable and reminds me of something more modern that I've seen in Conan comics (perhaps Dark Horse). The upper panels on page ten capture that same emotional intensity as Ultor screams while being eaten alive. 

This story was a lot of fun and launches what should have been a longer Thane serial for Goodwin. The character appears again in “Angel of Doom” (#16, August 1967, artist Jeff Jones), “Barbarian of Fear” (#27, June 1969, artist Tom Sutton), and “The Last Sorcerer” (#112, October 1979, artist Alex Nino). Additionally, these stories were reprinted in additional issues of Creepy. Three of these stories were completely written by Goodwin, with “Barbarian of Fear” being partially authored by Bill Parente (Vampirella, Eerie). Unfortunately, only a total of four original stories were created starring this character. While cookie-cutter at best, this hero is still entertaining in his own right. Or, I'm just sucker for this era of sword-and-sorcery. 

Check out the Creepy trades collecting the issues HERE

Saturday, August 19, 2023

Please...Save the Children

William Dubay (1948-2010) was an editor, writer, and artist for Warren Publishing, excelling on books like Creepy, Vampirella, 1984, and Eerie. Later in his career, he wrote a story for Heavy Metal, became an editor of Archie Comics and edited titles for Western Publishing. Fitting for Warren Publishing, Dubay's writing had some seriously dark overtones, evident in the memorable, disturbing story “Please...Save the Children”, which was drawn by Martin Salvador and featured in the July 1977 issue of Creepy.

At the beginning of the story, readers see a condemned child-killer named Beau sitting in a prison cell awaiting execution on death row. A priest enters the cell to discuss the man's forgiveness, but instead he is treated to a bizarre conversation from this seemingly insane person. Beau explains that if the priest only knew what he knew, then the priest would become a baby killer too. Then, Beau begins to relay his personal history to the priest.

Beau explains that he was once a loving husband and father, but after spanking his three-year old daughter Cryssie, she wanders away from home and dies in a blizzard. At the funeral, Beau regrets his decision to punish his little girl and experiences traumatizing anguish knowing she died alone after thinking he didn't love her. This experience transforms Beau into a violent vigilante

Beau begins to watch parents in public dismissing their children, or simply neglecting or punishing them in cruel ways. In an effort to save the children from abuse, he goes completely Mack Bolan and murders these children with a gun. His reasoning for targeting the children he wants to protect? By killing the children, he ends their suffering. If he murdered the parents, which are his real victims, then the children would would continue to suffer due to the loss of their parents. It's a sick catch-22 where Beau deems himself a twisted psychotic savior. Ultimately, it is like an animal that eats its young to protect them from predators. 

These Creepy stories tend to have unique twists in the narrative and this story is no different. When Beau confesses to his brother that he has become this avenging angel, he finds himself captured by law-enforcement. But, the twist is learning who his brother really is. Salvador's accompanying artwork is simply outstanding, with the facial expressions of the characters resonating the tension, horror, and tragedy of the story. If you are looking for an intense narrative, look no further than this vintage short. You can obtain an old copy of Creepy for a few bucks on Ebay or comic shops, or read the story for free below:

Thursday, June 22, 2023

The Mark of Satan's Claw

Fred Ottenheimer was a writer and artist employed by various humor cartoons and strips in the mid-20th century. Along with working for Charlton Comics and Magazine Enterprises, Ottenheimer's most notable work was in the pages of Warren Publishing in the 1970s. Often listed as Fred Ott, he wrote for Vampirella, Creepy, and Eerie. My first experience with the writer is his story “The Mark of Satan's Claw”, which was the lead in Creepy's January 1972 issue. The story is beautifully illustrated by Spanish artist Jaime Brocal Remohi. 

In the story's opener, a journalist named Jonathan Howard has just arrived to the foggy village of Llangwell, Scotland. After meeting with a local innkeeper, Howard accepts a room while explaining to readers the reason for his arrival in this sleepy town. Howard is a true-crime writer and wants to delve into the recent string of child murders in Llangwell. The innkeeper warns Howard to stray from the town's business and attempts to convince him that there are no murders.

Howard meets with Llangwell's Chief Constable and learns more about the murdered children. The lawman explains that the murders have been taking place for years under the direction of a local cult of Satan worshipers. He then shows Howard the cult's symbol, which has been burned into his own chest. He explains he escaped the cult and volunteers to take Howard out to the moors to show him where the dead children turn up.

In a memorable panel, the police find a dead boy on the swampy rocks. Howard becomes shocked by the reality of dead children. But, a whisper from the darkness invites Howard back to a rural cottage where a man explains more about the history of the Satanic cult and provides instructions on a secret book that may hold more answers.

The combination of Remohi's gloomy pencils and Ott's dour narrative was enthralling. This is a rare monster story that blends a child serial-killer element with a fantasy outline. I was surprised with the story's twist and found the ending suitable, but not altogether satisfying. “The Mark of Satan's Claw” was just scary enough to be recommended, but the time-frame and artistic style – both in the writing and presentation – is truly the main star. I enjoyed it, and you can read it for free below:

Friday, March 27, 2020

The Life, Literature, and Death of Ron Haydock: A Paperback Warrior Unmasking

I recently bought a large lot of vintage paperbacks on eBay. The bundle of books was priced right, and my lowball offer was honored by the seller - much to my joy and amazement. Among the stacks of Fawcett Gold Medals and Ace Doubles was an oddity I’d never seen before: a pseudo-sleaze paperback with a plot synopsis hinting at it being a sexy caper novel titled Scarlet Virgin by someone named Don Sheppard. While the packaging of this tawdry-looking paperback does nothing to inspire confidence in its quality, the story behind the author is noteworthy and worth exploring.

The first thing to understand is that the paperback is an April 1962 printing by low-end publisher, Pike Books of Van Nuys, California, distributed by an outfit called Paragon News. The photo of the cover model was taken by Bob Pike, who I presume was the owner of this less-than-prestigious publishing house, and I bet that snapping pictures for sexy paperbacks was his favorite perk of the job.

However, the real interest here is the author. As you may have gathered, the writer here is not, in fact, someone named Don Sheppard. A bit of internet digging answered the first question of this sleazy authorship mystery: Who the hell was Don Sheppard?

According to U.S. Copyright records, the real author was Chicago native Ron Haydock, and if you’re not familiar with that name, please allow me to get you up to speed. First, go ahead and listen to the song “99 Chicks” by Ron Haydock and The Boppers. It’s available on Spotify.           

That’s a pretty awesome song, right? The rockabilly single was released as a 45 RPM in August 1959 by Cha-Cha Records. It wasn’t much of a hit, but the disc remains a rarity sought-after by collectors. The group performed the song on an episode of “Chicago Bandstand” before Haydock left his Windy City hometown to chase fame in Hollywood.

A lifelong fan of horror movies, Haydock began editing a column in a film-buff magazine called Famous Monsters of Filmland published by Forrest J. Ackerman before launching his own knock-off publication that ran from 1961 to 1964 called Famous Monsters of the Films. He also co-hosted a weekly Los Angeles talk radio show geeking out over horror films. 

His knack for writing prose opened the door to a career as an author. He wrote two sleaze novels for Bob Pike published in March and April of 1962: The Flesh Peddlers and the aforementioned Scarlet Virgin - both released under the pen-name Don Sheppard. If he received the going rate at the time, it’s likely that Pike paid Haydock about $500 per manuscript. Maybe less. Over the subsequent six years, Haydock continued his career as a novelist by co-authoring 11 straight-up porno books under the name Vin Saxon, a pseudonym he shared with Jim Harmon. His body of work from this era includes Caged Lust, a 1967 effort in which, if the cover is any indication, a zoo gorilla has carnal relations with at least two lusty babes. The novel was also released under the name Ape Rape.

Haydock also acted in a handful of schlock cinema B-movies in the 1960s, including Rat Pfink a Boo Boo from 1966 with a soundtrack featuring several of Haydock’s songs. He co-authored the screenplay and acted in two roles in the film, including one credited to “Vin Saxon,” the pseudonym he used to publish the
gorilla porn novel.

As his dreams of Hollywood success faded, Haydock returned to Chicago in 1967 to work on his music career. He also wrote some stories for Creepy magazine and drafted the copy for the backs of a 55-unit trading card series issued by Topps in 1968 called Land of the Giants, cards that fetch a pretty penny on the collector’s market today.

Haydock briefly returned to acting in the 1971 horror film, Blood Shack directed by his long-time friend and collaborator, Ray Dennis Steckler. He continued to be part of the world of horror film fandom by serving as associate editor and writer of a short-lived publication called Monsters of the Movies that came and went in 1974.

“I'm out for kicks in life, doing whatever I want whenever I want, on the move like there's no tomorrow, I'm living like there's only today,” Haydock said. “Yeah, that was the right word for what I wanted out of life - kicks. And I never had to look very far or very hard to find them. Somehow, they always managed to find me.”

The details aren’t entirely clear, but 1977 was a bad year for the author, actor, musician, and film fan. His mental health began to slip and on August 14, 1977, he was walking down an interstate highway exit ramp in San Bernardino County, California when he was struck and killed by an 18-wheeler truck. He had been visiting his filmmaker friend Steckler in Las Vegas and was in the process of hitchhiking his way to L.A. when the accident occurred. He died two days before Elvis Presley met his own too-soon demise. Haydock was 37. Presley was 42.

Haydock is buried in Resurrection Catholic Cemetery near Midway Airport on Chicago’s south side. In 1996, Norton Records compiled 28 of Haydock’s songs and demos - previously released and unreleased - into a career retrospective CD called “99 Chicks.” The 29-track compilation remains available today on every major music streaming service.

His literature, however, remains lost to the ages. That is until a deep-discount eBay paperback lot brought Scarlet Virgin by Don Sheppard into my library and life.

The 158-page, big-font paperback is narrated by Biff Elliott, a 34 year-old “knight of the world” who was a freelance soldier in the Cuban revolution and experienced “wild times in the Orient.” As the novel opens, Biff finds himself held at gunpoint by a sexy redhead who is convinced he’s someone else. One thing leads to another, and Biff is thrust into a fantastic adventure involving a primitive society worshiping a megalomaniac white man as their god, and a missing idol that could unravel the whole enterprise. As you can imagine, the short novel is full of kinky nymphs for Biff to boff along the way.

This Paperback Warrior Unmasking would be so much better if it turned out Scarlet Virgin was a lost classic that demanded wider readership. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Haydock’s writing is fairly amateurish and in desperate need of an editor. The narration is littered with sentence fragments and exclamation points as an indicator of something exciting happening. I think he was trying to emulate a Doc Savage styled adventure, but the whole thing felt very rushed and poorly outlined.

The best thing that can be said about Scarlet Virgin is that it could have been a good first draft of a novel in the hands of the right publisher, but Pike Books clearly didn’t care enough to spruce it up. Ron Haydock deserved better.

The biggest upside of this forgotten little book is that it prompted me to learn quite a bit about this ambitious young man who wanted to make it big in the arts before his life was cut short. Haydock said that all he wanted out of life were kicks, and I hope he found some along the way.