Thursday, January 15, 2015

House of Video Nasty Horror

The Suppression of House of Hammer in America
Video Nasty (2014)

Uncredited cover art for Warren's House of Horror #1 (April 1978), an "ashcan" produced to quash Top Seller's intention of House of Hammer reaching US shores.

AT the beginning of 1978, the US publishing empire of Jim Warren - responsible for Famous Monsters of Filmland and the b&w comic magazines Creepy and Eerie - announced a new quarterly venture House of Horror to be made available through their in-house mail order service Captain Company. Yet the truth was that the publisher rushed this magazine - which was always intended as a one-shot - into print for copyright reasons, securing the name and halting Top Seller's plan to release their respected House of Hammer in America under the same title. Warren was infamous for his volatile working practices, but any publisher who had the audacity to challenge his domain particularly created embitterment. Both mags were reprints: hardly a House of Horror at all, Warren's effort revisited paste-ups from Famous Monsters such as the special effects of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS and the robots of STAR WARS; Top Seller's collation included John Bolton's CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF comic adaptation, a George A. Romero interview, and Brian Lewis' VAMPIRE CIRCUS cover which originally graced House of Hammer #17.

When Warren immediately filed for copyright infringement against the British invaders, the US courts upheld his claim, so Top Seller's American adventure lasted two issues: (Hammer's) House of Horror #1 and the next issue of the regular title, #19, which received limited distribution in the States. Because of this outcome, Top Sellers were forced to change the name of their homegrown version to (Hammer's) Halls of Horror with #20. This was a stunt the American publisher also pulled over the fabled birth of Eerie in 1965. Warren printed around 400 copies of House of Horror, but only 200 editions of Eerie #1 existed. This illustration of the publisher's ego started with the demise of a one issue Eerie (Tales) in the late 1950's, by Hastings. Warren discovered that another publisher who used the same distributor was bringing out an imitation of Creepy called Eerie, thereby inventory material from Creepy was used to cobble together his version of the title, which was on the newsstands outside his distributor's building the following morning. The most ridiculous aspect was that Warren had his facts wrong: the company who challenged him was Eerie Publications, and the magazine in question was actually called Weird.

Each with a cover by Graham Humphreys, Video Nasty is a breezy Reaper comic book that nevertheless deals with weighty agendas.

In his website, Top Sellers supremo Dez Skinn remains tactful towards Warren, championing his business sense. Warren initially heard the news of the British assault in Comic Media News, where Skinn proudly announced 200,000 copies of his House of Horror were set to conquer America. By the most unlikely of coincidences, that same issue also featured an interview with Warren, so the editor sent him a complimentary copy. The first Top Sellers knew of the situation was when their office received a letter from Warren’s lawyers, stating that shipping copies for US distribution would be infringing the copyright of their client’s “well established” House of Horror magazine on which a “considerable amount” had been spent on its launch. The hard fact is that, against this messy backdrop, American readers were deprived of a quality publication, instead left with the pictorial and pun-filled standard of Famous Monsters.

Former comic store owner turned independent writer, Mario Covone's six-issue Video Nasty is set in 1983 Kettering, and uses both the video panic in Britain, and the political climate of the era, as its provocative foundation. Along with Greek artist Vasilis Logios, Covone has produced a love letter to the genre, inspired by the documentary VIDEO NASTIES: MORAL PANIC, CENSORSHIP AND VIDEOTAPE and Lucio Fulci's THE BLACK CAT. Characters are archetypes without being bland, as the police, neo-Nazis and a film director turned media scapegoat are sucked into a pit of depraved murders. Mario's crisp dialogue creates a flowing yarn which exists in a fictionalised but recognisable tableau - the relocation from Manchester to Northampton of "God's Cop" Chief Constable James Anderton for example, as he instructs officer David Gorley to look at video nasty's for case research (by the end of the second issue, Gorley has acquired ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS and CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST from his friendly local video rental store). What inevitably hurts the book is the frighteningly sketchy interior art of Logios; proportions vary wildly from panel to panel, and what is even more surprising are the standard of Graham Humphreys' covers; while #5 and #6 have a grandiose power, the first four covers lack a central focus.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

"Blood of My Ancestors!"

Doctor Who Weekly - Black Legacy (1980)

When Black Legacy appeared in June 1980, Alan Moore's story predated his 2000 A.D. debut by a month, representing his first published comics work - amateur or professional -  solely as a writer. To illustrate the tale's "legacy," Russell T. Davies name checks the Deathsmiths of Goth in a Time War piece published in the 2006 Doctor Who Annual.

LIKE most TV characters that find themselves on the printed page, the Cybermen enjoy poetic license in comics. John Canning's surreal Patrick Troughton strips for TV Comic had DOCTOR WHO's second greatest foe use skis (Eskimo Joe, #903-906, 1969) and earlier they were even destroyed by flower scent (Flower Power, #832-836, 1967). Steve Moore introduced the philosophical Kroton in Throwback: The Soul of a Cyberman (Doctor Who Weekly #5-7, 1979), a man from Mondas who is sent to quell a human revolt, but wonders if an understanding of "abstract concepts of freedom and individuality" is the better path to take. Even Grant Morrison wrote a debatable account of Cyber origins in The World Shapers (Doctor Who Magazine #127-129, 1987). Using a muddled reference dating to the 1968 serial THE INVASION, Morrison explains that the rubbery inhabitants of "Planet 14" the Voord - seen in the 1964 THE KEYS OF MARINUS - have used an alien Worldshaper machine to evolve into Proto-Cybermen.

One of four back-up strip collaborations between writer Alan Moore and illustrator David Lloyd for Doctor Who Weekly, Black Legacy is introduced and tailed by the Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) as if recounting the story. Published in issues #35-38, Cyberleader
Maxel leads a mission to Goth ("a haunted planet shunned by all"), the former home world of legendary armourers the Deathsmiths. In search of a weapon that wiped out an entire civilisation overnight, the cyborgs explore the war museum, but are watched by the Apocalypse Device, a synthetic creature carrying every conceivable disease and virus. Having annihilated his creators, the being wipes out the Cybermen by telepathic nightmares and a lethal rust-like virus. Finally, Maxel confronts the Apocalypse Device who wants to use the Cyberleader's craft to escape the planet and destroy the galaxy; when Maxel auto-destructs the ship, the creature's dastardly plan is seemingly thwarted ... until a Sontaran vehicle lands. The last line – "It will not wait forever, that is the problem with ultimate weapons" – is almost certainly Moore's attempt at implicating the nuclear arms race.

Altered Vista's created a VCD version of the story in 2006, which was applauded by Moore. As the writer states on the Altered Vista website, "This is clearly a work that is born out of nothing save for a simple love of the material. It has not opted to change elements of the story, give it a less bleak ending or introduce a love interest and cute pet dog for the chief Cyberman protagonist. You have simply adapted the story as faithfully as you were able, without feeling the need to 'improve' it".

Taking a cue from the exploits of Kroton, Black Legacy portrays the Cybermen as un-characteristically human in their thinking, speech and posture, and illustrates Moore learning his craft with little interest in the source material (the strangely declamatory Cybermen spout "blood of my ancestors!" twice). These strips acted as ideal learning curves for the Northampton magus, creating characters and worlds in concise timeframes (usually a tale of two pages crossing four issues); consequently, as well as building the story, each two instalment had to work if read in isolation, but also recap and end on a cliff-hanger. The flaws of the strip, however, are not limited to aspects of Who lore. It’s actually a near re-run of Steve Moore’s The Final Quest from Doctor Who Weekly #8, where a Sontaran is tricked into self-destruction by exposure to a lethal plague. The Apocalypse Device broadcasting telepathic nightmares, paralysing enemies with fear, are two factors Cybermen ought to be immune to.

Moore followed Black Legacy with the Autons story Business as Usual, and three linked tales set in the distant past of Gallifrey: Star Death (with artist John Stokes), 4-D War and Black Sun Rising. While DOCTOR WHO had been on television for seventeen years, the history of the Time Lords had barely been touched on. With a relatively blank canvas, Moore created a space opera hung around a time paradox – the Time Lords are under attack from the Order of the Black Sun, a mysterious organisation from the future who are retaliating for some offence the Time Lords are yet to commit. The series hadn't explored the nuances of time travel since the 1972 Jon Pertwee adventure DAY OF THE DALEKS, so it was refreshing to see an illustrative work play with similar non-linear ideas. In conclusion, Moore’s strips for Doctor Who Weekly come to a sum of 28 pages over little more than a single year, and even though he was working to a restrictive brief and writing for a very young audience, the reader can already see a distinct progression from simple templates to the type of cosmic-bending work Moore would later make his own.