Sunday, April 16, 2006

The Great Basil Wolverton/Tales From the Tomb Controversy

OK, not exactly a controversy. More of an anomaly really—if that even—but an interesting one. As I mentioned in an earlier post, a certain comic book called Tales From the Tomb from Eerie Publications messed with my head at an early age. Meat cleaver massacres, gallons of blood, dangling eyeballs. It's a wonder I can function in society at all.

By the 1970's, The Comics Code Authority established in the 1950's had effectively severed the Achilles tendon of horror in the comics medium. Restrictions were so tight that horror wasn't viable in the standard comic book format (despite tepid attempts like DC's House of Mystery, House of Secrets, etc.). Several publishers, including Eerie Publications, got around this by printing their books in a magazine-sized black and white format, thus skirting the Comics Code Authority entirely.

The mag in question was the October 1970 issue (henceforth referred to as Exhibit A. Well... no, not really) which you can see to your left. I was fascinated and I read that comic until it literally fell apart. Even years after that pulp paper atrocity had disintegrated, the stories stuck in my head like a bug in a roach motel. I read a lot of comics after that one, but I'll tell you, after seeing the eyeballs fly in an Eerie Publication, Archie's indecision as to whether he should take Veronica to the sock hop or study with Betty just doesn't cut it as compelling fiction.

Then in June of 1986 came issue #5 of Death Rattle (Exhibit B, to your right) from Kitchen Sink Comix. Death Rattle, though no longer in circulation, remains one of my favorite horror comics of all time. The art and writing were well above average and they would even occasionally reprint a classic story form the Golden Age. That particular issue carried a reprint of a story called "Robot Woman," the tale of a robotics genius with social issues who decides to build himself the perfect woman with Twilight Zone-ian mixed results. The story was drawn by one of the true greats of 1950's horror and science fiction comics, Basil Wolverton. [Incidentally, one of Wolverton's best loved stories was "The Brain-Bats of Venus." The Brain-Bat you see over in the far right column of this blog is my homage/reinterpretation.]

The odd thing was that I had seen this story before, though in a different form. I distinctly remembered a story called "Until Death do us Part" in that long gone issue of Tales From the Tomb. I could tell that the art was different, but the story was virtually the same right down to the panel breakdowns. It was like seeing that old comic again as it had been published in some parallel dimension.

It seems that much of Eerie Publications' content at the time was derived from pre-code horror comics. It was common practice for them to alter the artwork from those stories to add large helpings of gore. In this case, the entire story was redrawn, and the dialogue slightly altered. I suppose it's possible that Wolverton's style—striking though it is—seemed a bit dated by 1970. There are several other stories in that same issue of Tales From the Tomb that are clearly drawn in a 1950's style. Perhaps the idea was to get a stronger legal hold on the material. It's possible that "Robot Woman" and much of this other material was in public domain by this time, so creating new artwork might shore up any copyright issues.

This is all conjecture, though. My real reason for this posting is to show the two stories side by side. I've seen writings about Eerie's practice of redrawing stories, but I've never seen any reference to this specific case. Each of the scans below contains a page from the original Wolverton "Robot Woman" story along with the corresponding page from Eerie Publications' "Until Death Do Us Part" (which I reacquired thanks to Ebay).

Please note that, to the best of my knowledge, both of these stories are in the public domain.

Click on thumbnails for a larger image.


Well, I'm glad I finally got that off my chest.


Dr. Psycho said...

Interesting. One of Basil Wolverton's more gruesome stories, cheesily "retold" in typically dreadful Eerie Publishing style.

The original story is just bad enough to go into "Mister Monster's High-Shock Schlock". The remake is merely sad, only of interest because it's a remake -- sort of like comparing "Casablanca" with the original plan for the film, with Ronald Reagan and Ann Sothern.

Is it totally weird to post a comment on a two-year-old post? Oh, well, if so it's weird.

Matt Bradshaw said...

I don't know that it's weird, but it's certainly appreciated.

Was Robot Woman in Mister Monster's High-Shock Schlock? I thought I'd seen all of those issues and don't remember it being there. Dark Horse put out some awesome black and white Wolverton reprints back in the late eighties or early nineties that are buried somewhere in my collection.

Thanks again for the comment.

Kokodrilomex said...

I remember reading a similar version (wether was the end of the sixties or the begining of the seventies I can't tell for shure), a real masterpiece of ilustration. However the plot is slightly different from the original. In it a mad scientist seeks revenge against strong rivals creating a robot woman whose name is Rita (she actually looks like a gorgeous Rita Hayworth). This lethal robot, besides being strong, is created with the desire of kissing her victims to death. The end is almost similar to Wolverton‘ story. I’ve been searching for this version in the net without success. If you happen to know where I can find it I’ll appreciate the information. Thank you.

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