Wednesday, 30 July 2014

The Escape Chronicle

Here's a beautiful piece from Budd Lewis & Jose Ortiz, from Creepy #75. One of the many great things about Warren magazines is the way the books' ostensible remit of horror, horror and more horror was quite often ignored, resulting in wonderfully dark fables like The Escape Chronicle.
This is 1984 via 1975, and though very much of it's time, the story's message still works. It may be all too easy to chuckle at the two protagonists ( particularly blissful hippie Charlie ), but even these days, there are Bernie's & Charlie's trying to escape a restrictive, uncaring society. Plus ca change and all that.
Maybe this is a horror story after all.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Vaughn Bode Jamboree

Vaughn Bode would've been 73 today, so let's celebrate. Unfortunately, we can't all sit on a mountaintop contemplating our place in the universe whilst engaging in wildly inventive sex and ingesting gargantuan amounts of hallucinogens, as Vaughn would like us to, so if you're not able to fit that into your schedule today, here's the next best thing.
Here's the legendary Cartoon Gooroo in interview AND in concert AND in combination with Berni Wrightson. Not the best quality clips, but beggars can't be choosers as there's so little of Da Bode on film. Enjoy!

And here's some beautiful work from Bode & Berni, from Swank magazine circa 1971.
Bode asked Wrightson to chip in on this strip, as he was struggling to make deadlines, but unfortunately, the partnership didn't last long. According to Vaughn: ' Berni nearly OD'd on the 'tits and ass ' cartoons, he couldn't stand it and wanted to go back to the Swamp Thing '
So enjoy what there is, 'cos it's fantastic. It's also, obviously, very much adults only, so don't go looking at it at work, ok? Unless, of course, you happen to work at Swank magazine...

And what would today be without some Cheech Wizard?

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Beetle Bailey On Parade

Throughout the Bronze Age, Tempo Books produced a seemingly endless run of lovely little slim paperbacks of various newspaper strips, and I bought every one I could find in Cambridge's legendary remaindered bookshop.
From Rick O'Shay to Mandrake to Flash Gordon, they seemed to get a new one in every week, all with that telltale remaindered groove cut into the top or bottom of the book.
( Funny how you can get nostalgic even about that groove - If I see a book like this from this era that hasn't got a groove in it, I always feel slightly cheated )
I bought this collection of Mort Walker's long, long running military yoks strip in 1972, and loved it. Walker is a master cartoonist and animator with an expert sense of timing, his style both slick and simplistic, and the characters are loveable and genuinely funny.
Some have accused the strip of not dealing with real world or real war issues. No, Beetle Bailey doesn't address real issues, and yes, it could just as easily be set in any huge, unwieldy organization, but those who accuse it of not being something Walker clearly has no interest in it being are missing the point. This is lightweight laffs, troops.

Beetle himself is a slacker before the word existed, who hates being in the army, and seems on permanent KP, but the real star of this collection is the strip's first black character, the Luke Cage of newspaper strips, Lt. Jackson Flap ( who definitely does have that groove, baby ).
Allegedly, Walker did lose some papers in the South when Flap was introduced, but equally gained about a 100 more, mostly in the Carribean. Swings and roundabouts. Interviewed in 1984 in Nemo Magazine, Walker had this to say:
Stars and Stripes banned me when I brought in Lt. Flap. The story was: They were having racial problems anyway and they thought this might heat up a few things, and cause some more trouble. They were the only paper that really actually banned me.
People were a little concerned when I started doing it, because they thought I was going to do a funny stereotype. And after a while they realized I wasn't making fun of him, he's just a funny character.
Right on...

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Damnation Alley

He raised his goggles and looked at the world through crap-coloured glasses, which was pretty much the way he looked at it without them, too.

One of my favourite books as a kid was Roger Zelazny's Damnation Alley, a kind of post-apocalypse Wages Of Fear or Dirty Dozen, first published in the UK in 1971.
Some years after World War 4, America is a bombed out shell, the survivors huddled into the remains of California and Boston with 3000 miles of radioactive, mutant-infested wasteland between them, dubbed Damnation Alley.
A plague strikes Boston, San Diego has the serum, and somebody has to get through the Alley to deliver it safely.

That man is Hell Tanner, the last of the biker angels, a scumbag who is: 'The lowest, most reprehensible human being' who 'once gouged out a man's eyes, just for fun.'
Hell ( so named 'cos when his father first saw him as a baby, uttered one word: 'Hell!' and left ) is granted a pardon for his many crimes in return for taking the trip in one of two giant Landmaster vehicles.

If all this sounds more than a little familiar, well take your pick. Tanner went on to inspire further End Of The World anti-heroes such as Snake Plissken and Abslom Daak, Dalek Killer.

As well as the direct rip-off that was Judge Dredd epic The Cursed Earth, which has the exact same plot and vehicles, but with Dredd teaming up with a punk version of Tanner named Spikes Harvey Rotten.

Damnation Alley was also adapted into a not particularly edifying movie, with Hell being sanitized into army rebel Jake Tanner, played by Jan-Michael Vincent, alongside George Peppard, who equally shares little but his name with the character from the book.

The film also boasts incredibly bad special effects ( even for the '70's ), Peppard uttering the immortal line 'This whole town is infested by Killer Cockroaches!' and a ludicrous ending, where Tanner finally reaches Boston, which doesn't seem to have been affected one iota by the apocalypse, and is full of nothing but white people. Hmm...

Although fast paced, the novel itself doesn't have quite as much action as you would like, being actually more of a character study of a rat bastard who nevertheless retains some small sliver of humanity. For instance, Hell cripples his younger brother, who also volunteered, to get him out of the running, knowing that the kid is too soft to make it through the Alley alive.
I also like the section where he falls in with a God fearing, farming family and is forced to pretend to be a decent human being to get their help and continue his odyssey.

But Damnation Alley is such a perfect set-up for a story, and the book such an enjoyable, fast read, I'm always surprised no one's tried to put Hell Tanner into comics, either by direct adaptation or giving him new adventures. But then, I'm equally puzzled as to why no one's ever tried to remake the movie, and do it properly.

The following spring, on the day of it's unveiling, when it was discovered that someone had scrawled obscene words on the statue of Hell Tanner, no one thought to ask the logical candidate why he had done it, and the next day it was too late, because he had cut out without leaving a forwarding address.