Pop culture critic, blogger and commentator Bill Sherman is the founder of Pop Culture Gadabout, a blog focusing on comics, music, TV and film criticism. He's also the Comics Review Editor at Blogcritics Magazine. In this interview, Sherman talks about his blog, the reason why zombies are the 'hard-core champions' of all horror fiends, and what's popular in horror books and films at the moment.
Why don't you start by telling us a little about yourself and your blog, Pop Culture Gadabout?
I'm a fifty-ish free-lancer who works in social services by day. I've played with pop culture criticism most of my life, writing for giveaway music papers and the like in the past – as well as more focused periodicals like The Comics Journal. Per its title, "Pop Culture Gadabout" reflects my generalist take on things pop cultural: on any given day, the blog might focus on a comics title, a new music release, something from TV and/or movies – with an occasional half-assed digression into social commentary. In this, it reflects the flibbertigibbet nature of my own mental processes. I've been blogging for six-plus years now, which sort of amazes me… Beyond my home blogging, I'm also the Comics Review editor at Blogcritics.
Vampires, werewolves, witches, zombies, ghosts…. who's the enduring champion after all these years and why?
At the risk of coming across too Hank Yarbo-like ("Robots or werewolves – who would win?"), zombies remain the hard-core champion. Apart from the gore, I think the one thing that most resonates with modern zombie horror (as opposed to the old-fashioned voodoo type best repped by I Walked with A Zombie) is the fear that we all can become mindless and indistinguishable, part of the slavering mob, so quickly. I have a soft spot for vampires from all those Hammer Films that I watched as a teen, but vampires generally feed only on the young and pretty. Zombies bite anybody and the fact of becoming one isn't the least bit sexy – to geezerly me, that's the creepiest.
Some people think that horror writers, just because they write horror, must be 'twisted' in some way, but when you look at some of the famous horror authors, you see that most of them are decent, highly moral people. Some would view this as a type of contradiction between an author's persona and the books he writes. Could you comment on this?
Me, I think anybody who writes for a living must be twisted. But, seriously, when I was younger I would've probably pulled out the old catharsis line to help explicate this seeming contradiction, but these days I'm less sure how valid it is.
You review a fair amount of horror books in your blog. What are some of the titles you've particularly enjoyed these past few years? Any emerging talents you think deserve more recognition?
I've had less time recently to read much prose fiction these past few years, so my primary focus has been on horror graphic novels and manga. Of these, I've particularly enjoyed the horror manga of Junji Ito and Hideshi Hino – the latter has a talent for the disturbing that lingers far longer than you initially think it might, based on his caricature-y drawing style. I've also grown hooked on ghost-centric manga series like Mail, which at their best are as creepily evocative as any of the best Japanese ghost flicks.
With western comics, I'm most heartened by the reprints of a classic hallucinatory undergrounder Rory Hayes (So That's Where the Demented Wented), who combined a primitive art style with some gleefully disturbing storytelling, as well as the new Creepy Archives, which reprints the more conservative, but still-enjoyable old-school storytelling of the Warren magazines of the sixties. Some great art in that set by the likes of Reed Crandall, Steve Ditko, Frank Frazetta and more.
I did want to remind folks of Mike Dubisch's Weirdling, a sci-fi horror graphic novel from the end of last year with a strong Lovecraftian feel. The book deserves to be remembered.
What types of horror seem more popular at the moment? Is atmospheric, traditional horror still thriving? If so, what do you think is the reason for its enduring value?
In box office terms, the slasher/psychological wham-bang of Se7en-inspired flicks like Saw seem to be the biggest draw these days. You can even see their influence in teleseries like Criminal Minds. The best ones aren't short on atmosphere, though I've gotta admit a steady diet of dingy warehouse settings and chain-bedecked basements can get pretty wearying. There will always be a place for so-called "traditional" horror, if only because the material is so conducive to metaphor.
What about movies? What are some of the best horror movies ever made? the worst?
I'm fairly unsurprising when it comes to a best-of list: Freaks, Psycho, Night of the Living Dead, Eyes without a Face, The Brood. For me, the worst horror flicks are the ones that elicit no response at all, that just sit there. I can enjoy myself at a bad low-budget horror flick like, oh, Horror of Party Beach, or a pure piece of schlock exploitation like one of Herschel Gordon Lewis' flicks because they have an energy to 'em that keeps you watching. But when a flick can't get up the gumption to generate even a simple jump-in-yer-seat fright, that's when I'm gone.
How do you see the horror book market at the moment – thriving or declining?
Far as I can tell, the book market in general has been hurting, though great genre work of all strips has its steady devotees. Don't seem to see as many cheapie horror paperbacks as I used to in the drugstore, though, so maybe that says something about the market.
What does a pop culture blogger do on Halloween?
This year, I plan to take the day off from work and watch cheap Dollar Store DVDs of public domain grade-z horror flicks – which, come to think of it, is exactly what I've done the last three Halloweens. Guess I'm stuck in a rut…
Is there anything else you'd like to tell our readers?
Just to advise 'em to have a safe and scary holiday.
Thanks for this interview, Bill!