Sunday, 23 August 2009
Today would've been the birthday of the master of pitch-black horror, Alfredo Alcala. I admit, as a kid, I hated Alfredo's art just as much as I hated that of Frank Thorne or Frank Robbins. At that age, his work was just too much to take in. It was dark, and evil, and everything looked like it'd been dipped in black tar, so unlike the safe, friendly world of a John Buscema or Jim Mooney. In an Alcala strip, even a sunny day looked like it was taking place in Hell.
Obviously, as an adult, I now know what a genuine master Alfredo was, and can't get enough of his stuff. Like on this unusual piece from Marvel Preview, drawn on chemical-toned paper in the tradition of Roy Crane:
Alfredo, of course, also did phenomenal work with John Buscema on Conan. And more on that another time.
But it was the horror stuff where Alfredo genuinely shone. Like in this story for Tales Of The Zombie 7, the only comic strip ever to give me recurrent nightmares. We'll also look closer at Steve Gerber's great forgotten undead character at another time, but here's the story ( which'll resonate with quite a few of you who grew up on Alcala's art, I'm sure. )
In 1974, aged nine, me & my family went on holiday to a caravan park in Somerset. Natch, the second we got there, I dragged my mum over to the campsite shop, to see what goodies they had on offer. Up on the top shelf, next to all those True Crime mags, was this little beauty.
As soon as I saw it, I had to have it. My mum ( as mum's throughout history have done ) told me it looked too scary, that I wouldn't like it, why not choose something else. But I wouldn't be swayed. I'd read Werewolf By Night. I'd read that issue of Tomb Of Dracula where the old vampire is skewered on the cemetery gates. I could certainly handle a Zombie, couldn't I?
The main story, written by Doug Moench and illustrated in best tar-black style by Alfredo is The Blood-Testament Of Brian Collier. It's basically an Agatha Christie style murder mystery, wherein The Zombie vaguely sort of wanders about in much the same way Man-Thing used to do in his stories, not having a great deal to do, until the end where he exacts a bloody revenge on the murderers.
Anyway, against the protests of my mum, I bought the thing and scurried back to our caravan to read it. All was going fine for a while. It was creepy stuff, but I could handle it, just. Plus The Zombie looked kind of cool. Then this happened:
As soon as I saw that old lady hanging by her eyes from the wall, that was it. That was the most revolting, awful, nauseating thing I'd ever seen, and this comic wasn't good, creepy fun anymore. I shut it up, and put it right at the bottom of the pile of other comics I'd brought with me, not daring to look at it again for the rest of the holiday. ( The abyss also gazes back. ) And when we left for home at the end of the week, I made damn sure Tales Of The Zombie didn't come with us.
I had nightmares for weeks after about that old lady, and remembered that scene vividly for the next 30 years, until I caught sight of Essential Tales Of The Zombie last year. I snapped it up, and went straight to The Blood-Testament Of Brian Collier to see if it'd still scare me. It doesn't, of course, but there is still the lingering memory of that dreadful moment when I first saw those panels, and my little nine year old self recoiled in horror and disgust. Now that's an artist. Wherever you are, Alfredo, I hope you're happy for scaring me to death!