Stephen King’s Creepshow was the first comic book I ever loved.
I was given the book, an over-sized paperback, along with some superhero books. There was Rocketeer, some of Peter David’s The Incredible Hulk, Superman, and even some old school Valiant stuff. I don’t have all of those anymore, but I definitely remember a foil cover. Back then, though, while I read the superhero stuff a few times, I didn’t immediately fall it love. It was Creepshow that kept me coming back.
Here’s the thing, though. I was scared of it. Scared to the bone. I mostly read R. L. Stine’s Goosebumps and all of those spinoffs, as well as other series like it: Bone Chillers, Spinetinglers, Ghost of Fear Street, Spooksville, Strange Matter, and other books I can barely remember. Those are the books that get me feeling helpless nostalgic. The thing about those, though, is that besides a few terrifying instances, everything was kind of okay in the end. Sure, Goosebumps books often ended with Stine’s trademark twists that implied the evil wasn’t defeated, but hey – there was a decided lack of evisceration. The characters might be in danger, but chances are everyone was going to leave with a full set of organs by the last chapter. They were safe.
The folks unfortunate enough to live in the world of Creepshow were anything but.
The comic is based on the movie written by King and directed George Romero. I remember liking the film well enough, but I haven’t rewatched it since I was a kid. Every time Halloween season rolls around, though, I pull the comic off the shelf. As I re-read the five stories collected within, I’m flooded with the memory of that childhood terror: pure, real, ecstatic. Bernie and Michele Wrightson’s art was unlike anything I had ever seen back then. Each story is great, and there’s a lot more I understand now than when I first cracked these pages. Father’s Day, the first tale, stands out as the one that really shocked me, showing me just how terrifying words could be when accompanied by artwork by a mad genius like Bernie Wrightson. The bright colors of my Goosebumps books were gone, replaced with deep bloody reds that fill the entire panel when Bedelia smashes in her father’s head, and horrible, cold grey and brown of his rotted corpse’s face. Fucking yikes. The image of his skull, with thick saliva roping down from its teeth, and those cavernous eye sockets filled to the brim with bugs… that stayed with me. But you know what? Even then, I could deal with a corpse. When the zombie grabbed Bedelia by the face and twisted her head around, snapping her neck, that broke me in a way. When I first saw that page, I put the comic down and didn’t come back for a few days. I didn’t know people could die like that – I mean, sure, I guess it’s normal that a seven year old kid had never seen a neck snapped before, but damn. Until then, my worst nightmare was Slappy, Goosebumps’ murderous dummy who… well, talked about killing a lot, but mostly just taunted. The ghouls of Creepshow weren’t much with the quips. They wanted their revenge, and they wanted it bloody.
They wanted their goddamn birthday cake.
Creepshow, oddly, had become a comfort for me. It used to scare the shit out of me, and it still does, but there’s something comforting about the way, after all these years, the old, yellowing pages have loyally remained in the binding, no matter how frayed the edges have become. It’s also, in a way, the embodiment of the end of part of my childhood and the beginning of another. Also? There’s this excellent photo of Stephen King on the back – his face is virtually consumed by his bushy hair and lumberjack beard. He looks nothing like the sly, everyone’s-favorite-English-professor who appears on the back of King’s newer works. He’s a mad man, and he’s spinning mad tales, inviting you into his mad world.
And with stories like that, how could you say no?
PAT SHAND writes comics (Robyn Hood, Charmed, Van Helsing) and pop culture journalism (Sad Girls Guide, Blastoff Comics). He grew up on horror novels, films, and comics, and it’s all clearly had a debilitating psychological impact on the poor soul.