The 1972 Eerie Annual (and no, I don’t know why publisher James Warren stuck “1972” on a periodical published in July, 1971, though my guess is that he hoped that at least a few inattentive retailers might leave the item on the stands for a full eighteen months) was almost certainly the very first comics magazine from Warren Publishing that your humble blogger, then fourteen years of age, ever bought.
But it wasn’t the first Warren magazine I’d ever bought. And it may not even have been my first Warren comic book, either — at least, not if you define the latter term as “a book full of comics”.
As many of you reading this will know already, in addition to such black-and-white comic magazines as Creepy, Eerie, and Vampirella, Warren also put out a non-comics periodical called Famous Monsters of Filmland. FM was in fact the foundation of James Warren’s publishing “empire”, having been launched in 1958, six years prior to the first of the company’s comics (Creepy #1). In 1971, I had seen the magazine on the stands for as long as I could remember — it was, after all, only one year younger than I was — but I’d never picked up a copy prior to May of that year, at which time the cover of issue #85, featuring actor Roddy McDowell as Cornelius in Escape from the Planet of the Apes, proved irresistible to my younger self. That movie, which came out in the same month as FM‘s cover feature, was the first bona fide science-fiction film I’d ever seen in a theater — and despite my having seen neither of its predecessors, to which it was very much a sequel, I’d liked the movie quite a lot. Indeed, you might even say I’d gone a bit apeshit over it (if you’ll pardon the expression); in any event, I was keen to enhance my experience of the film by reading about it.
As it turned out, I liked the magazine a lot, as well, and not only because of the Apes coverage. The whole mix of short, jokey articles, lots and lots of b&w photos, and solid, factual information about the history of horror and SF films made for a winning package, enough so that I became a semi-regular reader for at least a couple of years. Most relevant to today’s discussion, however, were a couple of advertisements in the very back of the magazine, nestled among the other pitches for various monster-related merchandise offered by “Captain Company” (actually another arm of Warren Publishing); two ads which would ultimately have a significant impact on my comics-buying habits.
The first of these, a joint subscription ad for all four magazines Warren had going at that time, was, I believe, how I came to realize that there was a connection between Famous Monsters and these three black-and-white horror comics. While Creepy, Eerie, and the more recently launched Vampirella were all likely almost as familiar sights to me on the magazine racks as FM was, I believe that prior to this discovery, I’d had a bit of trouble distinguishing these books from their competition — more specifically, the output of Myron Fass’ Eerie Publications, the lurid, exceptionally gory covers of which I generally found not just unappealing, but downright repellent. In retrospect, the higher quality of Warren’s titles compared to Eerie’s Terror Tales or Weird may seem obvious, but prior to the summer of 1971, I simply wasn’t allowing myself to get close enough to any of the b&w horror books to make distinctions between them. But my initiation into Warren Publishing via Famous Monsters changed that; if FM was OK, then it stood to reason that the company’s comics might be worth a look, too.
I know that I ended up buying this item not through the mail, but from the Miller’s department store on Meadowbrook Road in Jackson, MS. What I can’t recall is whether I bought it before or after I bought the Eerie Annual that’s the primary subject of today’s blog post. If before, then it would have been my first Warren “comic book”, i.e., book of comics.
Like most other comic book reprints published as mass market paperbacks, the original magazines’ story pages had to be reformatted for The Best of Creepy to conform to the new, smaller dimensions of a “pocket” book. In other words, the presentation wasn’t ideal. But the material was, on the whole, so strong that it easily overcame such deficiencies.
There were eight stories included in the volume, all of which came from the first ten issues of Creepy, published from 1964 to 1966. Archie Goodwin was credited as writer on all but one, while the artwork was by Al Williamson, Wally Wood, Dan Adkins, Angelo Torres, Reed Crandall, Alex Toth, Steve Ditko, and Frank Frazetta (who also contributed the full-color painted cover). With just one or two exceptions, these were all names that I recognized, of creators whose other work I’d enjoyed. And while the material might be somewhat stronger, in terms of subject matter, than what I was used to seeing in DC Comics’ Code-approved horror (aka “mystery”) anthology titles, it wasn’t that much stronger. In the end, I didn’t have a hard time at all settling in and feeling at home.
Something of the same feeling accompanied my initial experience of the 1972 Eerie Annual, which, as I’ve already noted, I may have bought before or after The Best of Creepy, though probably with no more than a month or so between the purchases, in either case. Like the paperback, the Annual was an anthology of previously released material; unlike it, this collection featured a chronological mix of tales, drawing both from the title’s earliest years (1966 and 1967, in this case) and from issues published as recently as 1970. Notably, it paid scant attention to material published in the intervening years of 1968 and 1969, a period generally considered to be the nadir of Warren Publishing; nevertheless, the Annual offered a sampling of Warren “then and now” in a way The Best of Creepy didn’t. If, in the end, that approach made it a qualitatively weaker collection than its paperback cousin… well, it was still a pretty appealing package, especially to my youthful and perhaps somewhat less discerning self.
Behind the only new content in the issue — the amusing, “Pickman’s Model”-reminiscent cover painting by John Pederson (a science-fiction illustrator who appears to have done no other comics-related work) — were seven stories (and two single-page fillers*) by a lineup of talents who were by and large already familiar to me. Such was certainly the case with the book’s first tale — “Fair Exchange”, written by Archie Goodwin and drawn by Neal Adams, which had originally appeared in Eerie #9 (May, 1967). Goodwin, I knew mostly from his writing for Marvel’s Iron Man and Captain Marvel; Adams, I knew from, well, a whole lot of stuff.
“Fair Exchange” was the second Neal Adams story published in a Warren magazine; it was also the second Neal Adams story published in a comic book, period, not counting a smattering of gag strips the artist had done for Archie Comics back in 1960, right after graduating from high school. Adams had spent the last several years as a syndicated newspaper cartoonist, drawing the daily comic strip Ben Casey; now, in 1967, he was in the process of breaking “back” into comic books. His very first published work for DC Comics (in Our Army at War #182 and The Adventures of Jerry Lewis #101) would appear roughly three months following the original publication of “Fair Exchange”.
In an interview for The Warren Companion (TwoMorrows, 2001), Adams told interviewer Arlen Schumer how his goal in this story was “for each page to be done differently than the last page and for each page to have an idea.” For the opening page, the controlling idea was that the illustration was contained within the body of the tale’s narrator, Cousin Eerie. The next page, however (shown above), was based on the notion, “what if I did a page and the page was bigger than what it fit on paper? So I had to take the page and look for all the important elements so that if turned the page in such a way so that if I cropped it off, there was still enough of the page there to tell the story.”
As the story progresses, we learn through an extended flashback how Hubert Mannix, unwilling to accept his fate and certain that with his wealth and power he can somehow find a way to escape it, eventually came upon the name of Ralph Courtney — a doctor who’d been fired from Mannix’s company’s research division for his unorthodox surgical experiments. As Mannix confirmed after tracking the disgraced doc down, Courtney had developed a technique that could, at least in theory, transplant a living brain from one human being to another. All Mannix needed was a donor…
Having made his selection, Mannix contrived to slip a tranquilizing drug into the young man’s glass of very thick, very dark wine…
The “reborn” Mannix sets fire to Courtney’s lab, destroying all evidence of the surgery as well as the two murders…
Adams’ photorealistic style makes Mannix’s grisly end — the first truly fantastic thing the artist has been called on to depict in the story –exceptionally vivid and convincing. Fifty years later, it remains my favorite comic-book take on the classic “vampire destroyed by the sunrise” trope.
The second story, also written by Goodwin, features the art of Steve Ditko, and was originally presented in Eerie #6 (Nov., 1966). At the time Ditko went to work for Warren, his work was still appearing in Amazing Spider-Man and Strange Tales (“Doctor Strange”) at Marvel; but his disaffection with that publisher, which had long his primary account as a freelancer, was already severe, and he was actively seeking new opportunities ahead of taking his leave of the House of Ideas.
Jeweller Lester Darrow can’t believe that the ruby the tramp shows him — so large and perfect — can possibly be real. He tries to resist its lure, but…
Ditko’s collaborator, Archie Goodwin, served as the editor and primary writer for Warren’s comic magazines during the period widely considered to be the publisher’s “glory years”, 1965 to 1967. Among his many virtues in his dual role was his interest in tailoring his scripts to the individual artists who’d be drawing them; and “Deep Ruby”, with its nightmarish, surrealistic scenes of the world within the gem, is clearly tailor-made for the talents and proclivities of Steve Ditko.
The wash technique used by Ditko for this story helps give his phantasmagoric environments a three-dimensionality beyond what could be achieved in his similar renderings for Marvel’s “Doctor Strange”, which had to be executed as line art in pencil and ink, and were designed for the “flat” coloring that was standard in the comics of the time.
“Deep Ruby” isn’t my absolute favorite of the sixteen stories Steve Ditko illustrated for Warren in 1966-67 — that would have to be “Collector’s Edition”, originally published in Creepy #10 (and, naturally, reprinted in The Best of Creepy) — but it’s a solid contender for second place.
We’ll have yet more Goodwin-Ditko goodness to enjoy before the end of the post; but for now, we’ll leap ahead a few years, to a tale first published in Eerie #26 (Mar., 1970): “Spiders Are Revolting!” (get it?), scripted by Bill Warren and drawn by Tom Sutton:
Bill Warren‘s was one of the few names in this magazine’s credits that I didn’t already know in July, 1971. While better remembered today as a film critic and historian (primarily of science fiction, horror, and fantasy films), Warren (who was no relation to James, as far as I know) also wrote fiction, including about a dozen stories for Warren Publishing that appeared from 1970 to 1973; “Spiders Are Revolting!” was the earliest of these.
Tom Sutton, on the other hand, was an artist whom I might not have been very familiar with, but I believe I must have at least recognized his name from jobs he’d done for several Marvel comics I owned, including Not Brand Echh #9 and Captain Marvel #15. His work on this story was, unsurprisingly, quite different in tone and style from that earlier material.
Warren and Sutton’s narrative is presented mostly in flashback, as the straitjacketed inmate, Bill Elliott, gives an account of his misfortunes to Dr. Shapiro and the guard, Willis. It had all started when Bill and his wife Jeanne moved into their new home, an old house they’d bought at auction…
Yeesh! The next day, Bill called the exterminators — who combed the house top to bottom and couldn’t find a single spider.
Bill opted not to go down to check on the unlucky burglar (smart man), but did, of course, call the cops. By the time they arrived on the scene, however, the malefactor had vanished — and so, once again, had the spiders.
Not for long, though! ‘Cause later that week, Bill and Jeanne were preparing to go out, when there came a knock upon their door…
Aaggghh! Bill promptly shot the thing in the gut, which burst open to reveal the swarm of spiders animating the burglar’s corpse. Ultimately, Bill had to burn down the whole house, and then he and Jeanne literally fled to the hills, where they holed up in a remote cabin. Even there, however, they hadn’t fled far enough — for, one night, after the couple had been there about a month, their cabin was invaded by another “walking vermin-filled obscenity!” (to borrow a phrase from Bill). “You know what weee are… and you mussst be destroyed!!” the creature hissed at our protagonist. “We will infiltrate all of human society… and you will be no more!” Bill managed to drive the spider-thing from the cabin with a blazing log from the cabin’s fireplace, but then, even as he watched the entity be consumed to ash, it promised him: “Weee are in the trillionsss… wee will winnn…”
Whooof. Hope none of y’all out there already had a thing about spiders — but if so, my apologies.
Tom Sutton had broken in at Warren in 1967, at the tail end of Archie Goodwin’s initial tenure as editor, and had hung in through the subsequent “dark years”, when James Warren evidently ran into cash-flow problems and was forced to fill the pages of both Creepy and Eerie with a mix of (then very recent) reprints and new material by writers and artists who were either at the beginning of their careers or, for whatever other reason, simply couldn’t command the page rates of an Adams or Ditko. Sutton would continue to turn out stories for Warren — some of which he’d write himself — on into 1974, even as he got busier and busier at other publishers, primarily Marvel — and while most of his later Warren stuff sampled by my younger self had a less rushed, more finished look than “Spiders Are Revolting!” (I was going to say “more polished”, but “polished” isn’t a word that seems to belong in any discussion of Sutton’s art) — it all had the same wild, frenetic energy as this story. And that’s a good thing, as far as I’m concerned.
Next up is another tale of more recent vintage, “In Close Pursuit”, which had seen its first publication in Eerie #30 (Nov., 1970). The writer, Gordon Matthews, never acquired any other professional comics credits, as best as I can determine (though he appears to have contributed to several fanzines of the era); the artist, on the other hand, was the twenty-year industry veteran, Jerry Grandenetti, who like Adams, Ditko, and Sutton had begun contributing to Warren’s books during the Goodwin era. My younger self didn’t know that earlier work, obviously, but I had enjoyed several stories Grandenetti had done for DC in recent years, in titles like The Spectre and House of Secrets; and “In Close Pursuit” seemed to be right up his dark, creepy alley.
Henry Fellows is a man with a guilty conscience — and he deserves to be such, having made his fortune by having done something very bad, though we’re not immediately told what. As he makes his way through the city streets, aware of the man in black following behind him, Henry first imagines he’s being trailed by the police, but dismisses that idea when he remembers that his partner’s already taken the rap for his misdeeds. Then he suspects the man behind him is an assassin, hired by “relatives and friends of the people who got hurt”. Finally, however, Henry gets a glimpse of the man’s face…
“In Close Pursuit” may not be the most outstanding story in the issue, script-wise, but it’s solid enough; and Grandenetti’s visual storytelling is superlative, with its eerie, almost grotesque expressionism, expert sense of pacing, and vertiginous camera angles all contributing to a highly effective comics-reading experience. Meanwhile, his use of a wash technique gives his black-and-white artwork a sense of depth I wasn’t accustomed to in his color comics for DC, in much the same way as Steve Ditko’s stories elsewhere in this Annual.
The fifth story, “…Nor Custom, Stale…” (its title a Shakespearean quote which will turn out to be quite apt), has its art credited to Johnny Craig, but no credit given to its writer. Evidently, the issue the story originally appeared in, #12 (Nov., 1967), was the first produced following Archie Goodwin’s departure as editor, and James Warren (or whoever actually managed the hands-on editing of this issue for him) didn’t credit any of the writers in it. However, the Grand Comics Database attributes the script as well as the art to Craig; and that seems quite reasonable, given that the artist had written the majority of the stories he’d done for Warren to date, much as he had back at EC Comics in the 1950s.
The presence of Johnny Craig at Warren Publishing in its early years — like that of other EC veterans such as Reed Crandall, Wally Wood, and Al Williamson — had helped to buttress the notion that the publisher’s mid-’60s advent amounted to EC’s “second coming”. (Ironically, many of Craig’s Warren jobs were credited to a pseudonym, “Jay Taycee”, due to his desire to keep his comics work off the radar of his advertising clients; either this was less of a factor by the time Eerie #12 was produced, or Warren was just sloppy.) But EC was still a largely undiscovered country for your humble blogger in 1971; and so, while I’d seen Craig’s name before, it was only because of his work for Marvel, where he’d toiled since late 1967, primarily as an inker. Craig had pencilled a few jobs for editor Stan Lee, including my own first issue of Iron Man (on which, perhaps not so coincidentally, he’d collaborated with writer Archie Goodwin); though, as it turned out, the first pencilling job of his that I’d actually seen was an issue of DC’s The Brave and the Bold featuring Batman and Hawkman that had come out in late 1966 — an uncredited job that, by some accounts, had been extensively revised by unknown hands prior to its publication, so that the end result barely resembled Craig’s work.
We learn from the story’s narrator, an English physician named Peter, how he first met his new wife, Elaine, when he was called in to treat her after she’d developed amnesia. Though he was unable to help the young woman — described as being “of some Middle Eastern ancestry” — recover her memories, and thus knew nothing about her, Peter fell in love with Elaine and asked her to marry him. When she accepted, they began planning their honeymoon — a process which, seemingly by accident, led to them discovering a new hope for uncovering Elaine’s past…
In this scene, the story’s script — whether by Craig or some other hand — plays into Western stereotypes of Middle Eastern men and women in a way that hasn’t aged well, to say the least.
A week later, the newly wedded couple left England for the fictional Middle Eastern land of “Sumaria”. Once there, they traveled by camel (as shown on the first page) until they reached the mountain village of Ranuma, situated just below the “Temple of Life”. Arriving late, they retired for the night. Some time later, however, Peter awakened to the sound of a ringing bell to find himself alone. Looking out the window, he saw the solitary figure of Elaine, climbing the mountain towards the temple.
Peter hastened to follow, but was unable to reach Elaine before she arrived at the temple gates; there, she was greeted by mysterious robed figures who ushered her inside. Entering after them, Peter soon found himself in a dark chamber where multiple decaying, foul-smelling corpses had been laid out…
Peter then snatched up Elaine’s unconscious form and fled — out of the temple, down the mountain, through the village, and on into the desert…
I hate say this, considering this story’s pedigree, but “…Nor Custom, Stale…” may be the least successful story presented in this Annual, at least in my view. That’s due mostly to the ending, which I’ve re-read multiple times now and am still not sure I fully understand. How did Elaine lose her memory in the first place, and how did she end up in England, so far from home? Did she and Peter randomly wander into Kushni’s travel agency, or were they somehow drawn there? If Kushni realized who and what Elaine was, why wouldn’t he just tell the couple what they needed to know to save her? What does it mean to be “partially saved” from death? And this may be a small point, but if Craig was going to make that big a deal over the crescent mark on Kushni and Elaine’s foreheads, he should have played a bit more fair with the reader by making it a little more obvious in his renderings of the latter character — in most of the panels it appears, Elaine’s mark is all but invisible.
In the end, while there’s still pleasure to be had in viewing Craig’s reliably crisp and uncluttered artwork, “…Nor Custom, Stale…” is a disappointing effort by an acknowledged master of the horror comic-book short story.
The same can’t be said of the Annual’s next tale, “The Monument” — another example of early Warren at its best. Written by Archie Goodwin and drawn by Alex Toth, this story first appeared in Eerie #3 (May, 1966).
Toth was another long-time veteran whose name I knew primarily from some of his most recent stuff — in his case, from his contributions to DC’s mystery anthology titles like House of Mystery and The Witching Hour. (Of course, as I’ve written elsewhere, I also knew his work from his contributions to such 1960s animated TV series as Space Ghost, but I didn’t yet associate his name with those.)
“The Monument” seems to be one of those stories that Archie Goodwin specifically tailored to the artist who’d be drawing his script; it’s hard to imagine another artist better suited to drawing a horror story set in the world of contemporary architecture in 1966 than the design-oriented Toth.
Much as Hubert Mannix stumbled upon the name of Dr. Courtney in “Fair Exchange” (which was originally published a year after “The Monument”), Evan Slater ultimately discovers the possible savior of his firm — an architect named Charles Langton Colt whose “far-out ideas” were dismissed many years ago — almost by accident while sifting through old files. (Hey, Archie Goodwin was writing between five and ten stories for Warren every month during this period; if he repeated himself once or twice, I’m inclined to give the guy a break.)
Unfortunately for Slater, Colt isn’t interested in making a comeback:
A site is found fronting a remote-looking but scenic beach, and soon…
The conclusion of “The Monument” may owe something to Ray Bradbury’s 1947 short story, “The Coffin”,** which Goodwin could have come across either in its original prose version or in its later EC Comics adaptation by Al Feldstein and Jack Davis (The Haunt of Fear #16 [Nov.-Dec., 1952])). Or, conversely, the writer could have come up with the notion of Colt’s automatic “embalming machine” entirely on his own. Either way, Goodwin and Toth have delivered a stylish, taut little chiller with this one.
The Eerie 1972 annual concludes with a second collaboration between Goodwin and Steve Ditko. “Fly!”, which was originally presented in Eerie #7 (Jan., 1967) is, like Adams’ “Fair Exchange” a formal experiment: each of the story’s six pages is laid out in an identical grid of six panels each; there are no narrative captions.
The bandaged man, as we learn on the next page, is a hired killer who’s gone into hiding after killing the key witness in a criminal case. He’s had plastic surgery to change his features, and as the story progresses, the doctor who performed the operation comes to check on how he’s healing. But as the doctor is in the process of changing the bandages, the killer cries out in pain — the fly that’s been constantly buzzing around and pestering him has just bit him on his face…
In a discussion of Ditko’s Warren stories in his book Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko (Fantagraphics, 2008), Blake Bell says of “Fly!”: “The story has an ineffable effortless quality; it can be read and absorbed in less than a minute, yet remains an unforgettable example of comic book storytelling.” All I have to add to that is that along with the other six stories in the issue, it made for pretty good value for a fourteen-year-old’s seventy-five cents.
Such was my introduction to the black-and-white comic magazines of Warren Publishing, half a century ago. I don’t specifically recall if I felt any trepidation ahead of reading the Eerie 1972 Annual that the book was going to be too gory, shocking, or otherwise too “mature” for me; but if I did, I must have been relieved by the time I finished. Maybe a few bits were rougher than anything I might have then found in House of Mystery and its Code-approved fellows at DC — Adams’ disintegrating vampire, for example, or Sutton’s corpse-erupting spiders — but nothing that much rougher. In any event, there was nothing I couldn’t deal with.
Evidently, I felt good enough about the experience to dip another toe in the Warren waters relatively quickly, as I ended up also buying the regular edition of Eerie that came out the same month as the Annual, issue #36. This was a decidedly different affair from the Annual, at least in terms of its talent lineup; indeed, the only creator whose work appeared in both magazines was Tom Sutton — which was actually quite appropriate, considering that Sutton was just about the only Warren artist or writer who’d gotten his start under Goodwin and then continued on appearing regularly through the “dark years”, into the 1970-71 rebuilding period and beyond; while other Warren veterans like Neal Adams, Alex Toth, and Wally Wood would all eventually return to do work for the publisher (Adams and Wood already had, in fact), Sutton was the only one who’d hung around during the lean times.
There was one other name besides Sutton’s among the stories’ credits that was familiar to my younger self — that of Steve Skeates, the former writer of Aquaman and Teen Titans at DC Comics. Skeates had found himself somewhat at loose ends after his editor at DC, Dick Giordano, resigned his staff position there, but had since found a berth at Warren. Skeates had his name on four of the seven stories published in #36, including “Prototype” — a tale of an undersea hero named Prince Targo, the creation of whom allowed Skeates to make use of some old Aquaman plots he’d never had the chance to turn into scripts for DC. Targo would make several more appearances in Eerie before sinking back into the depths of obscurity.
But if the majority of the creators’ names on the masthead of Eerie #36 were unknown quantities to me in 1971, that wouldn’t be the case for long. Among the contributors were several young American talents just starting their professional careers — talents like Doug Moench, Dave Cockrum, Billy Graham, and Bruce Jones — who’d go on to make notable contributions to the field over the next decade and beyond, and not only at Warren.
There were also several non-American creators listed in the credits whose names were mostly new to us stateside readers, if not necessarily to their fellow countrymen — though, like the young Americans, it wouldn’t take them long to have a significant impact. Hailing primarily from Spain, artists like Esteban Maroto, José Rubio, and L. M. Roca would ultimately play a substantial — perhaps even dominant — role in establishing Warren Publishing’s aesthetic identity over the next decade.
All in all, Eerie #36 was a good indicator of where Warren was in the middle of 1971, as well as of where the company was heading. And evidently, I just couldn’t get enough, because I eventually purchased yet another of Warren’s July-published magazines. This one, however, almost certainly caused my younger self more consternation in making the decision to purchase than had the two Eerie magazines, for the simple reason that whereas those books had merely offered an allegedly more mature approach to blood, death, and violence, this third Warren comic promised all that as well as — ulp — sex. Or, at least, what seemed to be a reasonable approximation thereof for my fourteen-year-old self.
So, be sure and check back around the end of the month, to learn how your humble blogger ultimately made the acquaintance of a certain lady in red. (Not a whole lot of red, I grant you; but she does wear some.)
*The fillers, both of which were installments of the ongoing “Eerie’s Monster Gallery” feature, were: “The Golem!”, written and drawn by Tom Sutton, which had first been published in Eerie #27 (May, 1970); and “13”, which was uncredited on the page, but whose artwork is attributed to Bill Fraccio and Tony Tallarico by the Grand Comics Database; it first ran in Eerie #16 (Jul., 1968).
**My thanks to “Quiddity” at A Very Creepy Blog for this particular insight.