I didn’t know anything about this book other than it was by Sigler (I’d listened to a podcast of another of his books) and in the horror section. It started out as police procedural, then I thought it was going to be a werewolf book, and then it kept surprising me. Great characters. Great original premise. Over the top in its gruesomeness? Maybe, but again, it was in the horror section. Good fun, great page turner. Sigler can definitely write a book that you want to keep reading.
I read a couple of horror comics, both from the early 1970s, six stories in all, and a one page joke. One was o.k. The other was pretty good. I though we’d do a compare/contrast to see what the difference is. In this case I believe it comes down to pacing, variety, art, and our hosts.
The first comic is Madhouse #95 from 1974 by Red Circle Comic Group.
It contains four stories. That many stories in one book means they’re crammed in there pretty tight. The stories are 4-6 pages in length. And for the most part, those pages have a lot of panels, and those panels are filled with dialogue. There are a couple of sweet exceptions that give the reader a break from all this.
But for the most part these crowded panels made it seem as though the story was being told to me rather than shown to me, and told to me by someone in a hurry.
The second comic I read was Secrets of Haunted House #1 from 1975.
It had two stories and a one page joke. The stories were 6 and 8 pages long. This allowed these stories to take their time in unfolding to build suspense.
Suspense requires those slower moments, those tak, tik, tak, tiks. If the stories are just fast fast fast, then suspense is never built, and when the kicker or the twist arrives, it can be missed. I think that two effective stories is much better than four that come up short on suspense or surprise.
The second thing that made the difference between good and ok is the variety of stories. In the Madhouse, three of the four stories [spoiler alert] end with the main character being bitten or eaten to death.
In the last story, a friendly ghost story, a nice change in tone from the others, I could see where it was going, but part of me still wondered if the dead soldier, after saving his brother on the battlefield, might not eat him just for good measure. The overall feel of this book was much more, um, satanic. I know this was en vogue in the 1970s, but the sameness of this book was a drag.
In Secrets of Haunted House neither story ends with someone being eaten. The feel that this book was not so much 1970s satanism, but more creepy radio program or the old Boris Karloff T.V. Show. One of these stories, about some ambulance drivers could have been a Twilight Zone episode. The other was a monster story, creepy and menacing, like the cover of the comic. (Although nothing even close to this happens in the story (there aren’t even kids in the story).) And of course the one page joke by Sergio Aragones was dumb but fun. So the variety of tones and moods make this one a much more satisfying read.
Thirdly, these are comics, so the art, something I don’t talk about much in these reviews, is important. As you can see in the pictures above, there’s not a lot of variety in the Mad House art. Although my research shows that these artists aren’t nobodies, they’re style in Madhouse is pretty similar.
In Secrets of Haunted House, we not only get some big names, we get variety.
It’s Alex Nino, the artist of the monster story that really got my attention. Turns out I have a bit of an eye for comic art. Nino is kind of a famous artist for his work for D.C., Marvel and Heavy Metal magazine. And his style really contributes to the quiet menace of a monster taking his time to take over the world because he knows that can’t be stopped.
Finally, there’s the X factor, or in this case, the X factors. That’s Cain. Abel, and Eve.
I was first introduced to these folks in Plop magazine, a comic I loved. Neil Gaiman has since done interesting things with them in the Sandman books. They have an interesting (if you find such things interesting) history, which you can find on the web. Anyway, having this likable, if twisted, family hosting our time at the Haunted House makes the time there much more enjoyable. The book is not just a collection of stories. We are guests of these creepy folks. It worked for Hitchcock, Serling, and Karloff; and it works here.
I didn’t read many horror comic books as a kid. I was always intrigued by the big black and white books, Eerie, and the like, and spent some time in my local Alco Duckwall store reading them. But there was something just a bit too subversive about them to bring them home–especially Vampirella. Secrets of Haunted House makes me wish I had sought them out a bit more. I will keep an eye out for them as I work through my big cardboard box.