Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Werewolf Wasp!

Now, see, when I speak of the beauty and majesty of the dregs of comicdom, this is what I'm talkin' bout, see. Here's an old issue of Dell's Ghost Stories comic, and yes, you can judge a book by its cover when it's a laughably primitive and hastily-done silkscreen hodgepodge like this one.

Ghost Stories exemplifies my own personal philosophy that texture, nuance, and timbre are more important than linear content (as anyone who has seen any of my plays will no doubt attest). The author clearly seemed to think he was telling 'scary' stories here, but as storytelling they're all total flops. You couldn't retell these plots around a campfire to others and have any effect whatsoever; these tales leap around erratically with no logic, internal or otherwise. Their endings are so non-sequitur that I find myself turning the last page of each story back and forth, feeling certain that I've somehow missed a page. If William Faulkner's word was "indomitable", then the word for the writer of these stories would be "inexplicable".

Case in point: "The Werewolf Wasp", in which a science nerd captures a strange wasp he can't identify in a mason jar. Inexplicably, he notices the wasp seems to be growing rapidly, but doesn't freak out.

He decides to take it to his professor friend, Dr. Larvay (groan - how Shakespearean.) Although the good doctor is the world's foremost insect specialist, he is inexplicably so frightened of insect stings that he spends his whole life in a beekeeper's outfit and mask, even at home, and no one has ever seen his face. Oh, come on, where's your suspension of disbelief?

No one answers at the professor's door, though, and the nerd for some inexplicable reason thinks "I don't want to carry this jar back all the way home" and decides to stash it in an opening in the professor's rear cellar door.

That's when he hears moaning voices coming from below, and he bravely goes down to check it out. There, he quickly finds, in just a couple of panels, that the professor is actually a giant spider-like monster and that he wraps children in cocoons of web and then stores them on shelves in his basement. Inexplicably, the children are still alive and haven't smothered to death in these cocoons, and are all moaning.

Caution! Spoiler! (Like you're ever going to read this comic anyway.) The jar breaks, the wasp inside suddenly grows big as a bear, and Dr. Larvay inexplicably screams, "THE WEREWOLF WASP!!!" as it attacks him.

Last panel, the nerd is running away, saying to himself, "got to get help." The End. Wommmmmmmmmmp womp. If you took a drink every time I said "inexplicably", you win!

And from there, the rest of the stories in this issue only get worse, if that's conceivable. But the comic, all in all, is quite scary. How is this possible? Because the ludicrous half-assed-ness of the plotting, combined with the hasty and sometimes even childlike drawing by the "Dell, the Mark of Quality" stable of artists, manage to unintentionally convey a dreamlike sort of surrealism, one which is even more pronounced to a young mind still struggling to figure out how the world works. Hack horror comics like these, striving vainly to be EC-like but failing miserably, often can be even more chilling just by the pathos that they radiate in their alcohol-soaked, deadline-conscious flailing.

Or maybe I'm just a lowbrow lout.

Bonus: gotta love the he-man advert on the back cover. When was the last time a 90% naked man promised you "spaceman strength and endurance"? Never mind, you don't have to answer that.

- - JSH


Mosser said...

.........who is the artist on Werewolf Wasp? style looks familiar......

Transylvania Gentlemen said...

According to Horrors of it All, the man behind the pen is Jack Sparling. Makes sense, because he did loads of those old horror comics.

I really think that the mom in that excerpt in the post is a swipe from some Kirby comic though. Looks like Sparling only stole from the best.

The things you find when you Google! That aforementioned blog scans "The Werewolf Wasp" in its entirely. I'm a tad cornfused though, because it also says that the story is originally from Tales of Horror #6, August 1953. But the Stanley Stories blog claims that the story was done expressly for Ghost Stories in 1962 by Little Lulu artist/writer John Stanley.

(That Stanley blog goes so far as to scan the whole damn comic!)

- - JSH