After the incredibly cool Christmas Classics, Tom Pomplun follows up with a celebration of America's other favorite holiday, Halloween. But he has a different take on it this time; instead of the usual series of thematically connected stories, Halloween Classics is a riff on the brilliant EC Comics of yore, complete with horror host Nerwin the Docent. Nerwin leads you on a guided tour of Halloween traditions across the world, and introduces some of the greatest Halloween stories ever written by some of the greatest writers who ever put pen to paper.
It doesn't get much better than that.
I really loved Halloween Classics. The horror host theme works surprisingly well, and I would love to see something like this continue with other volumes in the series. Learning a little bit about Halloween, and getting an introduction to the stories, raised everything up a notch. This is a true "Educational/Entertainment Comic" in the most schizophrenic and classic EC Comics style. Like all of Pomplun's anthology collections, you get a mix of stories original to this volume and some re-prints from previous collections. Unless you have the full Graphics Classics library like I do, you probably won't even notice. You will be too busy diving into all of the magnificent stories.
The stories in this collection are:
Hallow'een in a Suburb
This is exactly what I love about Graphic Classics. I have been reading Lovecraft most of my life, and didn't know he wrote a charming little poem about the incongruity of a peaceful suburb surrendering itself to horror one night of the year. This poem comes with a beautiful illustration from Jeffrey Johannes.
Mort Castle/Kevin Atkinson
Not an adaptation but an original piece introducing Nerwin the Docent who leads you on a three-page tour of Halloween from the ancient days to the present. It's clearly not deep, but it is funny and gave me a good laugh.
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
You know this story. Adapted by Ben Avery and illustrated by Shepherd Hendrix, at 29 pages this classic gets the length it needs. Avery and Hendrix do a great job, staying away from obvious Disney or Burton images and delivering a solid interpretation of a true American legend.
A Curious Dream
A repeat from Graphic Classics: Mark Twain, this is a charming story of the dead complaining how the cemeteries are too full and neglected. It has all of Twain's wit and draws a wry picture of people sitting on their porch and saying "there goes the neighborhood" when new families move in. Adapted by Antonella Caputo and illustrated by Nick Miller, this one has an almost Burtonesque feel to it, like Corpse Bride.
Lot No. 249
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Did you know the creator of Sherlock Holmes also invented the "revived mummy" genre? Actually I did; I have loved this story for years. But it is always worth another look and Tom Pomplun and artists Simon Gane got it just right. Gane is everything I want in a Doyle artist — just the right blend of cartoonish, pseudo-Victorian and just a drop or two of Mike Mignola. At 28 pages, this is also a nice, long story. Loved it.
This is also a repeat from Graphic Classics: HP Lovecraft (if memory serves). Cool Air is a brilliant short story, with one of my favorite opening lines of all time. Rod Lott and Craig Wilson managed to pack Lovecraft's tale into 13 tight pages. I love Wilson's art. That opening splash page sets the mood perfectly for horrors to come.
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer
I loved the idea of adapting the classic German Expressionist horror film to comics. This was an unexpected and enjoyable inclusion, adapted by Tom Pomplun. The only thing I wasn't really sold on here was the art by Matt Howarth. It's good, but it just doesn't have that creep factor, those looming shadows, that I want from Caligari. And maybe it is because I have seen the film so often, but I think Cesare the Somnambulist should be stark black and white. The blue jumpsuit and tanned skin just didn't do it for me.
Zack Davisson is a freelance writer and life-long comics fan. He owned a comic shop in Seattle during the '90s, during which time he had the glorious (and unpaid) gig as pop-culture expert for NPR. He has lived in three countries, has degrees in Fine Art and Japanese Studies, and has been a contributing writer to magazines like Japanzine and Kansai Time-Out. He currently lives in Seattle, WA with his wife Miyuki. You can catch more of Zack’s reviews on his blog Japan Reviewed or read his translations of Japanese ghost stories on Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai.