Shut down in its prime, Scream! could have been the Galaxy’s Great­est Hor­ror Comic. Stephen Jewell re­ports

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - Contents -

We head back to 1984 and re­call the short-lived but in­flu­en­tial Bri­tish hor­ror comic.

With its “Not for the ner­vous” tagline and its oth­er­worldly, fic­tional ed­i­tor, Scream! was clearly in­tended as a hor­ror-themed equiv­a­lent to 2000 AD. De­scribed by John Wag­ner – who penned two of its most pop­u­lar of­fer­ings, Mon­ster and The Thir­teenth Floor, with his then-reg­u­lar writ­ing part­ner, Alan Grant – as “merger fod­der”, IPC’s at­tempt to launch a new boys’ an­thol­ogy comic proved re­mark­ably short-lived. De­but­ing in late March 1984, Scream! lasted only 15 is­sues be­fore it was com­bined with Ea­gle just over three months later.

But its sto­ries – boast­ing work by such top Bri­tish tal­ent as Bren­dan McCarthy, Cam Kennedy, Ron Smith and even Alan Moore – have lin­gered in the mem­o­ries of those who read the orig­i­nal weekly. In­deed, The Drac­ula File and The Thir­teenth Floor have re­cently been reprinted by Hiber­nia Press, while Re­bel­lion will this month re­lease a col­lec­tion of Scream!’s most ac­claimed strip, Mon­ster.

Hav­ing pre­vi­ously over­seen Roy Of The Rovers in 1976 and then 1982’s warmly re­ceived re­vival of Ea­gle, IPC Boys’ Ad­ven­ture Group ed­i­tor Barrie Tom­lin­son was charged with bring­ing Scream! to macabre life. “I was happy do­ing what I was do­ing but the man­age­ment wanted to put out a hor­ror comic, so I was pleased to oblige,” he says. “It was a chance for me to do some­thing dif­fer­ent, and de­spite what some man­age­ment thought, the end prod­uct was a good one.”

Pro­mot­ing for­mer Ea­gle as­sis­tant ed­i­tor Ian Rim­mer to the top job on Scream!, Tom­lin­son in­sists that the new ti­tle never con­sciously em­u­lated 2000 AD’s win­ning for­mula. “It didn’t cross my mind, as I al­ways cre­ated comics as I wanted them, and I was sel­dom in­flu­enced by events else­where,” he says, although he did hire Bat­tle artist Mike Western to de­sign the Tharg-es­que Ghastly McNasty’s suit­ably grue­some, hooded vis­age. “I knew that he’d come up with just what we needed.” Rim­mer was re­spon­si­ble for Ghastly McNasty’s catchy moniker. “There were images for a char­ac­ter who would be Scream!’s ed­i­to­rial fig­ure­head, but no sense of per­son­al­ity or name for him,” he re­calls. “For some rea­son I re­called the name of a band from my teenage years in Liver­pool in the ’70s, who were called Filthy McNasty. I tweaked it a bit and came up with Ghastly McNasty.” Hav­ing joined IPC as a trainee com­pe­ti­tion jour­nal­ist in 1980 be­fore be­com­ing Scream! as­sis­tant ed­i­tor in 1984, Si­mon Fur­man be­lieves that 2000 AD was a sig­nif­i­cant fac­tor in the early days of the fledg­ling ti­tle, although it quickly es­caped from un­der The Mighty One’s for­mi­da­ble shadow. “From the cre­ators to the for­mat

De­spite what some thought, the end prod­uct was a good one

and Ghastly McNasty, 2000 AD was the tem­plate from which Scream! sprung,” he says. “But largely down to Ian, it very quickly gained its own unique iden­tity and style that started to owe less and less to 2000 AD, Ea­gle and the rest. For the most part, Scream! had a straight­for­ward story and char­ac­ter-led ros­ter of sto­ries – like The Thir­teenth Floor and Mon­ster – that dif­fered from 2000 AD’s more scathing and satir­i­cal sci-fi con­tent. Even with the su­per­nat­u­ral el­e­ments, the strips in Scream! were grounded and grip­ping dra­mas first and fore­most, and readers re­sponded well to that im­mer­sive, in­tel­li­gent kind of sto­ry­telling.”

Boast­ing an open­ing four-pager by Alan Moore and Heinzl who were then re­placed by John Wag­ner and Alan Grant – writ­ing as “Rick Clark” – and Span­ish artist Je­sus Re­dondo, Mon­ster is a prime ex­am­ple of that more sen­si­tive ap­proach. “Alan Moore wrote both the first episode of Mon­ster and also a treat­ment of how the story might de­velop but other work com­mit­ments meant that he wasn’t avail­able to con­trib­ute any­thing more to the ti­tle,” says Rim­mer, re­fer­ring to the Northamp­ton au­thor’s break­through stint on Swamp Thing, which be­gan in 1983. “I was never shown Alan’s story treat­ment, but was told it took the story into ar­eas man­age­ment wanted to avoid. Nat­u­rally, I’ve al­ways won­dered what ideas Alan had in mind, but by the time I came on board, Alan Grant and John Wag­ner had al­ready been se­lected to take the story for­ward.”

Fo­cus­ing on the sur­pris­ingly ten­der re­la­tion­ship be­tween 12-year-old Kenneth Cor­man and his de­formed, preter­nat­u­rally strong Un­cle Terry, who had been se­cretly locked in an at­tic for many years, Mon­ster is be­lieved to have been partly based upon the so-called Mon­ster of Glamis. The first child of the Queen Mother’s great-grand­par­ents, the Earl of Strath­more and Kinghorne and El­iz­a­beth Bowes-Lyon, he was ru­moured to have been hid­den away from early 19th cen­tury so­ci­ety be­cause of his ap­par­ent de­for­mi­ties.

“The story of the Mon­ster of Glamis has lots of sta­ple el­e­ments for a classic gothic tale, so per­haps Alan and John had frag­ments of that le­gend in mind when they took over writ­ing Mon­ster,” says Rim­mer, who also com­pares it to the orig­i­nal 1931 film of Franken­stein. “There’s a scene where that mon­ster en­coun­ters a lit­tle girl be­side a lake and they play a game of throw­ing flow­ers in the wa­ter to watch them float. When they run out of flow­ers, the mis­guided crea­ture throws her into the wa­ter to see if she will float, but of course she drowns. Briefly though, the frail, small child and the huge lum­ber­ing mon­ster were in tune and co-oper­at­ing, and it was a sim­i­lar re­la­tion­ship be­tween a young­ster and his pow­er­ful, dis­fig­ured rel­a­tive that we sought to ex­pand upon and ex­plore in Mon­ster.”

While jok­ing that he “wouldn’t put any­thing past the royal fam­ily”, Alan Grant ad­mits that his only en­dur­ing me­mory of script­ing Mon­ster is “laugh­ter, although I’m not sure whether Alan meant it to be a hu­mour story.”

He also speaks fondly of his and Wag­ner’s other main con­tri­bu­tion to Scream!, The Thir­teenth Floor, which fo­cused on crazed su­per-com­puter Max, who would wreak ter­ri­ble vengeance upon any un­sus­pect­ing wrong­do­ers who ven­tured into the el­e­va­tor of his tower block. “I re­mem­ber en­joy­ing it im­mensely as we wrote it,” he says. “Max was a re­ally great char­ac­ter, and boy did he make those evil peo­ple pay!

“It was a fun story to write, and like a lot of the sto­ries Alan and I did, it fed off it­self, with one thing lead­ing to an­other un­til the char­ac­ters – in this case, Max – took over, dic­tat­ing to a large ex­tent where the story would go next,” con­tin­ues Wag­ner, who sug­gests that Max is sim­i­lar in mind­set to Doom­lord, the geno­ci­dal alien, whose ex­ploits he and Grant chron­i­cled in Ea­gle. “Doom­lord opined that the fate of the

in­di­vid­ual was ir­rel­e­vant, as the sur­vival of the species was the im­por­tant thing, and Max in the same way would hap­pily sac­ri­fice any­one for the good of his ten­ants.”

Now a suc­cess­ful comics scribe best known for his work on Trans­form­ers, Si­mon Fur­man cut his teeth on Scream!, pen­ning Be­ware The Were­wolf for artist Steve Dil­lon, and fill­ing in for Gerry Fin­ley Day on The Drac­ula File on a cou­ple of oc­ca­sions. “Most of my scripts for Scream! was me pitch­ing in to avoid some kind of dead­line crunch,” he says. “With The Drac­ula File, I was largely padding out Gerry’s work, and buy­ing him some breath­ing space. Each of my in­ter­jec­tions were de­signed to feed in and out of what he was do­ing, and si­mul­ta­ne­ously not de­rail his longer-term plans. But I en­joyed them, and es­pe­cially the lat­ter three-parter from Scream! #13-15, which al­lowed me to chan­nel my af­fec­tion for Ham­mer hor­ror.”

Il­lus­trated by Eric Brad­bury and Ge­off Se­nior, The Drac­ula File up­dated the fa­mil­iar tale of the blood­suck­ing Count to the then-present day, as he flees his East­ern Euro­pean home­land and is mis­taken by Bri­tish In­tel­li­gence for a de­fec­tor upon his ar­rival in the UK. “We wanted all the sto­ries to have a con­tem­po­rary set­ting, some­thing that readers could re­late to,” says Fur­man, who was also given the more oner­ous task of wrap­ping up the less well-re­ceived Ter­ror Of The Cats, which fo­cused on in­sane ge­nius Dr Ul­rich Kruhl’s at­tempt to tele­path­i­cally con­trol the minds of fe­lines every­where.

“Ter­ror Of The Cats was right there in the orig­i­nal dummy, but sud­denly af­ter only two in­stal­ments, IPC got cold feet, and Ian was told to wrap it up ASAP, and in the process move it as far into the realm of the fan­tas­ti­cal as pos­si­ble,” re­calls Fur­man. “Maybe they feared kids culling their house­hold mog­gies whole­sale be­cause ‘it looked at me in a funny way!’ Ian and I dis­cussed how best to move the story to a con­clu­sion, although the big Brain of the Cats was my idea, as it was a homage to those 1950s sci-fi films I’d loved watch­ing as a kid.”

Un­for­tu­nately, Ter­ror Of The Cats’ abrupt cur­tail­ing fore­shad­owed Scream!’s equally rapid demise. Be­set by in­ter­fer­ence from higher-ups, who con­stantly de­manded changes in con­tent, of­ten re­sult­ing in de­lays, it even­tu­ally be­came a sac­ri­fi­cial lamb in a bit­ter con­flict be­tween IPC and the Na­tional Union of Jour­nal­ists. “De­spite the star­burst on the cover of Scream! #1 claim­ing that it was ‘Not For The Ner­vous!’ the se­nior man­agers at IPC’s youth depart­ment seemed ter­ri­fied that it would cause them prob­lems,” says Rim­mer, who main­tains that Scream! was not can­celled be­cause of poor sales fig­ures. “It was my feel­ing at the time, and it re­mains so, that the IPC board, hav­ing sanc­tioned the ti­tle, ac­tu­ally lost its nerve once they saw it in print and de­cided to axe it to avoid po­ten­tial al­le­ga­tions of pub­lish­ing a so-called comic-nasty, hid­ing be­hind the smoke­screen of an in­dus­trial dis­pute to do it.”

In­deed, both Mon­ster and The Thir­teenth Floor went on to en­joy long runs in Ea­gle af­ter its union with Scream!. “It was a shame that Scream! was cut so short, but the writ­ing was on the wall long be­fore the plug was pulled,” re­flects Fur­man. “Any­way, it’s all wa­ter un­der the bridge now and Scream! – in a kind of undy­ing way – won’t stay buried, so maybe we got the last laugh in the end. Cue a Vin­cent Price-style creepy cackle!”

Mon­ster is pub­lished by Re­bel­lion in July. It’s Ghastly is out soon from Hiber­nia Press.

It re­mains my feel­ing that the IPC board lost its nerve once they saw it

Un­cle Terry gets an un­for­tu­nately pre­dictable re­ac­tion.

We’re leav­ing you on a cliffhanger here!

And a lit­tle bit of Ham­mer hor­ror for sea­son­ing.

Kids: be good to cats. They’re ac­tu­ally re­ally nice.

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