Creepy Volume Sixteen

Collecting Creepy #73-77 (Aug 75-Feb 76)

Artists & writers: Various

Dark Horse, B&W and color, $49.99, 380 pages

Every time I forget how much the 1970s sucked, something reminds me. This week it’s Creepy #73.

That was the first issue in this collection, which was an all sci-fi issue. And reading all these stories where the future is imagined by young 1970s writers, the issues and concerns of that era – most of which are no longer issues or concerns – comes flooding back to anyone (like me) who was there.

You know what was a huge problem in the 1970s? Pollution. People today don’t know or have forgotten how unregulated industry had poisoned so much of this country. There were days in Los Angeles where it was deemed unsafe to breathe. The Cuyahoga River caught fire – twice. Lake Michigan was on the verge of becoming a dead sea.

The worst excesses were corrected with the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, signed into law by, of all people, Richard Nixon. So that fear receded in memory and importance.

But in these stories, the fears we all had at the time of a toxic future are writ large. To today’s audiences they probably seem hysterical, but in the 1970s, a dying Earth seemed a real possibility – even a likelihood.

Other front-burner beliefs of your average 1970 American were useless war (think Vietnam), fascist government (think Nixon), race relations (riots, busing, MLK, etc.) and overpopulation. Those problems were mostly mitigated, or at least kind shelved, after the 1970s, for various reasons. Of course, virtually all of them are back around again, because Americans have short memories. Like unregulated pollution, how’s the water in West Virginia, you guys? How are those fertilizer explosions doing for you, Texas? How do we feel about those exploding oil trains and pipeline leaks all over the country, folks?

But as bad as that stuff is, the '70s were much worse. These concerns were front and center in most conversations by idealistic young people, and most of the country seemed to be idealistic young people. All of which is reflected in these stories by sci-fi writers … resulting in a very depressing read.

In these stories, future Earth is usually dying, survivors suffer from plagues, or resort to cannibalism (there’s a LOT of cannibalism), policemen are completely overwhelmed, the climate has gone bonkers, and so forth. It’s depressing now – serving to remind me how much MORE depressed I was then!

Fortunately, the following issues in this collection were in the familiar horror short-story format, and things take a much better turn. And, as it happens, this is one of Warren’s strongest periods. The backbone of the bullpen in this collection consists of Richard Corben, Jose Ortiz, John Severin, Alex Toth and Berni Wrightson. Neal Adams, Vicente Alcazar, Reed Crandall, Esteban Maroto and Paul Neary contribute a story each, and there’s even a tale illustrated by the unusual, but wonderful, team of Rich Buckler and Wally Wood!

The covers, mostly by Sanjulian and Ken Kelly, are excellent.

The stories are mostly by Bill DuBay and Budd Lewis, and are really pretty good. Lewis tends to channel Rod Serling in his omniscient-narrator narration, but that’s OK, because I liked Twilight Zone. And DuBay’s penchant for malapropism and misspelling isn’t too much in evidence here, to my relief.

I should note here that at this point in Warren’s history, the EC-style, twist-ending story had virtually disappeared. Sometimes painful experimentation in story structure in the early ‘70s had morphed into a heterogeneous approach to stories by the mid-1970s that was now professionally structured, but unpredictable. Stories ran long or short as the narrative dictated, the endings were often genuinely surprising and unusual protagonists predominated. All in all, strong and interesting work which holds up well today.

My only complaint is Dark Horse’s insistence on reprinting, by way of a Foreword, interviews of Warren freelancers by a fellow named S.C. Ringgenberg made during the ‘70s. Riggenberg was a terrible interviewer -- tossing softballs and constantly thrusting his uninteresting self into the interview – and nothing of value ever emerges. That’s a minor irritant, however , and easily solved: I just skip them.

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A newly married 28-year-old woman in Dallas recently went to city hall to inquire about changing her name. The clerk gave her the proper forms and charged her a $300 fee. What the city clerk didn’t tell her is that she could have had her name changed for free at any social security office. When the woman found out, what do you think she did? She applied for a refund! From the city! Whereas you and I might scoff at the notion, there’s a whole generation (or two) who have grown up in a more customer service-oriented world and who don’t know “you can’t fight city hall.” The moral is don’t sell the idealistic young people, either of the 1970s or today, short; dissatisfaction breeds change!

[No, the young woman did not get the refund she sought.]

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