Monday, January 09, 2017

COMIC BOOK REVIEW BY BILL SHUTE! GHOST MANOR #2 (Charlton Comics, September 1968)

High school always seemed like a waste of time to me, so I put very little into it. By the time I came along (I graduated in 1975, a week before turning 17), many standards and any idea of a “classical education” had been thrown out the window in the late 60s and early 70s....however, the barrage of standardized tests that students coming along after the mid-80’s had to endure did not yet exist. Thus, I could fill my schedule with “creative courses” which required little work. Had basket weaving been offered, I would have taken it. And because I pretty much blew off my junior year, and the counselors wanted me graduated, they created an especially soft senior year for fact, I even got two credits for working at Burger King (as a “home economics related occupation”). 

Back during my sophomore year, one non-demanding course I enrolled in was Family Living, which was basically a euphemism for sex education. They were still showing those old instructional slideshows and 16mm films (probably dating from the 1959-64 period) with detailed drawings of human plumbing, cartoons of the travels of the sperm going its merry way toward fertilization, and the highlight of the semester, the color birth of a baby footage. We might have had quizzes on some of the anatomical things--I don’t remember--but they were of the “take it over again until you get them all right” variety. The main grade was for discussion, but that posed a problem because the girls would not discuss anything at all with us two boys in the class (it was about 15 girls and then the two boys)--they would ask us to leave and wait in the hall, and then when the discussion was over, generally a few minutes before the class ended, we’d be let back in. So I was in a class where the grade was primarily on discussion, but we were not allowed to participate in the discussion, and fortunately we were not penalized for that...meaning, I did next to nothing and got credit for it.

The other male in the class was Tom G. He was an OK guy, relatively speaking. The thing I remember most about him was that he lived next to a massive electrical generator. It must have been about two stories high and the size of four houses. It made deep metallic clunking, clanking, and droning sounds, 24 hours a day, that pre-dated Industrial Music, and it also had all kinds of warning signs on the fence surrounding it....not just to not enter, but to not get close. However, Tom’s house was right next to it. I always wondered about that.

I did not belong to any clique in high school--I was part of the group of people who were not wanted by any clique and thus became their own who were anti-social, kids who were bussed in from a rural county next to us in the mountains which did not have its own high school, kids who were home schooled previously and thus were not really socialized, kids who had specialized interests (ragtime music or Russian language and culture or Civil War history or libertarian economics), stoners, kids of ambiguous gender, kids who had non-traditional parents (practitioners of Wicca, officers in the John Birch Society, nudists, people who filed nuisance lawsuits against the city and/or the state every month). In my case, I’d attended a different junior high school than the ones 98% of the students at Golden High School had attended, so I did not really know anyone there when I began, and my observation was that the cliques from junior high school were just moved to the high school level and continued. I tend to lay back and observe when I’m put into a new situation, rather than put on a show in the hopes of being snapped up by one team or another....but you are put into a group whether or not you choose to be in one. As long as you are dealing with people on a daily basis, you cannot really remain “above the fray”--at that age, I was still naïve enough to believe that I could.

Dress was also unimportant to me (it still is, as anyone who’s met me can attest!). Comfort and cost were always my two priorities. Also, at that period, I sometimes shared clothes with my father, who was the same size I was. His style of dress was rooted in Nat King Cole, circa 1958---the fedora, the polo shirt, etc. However, since I was a heavy jazz and blues person, that was fine with me. The early 60s John Lee Hooker used to dress that way, and I had albums by people like Red Garland and Sonny Stitt who proudly wore that look, at least in the early 60’s, when the used albums of theirs I owned dated from. My own idols at that time in terms of style were the American 60’s bands who aped the Stones and the Yardbirds and the like...bands such as the Standells and the Chocolate Watchband...or the Count Five...or the Shadows of Knight. I’d even peroxided my hair a few years earlier to look like High Tide and Green Grass-era Brian Jones (and when I later scored a copy of DISTORTIONS by the Litter, I realized that I was not the only one who idolized that style....although I was a bit late at it). What else was there to follow in this pre-punk early 70’s period. The MC5 had broken up....Iggy was Iggy, so there was no need to imitate him as he was one of a kind. People who should have known better were championing things like Steely Dan or Ziggy Stardust-era Bowie (I did like Bowie a few years later, in the period from Station to Station up through Scary Monsters----I had the privilege a few years later of seeing Bowie’s STATION TO STATION tour, the one where the film Un Chien Andalou by Bunuel was the “opening act”--I sat in front of Carlos Alomar’s Marshall stacks and thus heard his guitar for days after the show, but Ziggy and Aladdin Sane and the like always struck me as over-rated and made for critics....and they still do). I’m one of those people who considered Iggy and Lou Reed superior artists to Bowie--purer, deeper, people for whom life was their artwork. Bowie was an intellectual who’d studied the history of aesthetics and self-consciously “used” their purer art as spice for his own work, the way a chef would use cayenne pepper or cilantro to make a bland recipe more distinctive. We had no name for what we were into in those pre-punk days. When I stared at a Standells album cover or listened to the Shadows of Knight LP’s on Dunwich, I did not label it “punk” or “garage” or whatever. It was just good; it was rock and roll; it knew what was hip and what wasn’t. You want to praise “Ziggy Stardust”? Take a listen to my Dunwich 45 of the Shadows of Knight’s “I’m Gonna Make You Mine” at maximum volume, my friend....and then go crawl back under your rock!

Mostly, I wore a used army jacket back then. It often smelled of fried chicken. We had a Shakey’s Pizza down the hill from my home, outside of Golden, Colorado, and they had a $2.99 buffet. I would eat there maybe twice a month, and I would stuff my pockets and the lining of my coat with fried chicken from the buffet (and also pizza), and my family would live off that for days. I could literally stuff 20-22 pieces of fried chicken into that coat. My parents were both light eaters, so they could make the leftovers last...and it was cheaper than cooking.

Tom G looked kind of like Keanu Reeves at his most ragged. He also liked to exaggerate...and beyond. Knowing what kind of music I liked, he once told me that he’d been in the 60’s band The Yellow Payges, who’d recorded for Uni and whose album I owned and loved (I also had a few non-LP 45’s). I asked him why he was not on the album cover, and he told me he’d missed the photo shoot. Then I asked him to tell me about the songs on the album, since he was on it. He then claimed he was actually in the band BEFORE they made an album. He left them because he thought they were “going commercial” by recording for Uni. This was quite interesting, as he’d have to have been 10 or 11 years old when the Uni album was recorded, so he’d be even younger in the days prior to that album. However, even at that age, I realized that the best way to deal with such a liar is to just “let it go,” not ask any further questions, and move on.

I got to know Tom quite well for the half-a-school-year we sat out in the hall a few hours a week while the females discussed something about sex or human reproduction in the classroom we’d been sent out of. He had a few older sisters who’d gotten pregnant while in high school and had to drop out, and he told me that they believed things like “you can’t get pregnant the first time” and other myths of the ill-informed teenager. A shame they never took the class before dropping out....they could have even stayed during the discussions, as Tom and I could not.

We would often bring something to read during this class when we were in the hall.

As I remember, Tom would often read a sex-oriented letters mag that was in a small digest format. I was thinking it was PENTHOUSE VARIATIONS, but looking that up, I see that PV did not start until a few years after we graduated, so it must have been something else. He thought he was being tough reading a sex-oriented mag in the hall of the high school. Because it was letters and articles, it had no obscene pictures on its pages, and he’d keep it folded to some inside page, so the cover, which DID have an obscene image, would not be visible. As for me, I would sometimes have a literary work by Theodore Dreiser or Richard Wright or Gertrude Stein or William S. Burroughs, or a book of poems from Ted Berrigan or Paul Blackburn, but most of the time, it was a used comic book I’d gotten from a junk store or a flea market or a used bookstore. I could slip a few of them into the inside pocket of my army jacket (a pocket that had probably held some napkin-wrapped greasy legs and thighs a few days prior), and they were ready to take me to some other world whenever I had time to kill and wanted to veg-out.

This Family Living class was held in the main hall of the main building of the high school, the same hall where the main office was, but down toward the cafeteria side (at the other end was the band hall and the auditorium). The assistant principal (assistant principals are often the “enforcers” at high schools), Mr. Cochran (who would have been played by Myron Healey in a 50’s movie or Harvey Keitel in an 80’s movie), would often stand in the hall, his arms crossed, projecting authority. He was a fair man, and even if he’d never been a Marine, he projected that same calm-but-intense gravitas needed to keep order in a high school. I liked him, but then, I always stayed under the radar and never gave him any reason to “call me in” to his office. He would often be standing in the hall while I read my comic book and Tom read his sex-letters digest. During the first week of the semester, when we were sitting out in the hall, he came over to speak with us, thinking we’d been ejected for bad behavior, but we explained the situation to him, and he shook his head, looked at us as if we’d just told him that 1 + 1 = 3, and said, “that’s absurd.” Then he smiled and walked back to his position on the wall outside his office. He knew how much was absurd in the system he was a part of, and I’m guessing he just figured that this was one of the absurd aspects of the system that would never blow back toward him, and we seemed to enjoy the time off, so he was fine with that, one less thing he had to worry about.

I have no idea where I scored this copy of GHOST MANOR....junk store, used bookstore, the budget boxes at a comic store....but I did not buy it new (I bought the majority of my comics from secondary outlets--they were cheaper that way). GM had a relatively good run, 18 years and 96 issues, although it changed its name to GHOSTLY HAUNTS after a few years. Charlton in particular had a few superb horror/ghost anthology comics, as did DC and Marvel and Gold Key/Whitman. The 1950’s TALES FROM THE CRYPT/VAULT OF HORROR/HAUNT OF FEAR series from EC were probably the inspiration for most, and the long-term popularity of the BORIS KARLOFF--TALES OF MYSTERY comic did not go unnoticed either. Generally, these “ghost” comics would offer three or four separate, unrelated pieces, often introduced by a narrator character who was featured in a kind of frame story. No concern with story arcs or consistent character details was required with these as every issue had totally different characters and settings. Unless Boris Karloff was the narrator, I usually paid little attention to the “host” of these comics. As the 1970’s came in, these hosts tended to become more ironic and/or sarcastic in tone, and by the mid-1980’s the old-fashioned horror/ghost genre in comics pretty much died. For me, this was simultaneous with the death of “classic” comics and also the death of Charlton. However, this copy was early in GHOST MANOR’s run, and the mag was quite fresh and vibrant. A number of European horror films with an “old dark house” premise played the drive-ins of America in the 1960’s, and these also may have influenced the various ghost comics.

GHOST MANOR #2 has TWO copies of the same cover stapled on it, a nice reminder of Charlton’s quality control. How considerate of them to provide me a second one so I could tack it up on my bedroom wall

Take a look at the cover of this issue of GHOST MANOR....the screaming maniacal woman, the vicious bird on the attack toward a miniature man, trying desperately to defend himself. Then the catchy tagline WITNESS TO A MURDER, POLLY THE PARROT! What teenager looking for a 12-cent thrill would not throw down his or her change on the counter for such a comic book! Please remember that back in those days, one did not have portable movie entertainment as people have today. If you wanted to see a horror movie, you had to go to a theater....or wait for one on TV. If you wanted to see an anthology TV series devoted to the odd and the supernatural, you had to wait for whenever something like NIGHT GALLERY aired....or reruns of THE TWILIGHT ZONE or ONE STEP BEYOND. You could not watch them anytime you wanted on your phone anywhere you were. Comics allowed you to take over-the-top supernatural stories ANYWHERE you went----in my case, in the hall outside the sex education class I was not allowed to attend 2/3 of the time. Hey, I was getting a much better deal than the students stuck in that tedious class.

with many of these anthology horror comics, there was a throwaway frame story of the ghoulish narrator, some hunchback with a patch over one eye. Soon, however, we move into the meat and potatoes of the issue. WHO’S DOWNSTAIRS, set in France, has a sinister old building set for demolition----the elderly caretaker warns the uppity civil servant who wants to raze the building to respect the building’s history and to, whatever he does, NOT go into the cellar. Turns out Mr. Leech, the civil servant, doesn’t take that advice. WITNESS TO MURDER--POLLY THE PARROT (and, by the way, in the great tradition of exploitation film and B-movie posters, the scene on the cover appears NOWHERE in the story!) features a lady who is mourning the death of her fiancé, who was murdered in the main room of her apartment, the room where Polly’s cage is, and she is being hit on by a sleazy guy wanting to take advantage of her during her weakened state. Anyone who’s seen the film FREAKS can guess how this one ends. THE FIRES OF HELL trots out that old favorite plot, the crooked North American out to steal native relics of spiritual significance from some tribe in South America. He certainly pays the price for not respecting the local culture and traditions! In addition, you get a one-page short story about a Professor who swerves to avoid hitting a girl on the road and thus crashes into a lake....and awakens to face Death incarnate, who makes him, as the Godfather used to say, “an offer you can’t refuse.” Also, we get a one-page comic called THE WITCH’S CURSE. Add to that the usual ads for song-poem companies, model rockets, lifts for one’s shoes (to make you two inches taller), skin-clearing anti-blemish creams, money-making opportunities which involve sending a company some of your hard-earned cash first, etc...and you’ve got a better window into the world of the average small-town Joe or Jane of 1968 than anything the History Channel can provide. 

Looking up this issue at, I see that Charlton later cannibalized these stories in early 1980’s issues of their various horror-genre titles like GHASTLY TALES and HAUNTED (and also later issues of GHOST MANOR itself, #56 and #59)...and why not! The same people who bought comics in 1968 were probably not still buying them in the early 80’s, and even if they were, with so many of these horror comics dipping their ladles into the same well of images and plots, the average reader would just assume this was yet another story with the same archetypal plot elements. In the pre-internet age, things were not as meticulously documented as they are today. You could sell the sizzle from the same steak multiple times and get away with it more easily then.

I bought this comic used in the early 70’s for a dime or whatever, I read it multiple times then, I then re-read it at later times in my life when I had no money and could not afford a TV or other entertainment, and an old comic book provided late-night chills and thrills....and now 40+ years later I’m enjoying it again. Quick, efficiently told stories full of fast-moving visual images, able to take me to a place far away from my freezing apartment in a neighborhood full of domestic violence, alcoholism, minimum-wage jobs, dodgy used-car lots, half-abandoned strip malls, pawn shops, payday-loan stores, and people who will not talk to you if you do not attend their church----Yes, indeed....CHEAP USED VINTAGE COMICS ARE YOUR BEST ENTERTAINMENT VALUE!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great stuff, thanks.