Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Memoirs of a Bronze Age Baby: Ghost Manor #56

Some of you may wonder what's up with my love of Charlton books. I've never really been able to put my finger on it. As a child, I was a typical Marvel & DC superhero fan, but there always seemed to be a few odd Charlton books kicking around. One of the reasons has to do with distribution. Back when I was 8 years old, in the Summer of 1981, I could rely on any corner store having a few comic for sale. I hit my LCS almost every Saturday, but it was the slightly smaller cornerstore selection that kept me going during the week. I remember one in particular that I used to stop by while delaying my trip to my piano teacher's house.

There is a lake about 75 minutes northeast of Toronto. My paternal Grandparents had a small cottage on that lake (my Grandmother being born in that cottage in 1916). The nearby town had a small general store that had a tiny, tiny comic book selection. For some reason, they had mostly Charltons and Gold Keys instead of books from the Big Two. Over time I had amassed quite a stack of comics that I eventually left at the cottage. I was always thrilled to return each summer to re-read them.

That was a really roundabout way of saying that Ghost Manor #56 was one of those books, and always brings to mind lazy summer afternoons. It's a reprint book, but I didn't know that as a kid and I certainly wouldn't have cared. It's still one of the spookier images to ever grace a Charlton comic. I'm not sure if it was drawn for this issue (as it doesn't really fit the story) or if it was just in inventory), but it's cool and I always like the 'Solomon Grundy' look of the ghost. I'm sure that I've seen this cover used for another Charlton book, but I was not able to track it down this morning while scanning through some of their titles so I might be going crazy.

I won't really get into the second story, as it's a silly little tale involving a witch doctor. It's the first story that always got under my skin. It's about a prisoner who fakes his death in order to escape. The plan is for him to be buried alive and be rescued by a cohort. Needless to say, things don't quite work out as planned and if you're 'Buriedaliveaphobic', this one will make you squirm. Great, great stuff. What I really dig about it is the very deliberate pacing, as the story runs 17 pages - super long for a horror tale.

My Grandparents have both passed away, my Uncle has taken over the cottage, but I've still got my Ghost Manor #56 to take me back to those days by the lake.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Quick Book Reviews

Maltese Falcon – Dashiell Hammet
OK, OK – I’ve heard a million times how wonderful Hammet’s books are, and I’ve certainly been a big fan of his work translated to screen, but for one reason or another I just never got around to reading any of them. I finally rectified that situation and picked up a copy of Maltese Falcon at a used bookstore. I’ve seen the movie a half dozen times and was worried that it would interfere with my enjoyment of the book. Actually, the reverse was true – somehow, my knowledge of the movie and the various actors helped the prose bounce along beautifully. What a great read – wonderful dialogue and a great cast of characters. Of course, I kept hearing the voices of Bogart, Greenstreet and Lorre in my head but that was more than fine by me. I think whomever cast the film should be given an Oscar. Next stop – the Thin Man.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Philip K. Dick
What kind of a nerd am I? I've never read a book by this legend. I bought a stack of 'em from a used bookstore and figured I'd start in familiar territory. Much like the Maltese Falcon, I was worried that my repeated viewings of Blade Runner would much up my enjoyment. It didn't at all. The book is soooo different in scope, setting and overall vibe. I really enjoyed the sense of despair mixed with practicality in Dick's future - somehow people are both nihilistic and optimistic. Mercerism is really quite an ingenious shallow creation, and I was constantly reminded of the great reveal in the Wizard of Oz. His terse, economic prose took some getting used to but ultimately I got into the flow of things.

The Sportswriter - Richard Ford
I did this one if the wrong order, too. I read Independence Day several years ago and was just blown away by Ford's writing. Hauting, raw and beautiful are the words that come to mind. In the interim, I read a couple of other of Ford's non-Bascombe books and they just didn't measure up (I wonder if anything could). I finally tracked down a used copy of the Sportwriter and got to explore Frank Bascombe's first mid-life crisis. Of course, these books invite immediate comparison to Updike's Rabbit series, but that's really only at a superficial level. Ford's writing is slow, dense and deliberate - flowing like a lazy river. I cannot think of a book that I've enjoyed more in the last few years.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Voodoo Doll Covers

It’s a great comic book cover gimmick that has been used quite sparingly for some reason. I’ve always been a little freaked out by the whole notion of a voodoo doll. I don’t think that these dolls actually play a role in the Voudun religion (at least not from what I could tell while traveling in Benin) but they make for a great visual.

Moon Knight #6

I bought this comic off the racks when I was 8. I didn’t know Moon Knight from Adam, but this cover did quite a sales job. Forget dinosaurs, forget gorillas – apparently I was a sucker for voodoo doll covers at an early age. Marvel rarely used painted covers (except for their magazine line), but this was a great call on their part. Earl Norem painted some awesome covers back in the day, but I think that this was his best. The only real flaw to the Essential Moon Knight book is that readers can’t get a good look at this cover. A true classic!

Tales of the Zombie #3

This title is obviously a great fit for a Voodoo Doll Cover. Boris Vallejo gives it a nice little twist by moving away from the ‘stabbing with a pin’ motif and introducing the ‘strangled doll’ look. I always loved this series as a kid (they were pretty inexpensive in my LCS’ back issue magazine bins) and the stories were creepier than anything else I had been reading. Considering the Zombie originally popped up in a 50s Atlas story, I was surprised that I was unable to find an Atlas Voodoo Doll cover – but maybe I was not looking hard enough. Like just about every cover from this series, this one is a winner.

Unusual Tales #40

Unusual Tales featured come of Charlton most (ahem)… unusual covers (think Dog Cop). This one isn’t as unusual as it is lame. We’re not exactly in Norem or Vallejo territory here folks, but it’s still pretty fun. I love the fact that the doll looks nothing like Joan. I’d imagine every woman with that haircut felt the pain. Secondly, if this voodoo stuff is so menacing, why does it look like Joan is only suffering from indigestion? Shouldn’t they be trying to get away from that raging brushfire? Only at Charlton folks – bless them and their bowling alley.

Six Million Dollar Man #2

A very odd place to spot a Voodoo Doll Cover (perhaps only Space: 1999 would be less appropriate), Charlton makes amends for the previous cover with this awesome Neal Adams masterpiece. Steve Austin feels the pain, even though he’s wearing different clothes. This story is quite fun actually as the team of Cuti & Staton have Steve and Oscar trying to track down the murderer of a doll maker. There’s a great little ECish revenge twist at the end, and it concludes with Steve shilling his 12-inch doll in the final panel. You just can’t lose with this one.