Comics

The Freaky Tricks and Treats in 'Haunted Horror' #19

Haunted Horror #19, with its restored but grisly bits from rotting old comic book cadavers, has arrived just in time for Halloween.


Haunted Horror

Publisher: IDW Publications
Writer: Various
Issues: #19
Contributors: Eugene H. Hughes (artist), Bernard Baily (artist)
Publication date: 2015-10-07
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IDW Publishing and Gussoni-Yoe Studio are responsible for a great horror series called Haunted Horror. Haunted Horror reprints comics from the horror comics golden age of the early '50s, from the time before the Comic Code killed the genre and almost killed comic books. The little white stamp on the cover ("Approved by the Comics Code Authority") meant that all the scary and bloody things had been removed from comic books, along with most of the quality storytelling and art that made them interesting in the first place.

There have been plenty of reprints through the years of the very best of pre-code horror comics, namely the classic tales produced by Bill Gaines' EC Comics. EC books were known for their graphic depictions of violence and horror, for their tongue-in-cheek moralizing, and for their extraordinarily good artwork. They deserve to be reprinted, and re-read, again and again.

The bulk of horror comics from that era, however, have remained lost to all but the most ardent fans and collectors. Fortunately, Haunted Horror is working to bring those tales to light by unearthing the remains of some of the best horror comics of that age of cold war paranoia and sexual repression. Instead of reprinting whole series, the editors have wisely chosen to curate this musty old collection and provide us with choice selections from the vault.

Haunted Horror #19 has arrived just in time for Halloween with the latest grisly bits from these rotting old comic book cadavers.

Like most issues in the series, the latest batch of stories is a bit uneven, and none of the stories here are anywhere near as good as even the most mundane stories from EC's Tales from the Crypt. For the most part the artwork is rushed and the stories seem truncated. Having read and re-read all of those EC reprints over the years, everything here seems pretty tame in comparison. That impression is probably reinforced by the fact that beginning in the '70s underground and post-code horror comics have taken us to terrifying places that these old books would never have dared to go. Furthermore, many stories in this issue involve a romantic subplot, not surprising considering that romance comics were just as popular as horror comics in the day, but tiresome, nevertheless.

There are some real treasures here, however, enough to warrant picking up a copy of the book for some Halloween reading. Among the best are "Out of the Black Night", a story from 1953 with art by Lou Cameron, and "How to Be a Gracious Ghost!" from 1957 with art by Gerald Altman. The first of these tales is kind of scary, even if the twist ending is ruined by an over-anxious narrator who, apparently, wanted to lessen the blow. The latter story is a gag story with laughs that come more from Altman's humorous illustrations than from the dated script. Both of these tales are enjoyable, but remain mostly historical curiosities.

There are a couple of real horrors here, however, things that gave me, at least, a bit of a fright. First up is the magnificent cover by Bernard Baily, originally seen in Weird Tales of the Future #7 from 1953. Baily did a lot of work with National Comics (later DC) in the '40s, including teaming up with Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel to create the Spectre. His talent is evident on this cover, as a monstrous horde of zombies, werewolves and devils process from the mouth of hell, personified as a horned, mustachioed devil with rotting teeth and bloodshot eyes.

The scariest one from this issue, however, is a little story called "Trick or Treat". The story was originally published in Weird Mysteries #10 in May of 1954. The art is by Eugene Hughes who drew an awful lot of horror and war comics in this era. His pencils appear rushed, as if he was being paid by the page and needed to make rent, which is a likely explanation, actually. Oddly enough, however, the roughness of the art somehow adds to the atmosphere of this piece, providing a kind or primitiveness that seems appropriate for this tale of lust and murder.

This is especially true in the opening panel where we are given a glimpse of some insane Halloween party in which bobbing for apples is a deadly sport and a game of "Pin the Tail on the Donkey" requires a half-naked man to be tied to the wall as a target. Likewise, in the final scene, when two lovers discover that their Halloween costumes come with a curse that make them take on the characteristics of their characters, in this case a desire to feed! Hughes, and the unknown author, manage to put two images in my mind that I won't forget any time soon.

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In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

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Features

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Nonetheless, there are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. There are singers tackling deep, universal matters of the heart and mind. Artists continuing to mess around with a genre that can sometimes seem fixed, but never really is. Musicians and singers have been experimenting within the genre forever, and continue to. As Charlie Worsham sings, "let's try something new / for old time's sake." - Dave Heaton

10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton



9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton



8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

The bro-country label never sat easy with Kip Moore. The man who gave us "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" has spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the beer and tailgate crowd. Mission accomplished on the outstanding Slowheart, an album stuffed with perfectly produced hooks packaged in smoldering, synthy Risky Business guitars and a rugged vocal rasp that sheds most of the drawl from his delivery. Moore sounds determined to help redefine contemporary country music with hard nods toward both classic rock history and contemporary pop flavors. With its swirling guitar textures, meticulously catchy songcraft, and Moore's career-best performances (see the spare album-closing "Guitar Man"), Slowheart raises the bar for every would-be bro out there. -- Steve Leftridge



7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge



6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Scholar Judith May Fathallah's work blurs lines between author and ethnographer, fan experiences and genre TV storytelling.

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Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

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