Monday, March 29, 2010

‘Ghost Brain,’ Rampant

...and herewith...

Introduction to “Ghost Brain”

Ever played What’s Up, Tiger Lily? with somebody else’s artistry? The exercise takes its name from a motion picture of 1966, in which Woody Allen substantially rewrote a self-serious Japanese espionage picture as a spoof — closer to Theatre of the Absurd than to outright comedy. The practice is much older than that, of course: Contrived captions for ordinary photographs can only date from the beginnings of photography. And in just the few years preceding Tiger Lily, Harvey Kurtzman had built much of HELP! magazine around newsphotos and movie stills embellished with crazed word-balloons. To say nothing of Jay Ward’s Fractured Flickers teleseries, whose shtik was to dub silent motion pictures with incongruous dialogue.

The comic-book sector of Forgotten Horrors — especially the censor-bait comics that proliferated during the immediate post-WWII years — runs thick with such temptations to commit vandalism. Yes, and why restore or even just rediscover an ineptly written story when one can replace its banal and overobvious dialogue with non-sequiturs and outright groaners?

Such a piece is the anonymously rendered “Ghost Brain,” which comes from a magazine called Weird Horrors (Issue No. 2; St. John Publ.; 1952). Actually, a cloaked-phantom image foreshadowing this yarn dominates the cover of Weird Horrors’ Issue No. 1, while a mere cover-cameo graces the issue in which the story appears. Go figure.

Anyhow, a Tiger Lily’d version of “Ghost Brain” follows — a preview of a book in preparation for Baltimore’s Midnight Marquee Press. (The early volumes in this Marquee series include Scream Chills Illustrated, Carnival of Souls & Other Futile Inquiries, and Michael H. Price’s Great Big Crock of Christmas! — all in the catalogue at

Sunday, March 28, 2010

‘Carnival of Souls’ on Exhibit

Comic-book spinoffs of Forgotten Horrors became a commonplace, more-or-less, after our 4Winds Studio team adapted some of the first book’s movie selections to fit the Prowler series at Eclipse Comics in 1987. (And more about that later.) My first comics project following the Prowler books was a 50-page adaptation of yet another motion picture — and a low-budget indie, at that: Herk Harvey’s dreamlike Carnival of Souls, from 1962.

Carnival of Souls might as well have become a new film by 1990, given its rediscovery in like-new form as a film-festival and art-theatre attraction; the restoration of some misplaced footage; and the participation of director Harvey and leading players Candace Hilligoss and Sidney Berger in the resurrection.

Gordon K. Smith, the enthusiast who had ramrodded the revival, approached me on Harvey’s behalf about tackling a comics adaptation. I began the process and enlisted cartoonist Todd Camp as co-illustrator. The finished graphic-novel takeoff saw print in 1991 as Carnival of Souls, from Malibu Graphics.

Almost a generation later, a digital-art revamp resulted in a new version called Carnival of Souls & Other Futile Inquiries (2009), from Midnight Marquee Press. By spring of 2010, the new edition had landed a Rondo Awards nomination in the Best Horror Comics category. (

Following suit with all this retro-ruckus, a selection of some 40 pieces of the original pen-and-ink art will go on display April 6, 2010, at the Doss Heritage & Culture Center, 1400 Texas Drive, in Weatherford, Texas. ( The exhibition, originally mounted by the Fort Worth Public Library System in connection with the new book, will remain on view at the Doss Center through May 2010.

…and a Few New-Cover Prototypes

These new-cover designs (below) are prototypes in preparation for a proposed boxed-set collection of the Forgotten Horrors books. No telling when that development might take shape — better to get the fifth volume on track, first, and the sooner the better — but such distractions are probably essential to the overall progress. Meanwhile, a quick-sketch rundown of the periods covered in the first four Forgotten Horrors books:

Forgotten Horrors: The Definitive Edition (Midnight Marquee Press; 1999) — Low-budget independent chillers, 1929–1937. From 1929’s Black Waters (English, but filmed in America) up to the edge of a British–European censors’ ban that effectively bottlenecked horror-film production in the United States. Foreword by Mel Brooks. This edition expands upon the 1979 and 1986 editions of Forgotten Horrors: Early Talkie Chillers from Poverty Row.

Forgotten Horrors 2: Beyond the Horror Ban (Midnight Marquee; 2001) — Overlaps with FH: Definitive to commence at 1936–1937, continuing through 1942. Such essential titles as Monogram’s Mr. Wong pictures (Boris Karloff’s refuge from the horror-ban zealots) and Karloff’s resurgence in the genre with The Ape; Bela Lugosi’s stretch of low-budget top billing with The Devil Bat and a string of Monogram Pictures fever-dreams beginning with Invisible Ghost; and Mantan Moreland’s memorable stardom-by-default picture, King of the Zombies. Foreword by Josh Alan Friedman.

Forgotten Horrors 3: Dr. Turner’s House of Horrors (Midnight Marquee; 2003) — Picks up with 1943, continuing into 1946. John Wooley weighs in as co-author; George Turner’s posthumous contributions include extracts from a movie-buff journal kept during his WWII service. Lugosi’s additional Monogram starrers receive due attention, along with such unclassifiable oddities as the surreal comedy How Doooo You Do!!!! and the sporadically weird Lum & Abner series of rustic-hokum pictures. Extensive film noir coverage, as well. Foreword by Terry Pace.

Forgotten Horrors 4: Dreams That Money Can Buy (Midnight Marquee; 2007). A heavy concentration of horror pictures and conspicuously strange movies from 1946–1948, from such obvious choices as Scared to Death and the patchwork exploitationer Outrages of the Orient; to such hard-boiled noirs as I Wouldn’t Be in Your Shoes and The Gangster; to the birdbrain fantasy Bill and Coo and the black-ensemble hoodoo musical Killer Diller. A concentration of postwar-paranoia pictures (such as The Beginning or the End, a big-studio effort with unusual relevance to the Poverty Row studios, and the atom-scare comedy Who Killed Doc Robbin) sets matters in motion for Forgotten Horrors 5 and its chronicle of a rising infusion of science fiction into cheapskate horror pictures.

Some Random-Choice Cover Images

Some representative book-cover images, here, from the series' 11-year run at Midnight Marquee Press of Baltimore. The publisher has varied the cover-design elements to some extent, however, the better to keep the catalogue refreshed and allow for random inspirations. The Web address is ... as good a place as any to catch up with the series.

Some Words to the Fore — as in Fore–gotten…

...not necessarily to say misbegotten…

And welcome aboard: As George Turner’s and my collaborative Forgotten Horrors project hovers about a 35-year milestone — we started researching the series’ original book of Old Hollywood genre-fied history in 1975 — I find myself carrying on in the familiar directions (onward? upward?) while branching into areas that seem plausible. Comic-book stories, for example. Television and music, to whatever extents make sense. And so forth.

In any event, with a book called Forgotten Horrors 5 in preparation (2010) for Baltimore’s Midnight Marquee Press, the series progresses decisively into a watershed period — the 1950s, I mean — both for the horror-movie racket and for the very concept of horror as a mass-market entertainment commodity. That long coda to World War II served primarily to enshrine Fear as a National Pastime, spreading paranoia as a precondition to prosperity and imposing severe limitations upon Constitutional Freedoms.

A popular tendency to embrace horror (the imaginary kind) as a safety-valve release was countered at every turn by the Dominant Culture’s reassertion of censorship as a Patriotic Ideal. The result was a vicious conflict in Peacetime Homefront America, torn between Free Speech and a book-burning contingent that would have been comfortably at home within the Third Reich. (Yes, and if we whipped the Nazis, then what were we doing appropriating their tactics? Go figure.)

But more about that as we proceed. Some background:

Forgotten Horrors: Early Talkie Chillers from Poverty Row is the title of a book that Hollywood-based historian George E. Turner (1925–1999) and I compiled during 1975–1979, originally for the Tantivy Press of London and A.S. Barnes & Co. of Cranbury, N.J.

Issued in 1979 in England and the following year in the U.S. of A., the book was intended as a self-contained history of North America’s independent, low-budget horror- film scene from 1929 (an earnest start of the talking-picture age) through the genre’s gradual dissipation during 1936–1937. (The decline had more to do with a British–European censorship ban on such American-made films, than with any loss of interest on the part of the American studios or their customers.) Barnes & Co. commissioned a sequel, to be called Human Monsters in the Movies, which was left hanging after Barnes collapsed in 1980.

A new edition of Forgotten Horrors (substantially identical, but with a new cover design and some internal tweaking) arrived in 1986 from California-based Eclipse Books (a.k.a. Eclipse Comics). At Eclipse and affiliated 4Winds Studio, I also helped to develop a series of comic-book stories (including Prowler and Revenge of the Prowler) including adaptations from some of the films covered in Forgotten Horrors. Much of the Prowler back-story, for example, derives from the Halperin Bros.’ 1932 production of White Zombie.

At length, Midnight Marquee Press commissioned a 20th-anniversary version called Forgotten Horrors: The Definitive Edition. This one wrapped shortly before George Turner’s death in 1999. FH: Definitive is a significantly revised volume — topics that had escaped us the first time around, corrections and re-evaluated opinions, and quite a bit of additional photographs and movie-poster art.

While completing that Marquee edition, George and I had begun compiling research and essays for a Forgotten Horrors 2, which fell together during the next few years. Longtime associates John Wooley and Jan Alan Henderson have lent significant assistance since the development of Forgotten Horrors 3 and Forgotten Horrors 4. Which brings us to the gradual progress of Forgotten Horrors 5 as a volume for the bookshelf itself.

The Forgotten Horrors blog will serve, in one respect, to chronicle the progress of Forgotten Horrors 5 — call it a coming-attractions trailer — while providing a practical forum to serve up fresh insights, newfound art, and what-have-you in connection with the earlier books. Some Q&A exchanges may develop, and more power to them. (Of course, the Classic Horror Film Board at has that process plenty well in hand.) Maybe a contest now and again, a la that essential horror-comics blog, The approach here is open-minded: Clean-Slate City.

And yes, the occasional comic-book selection is likely and possibly inevitable, whether from my cartoon studio’s inventory of original material or from a catalogue of restorations and vandalisms that I have committed upon various comics yarns of bygone times. (See for a few appetizers.)

The process begins momentarily. As soon as I can settle on which path to take, for openers… Anyhow — stay tuned, and stay attuned.

— Michael H. Price