It’s Halloween! Which can mean only one thing: A re-reading of the Revolver: Halloween Special!
Okay, pumpkins and sweets and trick or treating as well but this blog is about comics, mostly…
Revolver was a short lived comic published at the beginning of the 90’s by Fleetway Publications. It came with a ‘mature readers’ tag and was the home of some experimental and more daring comic strips including notable entrees like Peter Milligan’s Rogan Gosh and Grant Morrison’s grim look at Dan Dare’s future. But as well as these ongoing strips it offered up short stories by some of Britain’s greatest talent.
And in October 1990 they let loose their horror special into the world and it dripped with macabre tales from the grimmest of storytellers. This single 80 ish page comic was created by such talent as Si Spencer, Will Simpson, Warren Pleece, Garth Ennis, Mark Millar, Mark Buckingham and Neil Gaiman. There were 12 chilling tales in total, encapsulating; humorous ghosts and nasty demons; Carrie-esque coming of age awakenings; soul buying demons; the weird, the wonderful and a touch of body horror. I’ve picked out a few of the highlights. My favourites.
In ‘The Wishing Hour’ by Nicholas Vince and John Bolton, a young boy named Simon wants to dress up as a witch for Trick and Treating but due to a rather sexist attitude on his mother’s part, he doesn’t get his wish. “Little boy’s can’t be witches. Sally’s going to be a witch. You’re to be a Jack O’Lantern” she tells him. He leaves home full of anger and childish thoughts of revenge. Then along comes a demon to give young Simon what he wants. The outcome is bloody and has an ending that epitomises the phrase ‘Be careful what you wish for’.
The story is short and sour with a wonderfully lyrical script packed to bursting point with stomach churning descriptions. Some, but not all, of these are captured by the amazing painted art work of John Bolton. The paint splatter effect he employs adds an extra layer of atmosphere to a tale of darkness driven by a child’s fantasy for revenge. His depiction of Simon as the witch is brilliant and demonstrates to the reader that the ‘classic witch’ look can still be scary and even more disturbing than Anjelica Huston’s turn in the movie The Witches which was released in the same year.
The ending of the tale is a lesson to us all about making deals with the devil and the final page, contrasting the witch’s laughing face and Simon’s face of terror, is all the reader needs to understand the consequences of the night. Although the reader does get an extra image of torturous death just to hammer home the point.
The next story, ‘First Blood’, is a clever little tale about a girl experiencing menarche. Win, the central character, is already a bit of an outcast, bullied by her peers and her mother has no faith in her. At a Halloween party Win decides to feign illness so that she can leave early but as they travel home she actually starts to feel uncomfortable. That night she is restless and wakes, cast in the glow of a full moon, as her body pushes her one step further from childhood into adulthood.
The narrative is designed and laid out like a werewolf tale with Si Spencer referencing elements of clichéd lycanthropy stories. It is illustrated by Tony Riot in the same way, focusing on the central character but always casting shadows onto her or placing her at the edge of the panel as if hiding something about her physical form. Win is an outcast, at the edge of her social group and she feels different: she can feel herself changing but she has no-one to talk to, no-one to help her understand what’s happening. Win’s loneliness is further illustrated by the unusual angles and positions which Riot uses to show her moving through her night of turmoil. It’s as if she is being stalked through an urban jungle by a camera in a modern horror movie.
However, the twist of the tale is that there is nothing supernatural about her feelings at all, it’s just the natural progression of her own body and the ‘horror’ element of the story is a metaphor for her fear that she will never fit in. It is a very smart, thought provoking tale.
My final pick is written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Mark Buckingham. ‘Feeders and Eaters’ may seem familiar to readers of Neil Gaiman as he later turned it into a prose short story published in the collection Fragile Things. The story is based on a dream that Gaiman had and is a story within a story, a trope Gaiman uses to great effect. A man, who looks uncannily like the writer, bumps into someone he hasn’t seen in years but the other man doesn’t look well, in fact he looks especially dreadful for someone who used to be incredibly good looking. The man, Eddie Barrow, has a dark tale to tell about how his life was taken away from him as he became the slave to a woman but not in the way you would expect. When the story introduces Miss Corvier she appears to be a frail old lady. Eddie starts to feel sorry for her and begins to help her out but at the same time he is a little weary: he has a strange feeling about her. But he is unable to pull away from her hypnotic like grasp and ends up feeding her by providing his own flesh to keep her nourished.
This twisted tale is like so many of the others within this horror anthology. It is simple and subtle, building up the tension by affectedly using the illustration to mislead the reader. The old woman turns from a helpless, fragile lady into a dark, overpowering and hungry creature without actually undergoing any physical change: it’s all in the way that Mark Buckingham lights the panels and changes the readers view from looking down on her to looking up into her face. Eddie on the other hand is barely seen in the story as he acts as the readers eyes and is the one who becomes subjugated making the reader feel as though they themselves are falling into the woman’s vile grasp.
There is a lot packed into this little anthology and it’s a magnificent blend of styles and stories to chill your soul on a dark and stormy night. It’s a shame they never got chance to do any more of these but that was part of publishing comics in Britain in the 1990’s, especially genre breaking stories like the ones on show here. I’m not sure if any of the material has been made available elsewhere, but is you see any of it, give it a read.
Life long comic book reader, collector, and reviewer.