Rudy Panucci On Pop Culture

Frankenstein Leads The March Of Comic Monsters

The PopCulteer
October 15, 2010

Halloween Comics

It’s the season for cool scary comics, and this week we’re taking a look at a trio of terror-filled comics.  Leading the way is a collection I’ve been wanting to see for over 30 years, so let’s dig in and check out some Halloween holiday appropriate comic books!

Dick Briefer’s Frankenstein
Edited and designed by Craig Yoe
Yoe Books/IDW Publishing
ISBN-13: 978-1600107221

This is a deluxe comic book collection that I’ve been waiting for for more than thirty years.

I first read about Dick Briefer’s Frankenstein comics of the 1940s way back in “The Comic Book Book,” a collection of essays on the Golden Age of comics published back in 1978. Until now, there hasn’t been a widely-available collection of these classic comics. There have been a few stray historical articles, but this is what I’ve been waiting for.

The book itself is brilliantly-designed, a hardcover book with an eye-catching die-cut cover featuring a head shot of The Frankenstein Monster by Dick Briefer (1915-1980). The cover opens to a different head shot of The Monster, drawn by Briefer in a more humorous style.

That gets to the striking thing about Briefer’s work. At different times during the run of the Frankenstein comic book, the tone of the strip switched from straight adventure-horror to light-heated humor. Briefer proves to be a master of both styles. To me, the humor work is more impressive, but the editor of this book, Craig Yoe, gives us a great cross-section of Briefer’s work.

Yoe opens with a lushly-illustrated essay on Dick Briefer and his run on Frankenstein. Briefer is one of the under-recognized talents of comic’s golden age, bailing out of Pre-med school to work for five dollars a page alongside industry legends like Will Eisner and Bob Kane. Beginning in 1940, Briefer began illustrating his take on Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein in Prize Comics, published by Crestwood. This was a serious adventure strip, with dark overtones and dynamic art.

"The Merry Monster"

Five years into the run, Briefer switched gears and began telling the story of Frankenstein “The Merry Monster.” This is when the series really takes off for me. Breifer’s work resides somewhere between Sheldon Mayer and Jack Cole, and his writing is sharp and clever, with hints of social satire sprinkled in amongst the slapstick situation comedy.

After the informative essay, which goes into detail on Breifer’s post-comics work as a painter, we get to the meat of this book, over 120 pages of the cream of Briefer’s work, crisply scanned from the original printed comic book pages.

This is where you discover why Briefer deserves a hardcover collection. This is spectacular work, head and shoulders above most of what was being published at the time. There’s a level of sophistication here that you don’t expect to find in what was considered a children’s medium.

The best thing about this very affordable collection is that it’s the first of a projected series, “The Chilling Archives Of Horror Comics,” which is slated to include more installments of Dick Briefer’s Frankenstein.

“Dick Briefer’s Frankenstein” is a classy addition to the library of any fan of comics history. The work is classic and the presentation top-notch. Yoe is on a roll, with recent collections of “lost” work by Dan DeCarlo and Joe Shuster and several other great books in stores now. This is a great way to get into the Halloween spirit.

Marvel Illustrated Dracula
adapted from the novel by Bram Stoker
by Roy Thomas and Dick Giordano
ISBN 978-0-7851-4905-7

This is exactly what the title claims, a comic book adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel about the definitive Vampire (you won’t find none of that sparkly crap in this book). However, it’s more than it seems.

For one thing, this is a project that was begun in the mid-1970s, then left in limbo for three decades before being completed by the same creative team.

That team is legendary Marvel (and later DC and other companies) scribe Roy Thomas, with art by the equally-legendary Dick Giordano (who sadly, passed away earlier this year). These are two major names in comics. Thomas succeeded Stan Lee as editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics, and is the guy who brought Conan into the four-color world. Giordano made his name as an editor, inker and artist on some of the most influential books published over a thirty-year period, stretching from the 1960s to the 1990s.

Their in-depth adaptation of Stoker’s Dracula began in the pages of “Dracula Lives,” one of Marvel’s magazine-sized black-and-white comics, which fell outside the control of the Comics Code Authority, allowing Thomas and Giordano the freedom to address the more mature themes of Stoker’s original work.

This adaptation was cut short after seven chapters, but it left such an impression that in 2005 Marvel reunited Thomas and Giordano to finish it off, with an addition 100 pages, published as “Stoker’s Dracula” in 2004.

Now Marvel has collected all these stories in a new hardcover volume with the addition of color (the original series and previous collections were published in black-and-white).

I’m not really sure that the color by June Chung adds anything to this work, but it doesn’t detract. This is art that originally intended for black-and-white, and a little of the moodiness is diluted, but Thomas and Giordano did such a great job that it’s only a minor quibble. Chung’s color work is quite good, it just doesn’t always seem necessary.

Still, this is a great adaptation of a classic horror novel by two of comic’s greated craftsmen.  This Dracula is highly recommended.

The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror #16
by Evan Dorkin, Peter Kuper, Kelley Jones, Kelvin Mao,Tom Peyer, Tone Rodriguez and Lemmy Kilmister
Bongo Comics

Just like on television, each year The Simpsons comic book serves up a collection of horror-themed stories for Halloween, usually with an all-star list of guest creators.

This year is no different, with four killer tales and the added bonus of four “Marge Attacks” trading cards.

The lead story is written and drawn by Evan Dorkin (whose mother once left a comment on this blog), and it’s a tribute to the 1950s Atlas Comics monster tales by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. The title is too long for me to bother to type, so I’ll simply call it “The Glavin.” In this story, Bart saves the world after Professor Frink unleashes a monster from another world that kills everybody.

Next up we have “The Coff-Diddly-Offin,” beautifully drawn by Kelley Jones (Batman, Deadman), which spins a tale of death and gluttony.

Peter Kuper brings us the “The Tell-Tale Bart” which is chock full of creamy Poe filling.

Finally we have “Homer Goes To Hell” by Tom Peyer and Tone Rodriguez, from a story by Lemmy Kilmister.  Yes, this story is by Lemmy from the band Motorhead, who also turn up in the story as agents of Satan.

I know.  It’s a stretch.

This is a fun collection for fans of The Simpsons and fans of Treehouse Of Horror.  It features great writing and art, and it’s only five bucks.  You might as well treat yourself.

The Weekend

There’s great theater in town this weekend, “Superior Donuts,” staged by The Charleston Stage Company is running at The WVSU Capitol Plaza Theater, and you can read about it here.

The musical event of the weekend is tonight’s fundraiser for Jeff Mangus at Tomahawk’s Smokehouse and Saloon in St. Albans.  For details and vidoe of Jeff and his band performing just last month, before his quintuple bypass, watch the latest episode of Radio Free Charleston, which is posted below.

RFC 112 "Toxic Soup Shirt" from Rudy Panucci on Vimeo.

That’s it for this week.  Check PopCult next week for the usual features.

1 Comment

  1. Mel Larch

    In addition to “Superior Donuts”, Childrens Theatre of Charleston is presenting “Alice In Wonderland” this weekend. Shows are October 15th at 7pm, Oct 16th at 2pm and 7pm and wrapping up with a matinee performance on Oct 17th at 2pm.

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