A word about the passing of Jack Davis

There’s not many comic artists who can genuinely be called legendary while they still lived, Jack Davis was one. Davis who died last week was also one of the people responsible for shaping a country through his art yet most weren’t aware of him, but I bet most people have seen the opening titles to Grease and seen how important animator John Wilson thought Davis because he’s not just using his style, but referencing his work.

For me I discovered Davis’s work first via his cover to Creepy #1, one of Warren Magazine’s horror comics.

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He never really registered for me after that til much, much later on I discovered EC Comics and found out he was probably one of the best comic artists to have ever been. He could draw a mean zombie..

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From his horror, crime and science fiction work I moved onto Mad, where for years he turned out some astonishingly wonderful bits of comedy and satire like this classic from Mad #70 about the differences between rich and poor.

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Then there’s all the magazine cover and film poster work he did, two stand outs for me are the poster to George Lucas’s American Graffiti.

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And this classic from It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.

It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World

Jack Davis was a legend. This is a tiny, tiny, tiny amount of things he’s done and frankly, any artist that helped shape a decade as Davis did in the 1950’s is more than an artist. He’ll be missed but dear me, what a body of work he leaves behind him!

What I thought of Strange Sports Stories #1

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Anthology titles in comics have a pretty checkered history. EC Comics were, and indeed, still are the benchmark but companies like DC Comcs did some good stuff in titles like House of Mystery, Unexpected and the original Strange Sports Stories. The problem is that in American comics as opposed to British comics, the sports strip isn’t exactly successful, or even any good so this new four issue miniseries from Vertigo Comics is a patchy, but welcome attempt to bring the sports strip back and make it work. Having Gilbert Hernandez do a strip is as good as you can get.

Hernandez’s story is about a bunch of kids that are playing football (the real version, not that crap American version), burst their ball and then have their ball nicked by bullies. However a strange ball arrives from the sky…

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This is one of Hernandez’s great little short stories about a mysterious alien ball that lures boys and has them abducted by Martians.

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Even though the reader can see whats coming, even though the punchline is obvious, there’s a lovely tone and touch on display here from Hernandez that perfectly captures kids playing not to mention he throws in a nice little bit at the end that tops it off perfectly. It’s a great start to the issue.

The next strip by Amy Chu and Tana Ford looks nice and is decent enough as a short story but it’s a 2000AD Future Shock that doesn’t outstay it’s welcome, but doesn’t stay in the memory either.

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The third story by Lauren Beukes, Dale Halvorson and Christopher Mitten has traces of the DNA of Death Game 1999 in it, and it’s gloriously gory fun in the EC tradition.

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The last story by Ivan Brando and Amei Zhao is a tale of the end of the world and the last baseball game.

strangesportsstories5It’s melancholic in tone and that sticks out against the other three stories being either light in tone, or having their tongue very firmly in cheek, but it’s good for a short story and helped by some beautiful art that carries the story well.

Strange Sports Stories #1 is a patchy affair. No story though is terrible, though the Hernandez story is superb making everything after it an exceptionally hard act to follow. As an anthology it’s a good attempt to cover as much ground as possible and I hope the other three issues maintain this sort of quality because frankly DC/Vertigo don’t publish much that’s at all good, so this is a welcome addition to their titles.

 

Overstreets World of Comics-Comic book documentary from 1993

This is a cracking find. Overstreet’s World of Comics is a documentary based around the San Diego Comic Convention in 1993 and details the world of comics as they were in those days just before the great comics bubble of the early 90’s went POP! It’s a fascinating watch to see how people thought that comics were going to be a huge investment for the future, and that comics coming from the likes of Valiant were massive investments. They weren’t. The entire market went down the toilet and a number of the companies featured in this film like Topps, went under, and companies like Marvel nearly went bankrupt.

What is striking is how comic focused San Diego was then as opposed to the big pop culture event it is. It’s about the medium of comics and there’s a lovely bit in the film about Golden Age artists like Murphy Anderson, a history of EC Comics, as well as a great interview with Jack Kirby, the man who built the house that Marvel are now exploiting for their films like The Avengers and Captain America.  It is however, Todd McFarlane who hogs a lot of time on the film because at that time Spawn was the biggest selling comic in the world, selling around a half a million to a million copies on average per issue. There’s a certain sad irony looking back at this seeing McFarlane talk with such idealism; something that vanished when the money started flooding in.

The film does have some amazingly tacky music running through it that makes it feel like a health and safety training video you see on the first day of a new job, If you can ignore that then this is a great bit of archive, if only to see Stan Lee say with a straight face that he hates taking from what other people have done….

My Top 20 Horror Films-2-The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

It’s October, the month of Halloween and what would be more clichéd than doing a countdown of top horror films, so fully admitting to being a walking cliché, I will be doing a series of blogs running down the films in my own personal top 20. Here’s the previous blogs for numbers 20, Audition, 19, Night of the Demon18, Zombie Flesh Eaters, 17, Last House on the Left, 16, The Beyond, 15, An American Werewolf in London14, [REC], 13, Don’t Look Now, 12, Event Horizon , 11, Cannibal Holocaust10, The Wicker Man, 9Halloween, 8, The Blair Witch Project 7Hellraiser, 6, The Evil Dead series 5, The Exorcist, 4, Suspiria and 3George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead/Dawn of the Dead/Day of the Dead.

I’m nearly at number one but before we get there lets go for a trip in Texas in Tobe Hooper’s amazing The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

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The plot is simple; a group of young people visiting a relatives grave after a series of grave robberies and worse, decide to visit one of their families old homes on the way back, but after picking up a bizarre hitchhiker the group are picked off one by one by a family of cannibals.

Sounds all fairly fun for an exploitation film but this isn’t a safe journey for the viewer, though the film does have a great streak of black humour that’s so dark that most people will miss it as they’re too busy being freaked out by what’s happening on the screen.This isn’t to say it’s splattered with gore; it’s not. In fact it’s pretty much lacking in gore, but it is violent. It’s the mood, feel and general atmosphere Hooper creates in the film that comes from a mix of some wonderfully bizarre performances, some inspired direction and a relentlessly disturbing soundtrack that all comes together with the truly twisted set design straight from a Graham Ingels story from an EC Comic, mixed with the story of Ed Gein.

Sadly the film suffered unbelievable censorship in the UK with the BBFC refusing it a certificate for decades, and when the Video Nasty fiasco happened and all uncertificated films endured the BBFC’s wrath with Texas Chain Saw Massacre suffering because of it. So for year the only way to see it in this country was by watching a grainy VHS copy, or smuggling a copy into the country on import on laserdisc.

Thankfully after the relaxation of censorship in this country post 1997 meant the film slowly seeped out to be appreciated for the remarkable work it is, not to mention it’s a massively influential one too as this was the film Ridley Scott watched to inspire him for Alien, and it shows.

Texas Chain Saw Massacre is an experience. It makes you doubt your own sanity at times as one disturbing image follows another so you can see why censors have a problem with the film as there’s nothing especially explicit to cut out. It’s the total package that grotesque and horrific so by the time you get to the image of an insane Leatherface dancing in the sun you’re so drained emotionally in a way I’ve rarely experienced.

Forget the sequels. Forget the remakes. Especially forget the remakes. This is all that matters. It’s an extraordinary film which is uncompromisingly brilliant. You’ll never want to hear a metal door slam shut again in your life after this..

And this means I’m about to reveal what my number one film is. Why have I not had any Hammer Films? Where’s the Cronenberg films? What about The Shining?

Well, next time you’ll find out………………………

My Top 20 Horror Films-3-George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead/Dawn of the Dead/Day of the Dead

It’s October, the month of Halloween and what would be more clichéd than doing a countdown of top horror films, so fully admitting to being a walking cliché, I will be doing a series of blogs running down the films in my own personal top 20. Here’s the previous blogs for numbers 20, Audition, 19, Night of the Demon18, Zombie Flesh Eaters, 17, Last House on the Left, 16, The Beyond, 15, An American Werewolf in London14, [REC], 13, Don’t Look Now, 12, Event Horizon , 11, Cannibal Holocaust10, The Wicker Man, 9Halloween, 8, The Blair Witch Project 7Hellraiser, 6, The Evil Dead series 5, The Exorcist and 4, Suspiria.

At #3 I take the opportunity to cram three gore packed zombie classics in, so lets dive in to the entrails of the first of George Romero’s zombies films,not to mention one of the most important and influential films ever, Night of the Living Dead.

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The plot is simple/ A zombie outbreak threatens America and a group of strangers hide in a remote house in the country trying to survive and escape the zombies that surround the house.

I grew up with this as a film I only read about in books about horror films which wasn’t because it was banned in the UK, rather it was a film I somehow missed until late into my teens. I’d always read about how important it was in relation to horror film history, not to mention what a great film it was and it is, but you need to see it for yourself to understand how an important a film this is. This is the film that launched modern horror which eventually replaced the more Gothic form of horror that’d dominated til then. This is the film that changed the zombie in film from a mindless slave, to a flesh-eating ghoul straight out of EC Comics. It also influenced generations of people to make horror films. Of course it did help spawn endless amounts of really bad zombie films, but that’s not the fault of George Romero.

Romero’s stroke of genius was to throw a load of social commentary in the film to beef up the EC Comics gore and horror, so Night of the Living Dead was especially subversive for featuring a black man in the lead role, something not common at all in 1968.It’s also a good script with some decent acting considering most people weren’t professional actors at the time.

Like all successful exploitation films it spawned a sequel, but unlike most sequels the sequel Dawn of the Dead, improved and I think is actually better than the first film.

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I managed to see this for the first time as part of a double bill with The Brood, a splendid David Cronenberg horror film,

 

This would have been around late 1982 or so, but this wasn’t my first X certificate film, that’s still to come in my list. However this was an experience as Dawn of the Dead, (or Zombies:Dawn of the Dead as it was here in the UK) lived up every bit to my expectations. Dawn of the Dead is everything a good horror film should be; it’s well written, well acted, it’s shot well and it’s got something important to say about consumerism, capitalism and society as a whole. Of course it’s also amazingly gory, thanks to some amazing work from Tom Savini.

 

It’s a great film, and although the film has dated in places it’s basically the template for virtually every zombie film made in the last few decades-survivors defend themselves against zombies and gangs of human survivors. What most zombie films nowadays forget to do is actually be as clever as Romero was, so it’s just gore which is essentially quite boring if it’s the same scenes over and over again.

Dawn of the Dead is a classic of film. There’s few horror films which can touch it. This includes the third film in Romero’s zombie trilogy, Day of the Dead.

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Day of the Dead isn’t a bad film, far from it but coming after two of the best films ever made it had a lot to live up to and it doesn’t quite get to where it needs to be but when it works it works brilliantly, especially during the various scenes of carnage but it’s the revelations that the zombies aren’t quite as brainless as we thought that Romero uses to great effect with the character of Bub.

There’s also the fact that the humans aren’t really the victims in this film, rather they’re just on the whole, mainly evil fucking bastards but they all get their exceptionally gory comeuppance.

All three films are classics of the genre, but the first two are more than just horror or exploitation films as they’ve got much, much more to offer. Their delights should be savoured as much as possible.Watch them this Halloween again and you’ll see what I mean..

We’re nearly at the end as we take a wee trip to Texas…