A Touch of Dementia

A column article by: Ace Masters


Can you learn to create a comic book by watching a film?

This thought came to mind recently while watching a so-called “lost” 1955 film Dementia also known as Daughter of Horror (not to be confused with the Corman produced, Coppola directed Dementia 13).

About two weeks ago, I found a used copy of this film in Zia Records. I snatched it up for my collection because of my curiosity due to my limited knowledge of the movie and because it is the out-of-print restored version of the film released by Kino Lorber.

I will say that the film is unique and original in it approach to telling its story. This approach had me thinking that Dementia seemed like a comic book. In fact, it could easily have been adapted from a story in Eerie, Creepy or any 50’s horror comic.

Dementia follows the tormented existence of a young woman haunted by the horrors of her youth, which transform her into a stiletto-wielding, man-hating beatnik. – From the rear Jacket of the Kino Video Release.

It is framed to maximize every scene and emotion – to an almost exaggerated degree. The black and white imagery feels like a grey-scale comic. And the acting: sublime, overdone, hyper emotional.

Then there is the kicker, in 57 minutes there is absolutely NO dialog! This is not a silent film. There is a soundtrack and there is sound in the movie. But the acting is done entirely through emoting with not one word spoken.

The result is striking.

Every single scene seemed to be drawn in place. Each scene had meaning within the framework of the story.

This is the actually piece used for the cover of the DVD and some promotional materials. It is a striking piece lifted straight from the movie. It almost looks like it could be a cover to a comic book, doesn’t it?

This is the opening scene of a movie, and the first thing that struck me. It looks like it could be something right out of Sin City. The framing of this piece, as we see the city and off to the left the hotel room where are main character is. A little research revealed that this scene was animated as well!

Noticed how this shot is framed, angled from below to give a more powerful view of her, with the light glistens off the knife. Ever seen anything similar? I have. How about anytime a villain stands over a fallen hero?

Dementia does this in such a way that no other film I have seen quite matches. Even films made “shot for shot” to look like the comics, such as 300.

It felt like I was watching a comic book literally jump to life – not just adapted. And not like a “motion comic.”

I would encourage anyone who wants to create comics to track down a copy of Dementia, or the alternate 55-minute cut called Daughter of Horror, which is more readily available and features an odd narration by Ed McMahon. Yes, THAT Ed McMahon.

What can you learn from this? Simple, the most important thing you need to know to create comic books – how to tell a story visually. How to string together images in a sequential format to tell a striking, powerful story that will affect people.

The most important thing for a writer and an artist to know for comic books is how to tell a story within a visual framework. If a writer can’t plot and write a script that can work visually, he/she shouldn’t be writing comic books. If an artist can’t tell a story with his artwork alone, he/she shouldn’t be in comics.

Can you learn to create comic books by watching a film?

I say YES, if that film is John J. Parker’s Dementia.

In fact, a good writer or artist should study other mediums and learn from them. No one knows where inspiration will come from.

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