Sunday, November 15, 2009

White after Labor Day? Death by Tentacled Toad God!

Classic Creepy Comic Covers - Chamber of Chills #3 (March 1973)
Pencils by Alan Weiss / Inks by Frank Giacoia

If DC's horror comic covers of the late 60s - early 70s whispered, then Marvel's were downright chatty. Joe Orlando, schooled in the silent ways of EC, offered most of his titles with only the occasional word balloon or caption, while Stan Lee's cover personae dramatis seldom left a thought unspoken. Although, I must confess, I've always considered there to be a strange logic to this decision. See, most horror comic covers showcase hapless victims scant seconds away from certain doom, with a hideous something mere inches away, remaining plausibly undetected only if the person being menaced was stone cold deaf. At least in Marvel's case you could buy that the horror went unnoticed and unheard because folks were too busy flappin' their gums. To quote the Buddhists, speak only when it improves upon silence...because you never know what misshapen monstrosity may be sneaking up on you.

While I have no concrete sales figures to back me up, I would have to guess that DC's stratagem proved the more successful, as Marvel launched anthology title after title during this timeframe, only to see most of them fold after less than 20 or so issues. Many of them would start up with tony adaptations of horror and sci-fi literature classics, handled by the Bullpen's brightest and best, but once it was discovered that their old Timely reprint stories sold just as well, gone were the stories by Lovecraft, Bloch, Sturgeon, Howard - along with their expensive licensing fees. At one point, Marvel was flooding the newsstands with as many as eight of these books a month, but most were extinct after just a couple of years.

It's unfortunate that the company didn't concentrate on just one of two of these books, and make them as special as possible; it was obvious that established Bullpenners like Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway and Mike Friedrich were big fans of their literary predecessors, and crafted Marvel's versions with evident care. Legendary pencillers like Neal Adams, Gene Colan, Gil Kane and Frank Brunner laid down some of their best work in these early stories, now sadly unreprintable due to lapsed copyrights.

The cover of Chamber of Chills #3 is an early Marvel penciling job from Alan Weiss, under the render-everyone-a-lookalike inks of Frank Giacoia (a stellar craftsman on the superhero titles, but a bit out of his league here). I submit this cover, not as a stellar example of creepy craftsmanship, but as indicative of a house style. Those ginormous tentacles are all but brushing the backs of our clueless duo, but they hear not a thing. Maybe that's also because they're far too concentrated upon their poses. Go ahead, try holding your hands in the exact same position as the guy here and ask yourself if you've ever stood in such an awkward posture. The stance of Miss Go Go '73 is even less believable, but it looks oh so groovy (and a little kinky) in those empowering red boots and matching belt; truly, she is experiencing mind-numbing, soul-shearing, senses-shattering horror. (Put your hands on your head in that same bewildered pose; it's fun.) However, Michael Kors might tag her nice white separates as being a bit too matchy-matchy. Hope her dry cleaner has a way of getting dripping ichor out of them.

OK, for fun, I'm gonna get out all my old Marvel horror covers and shout "Look behind you!" at them, just to see if it does any good. While I do that, as an added bonus, here is the appearance of The Thing on the Roof - The Toad God - from the story courtesy of Frank Brunner, mere months away from doing groundbreaking work on Dr. Strange. Marvel went ahead and showed you the creature only obliquely described by Robert E. Howard, but when it looks this good, who's complaining? I always loved a good saliva-dripping maw...

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