The HORROR comic has evolved. What was once an portmanteau, anthology style format with any number of "guides" to help walk you from story to story has turned into a flourishing industry with solid narratives from cover to cover that tell wonderful dramas. We're talking some the soap opera horror and while I am assured by everyone that I mention this term to that it feels like I'm giving these horror comics or television series a good ribbing, I'm really stating a fact. From the Sookie Stackhouse novels and True Blood to the Walking Dead adaptation to the phenomena known as American Horror Story, folks are picking up that relationship drama plus horror equals big sales and advertising bucks. Again, this isn't new. Does everyone remember Dark Shadows? There's a reason why that puppy ran for near ever... but we were talking about the comic books. We're not talking about the cable ready, boob infused HBO fair or the paperback flipping True Blood precursor or even television programs of the 1960's. We're here to talk about the comic book, what it once meant to the horror fan and what it means now thanks to a little fella called, The Bloke aka Jason Crawley and his band of extremely talented writers and artists.
Doesn't this feel like an awfully long introduction to a review about the first four issues of a comic book? It needs to be long. There's absolutely a smorgasbord of beauty, horror history and, dare I say it, aphrodisiac breast illustration that I have to set the stage. Put away the music video brain. Here's a little history for ya.
When Hollywood decided to adapt every piece of literature into blockbuster movies so followed the comic book industry. Early adaptations of horror related literature was the perfect crossover literature between Super Hero and Super Villain. Kids at it up. Super Man and Batman were joined by Dracula and Mr. Hyde for a time. By the end of the 1940's the ground was laid for the golden age of horror comics that, with a "minor" hiccup went strong until the early 70's. William Gaines took Educatonal Comics and turned it on its ear creating twisted horror based literature in the very fashion described at the opening of this write up. For years the format would remain unchanged in either Tales from the Crypt, Vault of Horror, The Haunt of Fear or even newer works of horror anthology variety magazines during the 60's such as Creepy or Eerie. I'm not going to go into every title on the shelf, but you get the point. A format was established by EC that inspired a generation of beautifully illustrated art work, with grandiose color covers and the first inklings of "horror hosts" in the Crypt Keeper, The Vault Keeper and the Old Witch. By the time Vampira and Zacherlee came around there was a precedent already set. Make the jokes in between the scary stories to entertain your audience.
Of course the aforementioned hiccups like goddamn McCarthyism, the Comic Book Code (Approve this you dirty rotters) and maybe the boob tube seemed to intrude on the popularity of horror comics for a short spell. Oh sure the magazines existed with amazingly creative hosts, but by the mid-80's we were all watching Up All Night by sneaking out of our bedrooms rather than hiding a flashlight under the covers to entertain ourselves with black and white boobies. The art form wasn't dead, but the torch was burning low. This, my dearest reader, is where Mr. Crawley and company take the stage and you can put away your text books.
THE BLOKE'S TERRIBLE TOMB OF TERROR premiered in July of 2011. I had made friends with Jason Crawley on FaceBook, seen and adored his artwork, but never had purchased a comic book. It would slip my mind consistently for some time. It was not do to a lack of love. Probably lack of funds is more like it. Since then The Bloke has appeared in four feature issues over the course of two summers. Each one carries a unique feel and signature appeal that both reaches back into the graveyard of our beloved horror mags of old while infusing each story with a modern flair all the time preserving the timelessness of the stories contained within.
While the artwork varies based on the writers, the quality is overwhelming. I have my preferences, but won't share them overtly as I would never want to offend the artists. They've worked so hard to create a piece of retro gold. Mike Hoffman's Frazetta/Creepy/Eerie-like covers are superb. They embody the entire age of horror comics post-EC/Tales from the Crypt. Big colorful landmine covers that you step on and are blown away by. The use of computers in most panels is not noticeable and I would have to say that my untrained eye could only pick out a few folks with a look that might be too new school for my personal preference or for the style that is being imitated. We'll chock it up to that modern tint. The attention to detail on both the scantily clad "boobie girls" and eviscerating gore spectacles have left me with at least on tattoo idea and a few more "how the fuck did they draw that's"?
I'll walk you through some of my favorite stories in the a second, but the story that Crawley and his fellow writers who often share the story duties are very classic EC fair, some with a modern twist others are straight out of the playbook, but with variations that will make them feel brand new. If I had to offer some constructive criticism it would be in the use of dialogue to keep a swift pace through the panels. Quite often there would be extensive lapses in any real narrative or overuse of catch phrases or sound bites of disgust. Working on variations in the dialogue and make sure there's consistent written-word presence will help keep the readers from pounding the pages and finishing these images too quickly. The words are there not only to tell a story, but to pin the readers eyes to the page for awhile, to make the reader see every stray nipple and lonesome appendix. I assure you though that these stories are in fact brilliant, that if you don't find yourself scared, you'll find yourself laughing and if you're not laughing you just might be rubbing one out under the covers as your mind removes the stray pieces of fabric from around the lovelies of the female characters (totally perving out on this series guys... you will too I assure you).
Each book features about six stories, drawn by one of these fine artists: Mike Hoffman, Rock Baker, Jeff Austin, Fernanado Ignatius, Michael Mitchell, Robert Smith, Jim Collins (who's covers are equally impressive to those of Mike Hoffman), Jason Paulos, Maurizio Ercole, and Scott Shriver. Interlaced are the ramblings of a dapper, definitely quick witted and ultra sarcastic character known as The Bloke (your host) who is joined by a rather voluptuous assistant who poses from everything from pin ups to murder sequences. Jokes are strewn about like dead bodies and The Bloke is quick to introduce every tale and leave you with some parting thoughts. You'll even find some fan photos and pin ups inside. The only thing missing might be advertisements for novelty horror gags (think Creepshow if you can't picture any). The titles, lettering and shading are all perfect updates on the older style of Creepy and Eerie probably less Tales from the Crypt that was slightly less crystal clear in it's panels.
So out of the 24 or so tales to choose from I'll give you my top five (hey, just like John Cusack in Hi-Fidelity).
TOP 5 FAVORITE STORIES FROM THE BLOKE'S TOMB OF TERROR:
1. LOVE HURTS from issue #1 - "A married woman finds out that her husband is cheatin on her, can she go through with a chance of revenge?" Everyone who reads this thing knows I'm a boob man, right? I mean I guess everything. Hearts, kidneys, tinker toys... This story has a great twist, some exquisite attention to physical detail and some amazing title work. Jeff Austin, your inks are beyond compare and Baker, this better be what you do all the time. Seriously impressed and it's the story that had me hooked.
2. WITNESS FROM THE GRAVE from issue #2 - "A frustrated scientist not only has to deal with his failing experiment, but also the threat of his wife saying she will report him to the police!" The artwork of Mike Hoffman meets the fun and games of Crawley's storytelling. Irony, boobs, intrigue, boobs... it's a classic mad scientist morality tale with a whole lotta fun.
3. GREEN FINGERS from issue #3 - "A husband feels neglected as it's apparent his wife is far more interested in her collection of flowers then him... and he decides to take drastic measures!" I think all married men can identify with this story. It harkens back to the days of Tales from the Crypt when men killed their wives for all the right reasons only to find themselves at the end of an ironic, homicidal end. This will make you think twice about putting baby in the corner (or baby's garden).
4. LIVER NIGHT from issue #3 - "It's Tuesday and that means it's liver for dinner, but an unexpected diversion ton the way to the store to pick up the chow leaves Johnny with a gruesome decision". I can't stress enough that every guy reading this who was into comics as a kid had this very same dilemma to face. Spend the money on dinner or spend the money on Zerox Man #1. I can't tell you how many times I was scolded for not bringing home "the liver". It's gross and full of nostalgia. A wholesome moral tale to be certain.
5. WHAT'S BUGGING SARAH SITNAM? "A new employee at an insect house is perfect for the job at hand, she's thoughtful, hard working and even has a strong bond with the insects". A perfect and of course ironic plot twist all with a lead up that might keep you guessing or it might keep you in suspense waiting for the somewhat obvious twist to occur. You'll love the final panels. I can't get the damn image out of my skull.
So after reading this whole long love letter to The Bloke and his merry madmen and the creative endeavor that touches me horrible heart, where can you find these gorgeous comic?
Go here, order all four... no regrets. All current issues can be bought print on demand from Indyplanet
Issue 1 http://indyplanet.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=5622
Issue 2 http://indyplanet.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=6119
Issue 3 http://indyplanet.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=6758
Issue 4 http://indyplanet.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=7343
Available also from The Bloke himself at various conventions throughout the year. Stay up to date on these shows through this page. Remember, it's not available in stores so order your copy now. Do not wait. If you're in the Maryland/Virginia area keep an eye on your horror conventions. The Bloke may just be there ready to twist your fate with wit and a cheeky British accent.
Make sure to follow Bloke's Terrible Tomb of Terror HERE on FaceBook.
Each of the four books had me jumping to read the next, and if I hadn't had them all available to read I would have been on top of my computer humping the shit out of the USB port (yes, this happens from time to time... Windex). Deeply sexually charged horror with fun tales of morality, heavy on the gore, heavy on the retro, lots of fun of the whole family (over 18 or old enough to sneak a peak). I'd take my hate off to you Bloke, but you're the one who's dressed all fancy. I applaud you. I applaud the artists. I'm a happy, horror comic book fan and happy horror fan.