Graphic Classics #10: Horror Classics
by Tom Pomplun, various artists (Eureka, 2004)

Despite beginning with an Ambrose Bierce poem whose inclusion must have been solely based on the title of the poem ("The Mummy"), the first real entry of Horror Classics sets the bar very high for this volume. With masterful storytelling all around for H.P. Lovecraft's "The Thing on the Doorstep," editor Tom Pomplun manages to extract the real meat of the story, and Michael Manning's illustrations reinforce the text at key moments. Also note Manning's adept range of facial expressions and body language. The characters' emotions are apparent without the text, yet combined the story is so much the stronger for it.

And the quality storytelling continues throughout most of the book. The other rare exception is W.W. Jacob's "The Monkey's Paw." The vibrant, energetic artwork by John W. Pierard is the sole contributing factor to enjoying an otherwise predictable "Be careful what you wish for" morality tale. The dyamic movement of the characters, the attention to particular details (especially that grandfather clock) and the text placement do their best to present a visually engaging tale of suspense; it's just too bad that the actual story isn't nearly as engaging.

Despite this being a collection of horror tales, the good outweighs the bad. Nearly all the other entries are well done and very entertaining. The wood-etching quality of Ryan Inzana's artwork is an apt storytelling device for Jack London's "Keesh, Son of Keesh." Richard Jenkins's illustrations contribute to an old feel for "The Beast of Averoigne" (original story by Clark Ashton Smith, script by Rod Lott). There's a Tex Avery feel to Milton Knight's rendition of "A Day-Dream" by Fitz-James O'Brien and a short-but-sweet quality to Saki's "The Open Window," adapted by Gabrielle Bell. "Odd" is the best way of describing "Olive Schreiner's 'In a Far Off World'" and Jackie Smith's artwork. Bret Harte's "Selina Sedilia" is a captivating tale of absolutely despicable people in love that keep dark secrets from each other. Nick Miller's art is such a delight for this story, providing a Rankin/Bass feel to the characters.

Another great entry to this collection is "Some Words with a Mummy" by Edgar Allan Poe, adapted by Rod Lott with illustrations by Kevin Atkinson. This is a great conversation-driven story that succeeds where so many others fail; the discussion/one-upmanship is so captivating that disappointment appears only when it is ended (seemingly too soon).

"Professor Jonkin's Cannibal Plant" by Howard R. Garis is a comedic tale that will remind one of the 1960 and 1986 films The Little Shop of Horrors. (Oddly enough, the two stories are seemingly unconnected, unless Roger Corman read Garis's story and never credited the inspiration.) Onsmith Jeremi's artwork perfectly fits the theme of this ludicrous story, especially in the portrayal of Porfessor Jonkins.

One of the most interesting storytelling methods is Mark Dancey's one-page, 15-panel, text-free comic strip presentation of Balzac's "The Thing at Ghent." Only the barest essence of the story is presented in a highlight summary fashion. It's an interesting approach that will hopefully be revisited in future Graphic Classics volumes.

The best thing about this volume is that it doesn't fall prey to the contemporary confusion of "horror" and "gore." There are tales of horror that may not frighten children of all ages, but the good news is that this book can be enjoyed by most ages, not just the over-17 crowd. This horror-centric volume of the Graphic Classics line is a great addition to an already-great series of graphic novels.

review by
C. Nathan Coyle

8 March 2008

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