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by Michael Vance & Dr. Jon Suter

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August 18, 1999

Reviews in this issue:

Codex Arcana - Comics Legend Chas Addams


Codex Arcana

          Published as Dark Horse Presents #142. The book is 24 pages and priced at $2.95 each. Illustrated by various artists and writers. It is sold in comics shops and by mail.

          H.P. Lovecraft was arguably the greatest horror writer of the 20th century. Codex Arcana is inarguably not the best comics homage to his prose.

          Lovecraft was a master at creating an atmosphere of impending calamity, of a festering, perverse realm just below the skin of reality. His short stories also shun the violence, profanity and deviant sexuality that infect the horror genre today.

          To their credit, the three stories in Codex Arcana emulate that style and the themes that distinguish Lovecraft.

          Obsessed with the occult, a man is sucked into an ancient book of unspeakable horror, a psychic investigator rids a home of a Danish witch, and a machine rips open a portal into another dimension.

          But all three stories fail in recreating that mood of horror in Lovecraft's work.

          No one has ever captured the writer's dark, gothic, dirty ambiance better than comics artists Graham Ingles and Bernie Wrightson. Their accomplishment stands unchallenged. The artwork in Arcana, while competent and not without charm, lacks Lovecraftian decadence and physical degeneration of characters and setting.

          The writing also fails to recreate the inexorably slow, swelling suspense of Lovecraft's dense prose as revelation after revelation peels reality like an onion away from surreal nastiness.

          Pacing is the weakness that underlies the art and story in Arcana. These vignettes are visual and verbal plot outlines, lacking an emotional impact that demands a slower pace. They are a slap in the face when a horrible, spreading disease consuming every thought is needed.

          For great horror, readers must still return to the EC comics of the 1950s.


Comics Legend Chas Addams

He is best known for something he never created. He is best remembered for wildly original single-panel cartoons in New Yorker magazine.

He would have thought that odd because he thought in very odd ways.

Ergo: "He's in the garden." said the plain Jane blonde into the telephone. Through the open doorway behind her was a new grave and a shovel stuck in upturned earth.  

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As musicians enter a stage prepared for their orchestra, a violinist gawks at a row of squeeze horns, a stool and a bucket of fish.

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Three angry bears in auditorium seats try to pick a perpetrator from a lineup of little golden-haired girls.

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The genius behind these dark and thought-provoking scenes actually had four names. One was Subtle. One was Macabre. Two were well known and much beloved: Chas Addams.

The something that Chas never created was The Addams Family. The tongue-in-cheek television series and movies were based on the style of Chas' dark humor, and several characters extrapolated from individual cartoons.

Sort of the same way Gary Larson extrapolated his famous The Far Side comic strip from Chas Addams' work as well. Not copied. Not plagiarized. Extrapolated. Larson was as original as Chas.

Regrettably, Chas is not well represented in comic books. The Addams Family ('74-'76; Gold Key) is not a collection of his cartoons, but a continuation a Hanna-Barbera ani- mated TV series that was, in turn, a spin-off of the television show.

Among the collections of his work, Random House published hardback editions including Creature Comforts, Chas Addams' Favorite Haunts, My Crowd, The Groaning Board, Drawn and Quartered, Chas Addams' Black Maria, Night Crawlers, Homebodies, Monster Rally, Addams and Evil and The Dear Dead Days.

The work of Chas Addams is highly recommended.

Review by Michael Vance

Some older comics are expensive and difficult to locate. Price guides or comics dealers help. Comic shops, conventions, mail order companies and trade journals are best sources. Prices vary; shop around.


    Questions? Comments? A comic you wish reviewed? Write: 1427 S. Delaware Ave., Tulsa, OK, 74104. Or email c/o starland@starland.com.

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