As I related on this blog back at the top of the month, in the summer of 1971 my young teenage self finally dared to dip a toe into the waters of the (allegedly) more mature comic book content represented by the black-and-white output of Warren Publishing. But as daunted as I might have been by the prospect of encountering more gore and violence than my tender sensibilities were at that time accustomed to within the pages of Warren’s Eerie or Creepy, I’m certain that I experienced even greater trepidation regarding my decision as to whether or not I should purchase the magazine that’s the primary topic of today’s post. Because, in addition to the same more generous amounts of violence and gore offered by its fellow Warren publications, Vampirella also appeared to promise a more substantial serving of sex.
Well… not sex, exactly. As my old friend Don put it in his comment about my Eerie 1972 Annual post a few weeks ago, “sexiness” is probably a better word. And even then, one might qualify that term as meaning, in this context, “what seems sexy to a young straight teenage boy”. Perhaps we should just say that fourteen-year-old me recognized in Vampirella an explicit intent to appeal to my prurient interest — even if I didn’t have any idea what “prurient” meant.
I don’t really recall the specifics of my internal wranglings over buying the Vampirella 1972 Annual a half-century ago, or what ultimately tipped the scales in favor of making the purchase. But I figure that one element that might have factored into my thinking was this full-page ad that appeared in a number of the Comics Code-approved DC comic books that I bought in the spring and early summer of ’71:
Strange as it may seem, this “Weird World of Aurora” advertisement was my first encounter with Warren’s seductive bloodsucker in comic-strip format. And I can see how it might have nudged me in the direction of deciding that it would be OK for me to buy a Vampirella comic. I mean, how bad could she really be if Aurora was making model kits of her and selling them to kids? Right?
Evidently, quite a lot of other people, including columnist Ann Landers and the National Organization for Women (NOW), decided that the correct answer was “pretty bad”, and the whole line of “Monster Scenes” would be recalled from stores well before Christmas. But as best as I can remember, my fourteen-year-old self was oblivious to all of that — and anyway, it was comic books I was interested in, not model kits.
In any event, I finally succumbed to the allure of Warren’s raven-tressed, barely-dressed horror hostess/heroine with my acquisition of her 1972 Annual (which, like its Eerie cousin, came out a whole half-year before its cover date, for reasons now lost to time). With the cover’s blurbed promise of a brand-new origin story for the character, it seemed a pretty good bet.
The Annual’s cover painting, by the French artist Aslan (né Alain Gourdon) stands apart from most other Vampirella covers of its era in that it’s a simple portrait of the title character, rather than a depiction of a scene from a story in the issue. That’s a reasonable design choice for an annual, obviously, but there’s evidently a bit more to the story than that. According to Richard J. Arndt’s Horror Comics in Black and White: A History and Catalog, 1964-2004 (McFarland, 2013), Aslan’s painting was originally done in 1969, and was in fact supposed to grace the cover of Vampirella‘s premiere issue, “but was rejected over fears that Vampi looked rather anemic”. (Yes, anemic.) Warren ended up going with a Frank Frazetta painting instead, and I’d have to say that was probably for the best, considering how quickly that particular image became iconic. Interestingly, Aslan’s depiction of the character indicates its having being painted in Vampirella’s earliest days via a couple of costume details — neither her metal collar clasp nor her arm jewelry were as yet part of her ensemble (though I have to confess I had never noticed either omission until doing my research for this post; gee, I wonder why not?). In any event, Aslan — who seems to have made his rep primarily as a pin-up artist — never did any other comic-book related work, or at least none published in the U.S.
Vampirella #1 had been published in July, 1969, almost exactly two years prior to the publication of the 1972 Annual. The titular star, whose origin story led off that first issue, seems to have been conceived at least in part as a horror-themed takeoff on the French science-fiction comic book heroine Barbarella, whose American profile had risen considerably following the release of a 1968 film adaptation starring Jane Fonda. The basic design of Vampi’s costume was by future feminist comix icon Trina Robbins, though Frazetta’s interpretation of Robbins’ idea is what ultimately made it into print. (“I described it [the costume] over the phone to Frank Frazetta…” Robbins told an interviewer years later. “His original cover art of Vampirella looked a lot like my idea, but her costume shrunk more with each issue…” A relatively modest 1999 take by Robbins herself appears at left.) The basic character concept — a refugee from a dying planet where the rivers ran with blood — may have been the work of Forrest J. Ackerman, the editor and primary writer of Warren’s non-comics magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland, who also scripted Vampirella’s introductory origin tale.
That story, drawn by Warren regular Tom Sutton, played the character for laughs — as did a couple of follow-ups, written and drawn by various hands, which gave Vampi a blonde twin sister named Draculina and a witchy cousin named Evily. And it’s not hard to see why Warren took that approach; Vampirella was, after all, a horror host, following in the footsteps of such over-the-top television personalities as Vampira, not to mention her two counterparts at Warren, Uncle Creepy and Cousin Ernie. One didn’t expect either of the latter pair to have dramatic adventures, so why should Vampirella?
At some point, however, the thinking at Warren changed. In “Who Serves the Cause of Chaos?” (Vampirella #8 [Nov., 1970]), writer Archie Goodwin — whose stint as Warren’s editor and chief writer in the mid-1960s coincided with the period most fans consider the publisher’s glory days — essentially reinvented the character, portraying her for the first time as a straight-up, non-campy almost-superheroine. Vampirella was still a vampire, but a “good” one, who resisted her thirst for human blood while she and her allies crusaded against the Cult of Chaos and other arcane threats.
Goodwin’s conception of Vampirella kept the basic “exile from the planet Drakulon” premise, but it must have been as clear to the series’ regular readers as to the staff at Warren that Ackerman’s jokey story from issue #1 no longer worked as a canonical origin for the newly reimagined heroine. It therefore made sense for the publisher to use the occasion of the title’s first annual to offer a new, “straight” version of Vampirella’s origin story — and that’s just what they did.
And that, of course, is where your humble blogger came in, in the summer of 1971 — a brand-new Vampirella reader, who naturally had no knowledge at all about any of that background stuff we just went over…
Vampirella’s new origin was drawn by José “Pepe” González, who’d come on board as the feature’s regular illustrator with issue #12. A native of Spain, González represented the vanguard of the “Barcelona School” of artists who’d go on to transform Warren’s aesthetic as the decade proceeded; he’d continue as Vampirella’s principal artist for another six years, ultimately drawing 53 installments of the feature.
Oddly, the new origin story wasn’t written by Archie Goodwin, who at this point had five Vampi stories under his belt, and would contribute another three before handing the strip off to a new young scripter named T. Casey Brennan; rather, it was penned by Warren’s managing editor at that time, John R. Cochran, who’d only ever write three stories for Warren (or any other comics publisher) overall, including this single Vampirella tale.
I’m going to make a general observation here regarding the fact that González places our heroine in gratuitously provocative poses on a frequent basis, rather than call out each individual instance. Just so we’re clear: I do see ’em, OK?
Of course, one might question if it’s possible to pose in any way that’s not provocative when one is dressed in what critic Kayleigh Hearn has memorably called “three pieces of red duct tape attached to a white collar”. One might also wonder whether all the inhabitants of Drakulon wear similar outfits to Vampirella’s (all matters of modesty aside, those high-heeled boots seem particularly unsuitable for the natural environment in which we presently find her). Unfortunately, we have a very small sample size to go by — the only other native Drakulonian we ever get a really close look at is Vampi’s male companion Tristan, whom we first glimpse on the very next page… but considering that he’s fully covered, from his head to his toes (said toes being enclosed in sensible footwear, I might add), we’ll have to assume the answer is “no”.
Yes, the idea of “a world where rivers of blood like water coursed” is inherently silly, but since the story treats it with a straight face, the reader has little choice but to suck it up (pun intended) and sally on…
“Killing the gronos would be like killing something in myself,” explains the sensitive Tris. Unable to persuade her lover differently, Vampirella proceeds to grapple with the boar-like beast on her own. That’s not a problem, however, as she quickly breaks its neck…
Based on later evidence, the spaceship and its crew are from Earth. And given that when Vampi later takes the same ship to come to our planet, she arrives in what appears to be the present day U.S., that… seems strange. To the best of my knowledge, however, the series’ writers never indicated that our heroine had traveled through time; or, conversely, suggested that, in the series’ fictional reality, humanity had achieved interplanetary travel by 1970; or, indeed, offered any other explanation. So, your guess is as good as mine.
As one Earthman drops to the ground, apparently dead, his companion quickly changes his tune: “Whatever kind of being are you? You must not leave me here! I’m alone… Please don’t go!” But Vampirella simply turns and exits.
“Come, Vampirella! Your hands behind your back as if they are fettered…” This stuff is pretty damn creepy. Does the writer, J. R. Cochran, know just how creepy it is? Honestly, I’m not sure.
Of course, when the revenant (or whatever he is) wipes the mud from his face, it’s Tristan — who’s returned from the dead not just angry, but, for some reason, angry at Vampirella. He rails against his former lover for the better part of two pages, calling her a pig and making statements like, “You would not have me… or my ideals! Rather you chose humiliation!” He also slaps her around a few times. Meanwhile, our heroine suffers all of this verbal and physical abuse in passive silence. The entire sequence is ugly and dispiriting, not to mention repetitive.*
Finally (and thankfully), Tristan runs out of steam long enough for the story to clue us in as to how he came back from the grave in the first place:
But by the next page, Tristan is right back to his angry raving, as he swears he’ll kill Vampirella one day: “I will follow you… Follow you and murder you as surely as you murdered me with your pity!” Dude, I have to say, you’re already carrying around so much pity for yourself that I don’t think you need to worry about the lady’s.
At last, Vampirella turns into a bat and flies away from Tris’ sorry ass…
Yeah, guy, I hear you. Although I don’t have a clue what the name change is intended to signify to us readers. “Tristan” is the name of a knight from medieval Arthurian romance, perhaps best known to modern audiences from Richard Wagner’s operatic adaptation of his and Isolde’s tragic love story. “Mercado”, on the other hand, is… the Spanish and Portuguese word for “market”?
I honestly have no idea what Cochran was trying to get at here — either with the name change or with Tristan/Mercado’s character arc in general. Was there a plan to eventually bring him into Vampi’s later continuity, presumably as a villain? If so, nothing ever seems to have come of the idea; as already stated, Cochran never wrote another Vampirella script, and as best as I can determine, “Mercado” never showed his face again in anyone else’s stories, either.**
So much for the new and “improved” origin of Vampirella, which doesn’t have much to recommend it, in my opinion, with the exception of González’s attractive artwork. If you’ve never read any other Warren Vampi story, I hope you’ll take my word for it that there are better ones. Or, you can just keep reading this blog, as we’ll probably have a go at another issue sometime in the next year or two.
Of course, “The Origin of Vampirella”, though the only new tale in the 1972 Annual — as well as the longest — was just one out of six stories in the magazine.*** And since I’d never read a Warren comic prior to this summer, all the other stories were just as new to me as the lead one had been.
Before leaping in to the rest of Annual’s contents, however, a bit of additional context: In contrast to the Eerie 1972 Annual, which had five years’ worth of publishing history to draw on, the Vampirella 1972 Annual could only cast back 24 months for its content. And as you might remember from our discussion of the Eerie book, Warren had still been clambering out of the pit of its darkest years, quality-wise, when Vampirella launched in 1969.
Nevertheless, there was some worthwhile stuff to reprint. Beginning with this story, “The Curse of Circe”, which originally ran in Vampirella #6 (Jul., 1970):
This story’s creators were primarily known to my fourteen-year-old self via their work for DC Comics. Writer Gardner Fox had been the author of many of my favorite Silver Age superhero stories; and while I knew I hadn’t seen his name in a credits box at DC for a while, I didn’t at this point realize that it was because his over 30-year working relationship with the company had recently been abruptly terminated, requiring him to seek out new clients such as Warren Publishing. Meanwhile, Jerry Grandenetti was familiar to me from his relatively recent stuff in such DC titles as Spectre and House of Secrets, though I’d also encountered his Warren work once already this summer, via the Eerie 1972 Annual.
As the young woman, Helen, remonstrates with our protagonist, she’s interrupted by the voice of her mistress — and once he’s seen the latter, Paul Madden no longer has eyes or ears for anyone else. “Man — what a dish!” he exclaims.
After Paul finishes his bath, he’s wined and dined, and then Circe takes him to bed. (For the record, this is as close as the Vampirella 1972 Annual ever gets to a “sex scene”.)
You gotta give Paul credit for knowing his Odyssey — not only does he figure out that he’s on the island of Circe, but he even remembers that “Ulysses ate a plant called ‘moly’ and was saved from her [Circe’s] enchantments…” Unfortunately, Paul has no clue what moly looks like — but Helen does, and, after rendezvousing with our hapless protagonist in the forest, she feeds him some of the herb…
So, Paul and Helen try to escape Circe’s island, fail, and die. It’s a rushed, and not an especially satisfying, conclusion to the tale — which, taken as a whole, is hardly one of Fox’s more memorable efforts. But Grandenetti’s moody art is lovely throughout, and rewarding enough to make “The Curse of Circe” worth reading all by itself, in my view.
The next story in the Annual has some surface similarities to its immediate predecessor — except that in “Goddess from the Sea”, it’s the mysterious, exotic woman who emerges from the ocean to encounter our male protagonist, rather than the other way around…
This piece, which was originally published in Vampirella #1 (Sep., 1969), represented Neal Adams’ first work for Warren Publishing since 1967, and was reproduced entirely from his pencils. Its writer, Don Glut, had been at the beginning of his professional career when this story first appeared; he had four other stories published in that same first issue of Vampirella as well, and his first professional sale ran in Creepy #29 that same month. Glut would be a prolific contributor to Warren for the next couple of years, after which he’d move on to write for other publishers, including Gold Key, Marvel, and Archie.
Once she’s inside, the strange woman — Lalora — explains to our manly protagonist, Jim Judson, that she comes from the undersea realm of Atlantis…
Lalora begs Jim to help her escape, and he agrees. There’s just time enough to steal a single kiss before the seven Atlantean warriors descend upon the house…
Facing seriously poor odds, Jim defends Lalora with whatever comes to hand… a chair, his fists… Finally, however, he gets his hands on one of his foes’ bladed weapons, with which he slays at least one of them, named Namlooc…
Namlooc, Namgib, and Namelttil… read ’em backwards, if you haven’t already. I figure Glut must have been too busy knocking out his five stories for Vampirella #1 to be able to spend too much time thinking up names for any single one.
Now that’s what I call an effective ending. With its solid script and superlative art, “Goddess from the Sea” earns a strong second place finish among the Annual’s five reprinted tales. The only reason your humble blogger isn’t putting it at the very top is the story which immediately follows it:
As had Neal Adams’ work on the previous story, “The Curse” (which was originally published in Vampirella #9 [Jan., 1971]) represented Wally Wood’s first job for Warren Publishing since 1967. At this point, I still knew Wood primarily as an inker, though I’d read at least a couple of the “Dr. Doom” strips he’d drawn for Marvel’s Astonishing Tales, and may have also encountered some of his early Mad work via reprints. In any event, his classic EC Comics science-fiction work was as yet a closed book to me, and I doubt I’d ever even heard of his pioneering independent comics magazine witzend. So “The Curse” — written as well as illustrated by Wood — was something of a revelation.
Zara evidently ekes out a very basic existence in her forest clearing; the poor thing can’t afford even a single stitch of clothing…
As they begin their journey out of the forest, Zorg asks Zara if she herself is a witch. she replies that she’s not, “but I learned something of sorcery from… from my mother –”
Before long, the duo have passed into the land of the witch Arachne…
Below another boulder is the opening to an underground tunnel; entering it, Zara and Zorg follow the passage through still more frightening illusions, until at last…
The thoroughly unexpected, yet completely satisfying conclusion to “The Curse” provides proof that a twist ending doesn’t necessarily have to be an unhappy one.
As I’ve already indicated, this is my favorite story in the Vampirella 1972 Annual; I’d even go so far as to say that it would be just as memorable even if Wood had draped Zara in a head-to-toe shapeless sack for the entire thing. (My inner fourteen-year-old begs to differ, but that’s his problem, not mine.)****
The next story is, in my opinion, the weakest one in the book; but before proceeding on to it, a word about the intros and outros by Vampi that frame most of the stories (the exceptions being “The Origin of Vampirella” and, interestingly, “The Curse”). When Vampirella was launched, the titular star’s role as a horror hostess seems to have been considered at least as important as, and probably more than, her serving as the lead character in a series of adventures of her own; she was, at the root, a sexier take on the same basic concept as Uncle Creepy and Cousin Eerie, as well as the EC Comics GhouLunatics who’d proceeded them.
And as long as Vampi was portrayed in the jokey, parodic manner of her earliest solo outings, there was little to no daylight between the character who appeared in stories and the one who merely introduced them. As soon as Archie Goodwin introduced the “straight” Vampirella of issue #8’s “Who Serves the Cause of Chaos?”, however, a certain dissonance set in. By the time I started buying the book, it was just about impossible to see the earnest adventuress who starred in each issue’s lead story, and the punning coquette with the ghoulish sense of humor who hosted the remainder of the magazine, as the same fictional “person”.
And so, I didn’t. As far as I was concerned — and, I imagine, most other readers as well, whether or not they ever consciously thought about the matter in these specific terms — there were two Vampirellas. The one who was in stories, and the one who only introduced them. Cognitive dissonance was thereby averted.
With that understood, let’s let “Vampi the hostess” take us into our next narrative…
Nicola “Nick” Cuti was a little more than a year into his professional comics writing career when “Snake Eyes” first ran in Vampirella #8 (Nov., 1970); though he’d already had seventeen stories published by Warren in that time (and had self-published three issues of his own creation, Moonchild, besides), I think it would be fair to say that he was still learning his craft. After another year or so of writing for Warren, Cuti would move on to Charlton Comics, where he’d eventually create (with artist Joe Staton) the character he’s best remembered for today, E-Man. (He would return to Warren later in the decade, however.)
Jack Sparling was another artist who, like Jerry Grandenetti, I knew primarily from his work in DC’s “mystery” anthologies. He’d never be a huge favorite of mine, but he could be effective when working in the horror genre, and his art for “Snake Eyes” is entirely serviceable.
Charlie’s “loyalty and interest” eventually lead him to propose to Sara that they travel to Egypt — “the land of snakes!” — where her grandparents came from, and where he’s sure she can become a star as a dancer. Sara agrees, and soon thereafter…
The dealer, Bardov, confirms that the pendant is “authentic”, and offers three thousand American dollars for it. Sara is unwilling to give it up, however: “It’s my heritage. My grandmother put it around my neck when I left Egypt. Ssssst. I’ve a feeling about it, Charlie…” They leave the shop with no deal made; but Charlie is very unhappy with the decision, ever mindful of their need for more “captial”.
The next day, Charlie surprises Sara with a brand new costume. As she puts it on, it occurs to her to ask: “B-but… where did you get the money?”
“I sold your pendant.”
Sara experiences some remorse over Charlie — but she’s rather more cold-blooded (sorry) when it comes to the gem dealers. Returning to their shop, she deals first with Mister Tibbs, then goes after Bardov. “Please princess…!” pleads the man…
Um… well, I certainly wasn’t expecting mongoose people to show up at the end of the story, were you? Although, maybe we would have, if the idea of snake people had been introduced earlier than just one panel ago. I guess it’s a good thing that Mr. Bardov kept a pet mongoose in his and Tibbs’ shop, or that finale would seem to have come completely out of nowhere…as opposed to just mostly out of nowhere.
All that having been said — Nick Cuti was, as we noted earlier, still a young and learning writer when he knocked out this one. He’d definitely produce better work over the course of his long career.
And now, on to our sixth, and final, tale…
“Forgotten Kingdom”, which had originally appeared in Vampirella #4 (Apr., 1970), was scripted by Bill Parente, who’d worked as an editor and writer at Warren from 1968 to 1970. It was illustrated by “David StClair” — a pseudonym for Ernie Colón, an artist I’d become more familiar with later in the decade as the artist of Atlas/Seaboard’s Grim Ghost — and even more familiar with in the following decade, thanks to his two fantasy co-creations for DC Comics, Arak, Son of Thunder and Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld. (It would be many years after my first learning his real name that I’d discover Colón had also drawn a massive number of “Casper, the Friendly Ghost” and “Richie Rich” strips for Harvey Comics, mostly uncredited, over the decades.)
One distinctive aspect of Colón’s art in this story is the abundance of geometric patterns appearing throughout, which were evidently drawn using a Spirograph.
Before long, the “man-creature” does indeed get a chance to prove his intentions are benign…
Eventually, Zodi and Keifer arrive in the city ruled by the mysterious “Temple of One” — a city which the astronaut is startled to discover is inhabited only by women …
Temple of One goes on to explain how Uluphon had been ravaged by a plague that only killed males. After the last man succumbed, the survivors “burned our cities and fled to the safety of our inner world…”
Not long afterwards, Keifer awakes to find himself imprisoned in a small featureless room. But Zodi, having fallen for this stranger from the stars, soon arrives to bust him out. She’s even recovered his weapon, and so the two of them flee the city, killing a guard along the way. But Temple of One quickly becomes aware of Zodi’s betrayal, and she sends a… well, a Spirograph design (that she can see and talk through) after the fugitives…
Does Keifer’s shooting the Spirograph thingy somehow release enough destructive energies to shatter the entire planet of Uluphon? Sure looks that way, although it would be nice if the script and art were clearer on that point.
The ending of “Forbidden Kingdom” is quite chilling — or it would be, if not for Vampi’s sniggering final comment that implies that the doomed Zodi is somehow “lucky” — a supposedly humorous remark that’s actually anything but, and made even more unfunny by the fact that the “joke” is presented as coming from the point of view of a woman, though of course it’s actually been written by a man. This speaks to one of the major problems with Warren’s Vampirella — per the magazine’s 1st issue cover blurb, its subject matter is alleged to be “fantastic females”; but the magazine’s perspective is unrelentingly male (and not an especially enlightened variety of “male”, either, at least not in the title’s early years). While this problem was hardly unique to Warren — after all, the whole comics industry was pretty much a “boys’ club” at this point in its history (and some would say it still is) — its presence here still needs to be acknowledged.
Of course, all of that that I just wrote is my sixty-four-year-old self talking. Back in the summer of ’71, my fourteen-year-old self was, as you can imagine, rather less harsh in his criticisms of the Vampirella 1972 Annual — and of Vampirella in general. That’s evidenced by the fact that I did go on to buy further issues — not a whole lot of them, truth be told, but some. And while neither Vampirella nor its fellow Warren titles would ever become a major part of my comic-book diet, they would nevertheless represent a small portion of it, at least for the next few years. That being true, Vampi, Cousin Eerie, and Uncle Creepy will be showing up on this blog from time to time; I hope you’ll be around to greet them when they do.
*Evidently, the script was even more repetitive in its original form. According to Bill Schelly’s James Warren, Empire of Monsters: The Man Behind Creepy,Vampirella, and Famous Monsters (Fantagraphics, 2018), José González’s go-between with Warren, Josep (José) Toutain Vila, was concerned enough about it to write the publisher himself a letter on May 5, 1971, at which time the story was already being drawn (and running late, besides):
Last night I read the script “The Origin of Vampirella,” which Pepe González has started drawing and whose deadline is June 1. When I read it, I realized there was a big problem. The script is rather bad. It is padded with repeated situations. I don’t like criticizing a script writer. If the problem arose only from the quality of the script, I wouldn’t have said anything. [There is) an average of more than 7 panels per page, with the following disadvantages. 1) González will not be able to do a good job if he has to draw so many panels on each page. 2) This story is urgent. The more panels there are, the less time will González be able to spend on each one. 3) (Most important) Charging per panel, this story is going to cost you $58 per page.
Toutain went on to tell James Warren the solution he had already taken on himself to implement, which was to cut some panels. He was concerned that the publisher would be upset; but his worries turned out to be needless, as Warren readily, and happily, approved the action. Perhaps he shared Toutain’s low opinion of Cochran’s script; but it’s difficult not to suspect that the main reason for the publisher’s congenial attitude was that the other man’s action had saved him (Warren) money. At this time, Warren’s regular rate for comics art was $40 a page; but, in his role as the head of the Barcelona studio Selecciones Ilustradas (SI), Toutain had negotiated a per-panel rate for his artists. Hence, his advice to James Warren that “The Origin of Vampirella” was going to cost him an extra 18 bucks a page. For a relatively small publishing operation like Warren’s, that kind of thing could make a real difference.
**For the record, a “remixed” version of “The Origin of Vampirella”, featuring the exact same González art, but with a completely new script by Budd Lewis, appeared in Vampirella #46 (Oct., 1975). The main difference in this telling was that Vampi was portrayed as disobeying the teachings of her culture by killing an animal for food, which altered the motivation for Tristan’s resentment, at least somewhat. As a less significant departure, Tristan didn’t change his name to Mercado in this one. All in all, however, this revised version really wasn’t much of an improvement.
***Along with the book’s six “proper” stories, the Annual also reprinted three “Vampi’s Feary Tales” one-page fillers, featuring the work of Tom Sutton, Nicola Cuti, and Jeffrey Catherine Jones.
****As a sop to the fourteen-year-old me, however, I feel obliged to share the following anecdote: The one and only time I can remember ever getting in trouble at home over a comic book — or any other reading material, for that matter — was one time in the early ’70s when my mom busted me over a Warren magazine she found in my room. Today, I can’t tell you for sure whether that magazine was a copy of Vampirella, Eerie, or Creepy, let alone which specific issue it might have been; but I can say that whenever I’ve recalled the incident over the years, a vague image of a Wally Wood-drawn black-and-white comics page has arisen in my mind: a page which, in preparing this blog post, I’ve come to realize is none other than page 2 of “The Curse”. So, yeah — Wood’s rendering of the unclad Zara obviously made an impression on my impressionable young self.
Ah, Vampirella. As you alluded to in your last paragraph, Alan, my main problem with Vampirella would have been getting caught with it. My mom would have seen this book as straight-up porn and treated me just as she would have if she’d caught me with a Playboy or something similar, which would have been somewhat understandable, but still not fair. Of course, I was already used to sneaking comics into the house; as I’ve explained in other comments, my folks were seriously “anti-comics” and didn’t want me buying them at all, so I had to adopt a secretive sneaky posture to my comics buying that led to a deep embarrassment of my love of the genre that has continued into my adulthood and on to today, despite the fact that comics are much more accepted now than they were then.
Anyway, I don’t know what affected my appreciation of the female form more, Vampirella or the bikini-clad Goldie Hawn on Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, but my 14-year old self definitely felt tinglings in new and interesting places on first seeing Frazetta’s amazing painting of the title character (not part of the issue in question, but I remember it fondly). Did this make it more likely that I’d pick up a copy of Vampi over Eerie or Creepy? Yeah, probably, I’m embarrassed to say, though I do know that I bought very few Warren books back in the day, mainly because, physics-defying body suits and provocative poses aside, I prefered super-heroes over horror and chose to spend my money on story, apparently, rather than tittilation.
That said, I must have bought this book when it hit the stands because, except for the all-new origin of Vampirella, I remember every story in it explicitly, particularly the Circe tale with Grandedetti’s overly sensuous depictions of the characters and the last story with art by Ernie Colon, who I’ve always enjoyed, even when I didn’t always enjoy the particular characters and stories he was assigned to. In fact, looking back now, fify-years later, you mentioned that Vampirella herself was inspired by Barbarella, but I find the character of Zodi in that final story is more Barbarella than anything else in the book, including the fact that the character even looks somewhat like a young Jane Fonda. Which is not to say I don’t have appreciation for poor old Zorg (this was probably my introduction to Wally Wood as well) and I’ll bet I recognized Neal Adams work the second I laid eyes on it (and in fact, that may have been why I bought the book in the first place).
It’s funny. I didn’t regularly read the Warren books. I know I didn’t, but in choosing to write about this Vampirella annual, you’ve actually found a book I remember better and more clearly than most of the Marvel and DC books that I also remember reading back in the day. Maybe it was just all of the naked women or maybe these books were better than I remembered they were. At least this one was.
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“Don’t worry, this is New York. No one will help her.” I have seen this Aurora ad before, but this might be the first time I’ve actually read it all. This line made me lol.
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The legend of Kitty Genovese was still going strong…
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Never bought Vampi, except for a few issues Frank Frazetta covers, or interior stories drawn by Neal Adams, Wally Wood, and Jeff Jones (only a handful).
Speaking of Frazetta, I suspect his version of Vampi on the cover of #1 and a few interior drawings was based on Claudette Colbert as Poppeia in the 1932 film “Sign of the Cross,” directed by Cecil B. DeMille. Look into it!
Actually, in late 1965 Frank Frazetta drew this “Creepy’s Loathsome Lore” page which was published in Creepy #7, cover dated February, 1966.
I mention this because the first panel has Vampirella several years before her magazine debut! Still seems Colbert/Poppeia inspired to me. Have a look:
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Very interesting! Though, obviously, it’s not the exact same design. I can also see how Frazetta could have been influenced by that visual of Colbert as Poppeia, although it’s just as possible he came up with a similar look on his own. There’s also an anecdote about James Warren describing his old high school sweetheart to Frazetta over the phone — apparently, she had long black hair, with bangs. 🙂 If it’s accurate, it would seem to come into play here, as well.
I see that someone at Bleeding Cool made the same Colbert-Vampi connection back in 2010:
Vampi’s hairstyle was also the same as Bettie Page’s, and Frazetta certainly knew who she was.
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The occasion prompted me to go deep into my comic book and comic magazine collection and find and check out the early issues of Vampirella that I knew I had. I found Vampirella #3, #4, #5, #7, #8, #9, #10, #11, and #12 in my collection. No 1972 Vampirella Annual.
For the life of me, I do not have the slightest idea why I bought Vampirella back in the day. If Vampirella was supposed to be some sort of “sexy” comic magazine, it was a complete failure. At least with me. For one thing, a comic magazine loaded with “girlie” art needs artists that can draw “hot” women. Those early issues of Vampirella had some of the worst interior artwork I have ever seen in comic magazine. It looked like artwork contributed by amateurs. I can’t believe Warren actually paid for the art. Maybe he didn’t. I am specifically talking about issues #3, #4, #5, #7 and #8. I don’t have #1, #2 or #6, so I don’t know what the artwork was like in those issues.
A major exception is a Jeff Jones story in Vampi #5. Jeff Jones was an exceptional artist
On the other hand, the cover art was actually very good for several of these issues, especially the covers Frank Frazetta did (#5, #7, #11), all of which have been republished in various Frazetta retrospectives.
The interior artwork starts making a turnaround in Vampi #9 with the Wallace Wood story “The Curse” and a Barry Windsor Smith effort “The Boy Who Loved Trees”. #10 was even better with stories with art by Wallace Wood, Ralph Reese, Frank Brunner and Neil Adams (Warren even sprang the money for an inker for Adams this time). #11, however, was not particularly good, artwise. #12 was the best with a 20 page Vampirella story with great artwork by Jose Gonzales, the artist that did the new origin story in the 1972 Vampirella Annual, another story by Jeff Jones, an exceptional effort by an artist named Billy Graham (definitely NOT the preacher), and Wallace Wood’s “To Kill A God.”
I guess the artwork in Vampirella got so good, I stopped buying the magazine. However, I never found the magazine to be “sexy”. Not in the Playboy Magazine sense of the word “sexy”. Frankly, I never did care for the character of Vampirella and I found the outfit she wore to be unappealing, even a little ridiculous. It is surprising to me that it has never been changed in the last 50 years.
My all-time favorite black and white comic magazine is Savage Sword of Conan, particularly during Roy Thomas’ tenure as editor. I didn’t much care for Mad Magazine, the top selling black and white “comic” magazine. The humor in Mad was too bland for me. National Lampoon, a slick paper humor magazine with pages in color, that had begun publication in 1970, was much more to my taste. However, the content could be shocking, even by today’s standards.
I never forgot the comic book format story “Cowgirls at War”, art by Russ Heath. Alan, if your folks had caught you with that issue of National Lampoon (yes, minors could buy it at the newsstand) and saw that story, you REALLY would have been in trouble!
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Vampi #3 is worth far more than #1! Warren said most copies of #3 were water damaged while shipping and unsuitable for newsstand sales.
As for NatLamp, there were many great artists who worked there, especially Jeff Jones on “Idyl,” but so much of the ribald satire in other portions of the mag had adolescent shock value at the time, but are rather tasteless in retrospect.
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