6 Steps To Writing a 1970's Horror Comic

Bloggified by Jake on Thursday, June 22, 2006

Horror comics of the 1970's relied on six elements. I consider myself a bit of an expert in this field, having read an entire issue of The House of Mystery--issue #247 to be exact. Based upon my nearly forty minutes of research, I've developed my flawless theory, which I will illustrate below.

Every story had to have the following seven things, generally in this same order (though 3 and 4 were interchangable chronologically). Basically, the theme of the story was almost always "hubris results in ironic death." To illustrate my point, I'm using "The Ghost of Deadman's Breach," but feel free to pick up a House of Mystery or House of Secrets at random and follow along.

1. Horrific clairvoyant vision
Every 70's horror comic story must begin with a frame that exaggerates the final outcome of the story in some way. Generally, these are handled as psychic visions beheld by the protagonist's wife or girlfriend.

In this case, our lead character, Matt, is surfing through a small gap between two tall jagged rocks. While everyone else is cheering him on as his successfully completes this death-defying feat, his girlfriend sees a skeleton on a surfboard! Spooky!This is also the part where the creepy narrator--Cain in this book--gives his introduction, always using some poetic, philosophical comment. Puns are optional.

Anyway, the vision will lead the female to warn her significant other against doing whatever it is he's going to wind up dying in the process of doing seven pages later. His reaction is:

2. Hubris in the face of great challenge
This moment almost always includes the phrase, "But no one can ______!" or an explanation of how many people have died trying what the star is planning.

Admittedly, Matt goes a little different direction on this. In the first-half story of this issue, a guy bent on hunting a gigantic elephant smacks his wife for suggesting he shouldn't do so. (Yes, that's Steve Ditko art if you clicked on it.) Matt, on the other hand, promises his girl he'll never surf the breach again and needs to be prompted before he can become a total douchebag.

That prompt comes in the form of Herb Raney, the guy who thought of Jackass while Johnny Knoxville was still in elementary school.Herb makes a living promoting idiots who want to put their lives on the line doing stupid shit like surfing through a two foot gap between sharp rocks or going over Niagara Falls in an inner tube. He got two million for the TV rights alone on the Niaraga Falls thing and gets Matt thinking about how rich he'll get off "Dyna-Matt" T-shirts if he can shoot the breach just one more time.

Unfortunately, Matt's claim to fame as the only man to ever successfully surf through Baker's/Deadman's Breach lasts all of about seven minutes.
Damn, Matt, what are the odds? This is like hitting a grand slam homerun to tie game seven of the World Series and send it to extra innings only to have a guy on the other team hit a grand slam in the tenth and win it. Having been knocked from the top of the mountain, Matt and the other surfer have...

3. Personal conflict and/or rivalry
Someone (read: another man because no woman is going to tell a man what he can or can't do!) has to serve as an obstacle to achieving the goal. Almost always, this guy knows more than the protagonist and is saying things that should be heeded. When he shows up, however, the antagonist usually has about two pages until he's killed in cold blood.

Gary Weed, the other surfer, may be bad news for Matt, but he's the answer to Herb's prayers. What's the only thing worse than cutting a series of multi-million dollar deals to promote some moron risking his life for some asshatted stunt? Having said moron survive his stunt to demand his cut of the cash! Fortunately, with Gary on the scene, Herb devises a plan.It's like chicken, only there's a better than 80% chance both of us will die and leave all the money raised to be split just one way instead of three? Where do I sign?

Both Gary and Matt are stupid enough to jump at the chance to maybe make a couple million dollars, though Matt's girlfriend is still haunted by the vision of the skeleton and wants him to back out, meaning taking part in the challenge could result in...

4. Love lost (or threatened to be lost)
How committed is the main character to achieving his goal? That question is always posed in terms of whether he is willing to lose his wife or girlfriend to do so. The answer to that question, by the way, is always "You betcha!"

While other wives will turn on their husbands or girlfriends will leave their boyfriends who refuse to stop the foolishness of whatever they've undertaken, Matt's girlfriend hasn't quite developed the spine to do anything but sit around whining and freaking out about skeletal mirages. Fortunately, she also makes for a good prop in the rivalry.Isn't it bad enough you've coaxed these two into signing away their lives, Herb? Now you're going to promote the nonsense based on an off hand remark the one guy made? I have more than once commented on how I thought some woman at the mall was good looking, but I've never thought of that as the seeds of a romantic rivalry between myself and her boyfriend or husband.

The story then leaps forward by six weeks, during which time nothing of any significance has taken place. However, on the night before the big event, Matt and Gary get together near a boathouse to have a fistfight, which is just stupid. If you guys really hate each other so much, why hasn't anything boiled over during the six-week promotional schedule? Why would you pick twelve hours before the biggest day of your life to commit...

5. Murder
Hell, it's a horror comic, right? Someone's gotta die and it's always the guy who probably was right when he told the main guy to back off.Sure enough, the fist fight was a bad idea and Matt has to bury Gary in the sand.

The next day, he shows up but has no one to surf against him. Even though it's even lamer than the already lame event that's been hyped for a month and a half, the audience doesn't seem to mind and Matt still has a chance to get the same payday. Unfortunately, once he gets out on the waves, he faces...

6. Madness and deadly comeuppance
In the end, the murder drives the protagonist crazy. It's unclear whether he is imagining what is happening or if there really is a ghost/zombie/monster/curse that gets him in the end, but the key is that he dies in some ironic way that directly relates to the challenge and/or the way he killed the other guy.See if you can guess the next lines of dialogue:
A) "What am I thinking? I need to concentrate if I don't want to be dashed to bits on these rocks!"
"Whoo-hoo! All right, Dyna-Matt!"

B) "What a display of surfing talent!"
"I knew he could do it!"

C) "Alas, what a shame that this should be both the greatest and worst day of my life!"
"Yeah, yeah, kid, save it for the judge. You're under arrest for the murder of Gary Weed."

D)"Stop it, Matt! You're off course! Look out!"
PWOOOOOOOOM!

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