Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Vault Lines

Vault 22

The Vault of Horror 22 (December 1951-January 1952) featured an Al Feldstein story with a plot borrowed from Ray Bradbury and another in which Feldstein developed a tale from his own premise. Interviewed by John Benson, Feldstein explained the origin of “Gone…Fishing!”: “I got the idea for that while I was surfcasting. Living on Long Island, one of my hobbies on the weekends was going out to Jones Beach or Fire Island and surfcasting, early mornings, late evenings. And I got this idea while I was surfcasting, and I came to Bill with it, and I said, ‘You always bring springboards. I’ve got a springboard.’ And he said, ‘Go write it.’ And I wrote it, and much later it was adapted into that short movie, which they did a pretty good job on.”

The film Feldstein mentioned is a French-produced short, The Fisherman, which he happened to see at a Manhattan art theater in 1966. He called Bill Gaines and said, “Hey, Bill, we’ve been ripped off.” Gaines contacted the producers and secured both an on-screen credit (“adapted from EC Comics”) and copies of the film for both himself and Feldstein. In 1972, this film was shown during the EC Comics convention at New York’s Hotel McAlpin. 

Bradbury’s Dark Carnival (Arkham House, 1947) exerted a powerful influence on Feldstein, who commented, “Our plots came from a conglomeration of sources, movies we’d seen, books we’d read. I wasn’t doing very much reading in those days. I was letting Bill give us the springboards, so I would be free in my mind to enter into the more original areas, if possible, because we weren’t really intending on stealing stuff. We were looking just for inspiration to give us ideas to come up with something original. My function was to kind of take the springboards with Bill out into a new area… Not only borrowings in terms of plot, but borrowings in terms of writing style. I was very impressed with Ray Bradbury. I read Dark Carnival and The Martian Chronicles and The Illustrated Man and whatever else I could get of Bradbury’s at the time. I was very impressed with his writing style, and I tried to emulate it, I think, in the comic style. We didn’t consciously steal from him, you know, but again, we might have been pretty close.”

With a print run of 3,112 copies, Dark Carnival was Bradbury's first published book. It contained 27 stories, and 21 of those were reprinted from Dime Mystery Magazine, Harper’s, Mademoiselle and Weird Tales. The six non-reprints were “The Maiden”, “The Emissary”, “Jack-in-the-Box”, “Uncle Einar”, “The Night Sets” and “The Next in Line”. Weird Tales was the major source, with 16 of the stories from the pages of that magazine as published between 1943 and 1948. Thus, the influence of Weird Tales on EC was considerable.

The life of Bill Delaney (1892-1986), publisher of Weird Tales, Short Stories and World Astrology, parallels the history of popular fiction during the 20th Century. During the years Delaney published Weird Tales (1938-54), with Farnsworth Wright and Dorothy McIlwraith as his editors, the magazine printed six Bradbury stories which later became memorable EC adaptations, illustrated by Jack Davis, George Evans, Graham Ingels, Jack Kamen and Joe Orlando: "There Was an Old Woman" (Tales from the Crypt 34 from the July 1944 issue of Weird Tales); "The Lake" (Vault of Horror 31 from the May 1944 Weird Tales); "Let's Play Poison" (Vault 29 from Weird Tales, November 1946); "The Handler" (Crypt 36 from Weird Tales, January 1947); "The October Game" (Shock SuspenStories 9 from Weird Tales, March 1948); "The Black Ferris" (Haunt of Fear 18 from Weird Tales, May 1948).

During the early 1950s, when the 279-issue continuous run of Weird Tales was winding down, a glance at a newsstand revealed the magazine's strong influence on comic books. In a 1980 paperback revival of Weird Tales, Lin Carter wrote, "I can think of no other magazine in history which exerted quite the same sort of influence which Weird Tales exerted over the genre it shaped and perfected, and the authors who contributed to it so devotedly over the years... And there can have been very few fiction magazines in the history of publishing which have had as many of their stories dramatized on radio, television and in the movies."

Fifteen of the 27 Dark Carnival stories were later reprinted in The October Country (1955), some with revisions. Bradbury did an extensive rewrite of "The Emissary" for The October Country. When Feldstein wrote “What the Dog Dragged In!” he borrowed the premise of the Dark Carnival version, changing the central character of a boy to a young woman.

“The Jellyfish!” in The Vault of Horror 19 was suggested by Bradbury’s “Skeleton”.  The idea for “Skeleton” came to Bradbury when a “strangely sore larynx” prompted him to visit his family doctor, who said, “That’s all perfectly normal. You’ve just never bothered to feel the tissues, muscles, or tendons in your neck or, for that matter, your body. Consider the medulla oblongata.” Recalling the incident, Bradbury wrote, “Consider the medulla oblongata! Migawd, I could hardly pronounce it! I went home feeling my bones—my kneecaps, my floating ribs, my elbows, all those hidden Gothic symbols of darkness—and wrote “Skeleton”.” It was published in the September1945 issue of Weird Tales and reprinted in Dark Carnival.
                                                                              --Bhob Stewart

Above: Joe Mugnaini illustration for "Skeleton".

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