After 2010’s collection of Christmas Classics, it was probably inevitable that editor Tom Pomplun would put together a set for All Hallows. His “Graphic Classics” series has, after all, already devoted anthologies to Horror and Gothic Classics, with some of the genre mainstays (Poe, Lovecraft, Stoker) also meriting their own collection. Clearly, editor Pomplun and his comic art adapters share an affinity for Halloween-y fare.
The new set Halloween Classics (Eureka Productions) is structured around an appealing frame: the stories are introduced a la the old EC and Warren comics, by a horror host. In this case, it’s a somewhat less ghoulish figure, the cap-and-gown bedecked Nerwin the Docent. Though not as snarky or prone to gawdawful puns as the Crypt Keeper, as presented by Mort Castle and Kevin Atkinson, he does provide historical perspective re: our celebration of the dead as well as the classics being presented. And for those wanting a hint of the good ol’ days of horror comics, the book’s title page features EC editor Al Feldstein’s painting of the original storytelling GhouLunatics. The pic’s a mite small, but it still works at establishing Classics’ comic art lineage from the outset.
The collection features five adaptations, one of which proves to be from a surprising, non-literary source. Two of the tales, Washington Irving’s “Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and H.P. Lovecraft’s “Cool Air” are perhaps the most familiar, while works by Mark Twain (the comic “A Curious Dream”) and Arthur Conan Doyle (“Lot No. 249”) prove more obscure, though I do recall seeing a modernized version of the latter in the movie spin-off of Tales from the Darkside. The fifth adaptation takes from movie history itself, a graphic story retelling of the German silent The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.
The stories throughout prove solid. Ben Avery and Shepherd Hendrix’s “Sleepy Hollow” reminded me of elements of the story (most particularly relating to the character of story patsy Ichabod Crane) that I’d forgotten with the Disney cartoon version as my primary prior recollection of Washington Irving’s tale. Antonella Caputo and Nick Miller’s “A Curious Dream” is a suitably cartoonish adaptation of a minor but amusing slice of Twain, while both Pomplun and Simon Gane’s version of the mummy story “Lot No. 249” and Rod Lott/Craig Wilson’s work on “Cool Air” both succeed in capturing their author’s respective voices. To these eyes, Wilson’s visualization of Lovecraft’s darkly anxious and xenophobic world is especially convincing.
But the collection’s highlight proves editor Pomplun and cartoonist Matt Howarth’s version of “Caligari,” which I believe is this series first adaptation outside of the printed page. The duo brings that stylized classic to life in a way, I suspect, that proves more emotionally accessible than the original German silent. If the color comic proves visually less expressionistic than the original black-and-white film, Howarth still manages to convey its essential strangeness, most memorably in a sequence where a sinister somnambulist carries the damsel-in-distress over the rooftops of the town.
After this finale, all that’s left to cap this Halloween celebration is for our horror host Merwin to rip off his mask and reveal the hideous ghoul within — which of course he does. The Crypt Keeper would be cacklingly proud.