My top 10 horror comics: 10: Marvel horror comics of the 1950s to 60s

Hey! I’m doing a list! Not done one in years and after a chat the other day I thought I’d do this, so here’s my top 10 horror comics, and to start I go back to the pre-superhero days of Marvel Comics, or as they were known then, Atlas Comics.

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Before Stan Lee got told to rip off DC’s Justice League of America, as well as their successful reboot of Golden Age superheroes, Lee wrote endless amounts of romance, monster and horror comics. Most were awful, but he had a stable of artists who managed to milk what little gold there was in Lee’s ideas. Artists like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko managed to do great things with very little, and indeed. it is Ditko who drew one of my favourite horror comics ever.

It Happened on the Silent Screen is simply a brilliant example of an artist on the peak of his game. As for Lee’s prose, the story doesn’t need it and can be read without the aid of it.

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These stories were normally five or six page stories featuring a monster of the month such as the wonderfully named Fin Fang Foom.

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All of these stories were merely a way for all involved to pay the rent as Atlas/Marvel bled everything they could out of the post Comics Code horror comic, and even into the superhero era as the likes of Fantastic Four started as a monster comic, while the first episode of Doctor Strange is simply a Ditko horror story. Eventually though these comics would die out being replaced by the superhero and Marvel would veer away from horror til the 70’s but more on that another time.

These small stories are what they are. They’re fun, disposable trash with a clearly bored Lee grinding out scripts as his co-creators refined art and storytelling styles for more important things to come but they’re a joy. A remnant of a time when horror was harmless and giant monsters always wore underpants…

 

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Hunting down the video nasties

I blogged years ago about the hunt to find comic books as a kid, and that back in the day could be a nightmare, but when I was older the hunt for horror films surpassed it mainly because you could be imprisoned for owning some of these films. After the insanity of the Video Nasty moral crackdown, owning a copy of say, Zombie Flesh Eaters could get you thrown in prison.

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So people found ways to get past the censors, and the police which meant an underground network sprung up of bootleggers who’d supply you with dodgy copies of videos which were as clear as being in the middle of a foggy thunderstorm, but still had enough there to give you an idea of the gory antics going on. Here I highly recommend Jake West’s excellent documentary, Video Nasties: Draconian Days, for more about the times in the 80’s and 90’s pre Labour’s post 1997 liberalisation of British society.

As an aside, it is worth praising Tony Blair’s government for that brief period from 1997 to around 2001 when censorship was rolled back, which coming after decades of often extreme censorship at a state level it seemed like a new beginning. Sadly that wasn’t to last long after 9/11 but I digress…

That period in the 80s and 90s saw fanzines spring up which featured small ad listings in the back, as well as swaps, and although I got some films that way the main way I managed to get my uncut sex, gore and violence was through comic marts in London. As I was working these events I managed to get first dibs on some quality gore, not to mention the holy grail of bootlegs; the laserdisc copy. This meant uncut pristine clear copies of classics like Canibal Holocaust.

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Things were good if you were a fan and could get to these events, but this was still Tory Britain so at various shows you’d see customs and/or the police going round tables busting dealers and seizing tapes. Some dealers were prosecuted and a few served time for selling videos, with tabloids leaping on the ‘video nasties sold to kids’ angle, which actually never existed as these dealers weren’t that stupid. Thing was there was no way legally to see these films outwith of the odd private showing, or film festivals like Shock Around the Clock. That involved going to Kings Cross which in the early 90’s was a dark place if you went down the wrong streets, but if you knew the right places it really was home to the best fun you can have. Now it’s all Harry Potter tours and tourists getting the Eurostar.

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But a scene emerged though that time which has went on to bigger things. Not to mention that post 97 many of these films people could have been prosecuted for were now becoming legal. I can now pick up a copy of Last House on the Left without fear of prosecution easily or in the age of the internet, I can download a copy in seconds without heaving my fat arse off my couch. This is all great but I miss the hunt, and I miss the thrill of doing something illegal which stuck a knife in the eye of censors who were out purely to blame something for the problems they caused in society.

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And now in 2019 we’re on the verge of another wave of censorship with hard/far right wing authoritarian strongmen/women eying up what they can to control the public, or at least, blame Thing A for the fact that they’ve fucked everything up. You’d think we’d learn but hey ho…

However I miss those days. They were fun, you got to meet interesting people and saw great (and awful) horror films in places you really probably shouldn’t have been, but dear me, it was fun and we don’t get that sort of fun much anymore.

Yet another DC Comics relaunch

Ever since DC published Crisis on Infinite Earths in the mid 80s, DC have fiddled, tweaked and adjusted their line of comics in an almost annual relaunch of titles and/or events which promises a ‘bold new start’ which is then wiped out in a year or two. The last relaunch was Rebirth, which dragged Watchmen into the DC Universe.

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Previous to that was the New 52 and a host of revamps/reboots, and now comes what’s called for now ”5G” which will see existing superheroes like Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne stand down for a new generation of heroes. The Beat have more information here. Sure, there will be a bounce but we all know superhero comics and its fans. Things will go back as they are now, and then a few years later things will be revamped and on and on til every last reader is dead of exhaustion.

DC would be better working on creating consistently new, and good comics for as wide an audience as possible instead of constantly fucking about but that would involve being more about creativity than the endless tweaking of middle-management concerned only with the next big sales boost.

2019 Mile High Comics tour

I’ve spoken about Mile High Comics and its owner Chuck Rozanski often on this blog, but really I want to be let loose in his shop, if I can call something that looks like an airplane hanger a mere shop. I could literally spend a month in there and barely touch the edges of what’s there, but I love these videos of owners proud of their shops and what they’re doing with them.

So here’s Chuck showing us all round his ‘shop’ making all of us insanely jealous about what he’s got in stock…

Read Ragtime Soldier for some truth about WW1

Apart from making sure there is a comics industry of sorts in the UK, Pat Mills  is the writer of Charley’s War, the best British war comic ever made.

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Great War Dundee is a new comic which is part of Dundee’s commerations of the Great War and the story of the 30,490 men from that city killed in the war, and the impact upon Dundee. In there is a strip by Pat Mills with art by Gary Walsh called Ragtime Soldier, and it is pure Pat Mills in that it tells a great story, as well as being fucking angry because you shouldn’t be writing about WW1 without getting fucking angry.

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See, there’s one thing Pat drops in here that I’ve read rarely about but is a thing my parents used to talk about which is the Great War’s insane death toll was due to those at the top of the British food chain’s desire to cull the working classes. It’s shocking to see in print because (as Pat often says) the history of WW1 has been frantically rewritten since 2014 especially, and now we see things like the Somme being rewritten as a ‘sacrifice’ for a great cause. Essentially the descendents of the bastards who sent men to die arecovering up the crimes of the past.

Many of those same people are behind Brexit, which is again I think a way for the ruling classes to thin out the population, especially the disabled like myself.

Anyhow, I recommened clicking on this here which will take you to Pat’s site where you can download Ragtime Soldier for free. Please do so because I would love to see more not to mention seeing this sort of rage in a British comic.

No Glastonbury 2020 for me

Next year is the 50th anniversary and it’d have been my 19th festival. So first time I went the place looked like this.

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It now looks like this

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We expected it to be tough this year but not one of our group got tickets leaving open limited options. There’s a resale in April, but that’s super-tough to get tickets on an ordinary year, then there’s volunteering which would be an easy way to get in but stroke/cancer recovery rules that out and then there’s winning tickets in a competition…

So yeah, I’m fucked and not going. Some C list celebrities will walk in because they’re on a comp list and wealthy yuppies will also walk in but folk who save all year? Nah, it’ll be a Saga holiday for us.

Fuck it, I’m going to play the new Sturgill Simpson album yet again and read some comics…

 

Martin Scorsese and comic book films

Martin Scorsese is without doubt the greatest living filmmaker of the last 50 years. He’s made some of the best films I’ve seen, not to mention at least five (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, King of Comedy, Goodfellas, Wolf of Wall Street) are in my top 30 favourite films with even a duff Scorsese film like The Aviator still being more interesting than most other films released at the time.

Scorsese has a new film out, The Irishman, and Empire interviewed him. In it he talks about the Marvel films and says this.

“I don’t see them. I tried, you know? But that’s not cinema,” Scorsese told Empire. “Honestly, the closest I can think of them, as well made as they are, with actors doing the best they can under the circumstances, is theme parks. It isn’t the cinema of human beings trying to convey emotional, psychological experiences to another human being.”

This has made Marvel film fans cry ‘oh so he’s jealous’ and other such pish because we’re again at the point where dribbling man-babies can’t deal with even the mildest critique (and Scorsese is right they’re like rides in a theme park, and no, they don’t touch upon the human experience in the way many of Scorsese’s films do) of Product they enjoy. With this also being the week the new Joker film opens (which looks as if its literally lifted huge chunks from Scorsese) there’s a debate to had how the genre can develop, but let’s be clear here, we’re talking about films based on superhero comics. There’s many a great film based on comics out there but the issue is the superhero comic is by action, a juvenile genre.

This does not mean superhero comics films can’t be fun or touch upon the human experience on a superficial level, but Raging Bull they ain’t.  They’re there to entertain which they do most of the time, but hold up Avengers: Endgame up as something meaningful then you really have experienced a shallow life.

And there’s your problem with superheroes. They were never designed to be anything but escapist power fantasies which is what many a writer since Alan Moore and Frank Miller especially has explored but that’s it. You can however use the characters in different ways and maybe Joker shows how to do this cinematically (I haven’t seen it yet) but until the genre develops as the likes of Moore hoped it did, it’ll never do so in comics.

For the record there is nothing wrong with entertainment being superfical. I enjoy that as much as anyone but the fact is your diet shouldn’t consist of purely sweeties. You need something more susstantial at times to help you grow and there’s your problem with fans crying over these comments; they only consume Product and not art.  A mix is fine and healthy, sticking to one isn’t.