Showcase Presents: Ghosts Vol. 1 (DC Comics, $19.99)

 

When Ghosts debuted in 1971, I was buying DCs fairly comprehensively – but I gave the title a pass. With this Showcase, I remember why.

 

Ghosts certainly put its best foot forward, with the bulk of the covers done by Aquaman, Bat Lash and Teen Titans great Nick Cardy. And I remember being attracted by the Cardy covers on occasion, flipping through the issue, finding nothing else of comparable quality – and putting the issue back on the spinner rack.

 

Of course, there’s only one Nick Cardy, so you’d expect something of a quality drop-off from the cover. Still, with his work on the front, you’d also expect at least one interior story in an anthology to be done by him, and there aren’t any. That constitutes bait and switch.

 

And the art inside is often of poor quality. The first story of the first issue is by Jim Aparo, but that’s a cruel trick, as Aparo’s work never appears again – nor do many other artists of his caliber.

 

When Ghosts debuted, DC’s books were all 25-cent, 40-page books. Which meant, especially in an anthology such as this, at least one reprint per issue, maybe more, and none of those (primarily from 1950s suspense books) rise above bland. And, while there is the (very) occasional gem from the likes of Curt Swan, Ramona Fradona or Bob Brown, the regulars in the early issues are John Calnan (an unfamiliar name to me, whose work is pedestrian), Jerry Grandenetti (an artist who has some fans on this site, but whose work turns me off) and Jack Sparling (whose work I find painfully bad). George Tuska and Sam Glanzman are semi-regulars, the former phoning in mediocre work and the latter doing good work, often on his usual fare, stories set at sea.

 

Fortunately, the art perks up about midway through this volume with Filipino Invasion of the mid-1970s (and the book dropping to standard page count, eliminating those tedious reprints). Not all of them are top rank, but virtually all of them are serviceable. Some of the best include Rudy Nebres, Alfredo Alcala, E. R. Cruz, Ernie Chan/Chua and the Redondo brothers, Nestor and Frank.

 

But that’s really not enough, especially given how boring the stories are. Perhaps I shouldn’t have read this book right after reading two volumes of EC reprints and two volumes of Warren reprints, but I honestly had trouble getting through it – it was that dull. These post-Code stories avoided any real horror or terror, of course, but even so one could hope for snappy plot twists or surprising twist endings. If so, one would hope in vain. For the most part the stories are blandly formulaic, dutifully setting up standard ghost stories that plod relentlessly toward entirely predictable endings. Having finished the book last night, I honestly can’t remember a single tale without peeking.

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John Calnan's other work for DC includes the Metamorpho stories that appeared in the back of Action Comics and World's Finest in (mostly) 1972-73, some of David V. Reed's 70s Batman stories, and Superman-related back-up stories in the 70s/80s.

 

You might've enjoyed more of Jerry Grandenetti's work than you realise - I'm guessing you're thinking of his later style, perhaps the stories he did with Joe Simon for DC in the 70s. He worked for Will Eisner on The Spirit and drew a lot of stories for DC's war books in the 50s/60s. Reportedly he also ghosted for/assisted Joe Orlando in the 60s.

 

In 1949-51 he drew an series called "The Secret Files of Dr. Drew", which Eisner created, for Fiction House's Rangers Comics. He drew the earlier ones in Eisner's style, with Eisnerish layout tricks, and the final ones in a different style. The Eisner-style ones are great fun.

Now that you mention some of Calnan's other work, I remember it -- and remember not being impressed. It wasn't bad, just forgettable. And I promptly forgot it.

 

Also, you're correct that I'm not familiar with Grandenetti's early work. I think I became aware of his name when he picked up The Spectre from Neal Adams, and you can guess how I felt about that. (Picture tiny Captain shaking fists at the sky yelling "NOOOOOO!") I had seen his "spooky" already -- probably in Warren books, or maybe some of DC's suspense books -- but I don't think I attached a name to it until Spectre. And, all jokes aside, I don't care for that style. I probably would have preferred his earlier style as you described it.

When I started out reading comics, I used to pickup lots of back issues from the neighborhood corner store for a dime apiece -- some with covers, some without. I used to always grab stuff like Ghosts, The Witching Hour, House of Mystery, House of Secrets and suchlike. (At least those were original stories; I also got Marvel's offerings in that vein, but those were full of reprints from the 1950s.) I'd devour them like popcorn; read 'em and forget 'em.

As noted, the stories were quite forgettable and the art was pedestrian. It seemed like Ghosts and its bretheren and sisteren were the kinds of books that kept the presses running. But yeah, it all got better when DC started farming out the stories to all those artists in the Philippines like Rudy D. Nebres, Alfredo P. Alcala, E.R. Cruz, Tony deZuñiga, Ernie Chua, Nestor Redondo, Frank Redondo, and Fred Carillo ...

... but somewhere along the way, they started using these books as places for new artists to learn how to draw before they graduated to more important fare. Admittedly, some guys who started that way had potential, but not all.

I won't get into my love of Grandetti's work again, but I have picked up a few issues of Ghosts here and there. Those few issues were enough for me. You are 100% correct no surprises, no unexpected twists, and completely forgettable.

...Isn't there a Wally Wood --- -inked , perhaps - story ?????????

  Are the text pages - " Pre-letters column-style " stories , NOT letters colums , in there ?

  The Witching Hour SP I was reviewing here included them .

  Is that , if so , " What Will Happen To The President Elected In 1980 ??? " story ( about which I have written here before ) tp included ???

  It was 48 pages in the early period , not 40 .

  I remember a story involving a man being pursued by Indian goddess Kali - that in there ???????

  I DID read an interview w/a DC long-timer - George Kashdan ? Not sure . - in ALTER EGO elatively recently , who had worked on GHOSTS , and he , IIRC , said something odd about " You couldn't , legally , put ' True Stories Of ' Ghosts in the comic's masthead , but..." , or similar...???

  The c0omic at least started out w/the pretense that the stories were all true - Yes ?????????

 

Grandetti's an artist I definitely turned around on. Hated him as a kid, but now -- well, no one draws desperate middle-aged men sweating bullets like Jerry Grandetti. And with a lot of horror stories, that's exactly what was called for.

...Perhaps you've BECOME more middle-aged & desperate ???!!???!!???????????

  Hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee...

  I can relate , bro:-)...........

  Actually , that sorta relates to something I've thought , that the DC horror comics come from the pre-" Halloween " , pre-Stephen King , era , when the protaginists of horror stories were more likely to be " adults " - in actual age , and in their concerns - then teenagers/directly post-teenagers.........

Rob Staeger said:

Grandetti's an artist I definitely turned around on. Hated him as a kid, but now -- well, no one draws desperate middle-aged men sweating bullets like Jerry Grandetti. And with a lot of horror stories, that's exactly what was called for.

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