Monday, December 1, 2008

Pete Doree - 1974

Pete Doree - In the summer of 1974, my Mum & Dad took me and my irksome younger brother on holiday to Somerset, a beautiful part of the English countryside that was completely wasted on my 10 year old, comic loving self.

We were staying at some ropey caravan park with possibly the scummiest amenities you've ever seen, but I'd eyeballed the newsagents on the way in, so, the second we parked up, I dragged my Mum over there, eager to see what goodies they had.

So it was, that in that campsite papershop, I came across
The Scariest Comic I'd Ever Seen!

I don't know if at that point I'd read any of Marvel's then new black & white line. I don't think so. My all time favourite, Marvel Preview, was still a way off, so this particular issue may've been my first experience of that classic, much underrated line. And here it is:
Try being a 10 year old Marvel maniac and NOT wanting this book the second you see it. I mean, up in the left hand corner, there's The Zombie! Reading his own mag!

Thing is, being a magazine, it must have been up on the top shelf with all those 'True Crime' mags and (hem hem) 'adult' periodicals. So I must have asked my Mum to get it down for me.

What I do remember is that, as soon as I saw it, Mum wasn't impressed. She told me it looked too scary, I wouldn't like it, why not choose something else.

But I wouldn't be swayed. I'd read Tomb Of Dracula where the old vampire is speared on that spiked fence, I'd read Werewolf By Night & Frankenstein. I could easily handle Zombies.

Unfortunately for me,
Tales Of The Zombie 7 was drawn by Alfredo Alcala.

Understand, these days, as an artist or just as a fan, I consider Alcala as nothing less than an absolute genius, particularly in the field of horror. But in those days? I hated him. He was on my (and my friends) list of all time most loathed artists, along with Frank Robbins & Carmine Infantino. (Yeah, I've changed my mind about them too, obviously.) His stuff always looked like someone had dipped it in heavy black tar.

Remember when Marvel would sucker you by letting someone like Gil Kane do a cover, so you'd buy the book, only to discover that Gil wasn't doing the inside, but it was some hack like Don Heck or Frank Springer?! That's much I hated Alfredo Alcala.

And no, I didn't check the inside of
Tales Of The Zombie. If I had, I might've been spared a couple of months of nightmares.

So, I bought the thing, over my Mum's objections, and hurried back to our caravan to read it.

Opening the book up, I discovered not only Pablo Marcos (yet another artist I hated) but the dreaded Alcala. But, I'd spent my hard earned pocket money on this thing, so I was damn well gonna read it.

This particular issue features a story by Doug Moench called "The Blood-Testament of Brian Collier". It's basically an Agatha Christie type drawing-room murder mystery with some spectacularly grisly deaths, made all the more gruesome by Alcala's finely detailed, blacker than black artwork.

The Zombie himself only appears nominally, watching the proceedings from an outside window, and turning up at the denouement to wreak vengeance on the guilty parties in typically bloody fashion.

But it was one particular scene that haunted me, a scene where an old woman is murdered while looking through the eyehole's in a painting:

The second I saw that, I almost lost my lunch. Suddenly, this comic wasn't fun anymore. We'd gone beyond harmless, creepy chills into realistic, sadistic horror. I put the comic down and never went back to it. For the rest of the holiday, I avoided it's gaze, hiding it under clothes, keeping it away from my other, safe, comics. Not gazing into the abyss, in case it gazed back. And when we went home, I made sure that Tales of the Zombie didn't come with us, made sure it got 'accidentally' left behind.

I couldn't tell my Mum, of course, that would be like admitting I was wrong. And I'd be forced to admit I was still a child after all, and not big and brave like grown ups.
But she knew. Mum's always know, and they never tell you they know.

This year, after having this story stuck in my head for over 30 years, I finally plucked up the courage to buy Essential Tales Of The Zombie, reprinting '"The Blood Testament of Brian Collier", and no, of course it doesn't scare me anymore.

But, those four panels do still give me the memory of fear, a tiny twinge of nausea, as my 10 year self recoils from The Scariest Comic I've Ever Read!!!

Wherever Alfredo Alcala is, I hope he's proud of himself.

1 comment:

Grears said...

Great story...

My horror stories were limited to the DC Line... notas scary... of course the b&w only adds to the scariness...