Category Archives: horror comics

Blackgas, Crossed and the bloody one-upmanship of Ellis and Ennis (also featuring the Jacen Burrows ‘kinder trauma’ effect) (2006-2009)

Check this out.

Two comic book (limited) series, written within a couple of years of each other. Both deal with apocalyptic scenarios, both written by British men who publish some of the most important and entertaining comic book titles in the US. Both of the titles in question are controversial, bloody and grim. The titles are ‘Blackgas’, by Warren Ellis, and ‘Crossed’ by Garth Ennis. The point of this post is – are these titles the product of a game of bloody one-upmanship between Warren Ellis & Garth Ennis, to produce the most hideously gory, depraved and debased comic books in mainstream US comic publishing history?

These titles share some similarities. Examples?

1) Both titles are set in an apocalyptic situation.

2) Both titles have the majority of the human race transformed into brutal, merciless killers, yet the aggressors retain some intelligence, which marks them apart from other apocalyptic scenarios where the human race is destroyed by itself (and where, typically, you would expect to see zombies as the root cause).

3) At the heart of both titles is an exploration of the unspeakable horror that humans can wreak upon fellow humans.

4) Both of these titles do not shy away from portraying the full horror of events. The weak and innocent (babies and children, as examples) are not spared the ignominy of brutal and painful violation and death. I would guess that for a ‘realistic’ portrayal, Ennis and Ellis are being honest in their storytelling and not shying away from detailing atrocities, and describing events how they probably would unfold. I understand that. Trust me, if you haven’t read either title before, the writers and artists make you bear witness to some horrors (and it is my opinion that the titles wallow in these atrocities a little too much at times. I am thinking specifically of the ending of #1 of Crossed, and the Maternity ward scene that occurs in Blackgas Volume 2).

5) Then we come to Jacen Burrows, who is a creative link between the 2 series. As the regular artist on ‘Crossed’, and as a cover artist on ‘Blackgas’, he seems to be creating a bit of a niche for himself as an artist that deals in the detail of scenes of peril of children, as well as some of the more creatively stages scenes of death, mutilation and destruction of the human body in mainstream comics. In some of his double page spreads, there is a real ‘Where’s Wally’ vibe to the detail, where you can pick out lots of individual scenes of murder and grief.

Whatever your opinion is of these titles, it is hard not to agree that they are certainly transgressive, and I believe that both ‘Crossed’ and ‘Blackgas’ have pushed the boundaries of the depiction of horror in mainstream comics. I would welcome any comments on what others feel about this Blackgas / Crossed & Ellis / Ennis thing. Are Ennis and Ellis on a bet or what? Does Ellis mind that Ennis seems to have taken some inspiration from Blackgas to produce Crossed? Are they all wallowing in despair and pain, like a print version of the various torture porn films from a few years back? Should we just applaud the fact that they are producing some groundbreaking horror titles? In ‘Crossed’ I think we have a genuinely terrifying enemy in the afflicted, i.e. the ‘Crossed’, but whether the whole story bears up to closer scrutiny is still unclear, several issues in (for instance, I still care little for most of the non-infected ‘survivors’).

links

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blackgas
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crossed_(comics)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacen_Burrows
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warren_Ellis
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garth_Ennis

http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=5916 – Warren Ellis talks ‘Blackgas’

http://www.zeros2heroes.com/component/option,com_pablog/Tag,Crossed+%232/ – Simply the best review of a comic book ever, it also happens to be a review of Crossed #2. If I could choose a comic book review to take on a desert island with me (and hey, why not?) this would absolutely be the one.

Crossed #3 review (2009)

Warning – Spoilers!

This is a late review – this was actually released a couple of weeks ago, but I only got to go through it yesterday. By coincidence I got to read this directly after The Walking Dead #58, and so, while maybe a bit unfair, I did make a comparison between the 2 titles. This is not going to be me eulogising Robert Kirkmans title, however – I do that enough elsewhere on this blog. I think Crossed has a fear factor more intense than The Walking Dead, and there is a real intense feeling of all pervasive dread and terror that the more character driven Kirkman title cannot match generally speaking.

But this is the problem that Crossed #3 has for me – there is a lack of the ‘crossed’ and so the focus is on the survivors and the way the world has tilted so far that they do unspeakable things in order to survive. Ennis is a great writer, but the issue didn’t really draw me in like #2 did. I prefer the human cast when they are being hunted to be honest,as opposed to being the hunters, as they are here. I am not really engaging with many of the cast either……..it may take a few more issues for that to happen, I don’t know. The shock value is there though, and children are again involved in some truly awful scenes. I guess you can rely on Ennis to provide that controversy, though in this case you couldn’t really engage with the victims as they were never really ‘fleshed’ out in the story – within a few pages they had been dispatched- you’ll know what I mean if you read it. The art is very good, and Burrows can rely illustrate these little pockets of hell, and larger 2 page spreads where the madness of the infected makes you feel sick in your stomach. The covers are suitably sick and perverse, especially the Santa one….

There is an excellent review here that encapsulates my feelings about ‘crossed’ to a great extent.

I will still be with it for #4. It still has its hooks in me. Just about.

Welcome to Hoxford #1 – more gristle to the mill (2008)

Ray Delgado has lived a bad and disturbed life. He has been created from pain, abuse and misery, and is now the one who deals out pain, abuse and misery. A lifer with no chance of parole, he and several others who are beyond salvation are sent to a maximum security facility that is privately owned by a Russian security firm. You know that there is some other motive other than rehabilitation about the place, and the pay-off is well worth buying this book for. When a violent, unlikeable psychopath looks like they are going to play hero, you know you are in for something a bit beyond the pale.

This title has the makings of being up there with the best high concept mash-ups in comic form. Who wants odds on someone trying to make this into a movie? Ben Templesmith (writer and artist on this) keeps the language gritty, the story repulsive and creepy and the art is a brilliant blend of photo-realism and celebratory gore and violence. It could play out a bit like an episode from ‘OZ‘ on PCP and Crack. It could be even more extreme than that (was that a foetus I saw being passed around like a bucket of popcorn, or was that my imagination?). This comic looks like ut will pull no punches in being the most challenging comic of the year. I will be following this with anticipation, which means another title to the pull list.

It is isn’t going to be for everyone, but along with the release of Crossed last week, this is proof that comics are Horror fictions best showcase at the moment. Issue 1 is out now from IDW.

Consider me *ahem* ‘hooked’.

http://bentemplesmith.blogspot.com/2008/08/welcome-to-hoxford.html

Crossed – another example why the best horror is in comic form (2008)

Out now as an issue 0 (and cheap at under £1 – you shouldn’t expect to pay more than 75p) this is the new Warren Ellis title, with art by Jacen Burrows. It starts off with a startling first page;

and from there it gets more and more nightmarish, anarchic and nasty. Told from the perspective of a young man seemingly content to drift through life, the text is sharp, concise and knows when to drop a startling, sickening observation on the madness that ensues. Although there are only 11 pages, this truly is a showcase on how to get readers locked into a story. The horror is bloody, disturbing and visceral – I found myself turning pages and wondering how much more perverse and gory it could get. That is a recommendation, by the way. Great way to end the issue as well. Burrows art keeps up with the manic thrills and does a good job of illustrating a towns descent into hell.

As horrific and post-apocalyptic as it gets, Crossed is on my pull list, joining the likes of Kirkman’s ‘The Walking Dead’ and Guggenheim’s ‘Resurrection’.

British Comics Part II – Scream! the fleeting British Horror comic (1984)

After the runaway success of the British Science Fiction comic 2000AD, IPC launched a series of short lived titles in its wake to capitalise on its popularity. However, the likes of Starlord and Tornado had a very short life before becoming integrated into 2000AD. In the mid eighties, a new title, ‘Scream!’ was their attempt to move into the relatively untapped Horror comic genre.

There may have been several factors as to why they chose horror as the theme, such as the popularity of Stephen King books and the novels of British author of James Herbert, who had seen success with the likes of The Rats and The Fog.

Another reason why IPC chose Horror as a good platform for a new comic launch could have been the greater access to horror movies due to the home video boom of the early eighties. Horror films proliferated in the early days of video rental, a situation that created the Video Nasties phenomena and its resultant legislation encapsulated in the Video Recordings Act. The controversy surrounding films such as ‘The Evil Dead’ and ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ only gave Horror greater exposure. Also, the theatrical and subsequent video release of Horror anthology ‘Creepshow‘ introduced the world of EC horror comics to a wider audience, years after controvery and political pressure had killed off the likes of ‘Tales from the Crypt’.

British produced Horror comics had been around in the 1970’s, with the likes of Shiver & Shake and Monster Fun, but these had been played for laughs and were more Scooby Doo crossed with The Beano than Hammer Horror in tone. Scream was generally a serious attempt at a British Horror comic, though some times it could not quite decide what it wanted to be – more on that later.

Further back in time, British readers had been thrilled by the American imports of EC comics. In an event that preceded yet predicted both the backlash against ‘Action’, and the type of moral panic that enabled the legislation against so-called ‘Video Nasties’, the British Conservative Government introduced the ‘Children and Young Persons (Harmful Publications)’ act in 1954, becoming law in 1955. The american horror comic imports were almost immediately removed from sale. For more information on this subject, Martin Bakers definitive account ‘Haunt of Fears’ is a must. There is a link to the google book at the bottom of the post.

By the late Sixties and early Seventies, the publisher Warren was re-introducing the British public to horror with the likes of Eerie and Vampirella. There was an appetite amongst the British for a serious Horror title, and IPC aimed to fill that gap in the market.

Issue #1 of Scream! was released on the 24th of March 1984, with its end coming abruptly on June 30th of the same year. 15 issues in all. Screams demise was so unexpected that issue 15 carried preview captions for the aborted issue 16, the one below from the ‘Monster’ strip;

Why was it cancelled? There are some theories that stick when googling, such as;

1) National Union of Journalists action in the Summer of 1984 helped kill off the title as production was affected

2) The sales figures simply were not good enough

3) Due to the comics content, IPC executives were quick to avoid any repeat of the controversy that ruined the Seventies boys comic Action, another IPC comic, and therefore pulled the plug on Scream!

Here is an extract from Graham Kibble-Whites book on the history of British comics as he summarises the reasons for Screams failure;

“As for why the axe fell, rumours still persist to this day. Was the comic just too gruesome for the IPC bigwigs? Or was it just another victim of the hard financial realities of the Eighties? Whatever; with those fifteen Scream! comics now considered collector’s items by latter-day fans, it’s achieved some sort of life after death – which is entirely appropriate when you think about it.”

(from The Ultimate Book Of British Comics by Graham Kibble-White)

Scream was absorbed into another IPC comic, the revived Eagle (aka Eagle Mk II) from the middle of July 1984 until March 1985, when its name was dropped from the title. Naturally, due to limitations on the amount of pages in comics, very few of the strips from Scream! made the transition. Only The Thirteenth Floor and Monster made notable appearances in Eagle. The fact there was no mention of the merger in the last issue of Scream, coupled with the delay in Scream appearing in Eagle (a matter of weeks as opposed to a seamless handover) suggests the cancellation of the title was an abrupt one.

I have all 15 of the original issues – I may even have one of the summer specials. My memory of it was of a good read, especially The Dracula File and The Thirteenth Floor. Despite a lot of it being fairly credible, with some great artwork by the likes of Jesus Redondo, there were some problems with it. In terms of consistency it did suffer – the attempts at humour, with the likes of ‘Fiends and Neighbours’ were lame. That strip (‘Fiends..’) looked like a throwback to an earlier time, and it was in fact a reprint from the archives of Cor!! and Buster comic (see here). Also, the typical IPC device of having someone/thing other than a normal human editing the comic was present with this title. Whereas 2000AD had Tharg and Starlord had, er, Starlord, Scream had Ghastly McNasty. Ghastly was a Grim Reaper type figure, in what you can assume to be a reference to the EC Horror Comics such as Tales from the Crypt where characters like The Crypt Keeper acted as the host to the stories. However, Ghastly did not have the humour or personality of the Crypt Keeper, and if anything was rather bland and one-dimensional. Some of the stories didnt quite convince either – ‘Terror of the Cats’ seemed to be a nod to previous ‘animal horror’ works. These had proliferated in the Seventies, with novels like James Herberts ‘The Rats’, Peter Benchleys ‘Jaws’ and films such as Spielbergs adaptation of ‘Jaws’ and other producitons such as ‘Orca Killer Whale’ and the low-budget 1976 horror ‘Grizzly‘. However, ‘Terror of the Cats’ really failed to convince. Whereas predators such as Sharks and large animals such as Grizzly Bears are inherently fearsome, domestic cats are not. Large dogs would have made a much better subject matter. As you can see from the opening page of the first part of this tale, it really is not very convincing or frightening;

My memory of its end was like this – I went to get issue 16 on a Saturday, along with my 2000ad, and it wasn’t there. After a few weeks of being told by the newsagent that it hadnt turned up, I got the message that it was not coming back. I didn’t follow it over to the Eagle when it was merged into that title in the July of 1984.

Scream! was a brave attempt by IPC to produce something other than a war or science fiction comic. I do not know the exact reason why it was pulled, but it could have been due to the variety of reasons that have been mentioned here. It has retained a fan base who regard it with warmth and fondness, and this is really well represented at the fan site http://backfromthedepths.co.uk
where there are plans afoot to produce further issues of the comic.

I wonder if there is a copy of issue 16 anywhere??? Anyone know?

The sites and resources I used for this post are;

Back from the Depths – Brilliant fan site dedicated to Scream! with issues 1, 15 and a Summer Special reprinted in full

Short piece on Scream! at 26pigs

Scream! at Wikipedia

First 4 issues to view at The Manchester Morgue site

I used the excellent Toonhound site for some of the research – a great site and well worth your time.

Just to let you know, you can read Martin Barkers book, ‘Haunt Of Fears’ as a Google book

Lew Stringers wonderful blog has some detail on a new book that reprints pre-comics code Horror titles in a new book – read it here.

There is another useful google book on Warren, called ‘The Warren Companion’ by Jon B Cooke and David Roach – check it out here

The Manchester Morgue site has some scans of the Warren title Eerie