Last summer I wrote a couple of blog posts detailing how I first started buying and reading Warren Publishing’s black-and-white magazine-sized horror comics, beginning with the 1972 Eerie and Vampirella Annuals and the 36th “regular” issue of Eerie, all of which came out in July, 1971. As I noted at the time, I was fated never to become a consistent, regular reader of Warren’s titles, their ultimately serving as but an occasional snack within my overall comic-book diet during the next ten years. Having said that, I’m still a little surprised that after getting off to such a strong start, it ended up taking me a whole seven months to get around to buying my fourth Warren. Possibly I was anxious about getting in trouble should my parents catch me with such “mature” reading material (which did happen, in fact, on at least one occasion). Assuming that was indeed the case, however (and even if it wasn’t), what was it that finally compelled me to go ahead and buy this issue of Eerie, after passing on the last three? I can’t claim to actually remember for sure, but I feel pretty confident that, as with so many other impulse purchases I’ve made over the more than half a century I’ve been buying comic books, I was sold by the cover.
Unlike in most such instances, however, it wouldn’t have been the cover illustration that clinched the deal. Not that I have anything against the painting by the Spanish artist Sanjulián, which represents the final story of the issue, “Pity the Grave Digger!” in fine, macabre style. But it was almost certainly the blurb for the lead story, “The Brain of Frankenstein” that caught my eye, as I was heavily into the “classic” monsters of Gothic horror fiction (and the movies and TV shows inspired by them) by this time.
And if it so happened that I picked Eerie #40 up off the magazine rack and flipped forward to that first story’s first page before deciding whether or not to purchase the book, I’m sure I must have been impelled towards my ultimate affirmative choice by the realization that it had been drawn by Mike Ploog, whose work on Marvel Comics’ “Werewolf by Night” feature in Marvel Spotlight I’d been enjoying since the past September…
From 1971 to 1972, Ploog drew four stories for Warren overall; this was the last to appear, and may well have been completed before he’d picked up any assignments from Marvel. His collaborator here, Fred Ott, is credited with writing eight other stories for Warren over the four-year period of 1971-1974… and that’s about all I can tell you about him for sure. (Who’s Who in American Comic Books indicates that “Fred Ott” was a pseudonym for the artist Fred Ottenheimer, whose known credits include humor cartoons and strips for Charlton Comics’ Eh! and Funny Animals in the mid-1950s. It could be the same guy, I suppose, but I’m rather dubious.)
Back at the Frankenstein place, Christian and Hans enjoyed reminiscing about the good old days; the conversation had just turned to Christian’s current research project when they were interrupted by a knock on the door. This turned out to be a rather disreputable looking fellow carrying a cloth-covered “specimen” he’d just procured for the baron — “all nice and fresh!” — which, when unwrapped, revealed a face that the grieving mother in the earlier graveside scene would surely have recognized…
When I first read this story back in March, 1972, the idea of someone placing the late Dr. Frankenstein’s own brain into the skull of a “new” Frankenstein’s Monster seemed completely novel… and even today, fifty years later, I’ll be damned if I can think of any other story, in any medium, that’s utilized this same specific concept. I think kudos are thus due to our tale’s writer, the mysterious Mr. Ott, for originality — and perhaps even for uniqueness.
Frankenstein and Kemmer then retired to their own rooms, presumably to await the dawn — though Hans was actually secretly rendezvousing with his hired assassin, who had come at the appointed time, bearing a “good and sharp” knife. But things didn’t go quite as planned… as, soon afterwards, Christian was awakened not by an attacker’s knife, but by a man’s scream. Rushing to the room where they’d lodged his “father”, Christian found him gone, as Hans bent over the form of a dead man with a familiar face…
The next morning, Baron Frankenstein was called by the village police to the scene of his father’s crime, where he confirmed that the unfortunate Dr. Wirtzman had died from a crushed skull and severe loss of blood, but, naturally, didn’t share any other information. Left to their own devices, the local constabulary formed search parties to scour the countryside. Meanwhile…
I thoroughly enjoyed this ten-page chiller back in 1972, and I think it holds up quite well today, thanks to Ott’s solid script as well as Ploog’s artwork, which practically drips with Gothic atmosphere. In retrospect, of course, it’s almost impossible not to see the story as a “coming attractions” trailer, or perhaps an audition piece, for the outstanding adaptation of Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus that Mike Ploog would produce in collaboration with writer Gary Friedrich for Marvel Comics, coming up later this same year.
But that triumph lay in the future; in March of ’72, Ploog still had his brief stint as a freelancer for Warren in view (if only in his rear-view mirror). In a 1998 interview for Comic Book Artist, he recalled how his association with the publisher likely came to an end:
I think I was making $23 a page for those black-&-white books…One time, I’d just picked up a freelance check… and I had $500 worth of $50 bills in my pocket. I walked into [publisher] Jim Warren’s office, and I’d just finished a monster story about a flaming hand that somebody turned into a candle [“Sleep”, in Creepy #44 (Mar., 1972)]. I said, “Jim, I busted my ass on this thing. I’ve got to have more money.” He said, “How much more you want?” I said, “Let’s make it an even $50 a page.” Jim had just returned from lunch with Bill Dubay [a freelance artist and writer at Warren from 1970, who in 1972 became first the company’s art director, and then its editor]. He called Bill into his office. Jim looked at me and said, “$50 is a lot of money. I betcha we don’t even have $50 between the three of us.” Well, Dubay was broke; he probably bought Jim’s lunch. Jim had about a buck on him. “How much do you have, Ploog? If you got $50 on you, I’ll give you that page rate.” So I began to pull $50 bills out of my pocket, one at a time, and he gave me the page rate. Thought it was the funniest thing he ever saw. He thought it was a set-up, like I had instigated it.
I think that was the last book I did for him. [laughter]
In Ploog’s case, Warren’s loss was definitely Marvel’s gain.
The second story in Eerie #40 was written by Steve Skeates — a creator who, like Ploog, is probably better remembered today for his work for the “Big Two” American color comics publishers than for his output at Warren. Skeates had found his way to the latter around the time he’d largely stopped getting assignments at DC Comics, following the departure from the company of his primary “patron”, Aquaman and Teen Titans editor Dick Giordano. The writer soon found that, along with the expected one-off horror tales, Warren was open to his fleshing out a few plot ideas he hadn’t been able to use in the now-cancelled Aquaman title with a series of stories about Prince Targo of Atlantis — a character he’d later describe in an interview for Alter Ego #84 (Mar., 2009) as an “extremely sexually-active cross between Aquaman and Aqualad”.
Prince Targo made his debut in Eerie #36 (coincidentally, the first non-Annual issue of the magazine purchased by your humble blogger); his first adventure, “Prototype”, was drawn by Bruce Jones, who’d go on to become a successful writer for Warren, Marvel, and other publishers. The second Prince Targo story, “The Other Side of Atlantis”, followed in Eerie #37; this one was illustrated by Jaime Brocal, one of the several Spanish artists who’d begun contributing to Warren’s magazines in the last couple of years, via a deal made between the publisher and the Barcelona agency Selecciones Ilustradas (SI). Brocal would be also be the artist for Eerie #40’s Targo tale, “The Once Powerful Prince”.
According to Skeates, both “Prototype” and “The Other Side of Atlantis” were originally conceived as vehicles for Aqualad; “The Once Powerful Prince”, on the other hand, had its beginnings as a story of DC’s Sea King — more specifically, as the plot for what would have been Aquaman‘s 57th issue. That tale would have found Aquaman waking up in an alley in an American city to find that he’d lost both his water-breathing ability and his power to communicate telepathically with marine life; in attempting to solve this mystery and restore himself to normal, he’d have teamed up with a special guest star, Green Arrow. Sounds pretty interesting, hm? Alas, that version of the story would remain forever untold; instead, we have…
As the last caption above indicates, the previous outing for Prince Targo, “The Other Side of Atlantis”, had ended on a cliffhanger. Evidently Warren just got Skeates’ scripts out of order, although obviously the problem was noted in time for the writer (or someone) to add an explanatory note here. As I hadn’t bought or read Eerie #37, this development didn’t cause me too much consternation at the time (though I suspect it did give me at least a moment’s pause; it wasn’t the sort of thing you’d see in a Marvel or DC series, after all).
If the notion of an undersea civilization where every single man, woman, and child has to wear a magic ring all the time lest they drown strikes you as rather unwieldy, well, join the club. To Skeates’ credit, he did (or would) provide more background details for this state of affairs in his script for “The Other Side of Atlantis”, recounting there how, long ago, Poseidon provided the people of Manaii with a trove of the rings before Atlantis sank, as well explaining how contemporary Manaiians, born air-breaters, are raised in air-filled rooms until old enough to be trusted with a ring of their own. But it’s still a pretty awkward concept.
Yeah, I think it’s safe to say we wouldn’t have seen either Aquaman or Aqualad getting themselves into stolen-powers trouble in quite this same fashion in 1972.
Now once again possessing the power to breathe beneath the sea, Targo begins his search for the ring-thief. Having previously heard rumors of a recent spike in acts of modern-day piracy, he seeks to learn more…
Targo learns from the newspaper that these piratical perfidies have been occurring approximately every other day, over a fairly wide, bur still searchable area; if the pattern keeps up, the pirate will strike today, and so Targo heads back into the drink, hoping to get lucky.
Next, the story introduces us to the pirate himself (though Skeates never gets around to giving the guy a name). Here we see him gloating in the underwater cave where he’s been stashing his ill-gotten gains:
Soon, the nameless no-goodnik heads out for his next score — and, wouldn’t you know it, Prince Targo does indeed get lucky on his very first scouting patrol:
At first Targo’s not sure how he’s going to be able to stop the whale from ramming the ship — but then Pirate Guy conveniently orders the whale to stop a moment, so that he can study the vessel more closely. This gives Targo the time and opportunity to swim over and scale the magically-immobilized sea mammal, then sneak up on his foe from behind:
Here we go again, indeed. Granted, this story originated as a superhero adventure, but it still seems a poor choice on Skeates’ part to devote so much of his 13-page tale’s real estate to a fight scene between Prince Targo and the pirate dude. For one thing, Jaime Brocal, while obviously a talented draftsman (he’d eventually illustrate sixteen stories for Warren before returning his focus to the European market around 1974), doesn’t really seem to have the knack for the kind of action choreography this scene calls for — though it’s doubtful that even Skeates’ artistic collaborator on Aquaman, Jim Aparo, could have made the fight between the buff, twentysomething Targo and his middle-aged, overweight opponent visually exciting.
Eventually, Targo manages to render the pirate unconscious with a chokehold — but then he can’t get his ring off the guy’s finger. Meanwhile, the whale is still heading for the ship at ramming speed — and if it isn’t stopped, the resulting collision will kill most of the passengers aboard. What to do? A desperate Targo slaps his enemy to wake him up — then, as the man is slowly coming to, grabs him by his feet…
“Sure is a grisly mess!” Couldn’t have put it better myself, Prince Targo.
The surprisingly gory climax of “The Once Powerful Prince” — in which our protagonist fails to prevent the destruction of a manned vessel, resulting in who knows how many innocent deaths (the script doesn’t dwell on the matter), as well sees his adversary get smashed to a bloody pulp — seems to have stemmed from Skeates’ trying to transmute a superhero adventure into a horror tale. Interviewed decades later for an article in Back Issue #108 (Oct., 2018), the writer acknowledged that he was “basically unsuccessful” in doing so, saying of the story overall that “despite its superheroic worthiness, placed where it was (within Eerie Magazine, to be exact) this tale couldn’t help but disappoint.”
Perhaps that’s the main reason why, when Skeates was given the opportunity almost five years later to reunite with Jim Aparo to produce a new tale of DC’s King of the Seven Seas, he dusted off his old Aquaman #57 plot one last time and used it as the basis for “The Menace of the Marine Marauder” in Adventure #449 (Jan.-Feb., 1977). Your humble blogger has never read this particular story, and so I can’t speak to its quality; rather, I’ll limit myself to making the observation that, judging by Aparo’s cover, the villain of the tale at least looks the part this time around.
As for Prince Targo, he would never be seen again after Eerie #40. I’m not sure if this was due simply to Skeates losing interest, or if Warren actually pulled the plug, but surely it was a frustrating situation for readers of the time who never got to find out what happened to the prince of Manaii following his getting turned into a giant monster in Eerie #37. Unfortunately, this casual (some might even say haphazard) approach to wrapping up serials would become pretty much the norm at Eerie, even as the title grew more and more focused on continuing characters over the next several years.
Speaking of Eerie‘s series, the next story in issue #40 is the second of what would eventually be eleven installments of “Dax the Warrior”, written and drawn by Esteban Maroto:
Like Sanjulián and Jaime Brocal (not to mention another couple of artists we’ll meet later in this post), Maroto was a Spanish artist who’d come to Warren via the SI agency. His first work for the publisher, “Look What They’ve Done!”, had appeared in our old friend Eerie #36; as with the majority of the stories Maroto would illustrate for Warren’s titles, he’d drawn it from a script by an American writer (Steve Skeates, in that particular case). “The Paradise Tree” was something different, however; like all the other Dax stories, it had already been published in a Spanish-language edition (though in Spain, Dax the Warrior was known as “Manly el Guerrero”). Warren simply bought the American publication rights to the work, but since Maroto himself wasn’t fluent in English, the stories would have to be re-scripted. According to Richard Arndt’s Horror Comics in Black and White: A History and Catalog, 1964-2004 (McFarland, 2013), each of the eleven stories was given to a different one of Warren’s writers, none of whom received a credit; it’s not entirely clear whether these scripters had any actual translations to work from, or if they just made up their own stories based on Maroto’s artwork.
Astartea invites Dax to stay and take his rest; but while he allows her slaves to give him a bath of “heavily perfumed waters”, after enjoying this luxury for a time, he’s ready to move on…
Writing in The Warren Companion (TwoMorrows, 2001), David A. Roach says of the Dax series:
Visually it owed as much to Alphonse Mucha as to Frank Frazetta, and its layouts were as wild as anything Jim Steranko had dreamed up. The [American] fans loved it, and it’s easy to see why: Maroto was the one Spanish artist who understood the appeal of super-heroes and Dax’s lithe physique contained echoes of Gil Kane and Neal Adams.
Speaking just for my younger self, the beautiful, near-nekkid women didn’t hurt, either.
The Dax strips were popular enough that Warren eventually devoted a giant-sized “Super Special Summer Issue” to reprinting them — sort of. Although the ten stories presented in Eerie #59 (Aug., 1974) featured the exact same Maroto artwork as in their original appearances, the scripts were completely overhauled by writer Budd Lewis, making for a somewhat disorienting reading experience for anyone who’d already consumed the earlier versions. (To give you some idea of just how different Lewis’ takes were from the original English-language presentations, I’ve included the final page of the “Dax the Damned” version of “The Paradise Tree” at right; if you’re interested in making a more thorough comparison, the complete story is available via the PorPor Books Blog.) Of course, there’s a potential irony here, in that, as already noted, the earlier versions may well have been scripted with no recourse to actual English translations of Maroto’s Spanish texts, meaning that Lewis’ renditions could actually be closer to the original “Manly el Guerrero” tales than the previous iterations — or, at least, no further off the mark. We’ll probably never know for sure, either way.
Incidentally, by the time Eerie #59 came out, Maroto had achieved something that few if any of his fellow “Spanish invasion” artists of the Seventies ever would, by having work published by an American company other than Warren… though we’ll have to save the discussion of the artist’s contributions to both the Marvel Universe and the Hyborian Age for another, later post.
Next up in Eerie #40 is “Deathfall”, written and illustrated by Sanho Kim:
Originally from South Korea, Kim had been an established presence in manhwa (Korean comics) since the late 1950s. After emigrating to the United States in the mid-Sixties, he’d found a berth at Charlton Comics, working primarily on the company’s “ghost” anthology titles (though he also contributed to their Western and war lines). His first story for Warren appeared in 1971; eventually, he’d work for Skywald and Marvel as well, and today he’s recognized as the man who (in the words of comics historian and critic Paul Gravett) “single-handedly pioneered manhwa in America”.
Following this violent fantasy, Kim’s thus-far-unnamed prisoner ruminates upon his near-future fate — death by hanging. His thoughts next turn to what appears to be a more pleasant subject, at least at first…
The name “Letha” is derived from the Greek word lethe, meaning “forgetfulness”. Ah, the irony!
The prisoner recalls the immediate aftermath of his bloody deed… then, his being sentenced to execution… and then, at last, he hears a bell tolling six. His time has come…
“Papillon” is almost certainly a nod to Papillon, the 1969 bestseller recounting the purportedly true story of its author, the former French convict Henri Charrière; but while the titular protagonist of the book (as well as its 1973 and 2017 film adaptations) escaped his fate, it doesn’t appear that Kim’s Papillon will be so fortunate.
Um, is it just me. or are those fangs in one guard’s mouth? And are both guards’ ears kinda… pointy?
Contemporary readers may roll their eyes at the supposed philosophical conundrum that closes “Deadfall” — and sure, it was probably a bit pretentious in 1972, also. But the very fact of this piece’s presence in a Warren black-and-white of the era says something about the free-wheeling nature of the publisher’s editorial approach during this period. In some ways, “Deadfall” feels years ahead of its time; it’s not hard to imagine it running in an issue of Star*Reach, or one of the other “groundlevel” comics that started springing up later in the decade. On the other hand, it’s also clearly beholden to the graphic storytelling innovations introduced by Jim Steranko circa 1966-70 (though one might point out that those innovations still seemed pretty fresh well into the late ’70s, and even beyond).
I wish I could tell you to what extent “Deadfall” does or doesn’t represent an outlier within Sanho Kim’s oeuvre, graphically or otherwise; but since most of his English-language work was done for Charlton (a company I never followed in its day, alas), I’m afraid I can’t. So I’ll simply note here that the artist continued to be quite prolific in American comics well into the mid-1970s, with that era’s vogue for the martial arts genre ultimately leading to his work appearing in Marvel Comics’ Deadly Hands of Kung Fu as well as in Charlton’s House of Yang. After 1976, Kim’s English-language credits dropped off rather sharply; he continued to work in the comics field, however, and in 2008, he was awarded the Order of Cultural Merit by the government of South Korea.
The final two stories in Eerie #40 have a lot in common; both were written by young American authors who’d been contributing to Warren’s magazines for several years, and illustrated by Spanish artists from the SI agency.
First up is “The Prodigy Son” by Don Glut and José Beá:
Finding herself strangely drawn to Howard Canelly, Brenda hangs around outside his carnival wagon after the show, until at last he emerges…
At the diner, Howard asks Brenda about herself. “Let’s just say I’ve been through a lot and have the scars to prove it,” she tells him. “I had to get away from it all. And this carnival is where I’ve ended my journey.”
Unsurprisingly, relations between the newlyweds quickly become strained. And Howard has another problem — a chronic health issue he hasn’t told his bride about, involving sudden, terrible pains in his stomach (at least he says it’s his stomach; however, Beá’s art shows him grabbing his chest). He goes to see his doctor, who, after taking some X-rays, gives him the very bad news: “…your development has taken on new proportions.”
From 1971 to 1976, José Beá would draw some thirty stories for Warren, roughly half of which he also wrote. In The Warren Companion, David A. Roach says of his work: “His strips… were populated by a succession of grotesqueries that seemed to inhabit a world that was part-’70s chic, part-Brothers Grimm ‘Mittel European,’ and wholly unsettling.” Sounds about right to me. As for scripter Don Glut, who’d started writing for Warren in 1969, he’d place a couple of additional stories with the company before moving on to other comics publishers, where he’d contribute to such titles as The Occult Files of Dr. Spektor (Gold Key), Red Circle Sorcery (Archie), and Kull the Destroyer (Marvel).
Our comic’s last story (also its cover feature, as we noted back near the beginning of the post) is “Pity the Grave Digger!” by Buddy Saunders and Auraleón — the latter of whom also illustrated the latest installment of the magazine’s regular “Eerie’s Monster Gallery” feature, “Dracula’s Castle”, which appeared on Eerie #40’s inside covers. Perhaps best remembered today for the “Pantha” series in Vampirella, Auraleón was one of Warren’s most prolific artists, producing over 70 strips for the publisher’s titles between 1971 and 1983. Buddy Saunders, on the other hand, had been contributing to Warren’s magazines longer than any other creator featured in this issue, having sold his first story to Archie Goodwin back in 1966; he would soon be moving on to focus more on the business side of the comics industry, however, ultimately founding the Lone Star Comics chain of comic-book stores as well as its online successor, mycomicshop.com.
As Elias and Hough return to their cottage next to the cemetery, a bat flies out of the darkness, causing Elias to recoil in terror. Hough is surprised that the old gravedigger could be so scared of one small bat, but, as Elias explains, “I fear bats, all bats, because I can never be sure that they are bats or…” “What!” Hough wants to know.
Elias threw the dynamite into the vault, but even as he did so, two bats flew out of the door past him; they escaped into the night as the vault exploded, “forever destroying all the hellspawn trapped within…”
Ever since that night, Elias has feared that the two that got away might come back. He cautions Hough that the younger gravedigger must always be on his guard; Hough doesn’t believe the old man’s tale, but opts to humor him by pretending to do so…
And that’s that for Eerie #40, and its “78 Illustrated Pages of Terror and Suspense” (a page count which of course includes the front and back covers, not to mention the ad pages from Warren’s “Captain Company” mail-order arm, which hawked everything from 8mm copies of old monster movies to Fu Manchu paperback novels). A mixed bag, for sure, quality-wise, but isn’t that usually the case with anthology titles? If nothing else, you’d have to admit that you certainly couldn’t beat the story selection for variety — along with three more-or-less traditional horror tales, you got a refurbished superhero yarn, a sword-and-sorcery adventure, and an experimental, pseudo-philosophical piece that hardly counted as a “story” at all (but was no less interesting for that).
In the final accounting, it wasn’t at all a bad value for 75 cents… even in 1972.