Friday, October 31, 2014

Forgotten Books: The Essential Tomb of Dracula, Volume 1 - Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan

Since today is Halloween, it seems appropriate to write something about the longest-running and many would say the best comic book series about a vampire ever published. I'm referring, of course, to Marvel's THE TOMB OF DRACULA, which ran for 70 issues from 1972 to 1979. Recently I've been reading THE ESSENTIAL TOMB OF DRACULA, VOLUME 1, which reprints in black-and-white the first 25 issues of the comic book, plus one issue each of WEREWOLF BY NIGHT and GIANT-SIZED CHILLERS in which Dracula appears.

The creative team most associated with this title was Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan, but while Colan handled the art from the first (and superbly, too), the writing on the first six issues was split equally between Gerry Conway, Archie Goodwin, and Gardner F. Fox. So it's actually Conway who introduces Frank Drake, one of Dracula's descendants, and his friend Clifton Graves, who makes the mistake of removing a stake from somewhere he shouldn't have and freeing Dracula to roam the earth again. Goodwin expands the cast of characters by introducing beautiful vampire hunter Rachel van Helsing and her Sikh assistant Taj. Frank, of course, joins in their quest to rid the world of Dracula. Fox sort of marks time in his two issues, then in #7 Marv Wolfman takes over the scripting and brings in Quincy Harker, another descendant of a character from Bram Stoker's novel. The wheelchair-bound Harker is the final regular member of the group, and once everyone is in place, the series really takes off.

Colan's atmospheric art is great, and it works really well in this black-and-white reprint. Superhero comics don't work as well in that format, I've found—that type of story really benefits from bright colors—but horror comics hold up just fine. Wolfman's scripts are top-notch, fast-moving morality plays that function as stand-alones much of the time but still manage to move the larger story arcs forward. Blade the Vampire-Slayer, who went on to have three movies made about him, is introduced in the tenth issue and will be a recurring character in the series for a long time.

I bought and read the whole run of THE TOMB OF DRACULA when it was new. I liked it then, but I think I enjoyed reading this reprint volume even more. Some of that is probably due to nostalgia, but really, these are just excellent yarns, and if you're a comics fan or a vampire fan and haven't read them, you definitely should check them out.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: Don't Open the Door!

Since Halloween is later this week, I wanted to write about a horror movie, and they don't get much more overlooked and obscure than DON'T OPEN THE DOOR!, made in 1974 for an extremely low budget in Jefferson, Texas, by producer/director S.F. "Brownie" Brownrigg. It's the story of a young woman who moves in to take care of her elderly, ill grandmother, only to find that there's a crazy killer hidden in the house. There are some nice touches in the script, including a small-town judge who lives in a house made from an old railroad car, and despite the mostly unknown cast and the production values that are sometimes lacking, the movie generates a fair amount of suspense.

However, there are a couple of other reasons I find this movie interesting. One is that it was written by my longtime friend Kerry Newcomb and his writing partner Frank Schaefer very early in their careers. I believe Frank wrote a couple more low-budget horror movies, but as far as I know DON'T OPEN THE DOOR! is Kerry's only film credit. I'm not really at liberty to go into the details, but the writing of this movie was an adventure in itself. I didn't know him at the time it was made, but I've heard him talk about it many times.

The other thing I find interesting about this movie is that when it got its first videotape release in the early Eighties, it was brought out by a company owned by E-Go Enterprises, better known for publishing books and magazines. In fact, E-Go Enterprises (which was really a guy named Edward Goldstein and his wife, I believe) was the publisher of none other than MIKE SHAYNE MYSTERY MAGAZINE, having bought MSMM from Cylvia Kleinman's Renown Publications, which she'd inherited from her husband Leo Margulies. Goldstein's venture into the world of video included a dozen or so low-budget horror movies like DON'T OPEN THE DOOR!, and evidently he helped finance this part of his operation by, well, not paying the writers at MSMM, including me, who was still owed $242 when the whole shebang went bankrupt a few years later. (Bitter? Obsessive? Me? Just because I remember the exact amount more than thirty years later? Nah.)

So Kerry writes the movie in '74, before he and I know each other, and then ten years later after we've become friends, it comes out on videotape from a guy who stiffs me on what he owes me for Mike Shayne stories. Small world, isn't it? (You can still get a DVD of the movie on Amazon, by the way, and if you enjoy suspenseful, low-budget horror films you should check it out.)

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Weird Tales, July 1943

This cover by Franklin Wittmack is on the mild side for WEIRD TALES, but what a fine issue this is. I read it a number of years ago and still recall most of the stories. In addition to Robert Bloch's classic "Yours Truly--Jack the Ripper", there are tales by H. Bedford-Jones, Ray Bradbury, Otis Adelbert Kline and Frank Belknap Long, Frank Owen, Allison V. Harding, and the underrated Harold Lawlor. I know the magazine's glory days were supposedly over by then, but I really like the 1940s issues of WEIRD TALES that I've read.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Short Stories, December 1951

There's a lot happening on this Norman Saunders cover, all of it exciting, as usual. And inside this issue of WESTERN SHORT STORIES are yarns by Lewis B. Patten, H.A. DeRosso, L.L. Foreman, Philip Ketchum, C. William Harrison, Steve Frazee, Joseph Chadwick, Ray Townsend, and others. Looks like a fine issue.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Forgotten Books: The Square Shooter - Walt Coburn

(This post originally appeared in different form on April 25, 2005)

By 1957, when this novel was originally published, Walt Coburn’s once-formidable talent had deteriorated due to age and drink until his output was very hit-and-miss. THE NIGHT BRANDERS, from the same era, is the worst Coburn novel I’ve read. But he was still capable of turning out a good story sometimes, and luckily, THE SQUARE SHOOTER falls into that category.

The plot is one that Coburn used many times: a young man is raised by an outlaw and believes the older man to be his father, only to discover that his past is really a mystery. In this case the young man is known only as Boone, and his outlaw foster father is Jawbone Smith. When he finds out that Jawbone isn’t really his father, Boone sets out to discover the truth about his past, making a deadly enemy out of Jawbone in the process. Boone’s quest involves him with a shady gambler, a judge and his beautiful daughter, a half-crazed mountain man, and assorted owlhoots, all of whom may or may not have secrets of their own that connect them to Boone.

While this plot is nothing new, Coburn keeps a pretty tight rein on it this time, so that all the last-minute revelations at least sort of make sense. Coburn is obsessed with the sins and dark secrets of the past and their affect on the present, and sometimes his plots get away from him and become overly complicated. THE SQUARE SHOOTER avoids this for the most part and provides a fast-moving, exciting story. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Tuesday's Overlooked Movie: Breakfast at Tiffany's

Is there a movie that absolutely everybody else in the world has seen, and somehow you've missed it? For me that movie was BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S. Never saw it, despite the hundreds of times it was on TV when I was growing up. But my daughter Joanna loaned me her DVD of it, and now, well, I've finally seen it, too. I won't bother talking about the plot (since all of you have already seen it, probably multiple times), but I will offer a few random observations.

This is one of those movies where New York City is so clean and safe and charming. If I ever had to live in New York, this is the version I'd want to live in.

I've never thought of Audrey Hepburn as sexy, but she almost is at times in this movie.

I can't watch George Peppard, even a young George Peppard, in anything without thinking about THE A-TEAM. But he's really good as the young writer, and it's as much his movie as it is Hepburn's.

There are a lot of good character actors in this one: John McGiver, Patricia Neal, Buddy Ebsen, Martin Balsam, Alan Reed, Stanley Adams, Elvia Allman, etc. For a fan of character actors like me, this is a good film. I would have sworn I spotted Rodney Daingerfield in a bit part as a party guest, too, but he's not listed on the film's IBDB page.

I've always liked the song "Moon River". I still do.

Boy, people sure smoked a lot in 1961.

So, after all these years, did I actually like the movie? Yeah, it's okay. I'm not really the target audience, but I enjoyed it. There are some mildly amusing lines, and the ending is nice. I'm glad I finally watched it. But now I have to find some other movie everybody else has seen that I haven't.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Double-Action Gang Magazine, December 1937

I don't know much about the gang pulps and haven't read many stories from them, but this one has a nice cover and the first three authors in the table of contents are E. Hoffmann Price (misspelled on the cover), Norman Daniels, and G.T. Fleming-Roberts. With a line-up like that, I suspect this issue was worth reading.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Ace-High Magazine, March 1937

The Angry Redhead makes a return appearance on this vivid cover by Tom Lovell. This looks like a good issue, with stories by some of my favorites like Harry F. Olmsted, Walt Coburn, and Gunnison Steele. Popular Publications had not only some of the best covers on Western pulps, but some of the best titles, too. I mean, how can you not want to read "Legion of the Lost Frontier" or "The Derelict from Hell"?

Friday, October 17, 2014

Forgotten Books: Blondes Die Young - Bill Peters (William P. McGivern)

(This post originally appeared in somewhat different form on August 7, 2005)

I’ve had two copies of this novel, the original paperback edition and a later edition, on my shelves for years, long enough that I don’t remember where or when I got them.

This is a good hardboiled novel about Philadelphia private eye Bill Canalli, who goes to visit a girl in Chicago and winds up in the middle of a vengeance quest to bust up the largest drug ring in the Midwest. I know it’s a cliché, but I like a private eye book where the hero gets hit on the head, and Canalli gets clouted several times in this one. There’s plenty of action, some nice observations on human nature, and a twisty plot. The surprise ending isn’t really much of a surprise, but it’s still effective. This is actually the first mystery novel by McGivern that I’ve read (I read his World War II novel SOLDIERS OF ’44 several years ago). BLONDES DIE YOUNG is good enough that I want to read more of his hardboiled stuff.

UPDATE: I no longer have the two copies of this book that I mentioned, of course, but I have a few others by McGivern. I've even read one or two of them. And I'll read more by him one of these days, if I get around to it. My plan was to slow down a little on my writing next year so I could read more and do some other stuff, but that's pretty much out the window. Now I'm shooting for 2016...)

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Outlaw Ranger #2: Hangman's Knot Now Available for Pre-Order

Hell came to Santa Angelina on a beautiful morning, as the Texas settlement was practically wiped out by vicious outlaws led by the bloodthirsty lunatic Henry Pollard. Now Pollard is in jail in Alpine, waiting on his trial and an all but certain date with the hangman. The only real question is whether an outraged lynch mob will string him up first. 

Not everyone wants to see Pollard dance at the end of a rope, however. His gang of hired killers would like to set him free, and so would his older brother, a wealthy cattleman who has always protected Pollard from the consequences of his savagery. 

Riding into the middle of this three-cornered war is the Outlaw Ranger, G.W. Braddock, who may not have a right anymore to wear the bullet-holed star-in-a-circle badge pinned to his shirt, but whose devotion to the law means he'll risk his life to see that justice is done! 

HANGMAN'S KNOT is another fast-action Western novel from New York Times bestselling author James Reasoner. Brand-new and never before published, it continues the violent saga of the Outlaw Ranger.