September 7, 2008

Vampire Frankenstein

Posted on The Horrors of It All this weekend is a rousing story from the Golden Age of horror comics that remixes traditional horror themes, running the Frankenstein story headlong into a vampire tale.

In The Vampire Maker!, originally published in Adventures into Weird Worlds #13 (1952), a Frankensteinian scientist is in the final, furious moments of bringing his giant monster to life, even as the local angry villagers are storming the castle. They had better make haste: Dr. Gottfried is not content with pumping artificial life into a stitched-up revenant. This monster is a supersized, bloodthirsty vampire with tusk-like teeth and giant bat wings!

Frankenstein and The Vampire have always walked side by side. They were both conceived at the Villa Diodati, in 1818, when Mary Shelley created her Frankenstein and John Polidori, under the influence of Lord Byron, brought forth Lord Ruthven, The Vampyre.

The two characters, the man-made Monster and the Vampire, were soon mixing it up on stage in 19th century melodramas and in outlandish burlesques. In the early 1930’s, the Monster and the Vampire — now Dracula, inspired by Polidori’s Ruthven — came to the movies within months of each other. In decades to come, they would cross paths, opponents or tag teamed, in countless B-movies and comic books. In The Vampire Maker!, the Monster and the Vampire literally come together as one. They are combined.

The story unfolds at breakneck speed, enthusiastically drawn by a young Carmine Infantino showing clear signs of the bold, dynamic style that would become his trademark. There’s a twist at the end, of course.

The boomerang trick ending was a hallmark of the horror comics. In The Mad World of William M. Gaines, Frank Jacobs’ 1972 biography of the eccentric publisher of the classic EC horror comics (and, of course, Mad Magazine), there’s an anecdote about a young reader who sent in a story idea. The story was about a man obsessed with sharpening pencils. There were pencils all over the place and the man would spend all his time maniacally running the pencils through a sharpener. Then, one day, a giant flying saucer lands and when the aliens step out, they look like giant pencils. They grab the guy, shove him into a machine, and sharpen his head to a point. Gaines said the story was unusable, but the kid got the idea, he understood the formula for horror comics: You sharpen the pencils, the pencils sharpen your head.

Read The Vampire Maker! on The Horrors of It All. There’s also a sequel — a rare occurrence in classic horror comics —called Terror in Town that deals with the direct aftermath of Dr. Gottfried’s experiment. That one is drawn by George Tuska. Both stories are a lot of fun.

Do explore Karswell’s The Horrors of It All. It’s a prolific, immensely enjoyable and consistently mind-blowing blog devoted to the classic horror comics.

You, Frankenstein