When it comes to Tharg's Terror Tales, the old saying of "Don't judge a book by its cover" comes into play. Because the absolute worst thing about this comic is the cover. It doesn't hint at the horror awesomeness that lies inside like a team-up of Harry Houdini, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, H.P. Lovecraft and Charles Fort.
Tharg's Terror Tales is essentially British publisher 2000 AD's version of the classic anthology horror comics like Creepy and Eerie. 2000 AD is best known for post-apocalyptic comics like Judge Dredd and Strontium Dog. Because of that, and because of the quasi-si-fisscene on the cover, I was expecting some sort of futuristic comedy horror set in roughly the same universe. I was wrong.
The eponymous Tharg the Mighty is only the alien horror host, and the stories inside are pure weird fiction joy. There is a little tongue-in-cheekiness, but that is all in the true-to-style asides by the horror host. The comic is split into two stories; Necronauts and A Love Like Blood, and a few bonus backup stories.
Necronauts teams up Houdini, Doyle, Lovecraft, and Fort. While that seems like pure genre fan fiction, Houdini actually did personally know both Doyle and Lovecraft. Only the Charles Fort connection is tenuous. And instead of some hokey team-up, writer Gordon Rennie plays it straight and fits the encounter into their real lives to make it plausible. Houdini stays too long in one of his escapes and bridges the gap to the world of death, where he finds something horrible. Doyle, in one of his séances, learns of the threat to Houdini, and together they gather Fort and Lovecraft to do battle with the monsters. Houdini plans to go again into the void, and Lovecraft will serve as his guide through the Dreaming realms he knows so well.
The story is just insanely cool. As a fan of Doyle and Lovecraft and a former subscriber to Fortean Times, this story was just a treat.
A Love Like Blood is such a clichéd story I didn't think anyone could write it again and keep me interested. But John Smith managed to spin the Romeo and Juliet as Vampire/Werewolf loves trope with enough new twists that I was fascinated. The young couple on the run was my favorite park of the story, as hatred of their love was enough to unite the thousand-year feud between the vampire and werewolf clans. I have to say the ending was a bit weak, but otherwise this was a real solid yarn.
As a bonus, there are a few short stories at the end that are riffs on old '50s cautionary tales like Reefer Madness, or the terrors of the hippie and metal sub-cultures. But now the reefer madness causes cannibalism, and Woodstock is loud enough to wake the dead — literally. These stories ranged from a few pages to a few panels, but all of them were clever and good for a laugh.
Although there are a few writers, the entire comic is drawn by Frazer Irving. His thick-lined ink drawings are the perfect accompaniment to the stories, and his art works well in both black-and-white and color. He does both the horror and the comedy, the romance and the gore, with equal aplomb. I wasn't familiar with his art before although I see he has done some issues of Grant Morrison's Batman & Robin. In the back of Tharg's Terror Tales there is a short sketchbook including some drawings of Edgar Allen Poe.
A continuation to the Necronauts perhaps? If so, I am there.
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.