By: Josh Simmons, Dan Braun, Peter Bagge, John Habermas, Cullen Bunn & Archie Goodwin (writers), Dean Haspiel, Bagge, D.W. Frydendall, Lukas Ketner, Tyler Crook and Reed Crandall (art), Nate Piekos & Bagge (letters)
The Story: More short horror stories from Uncle Creepy…
Review: This is another issue where the new Creepy stories don’t quite measure up to the reprinted classic story (Note: There is always a reprinted classic in contemporary Creepy). The problem these new stories have is that they’re a little too cartoony in their artistic style and that cartooning is often incompatible with anything being truly horrific or unsettling.
The classic reprint in this issue (The Squaw, by Archie Goodwin & Reed Crandall, reprinted from Creepy #13, February 1967), shows how a serious tone can make an outwardly silly story “work”. The Squaw sees a young couple in Europe on their honeymoon – who are characters only in the sense that they give the reader someone to see the unfolding story through. They meet a loudmouth American businessman on vacation named Elias. Why honeymooners want to hang out with a solo male tourist isn’t really explained, but Elias is basically the popular stereotype of Teddy Roosevelt: full of piss and vinegar, seeking danger, talking about animals he’s shot….. The trio sees a mother cat playing with her kitten and Elias decided to toss a rock at the cats to scare the cats as a joke….except the rock crushes the kitten. Oh….how the mother cat is pissed off, but she’s just a silly cat. What can she really do to big man Elias? Later the group tours the torture museum and Elias insists on getting inside one of the devices just to see what it was like. You know….he wants ADVENTURE! Of course, this is a terrible idea and as readers, we KNOW something bad will happen. As the museum assistant is holding the jaws of the apparatus open and allowing Elias to experience the adrenalin rush of almost being skewered to death, the CAT shows up and claws the assistant’s face, the apparatus slams shut, Elias dies horribly and karmic justice is served. The End!
When you really consider the content of The Squaw, it is a silly story. This is the kind of story a guy like Archie Goodwin just burped out in 15 minutes. I mean…..really? A vengeful cat? How is that supposed to be scary? What makes it work is that Reed Crandall illustrates it totally seriously and shows that if you take almost any concept seriously as a creator, it can be serious to the reader. There is no tongue-in-cheek or snark here. Crandall used that illustration style that is totally out of vogue today where everything is hyper-realistic and full of short, fine lines. It reminds you of seeing advertising images in old newspapers before “we” had the technology to decently reproduce photographs. Back then, they had to get a master illustrator like Crandall to draw the item in the advertisement whether is was people, airplanes, transistor radios, clothing…..whatever. Crandall had to draw it all accurately and he brings that skill set to The Squaw. If Crandall had used a more cartoony style, the reaction at the end would be, “Oh hahaha! The cat sure got that guy!” instead of, “Holy crap! The cat killed that guy. It waited until he was in the machine and then pounced! I’m never going to mess around with a cat ever again.”
I guess both reactions have some validity to them, but the problem with the sillier ending is that The Squaw makes for a Grade A horror story, but a Grade C funny story. If it was reduced to a joke, then it becomes something you’d find on a wrapper of Bazooka bubble gum.
Unfortunately, the modern stories just don’t seem to “get it”. The opening story, The Scales, by Josh Simmons and Dean Haspiel is just a little too cartoony. When the end happens, it is hard for it to have that properly gut-punching moment because the art didn’t take the story seriously enough. That isn’t to say the art is “bad”; we all know that Haspiel is a splendid artist……but I just don’t think he is a “Creepy artist”. Likewise, the Peter Bagge stories are just a little too on the silly side because of Bagge’s style.
Even the story illustrated by Lukas Ketner has little cartoony elements that squelch the horror purpose of the issue. I think that Ketner is a tremendously talented artist; I’ve said before that he’s like the second coming of Bernie Wrightson. But in this Creepy story, you see a few little limitations to his style. 99% of the Ketner story is great, but there is one panel where the central character sees something horrifying that is hidden from the reader, so our only guide to the unseen terror is her face. Ketner draws her with her eyeballs slightly bugging out…..you know, Daffy Duck style where the eyeballs become egg-shaped. That’s just the wrong style for a book like Creepy. I remember an issue of Rachel Rising a few months back where Terry Moore drew a character drawing away from a sight with sheer revulsion on his face. You could just tell that the guy was unsettled at a very primal level. It’s a strong enough panel that I remember to link to that issue review over 14 months later. THAT panel was called for in this issue and I’m sure that Ketner can do it. All that being said, my goodness is Ketner a beast. Maybe the Creepy style of horror isn’t quite his thing, but the guy can flat our draw! Everyone needs to be reading his regular book, Witch-Doctor.
I almost wonder if we just can’t have proper Creepy stories today because today’s generation is just too full of snark and cynicism to play anything seriously from an artistic standpoint? That isn’t to say that things can’t change over time, but Dark Horse is so clearly playing off the fame and brand of the old Warren publication that they should try to keep this contemporary comic a little more true.
Conclusion: Another slightly troubling issue of Creepy where the reprinted classic story puts the modern stories to shame.
– Dean Stell