Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Number 1710: Frankenstein and the Terror

David J. Skal’s excellent 1993 book, The Monster Show, A Cultural History of Horror, reminds us that what we take for granted now, horror movies, were widely criticised, censored and reviled in the days when Dracula and Frankenstein became cultural icons. To paraphrase an old saying, everybody hated them but the ticket-buying public. A couple of decades later the comic books took the same kind of heat over horror. With the benefit of history and an overview of pop culture, nowadays we see both old horror movies and horror comics as relatively harmless entertainment...even quaint. We can watch a television program like The Walking Dead (itself made from a comic book) with graphic violence, exploding heads and gruesome walking corpses, and it makes the original horror movies look tame by comparison. But those original movies made a real impact. Unlike about 90% of the motion pictures made at the same time as Frankenstein and Dracula, the horror movies are still being watched.

Trading on the popularity of the movies, cartoonist/writer Dick Briefer kept his own versions of Frankenstein going through three different incarnations over a dozen years or so. The Comics Code, not villagers waving torches, killed his Frankenstein.

In this tale from Briefer’s cartoony, funny Frankenstein, the monster meets his mirror image in a Wild West tale from Frankenstein #15 (1948). At 17 pages the story is longer than usual, setting up a whole series of situations based on a Frankenstein “doppleganger.”

Shifting gears and becoming like the critics I criticise, I have a criticism of this otherwise harmless story. There is one panel of a bloody bullethole in a forehead, used as comedy. Bulletholes are not funny. This is from 1948, and a bullethole in a forehead is probably a spillover from the crime comics that proliferated that year.


J_D_La_Rue_67 said...

"Eureka!" - "No, I'm not Eka, I'm Frankenstein".
Here Briefer is in a Mel Brooks mood, definitely.
I still have to read one of his "Funny Frankie's" stories that is actually lame, but I suspect they all have at least one brilliant joke (here there are many).
Bullet hole gags don't bother me at all, maybe because we were accustomed to them in funny/grotesque comics of the 70's (Alan Ford, Tiramolla, even some Disney stories). Anyway, I admit the BLOOD is somewhat disturbing. A "clean" hole, graphically more "conventional" was the standard back then.
Anyway.. another great way to start my working day!

Mykal said...

Love the heck out of Briefer's drawing and (especially) his inking. I agree with you about the bullet hole in the head not being appealing or funny. I remember as a kid there was an artist I would see in Mad (it may have been Elder) that always drew them. Always made me wince and was hard to get passed.

Pappy said...

J D, Mykal, we all have things that make us queasy. Me, I like clean bulletholes in comedy. Fearless Fosdick would get shot up and look like Swiss cheese and that was funny. If he had been spurting blood from those bullet holes it would not be funny to me.

J_D_La_Rue_67 said...

Yep, I forgot Fosdick, who was probably the World's Most Perforated Comic Hero.

BillyWitchDoctor said...

I remember the opening splash to MAD's "Lone Stranger!," with art by Jack Davis, featuring a bad guy not only plugged (bloodlessly) between the eyes, but getting chatty as he dug the slug out of his own perforated skull in order to parody the Lone Ranger's identification-by-silver-bullet trope before expiring.

It was so goofy and over-the-top that its violence was ineffectual to me. The depictions of murder and child abuse I was exposed to on the TV in my childhood were more traumatic--as was the way Davis drew the bad guy's toothless, bug-eyed grimace. (I didn't discover EC's eye-gouging stuff until well into adulthood.)

On the flip side, the ending of MAD's "Batboy and Rubin!" (adapted fairly faithfully for Batman: The Brave and the Bold) creeped me out immensely, as did the moment "Plastic Sam!" distracted police with the torn-inside-out corpse of his sidekick in order for him to clear himself of...murder.

Daniel [] said...

I agree with the general assessment of bullet holes — bloody versus non-bloody — here. And I agree with BWD that the ending of “Batboy and Rubin!” was creepy.

The essential joke in “Plastic Sam” could have been much better effected. Instead of showing Wonkzy's mutilated corpse, just the reactions of the officers could have been shown, with less detail in their dialogue, and instead of “Too bad I had to do old Wonkzy Wezz in, […]”, Sam's line could have been “Hated to do that to poor old Wonkzy!”

But the whole “Plastic Sam” story was ill-effected. The story isn't very strong; and Elder, whose style seems to have drawn much from that of Cole, would have been the right choice of artist (just as Wood was the right choice for “Prince Violent”). Heath proudly put himself on the first page, but seems not to have done much more than inked what Kurtzman handed to him.

Daniel [] said...

Anyway, about the story of this entry, I draw attention to a few things.

First, Briefer has an over-the-top movie title as a joke in 1:3, but one could easily imagine a film entitled “Blood and Worms” having been made in the late '60s or in the '70s.

Second, chance-coincidence figures very heavily in this story, and it works just fine, exactly and only because the story is willfully silly comedy.

Third, 12:5 (the first scene of fire in the jail) is extremely abstract.

Pappy said...

Daniel, at first glance "Plastic Sam" does seem odd, even for Mad: Heath's only story for Mad, and basically just inking Kurtzman's layouts. When I first read it what I found gross was blowing up Plastic Sam's skin like a balloon and popping it. Years later, as I remember in an interview, Kurtzman thought very highly of the story. Heath went on to work with Kurtzman several times over the post-Mad years.

Kurtzman was pointing out the absurdities of Plastic Man, and I thought that worked.

Creepy or not, the ending to "Batboy and Rubin" is genius. A stinking foot, a paperpunch and a straw, and "I'm a furshlugginer VAMPIRE Boyboy!" could only have come out of Mad's association with horror comics.

Because Kurtzman and Gaines had saber-rattling from DC over their satire of Superman, they also wanted to make sure no one would ever mistake Batboy and Rubin for Batman and Robin.

Pappy said...

Daniel, I would never accept the coincidences in this story if it wasn't a comedy.

I'm not sure anyone else noticed, but the mirror bit on pages 17-18 is from vaudeville. The last time I saw it done was in an old I Love Lucy episode with Harpo Marx and Lucy dressed as Harpo.

rnigma said...

And of course Harpo did the mirror gag with his brothers in "Duck Soup."