Monday, October 25, 2010

Monster Monday: Tales of the Zombie, Simon Garth!

Some images just remain stuck in your head for eternity.  I remember being utterly frightened by just the thought of the Exorcist, for example.  Couldn't even watch the commercial on TV without getting frightened.  When Marvel started publishing monster magazines, I didn't get creeped out too easily.  Dracula was scary, but guys like Frankenstein and Werewolf by Night were heroes to me. 

Tales of the Zombie 1 cover by Boris Vallejo

On the day I saw Boris Vallejo's cover to Tales of the Zombie #1 (1973) in the bookstore, I definitely felt pangs of fear and apprehension.  I hadn't even planned on buying this magazine, but when I saw the cover, I was sold.  A monster, holding a pretty lady by the arm in a foggy graveyard?  It's not Vallejo's greatest painting by any means, but it just nailed the look of the Zombie.  This was the first time I had ever seen anything by Boris Vallejo.  He did a few more Zombie covers, some Savage Sword of Conan covers, and then his career took off outside of comics.

I think I was doubly sold when I opened up TOTZ to find that Steve Gerber had written the story (with plotting help from Roy Thomas) and John Buscema / Tom Palmer / Syd Shores did the artwork.

Original Zombie story by Bill Everett

The new story was a framing sequence around an early 50s horror tale by Stan Lee and Bill Everett, was given the classic Gerber treatment.  Simon Garth is a wealthy industrialist who lives in New Orleans.  To say that Garth was a Type-A personality doesn't come close.  One thing after another happens and Garth is kidnapped and used in a Voodoo ritual, run by his gardener and secretary.  Garth is killed, turned into a Zombie, but with a twist: he can be controlled by whoever holds the Amulet of Damballah.  The matching talisman hangs around Simon Garth's neck.  The 2nd person narration in the captions that Stan Lee wrote would be used in the 1970s version.

Tales of the Zombie 2 splash page by Pablo Marcos

Pablo Marcos took over the artwork on Tales of the Zombie #2 and redefined the character visually.  The Everett version was skinny had sunken flesh around the bones; his eyes were dark slits.  Marcos' version is more robust, which matches Buscema's depiction of Garth as a man who liked to work out.  But it also more closely matched the illustration of the Zombie on Boris Vallejo's cover painting.  The stories called for Simon Garth to rip apart humans and other monsters with supernatural strength, so this change made sense.  Garth's eyes changed from slits to open eyeballs that had rolled upward.  White, blank, and ten times more frightening.

While other Zombies usually deteriorate after a way, this one remained intact after getting whipped, mauled, chewed on by giant spiders and even set on fire.  Simon Garth was the superman of Zombies!

Tales of the Zombie 5 splash page by Pablo Marcos

The Zombie presented another writing challenge that only Steve Gerber could conquer.  How do you write a story with a main character who cannot speak?  The Zombie didn't even have thought balloons.  Gerber solved this problem by using Stan Lee's 2nd person narrative in the captions, like on this splash page to issue #5:
You stand in a dark windswept field somewhere outside New Orleans...but you do not feel the chill of the blustery night breeze.  You do not feel anything.
The supporting cast was another obstacle.  Aside from Garth's daughter Donna, there wasn't much of one.  But the Amulet of Damballah floated around from person to person, most of them with terrible plans for a Zombie.  One of the good ones was Phillip Bliss, who rewarded Simon Garth with a grave.  The bad ones included a group of partying swingers who used the Zombie to kill people they hated.

Tales of the Zombie 6 splash page by Pablo Marcos

Tales of the Zombie magazine lasted only for 10 issues and 2 years, but it's one of my favorite Marvel horror series.  Ironically enough, the story of Simon Garth concluded in issue #9 story, "A Day in the Life of a Living Dead Man", where he was transformed back into a living human for 24 hours before returning to the grave for his eternal rest.  Making this Marvel's first maxi-series, in a roundabout way.  Nuff Said!

Update: Comments from my old MT blog...


Man, that Bill Everett splash is awesome. Some of the other art is nice, too, but that Everett piece really makes me want to read these. There might be a Essential Tales of the Zombie purchase in my future!
Just so you know--the Bill Everett story is only 10 pages.
Makes me wonder how many great other horror Everett gems are around waiting to be discovered?
Essential Tales of the Zombie is a really nice package - it collects pretty much everything, and you lose nothing in reproduction since it was a b&w magazine (well, except the color covers...).

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