Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Wall of Flesh: A Pre-Code Horror Classic!

Bob Powell’s The Wall of Flesh!, from This Magazine is Haunted #12, 1953 is a certifiable horror comics classic. The wall of flesh itself is one of the more bizarre and grotesque concepts to be encountered in pre-Code horror comics, so oddball and off-the-wall (sic) that it would not be out of place in a Grant Morrison Doom Patrol issue (maybe on Danny the Street – now that’s a team-up I’d like to see!). Or maybe even a Mr. Monster comic!

If it wasn’t for the play of formal elements in Colorama maybe The Wall of Flesh! would be the most oft-reprinted Powell story. As it is, black and white reprints can be found in AC Comics’ own Wall of Flesh #1, and in at least two K.G. Murray issues: Doomsday #6 and Haunted Love Tales of Gothic Romance, Planet Series 3 No. 2.

The Doomsday reprint comes complete with Dr. Death’s visage overseeing proceedings, and a small correction in the dialogue - “Vietnam” is inserted into the dialogue to replace "Korea". The Haunted Love reprint appears to be the Doomsday version as the “Vietnam” correction is in place and the handwriting appears to be identical in both.

The Haunted Love version suffers from a bit more tampering than the Doomsday version. For example, the Dr. Death images are removed from the beginning and end of the story; the title text is slightly reformatted; and the left foreground on the last panel has been filled by a rather formless shape to cover the space left by the erased host – a bit of surplus wall flesh courtesy of a K.G. Murray sub-editor!

Most jarring is the crude intrusion by a keen amateur black spotter. For example, in the panel above there are four black patches forming a virtual border around the clock and figure in the centre. In the original only the clock on the side is shaded. Maybe the editors were not accustomed to borderless panels operating outside the regular beat of the grid. Or maybe the two-panels-in-one appeared to require correction or balance. The open clock/figure/flesh image is replicated on the facing page, which is also corrected by a lick of black ink, so maybe they thought this was necessary to avoid the reading eye flowing from the bottom of one page directly across to the bottom of the following page.

I don’t know… maybe best to assume good intentions poorly executed.

Oh, and love those lurid colours on the original... not to mention the details not picked up by the black line art!

In a neat little junkyard coincidence, it turns out The Wall of Flesh is being reprinted in The Comics Journal #190, May 2008. Not only that, it features an introduction by Michael T. Gilbert! Spooky.... Thanks to Dillon for the heads-up on this.

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