Graphic Novel Review: Creepy Archives Vol. 26 Brings Black-and-White Scares

The Comics Code Authority was established in 1954 to stop comic books from melting children’s brains into juvenile delinquency. With its myriad and unclear rules, the CCA did away with the EC Horror comics of the 1950s, as well as many Western and Crime comics. Warren Publishing (who also ran Famous Monsters of Filmland) continued to publish horror comics in black-and-white as “magazines.” Since 2007, New Comic Company LLC and Dark Horse have worked to republish Creepy magazine as The Creepy Archives. The 26th installment collects Creepy #123-127, nearly 300 pages of Creepy comics and it’s a lot of fun.

One of the best parts, oddly, is the ads. There are pages dedicated to selling masks, and my favorite, an ad that runs twice selling “Genuine Soil from Dracula’s Castle.” I’m tempted to clip out the form and send my $9.95 plus $2 for shipping. It’s impossible not to have fun as you flip through the ads and think about what you would do with a vial full of Dracula’s finest dirt.

Continue reading at Wicked Horror!

S1, E5 “Walking Distance”

There’s more than one way to introduce supernatural or otherwise fictional elements into a story. Frequently, The Twilight Zone parcels clues across the episode about what exactly separates the dimension the characters are in from the viewer’s reality. In the fifth episode of season one, “Walking Distance,” Rod Serling does just that.

The episode starts with Martin Sloan, an ad man from the big city, roaring into a small town’s gas station and laying on the horn to get the attendant’s attention. Sloan says he’s in no hurry after all of that, because he is human garbage—Don Draper without the swagger. The Twilight Zone gets away with having characters like Sloan—one- or two-dimensional instead of three, and imminently hateable—because viewers know that a punishment is coming in the next twenty minutes.

Sloan walks to the nearby town while his car is serviced and when he steps into the pharmacy, Serling gives us the first clue that things aren’t as they appear. Sloan recognizes the man behind the soda counter, who tells him, “I’ve got that kind of face.” It’s a great detail because there’s no reason for Sloan to recognize the man, but everyone falsely recognizes a stranger once in a while. Then Sloan waxes poetic about old Mr. Wilson, who used to sleep in the backroom before a heart attack killed him.

When Sloan walks out, the clerk who served him goes to the back room and tells Mr. Wilson, the man who died in Sloan’s story, that they need more chocolate syrup.

There are more obvious clues that Serling gives us as well. Sloan tells the clerk that, “It’s just as if I left yesterday.” Like in “Where is Everybody?,” (also directed by Robert Stevens) the character is saying exactly what’s happening. The other evidence is building a case that he’s right.

The next clue comes when Sloan starts questioning children about how they play marbles now on the street. It’s odd, and would surely get him arrested today. When he tells that little boy his name, the boy tells Sloan, “I know Martin Sloan and you’re not him.” Serling is hammering it home, stressing what’s happening so viewers will believe it.

Two minutes later, Sloan is telling a random woman about how he carved his name into the side of the bandstand. When he wistfully gazes at the bandstand he sees a boy carving a name into the bandstand and runs over. It turns out that the boy is carving, “Martin Sloan.” He’s found himself, twenty or thirty years younger.

If everything in the episode had been normal up to that point, it would be the kind of moment that bounced viewers out of the story. Most readers won’t go from 0 to 60 with magical elements. There needs to be some runway. The clues are so clear in “Walking Distance,” that when the older Sloan approaches his younger self, the audience already knows the older Sloan has slipped into the past. They’ve known since they saw Mr. Wilson sleeping in his chair in the back of the pharmacy, if not earlier.

If you’re telling a story with supernatural elements in a realistic world, your goal should be to parcel out information before the reveal so that the viewer knows enough about what’s coming that they aren’t thrown out of the story by the reveal. The hard part, and what makes The Twilight Zone so good, is having enough ramp while maintaining the surprise.

Graphic Novel Review: Minky Woodcock Beautifully Renders a New Theory About Houdini’s Death

Harry Houdini escaped death, slipping into the collective imagination of popular culture. Like Robert Johnson, Annie Oakley and Agatha Christie (who also appears in Minky Woodcock: The Girl Who Kidnapped Houdini), he keeps living new lives in different stories, sometimes as a main characters, and others as a cameo.The best escape artist in the world dying from a botched trick is an incredible story in itself. It’s the one that Cynthia Von Buhler examines in Minky Woodcock: The Girl Who Kidnapped Houdini.

Von Buhler’s collected the evidence at minkywoodcock.com, and she retells the story in the graphic novel. The telling is an homage to the pulp comic and crime story boom, named for the pulpy paper on which it was printed. Like those stories, this one is full of lurid scenes—a naked seance, bondage play, and pin-up models. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, another historical figure that Von Buhler worked into the story, warns the narrator, “If you are offended by nudity, please do not enter.” It’s a good warning for any potential reader too; there’s a lot of nudity.

Continue reading at Wicked Horror!

Graphic Novel Review: The Most Disturbing Part of Alisik Is Its Sexualization of Teenage Girls

The first volume of Alisik opens with the lead character, a teenage girl, asking the reader, “Do you believe in love at first sight?” She says, but, “There’s one problem. I’m dead” (8). A pretty big problem considering that her love, Ruben, is alive. The catch is, he doesn’t know that she’s dead. He takes frequent short cuts through the graveyard she’s buried in since his accident left him blind. Other humans can’t see or hear Alisik or her undead companions, but Ruben can.

While Alisik frames the wrong side of the tracks love story as the center of the story by opening and closing the first volume with it, the world is what’s really remarkable. There are five other “post mortals” waiting with Alisik—Ottie, General, Frings, Hothead, and Pointy Head. They try to explain to Alisik what’s going on, but all they know is, “We’re no longer living, but haven’t made our final journey yet” (41). There’ll eventually be a judgement on whether each of them belongs in the good place or the bad place. Much of this volume is dedicated to establishing the rules that Alisik and the others must follow, which they break frequently.

Continue reading at Wicked Horror!

S1, E4 “The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine”

Technology is advancing on an exponential curve. Cell phones started getting popular in the ’80s, and them slipping their way into pop culture is an unending source of amusement. Watching a ‘roided up ass-kicker take out a phone bigger than his bicep would ruin most ’80s action movies if they weren’t so campy to begin with. The Twilight Zone doesn’t run into ’80s cell phone problem in its fourth episode though. Despite using cutting edge (for 1959) technology, Rod Serling’s “The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine” tells a timeless story by focusing on the emotions of its protagonist.

The episode starts with a “Picture of a woman looking at a picture.” Barbara Jean Trenton (Ida Lupino) is a movie star that the world has passed by. She’s set up a home projector, and each day she watches her own films. She’s frustrated with the way the world is now, lamenting the life she had. Having a home theater was a luxury then, but the piece of the story that’s aged well is that emotional core.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but there are days where I click through my old Facebook photos and think about how different my life was. There are high points—me, drunk out of my mind in a cowboy hat on a sunny day, hopping into the arms of my friend Kit—but the lows are missing. I posted more negative things then than I do now, but even then I kept most of my negative emotions private. Creatively, I keep looking at an interview I published in The Missouri Review, my only pro-publication, in 2013 and wondering if that was my peak. Serling didn’t know about Facebook or the eventual drying up of pro-rate magazines when he wrote that episode sixty years ago.

He couldn’t. The reason it still hits so hard is because while the technology is now hopelessly out of date, the emotions aren’t. And that’s the trick, if there is one, to writing something with staying power. If your stories are emotionally honest, they’ll connect with readers over centuries. The Odyssey and The Iliad are still read today. Shakespeare too. There is an emotional core to a great story that transcends, no matter what trappings surround it.

We could argue about whether or not “The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine” is a great story. We could argue about whether its portrayal of Barbra, the first female protagonist on The Twilight Zone is sexist, though I’d argue that Serling is painting a picture more similar to Amy Schumer’s “Last Fuckable Day” than a screed against women. I’d rather look back at my old photos though, and hope, that like Barbara, I might slip back into those sunny days.

Trigger Warnings

I lost my lactase enzymes—the ones responsible for breaking down milk products—when I was still in high school. It was a bumpy road figuring out what had milk in it, and what didn’t. Things with cheese and ice cream were obvious, but less obvious was where there might be butter. In restaurants, the answer was almost everything. At home, it took some time too. Eventually—probably too long after—I noticed that at the end of every list of ingredients there was a bolded sublist that had all of the potential allergens.

Even cheese has a warning that it contains milk.

There’s good news: this list doesn’t affect anyone who doesn’t need it. The lactose was still there. And even better, no one was forced to read it that didn’t want to.