Art Books & Graphic Novels SkeletonPete Says

Golden Age Creep Factor: Dark Horse’s “Adventures Into The Unknown” Archive

Dark Horse reprints ACG's Pre-Code "Adventures Into the Unknown"
Adventures Into The Unknown: Volume One
Dark Horse Archives
Full Color, Hardcover, 216 Pages
Release Date: June 6, 2012
List Price:$49.99

What a treat and it’s not even Halloween. On June 5, 2012 Dark Horse Comics will add the first volume of reprints of American Comics Group’s Adventures Into the Unknown to its long list of awesome archive editions. This full color hardcover tome will offer up the first four issues of this before – the – comics – code title that predates the earliest E.C. ventures in horror. Geez, it even predate me!

Let’s Get Corrupted…
Writer/Artist Bruce Jones’ in-depth foreword (“Under Forbidden Covers”) sets the stage for those unaware of the historical beginnings and unfortunate ending of the horror and crime comics genres. Adventures Into The Unknown shrewdly survived the reactionary social speculations of Dr. Fredric Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent and the ensuing comics code for an unbroken 174 issue run. The tales offered in Volume 1 come from a time (1948-49) when you could blissfully enjoy a creepy tale rendered in lurid detail without being labeled a “commie”, a pervert, or run the risk of being issued a legendary “JD” (juvenile delinquent) card.

Each issue is replete with several graphic stories, a text piece, a “True Ghosts of History” strip. The “Strange Spirits” page gives capsule commentary on the “many terrifying beliefs in all parts of the world” including Voodoo and Celtic Superstitions. Issues 1 & 2 introduce a recurring villain, the seemingly unstoppable “Living Ghost.” His scary countenance is not unlike the creature in director Eddie Romero’s 1970’s Filipino “Blood Island” film series with his missing proboscis and long pin-like fangs.

Gothic Ground Zero…
A unique treat in issue 1 is the graphic novelization of Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto. Broadly influential in its time and beyond the 1764 “first” gothic novel presupposes Poe, Stoker, du Maurier and others to follow. It’s a story examined more for its influence then its quality by H. P. Lovecraft in his 1927 treatise on gothicism “Supernatural Horror in Literature.” Panel for panel the art could pass as storyboards for Roger Corman’s Edgar Allan Poe adaptations, while the saturated color palette is reminiscent of Mario Bava’s set design.

Creepy Creatures from "Adventures Into The Unknown" Archive 1

Who Dunnit…
In their original printing the stories and most artwork is uncredited but Darkhorse gives us the creator’s identities. Edvard Moritz, Fred Guardineer and Al Feldstein are among them. There’s a great Leonard Starr (On Stage) story in issue number 4 that has the feel of a AlfredHitchcock/Daphne du Maurier collaboration.

What? No X-Ray Specs!
Advertisements are lovingly reproduced exhorting readers to learn to play piano in one day or harmonica in 15 minutes, in the midst of brilliantly cheesy novelty classics like the “dribble glass”, “squirt ring” and “joy buzzer”.

SkeletonPete Says…
Though low on the “grue-meter” the strips offer enough depictions of supernatural creatures, spectral and skeletal presences to keep the fantasy fan entertained. Overall, Adventures Into The Unknown: Volume 1 is a fun taste of Golden Age horror that whets the appetite for more and fits in perfectly with Dark Horse’s Creepy, Eerie, and Boris Karloff’s Thriller archives.

Art SkeletonPete Says

Far Away… So Close: The Nicholas Roerich Museum

Treasure of the World by Artist June Knight Riess

New York City has so many wonderful art and cultural institutions of international note that, even as a life long New Yorker, it is difficult to see beyond the “majors”. MOMA, The MET, Natural History, Guggenheim and my Brooklyn Museum all vie in a very high profile way for your attention, membership and donations. Every once in a while through some serendipity you get introduced to a hidden gem in that cultural landscape and wonder “how did this escape me” for so long. My recent visit to the Nicholas Roerich Museum was just such a case.

Ascending Mount Analogue
I am slightly embarrassed to admit that my first introduction to the personage of Nicholas Roerich was only a few weeks back and sparked in a very unexpected way. I’ve recently started to reread the works of writer H. P. Lovecraft; stories I had not visited since I was a teenager. Lovecraft is the horror genre writer whose Cthulhu & Old Ones mythos is intertwined through many of his short stories. I read the “Case of Charles Dexter Ward” with great enthusiasm; “The Colour Out Of Space” which was the inspiration for the latter day Boris Karloff film “Die, Monster, Die” that I saw on my 12th birthday. I next settled on digesting the novella length “At The Mountains of Madness”, a story which recently failed to be green-lighted by both Warner Brothers and Universal Pictures for production under Guillermo Del Toro and James Cameron.

Along with the cosmic creatures at the heart of Lovecraft’s mythology there are serial allusions to fictional characters and texts such as the “mad arab” Abdul Alhazred and the evil tome called The Necronimicon. So when the narrator of ATMoM mentions the Antarctic landscapes remind him of the paintings of Roerich I believed the artist to be an equally fictional character of Lovecraft’s design. Days later a bit of curiosity and a quick hop onto Wikipedia proved me wrong. I was thrilled to learn that a short subway ride to uptown Manhattan would put me face to face with a large sampling of his works at The Roerich Museum, a lovely townhouse setting near Riverside Drive.

Pax Cultura
Roerich was a prodigious painter, a stage set and costume designer, a writer and scientist. He was also an advocate for the sanctity of the cultural arts throughout the world. The “peace through culture” symbol of three red dots set in a circle has come to be adopted as the “Red Cross” banner of the arts and in the 1930’s came to represent the proposed Roerich Pact. The Pact, a set of guidelines formulated to foster the preservation of cultural heritage over military necessity has been ratified by many countries over several decades, though not universally accepted at this time. In order to promote the expansion of these values Roerich was inevitably embroiled in the world of politics and to this day two distinct camps view him as either a forward thinking aesthete or a mystical mountebank.

SkeletonPete Says…
I will leave you to do your own research on the life of Nicholas Roerich. There is plenty to be gleaned online and many books both by and about him available. While his visions of Alpinism are what initiated my serendipitous discovery of his work, it is his pantheistic symbolist pieces I find most interesting. What I will stress is the beauty of the painted works outside their political times and the impossibility of experiencing their depth anything but first hand. There are several nicely illustrated books of his art but what the page renders flat and cartoon like I found to be imbued with a vibrancy of color beyond what I thought could be achieved in tempera paint. “Pink Mountains”, “Burning The Dark”, “Elijah, the Prophet” and “Saint Sophia, the Almighty Wisdom”, all on view at the museum, are particularly stunning in their luminance. A sweet surprise of seeing the original “Glory to the Hero” is that its cloister arches are actually incorporated into its wooden frame.

Posthumous thanks to Mr. Howard Phillips Lovecraft for this enlightenment. Hope this posting sparks your interest as well.

Addendum: Sept. 5. 2011
Thanks to David Haden for historical context on the Roerich and Lovecraft connection in his comment below. His insights into the arcana of HPL can be gleaned in several books he’s written on the subject. They can be found here, in physical and ethereal (eReader) formats.

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