Monday, June 29, 2009

Call It Macaroni?

With Independence Day looming, I thought I'd share some patriotic (but admittedly non-scary) books that I found in an old taped-up box way back in the Haunted Closet.

First up is The Story of the Liberty Bell (1965, Natalie Miller, illustrated by Betsy Warren), from the Children's Press Cornerstones of Freedom series. Check out the great cover art:

Here's the title page and an interior illustration:

Next up, my personal favorite, Yankee Doodle (1965, by Dr. Richard Shackburg, with woodcut illustrations by Ed Emberley). I previously posted about Emberley's instructional drawing books (which I would check out continuously from my grade school library). His woodcut illustrations, which accompany the complete lyrics to "Yankee Doodle Dandy" along with historical facts about the song, are exceptional. Here's a few.

Finally, an ex-library copy of a Follett Beginning Social Studies book that looks like it got a lot of mileage...Paul Revere (1965, Gladys R. Saxon, illustrations by Jo Kotula). Below are pages illustrating the Boston Tea Party, the famous midnight ride of Paul Revere, and the opening salvos of the Revolutionary War.

Friday, June 26, 2009

La Casa Del Terror

Here's a random photo from a day-trip I took to Tijuana some October in the mid 1990s.... it's La Casa del Terror!
Casa, meaning house, and terror, meaning terror. Unfortunately I didn't get to see the inside because it was cerrado at the hora.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Black Ferris (1953, Ray Bradbury)

How author Ray Bradbury (Something Wicked This Way Comes, The Illustrated Man, etc.) and E.C. Comics, (publisher of Tales From the Crypt, Vault of Horror, Haunt of Fear, Weird Science, etc.) came to collaborate in the early 1950s is kind of a funny story.

It seems E.C. publisher Bill Gaines and editor Al Feldstein had been routinely "borrowing" premises and plot lines from short stories previously published in various genre magazines and anthologies, changing just enough details to escape scrutiny and avoid crediting (or paying royalties to) the original authors.

When in 1952, they used elements from two previously published science fiction stories, "Kaleidoscope" and "Rocket Man", as a springboard for a "new" story, "Home To Stay", it caught the attention of the original author, Ray Bradbury.

Rather than send them a threatening letter on attorney letterhead, Bradbury wrote them a friendly (but firm) letter requesting proper royalty payment (fifty bucks!) and an invitation to contact him about adapting his other short stories. Bradbury, as it turns out, was an unapologetic E.C. comics fan, at a time when comic books carried the stigma of being trashy, low-brow entertainment.

Gaines was flattered that a successful author like Bradbury was not only an E.C. reader, but eager to have his work adapted in comic form, and the legendary partnership began.

Here is the E.C. adaptation of "The Black Ferris", which appeared in The Haunt of Fear #18 (1953, illustrated by Jack Davis. These scans come from a 1991 reprint.) Jack Davis has stated he considers his work adapting Bradbury as a high point of his comics career (Bradbury, An Illustrated Life, p.106). Bradbury would later expand "The Black Ferris" into the full-length novel, "Something Wicked This Way Comes".

The original story "The Black Ferris" can be found in the R.L. Stine anthology Beware!

The story was also adapted for an episode of the Ray Bradbury Theater, available on DVD.

To learn more about the history of E.C. Comics, including its many collaborations with Bradbury, read Foul Play!: The Art and Artists of the Notorious 1950s E.C. Comics! The book is lavishly illustrated with tons of artwork, including stories reprinted in their entirety (unfortunately "The Black Ferris" is not one of these.)

Ray Bradbury: An Illustrated Life is an overview of Bradbury's career by way of magazine, comic and book illustrations, and includes transcripts of correspondence between Bradbury and E.C. Comics. The book is out of print as of this writing but can be had cheap on the second-hand market.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Havoc on Halloween (Soup & Me, 1975)

The illustration above is a scene from Havoc on Halloween, the fifth chapter from "Soup & Me" (1975, Robert Newton Peck, illustrations by Charles Lilly).
Second in a series, "Soup & Me" chronicles the episodic misadventures of grade school boys Robert Peck (the author's surrogate) and best friend Luther Vinson a.k.a. "Soup" in a small rural town in circa 1930's Vermont. Rob is basically a good kid who lets himself get goaded into one predicament after another by Soup, whose penchant for mischief falls somewhere between Huckleberry Finn and Bam Margera.
When they aren't planning some kind of revenge against their recurring nemesis, female bully Janice Riker, they're trying to give each other haircuts with yard shears so they can use their barber money for candy, or assembling a rickety soapbox car from an old wash basin and duct tape.
These are FUNNY stories, which I first became aware of when they were adapted for an episode of the ABC Weekend Specials (The Trouble With Miss Switch, Bunnicula, The Red Room Riddle and The Ransom of Red Chief are some other children's titles adapted for the series).

Here's a freeze frame of the pumpkin-transporting scene which appeared behind the end credits of the TV special.
After enjoying the TV episode, I sought out the source material at the school library, and found the books to be even better, thanks to author Peck's gift for prose.
Take this passage, where Soup is convincing Rob to steal a prize pumpkin from a neighbor's patch:
I looked where he pointed, and sure enough, there was the biggest old pumpkin in the whole State of Vermont. I wanted to say something, but the words that came to mind just weren't big enough or orange enough to fit the size.
"That's some vegetable." said Soup.
"You know Soup...if God were to carve a jack-o-lantern, that there is the one pumpkin he'd pick."
Soup uses his influence to talk Rob into loading that jumbo pumpkin into a wheelbarrow, with the ultimate goal of arriving with it at the church Halloween party looking like a couple of heroes. Unfortunately the church is at the bottom of a very steep hill, and you can probably guess that even though everything doesn't go to plan, they still end up making one memorable entrance.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

You are invited to turn yourself into a creepy creature!

So claims the introduction to Creature Costumes (1977, Marcia Lynn Cox), a how-to book providing "...step-by-step instructions for making eight strange monster costumes from inexpensive materials." It's never too early to start thinking about your Halloween costume, so let's RSVP, shall we?

I love finding ex-library copies with the borrowers' card still attached. Looks like this book got checked out every October, as you'd expect.

"Creature Costumes" contains diagrams, instructions, and photos to help you create eight different "weird, way-out, creepy disguises by yourself with materials that can be found around the house or purchased very inexpensively." The kids modeling the costumes each get a photo and credit too, a nice touch.

My favorite...a creepy old witch.

Also could be the robot-butler from Rocky IV.

Nothing quite says Halloween like a Moon Maiden. Wait--a what now?

Another favorite. Best use of egg-cartons ever.