GO GRAB YOUR SHOVELS KIDDIES AND DIG IN!
Seems like everyone out there in Comicbookland is going gaga over the relaunch of DC Comics’ New 52 Universe and the lack of Superman’s red undies, but us Bastards don’t care about reboots and disappointing cash-ins. And there is still plenty of new swag out there for us to sink our greedy, ravenous teeth into without having to worry about capes & spandex. Dark Horse Comics has been reprinting volume after volume of Creepy Magazine (and Eerie!) in big $50 hardcovers for a few years now, and they’ve even published their own Creepy series with contributions from Eric Powell, Joe R Lansdale, Michael Kaluta, etc. But sifting through all that can be expensive and with mixed results. What you really want to get your hands on is last week’s affordable ($19.99) hardcover release of Creepy Presents Bernie Wrightson.
Wrightson made his bones working for the now irrelevant DC Comics titles House of Mystery and Swamp Thing, but he didn’t really come to my personal attention until he started his collaborations with Stephen King on books like CYCLE OF THE WEREWOLF, THE STAND, DARK TOWER V: WOLVES OF CALLA. In the early 1980s, Wrightson finally published his illustrated version of Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein (the 25th anniversary edition was also recently released by Dark Horse Comics in a handsome $30 hardcover) and that is often rightfully seen as his masterpiece. From 1974 to 1978, Wrightson cranked out some of his best horror illustration for both Creepy and Eerie Magazine. And now, you can get the best of the best all in one slim volume.
Creepy Presents Bernie Wrightson opens where it should, with one of Wrightson’s typically grotesque adaptations. “The Black Cat” has always been one of my favorite Edgar Allen Poe tales; rereading it here with Wrightson’s sequential narrative zipping the madness along, it’s dementedly hilarious how quickly the mental break occurs for Poe’s narrator. It takes only eight panels for the man to transform from doting cat lover to terrified hysteric and by the 15th panel he’s gouging for the eye! Poe always found humor in the horrific and the manner in which the violence and absurdity ratchets as one panel follows the next will have us sickos in the audience chuckling. Freewheeling axes, bathtubs, spectral kitties, bricklaying, and Twilight Zone twist endings. This is the only place where Creepy Wrightson could begin.
“Jennifer,” the second story in the anthology, is a real sick pleasure. A woman bound in the woods, a man ready to drop an axe on her neck, a hunter quick on the draw. BLAM! It would be entertaining enough if it all ended there, but what follows is a depraved descent into lust and madness. My first encounter with “Jennifer” occurred thanks to Showtime’s lukewarm television series Masters of Horror. Directed by the giallo guru Dario Argento, it was a highlight in an otherwise disappointing platform with lots of Steven Weber scream grunts and plenty of KNB supplied Jennifer jelly drool. But all that latex and KY can’t touch Wrightson’s ink wash depiction of the mouth sucky beast woman. Stare long enough at one of those Jennifer panel close-ups and you’ll demand a bath…and probably a tetanus shot. Sure, writer Bruce Jones slams you with needless exposition with incessant thought balloons and rambling dialog, but the beauty of Wrightson is that half the time you can ignore the words and still fully understand the narrative.
A more successful Jones/Wrightson collaboration might be “The Laughing Man.” Just six pages in length, the story revolves around two mid-20th century adventures delving into Africa’s Heart of Darkness to discover a clan of man-apes known as the Wahki. As the characters of Michael Crichton’s CONGO would tell you, one should never mess with a smart ape. It’s a rather silly story with too many words crammed into each box, but it provides for my single favorite panel in the collection; an event that shocks the storyteller into mad fits of uncontrollable laughter. It would make for a great Halloween costume.
Before rounding out the anthology with a series of Creepy and Eerie frontispieces, we are treated to the only color story in the book. “The Muck Monster,” written and illustrated solely by Wrightson, was probably just a way to satisfy his Frankenstein craving before delving into the eventual 7 year-long project. However, what sets it apart is that it’s told from the perspective of the monster and not that of the typical (and boring) mad doctor. A mute creature awakens in a lab. The Doctor thinks his experiment a failure, dumps the beast into a vat of acid, but the resulting muck retains consciousness. Very strange. But, again, a satisfying Twilight Zoney/Tale From The Crypty climax. And yes, it is nice to see some color work in the book, but for my money Wrightson belongs in black and white. It’s all about the great swathes of ink and the negative space.
But it’s not all zombies, muck monsters, and smart apes in Creepy Present Bernie Wrightson. There are few straight-up adventure stories within its pages (“Reuben Youngblood: Private Eye!” is even co-illustrated by Howard Chaykin!) but reading those tales is a lot like listening to Pat Boone’s metal album—it just ain’t right. If you are at all a fan of horror comics or weird, mondo fiction than this is an essential purchase that’s well worth the twenty dollar price tag. Plus, you’re gonna want to know how slaughtering those half-dozen cows below will help the narrator catch “The Pepper Lake Monster.” Creepy stuff.
IT’S BIG BOOTAY!
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