Saturday, March 1, 2014

Scream! Scream like you mean it!

Scream was an incredibly short-lived British weekly comic that came out in 1984. It was a horror comic, in exactly the same way 2000ad was a science fiction comic, and featured many of the same creators, and much of the same dark sense of humour.

It lasted 15 issues.

It might have been killed so quickly because of low sales, but there also seemed to be a general perception that Scream was just a bit too distasteful, especially with its target audience of young boys. It was corrupting the young minds of those nine-year-olds with all that gore and those disgusting monsters and disrespect for authority and grim, death-soaked endings.

That may all be true, but all I know for sure is that I was one of those nine-year-old boys at that time, and I was absolutely gutted when that comic got cancelled. It might have been the worst thing that had ever happened to me.


Because Scream was my first real comic obsession, and the first obsession is always the best.

It was the first comic where I went rabid for every new issue, and couldn't miss a single one without some kind of adolescent meltdown. It was one of the very rare comics that was advertised on New Zealand television, (and may even be the only comic that ever aired on TV, as far as I know), and it was instantly something I could get behind.

I'd been reading 2000ad on and off for a couple of years, but that comic was already well into its 100s by the time I came on board, and there were always weird gaps. There still are. But then I saw the covers for the second and third issues on the telly and I knew here was something where I could get in on the ground floor, right from the start.

It also helped that Scream lived up to the hype, and turned out to be a comic that was full of deeply creepy stories, with some fantastic art.


With all due hindsight, the stories were obviously fairly average, even if some of their more obvious twists and turns still blew my tiny mind.

But Scream had a dark, grimy tone that was largely set by the dark, grimy art. For instance, plot-wise, something like The Dracula File was a standard version of the classic vampire, with Drac making another power play for England. But Eric Bradbury's art looked like it was covered in decaying filth, as the vampire's undead rot spread out into a modern world of bike gangs and MI5 agents. The late, great Jose Ortiz had his own sweaty detailing in the terrified faces of the unfortunate folk who ended up visiting the Thirteenth Floor, and Jesus Redondo's scratchy realism gave the fearsome Uncle Terry in Monster plenty of humanity.

But when it came to really gross and disturbing art, Jim Watson's work for the Tales of The Grave strip was the best. It was the usual Victorian supernatural vengeance kind of thing, but Watson's characters were always these haggard, desiccated soul, with the darkest eyes imaginable. It was another strip that was full of gross death and violent retribution, and it had a graveyard fog curling through its plots.

Watson's art was gloriously horrible, and sometimes it was properly terrifying as a dead man's face loomed out of the gloom, and I lapped it up every week.


There were some nice moments in the scriptwork for Scream's stories – the first episode of Monster was written by Alan Moore, and is an unsettling tale of a boy trapped in an isolated old house, with something in the attack. And a lot of the comics one-off stories had an efficient punch, even if there are a bunch of unfamiliar names in the credits (Which usually means they're more pseudonyms for John Wagner and Alan Grant.)

And while the scripts for most of the Scream stuff were sub-EC horror nonsense, I never actually got to things like Tales From The Crypt until I was a grown adult, and every 'BUT HE WAS THE MONSTER ALL ALONG!' twist was new to me.

 This comic came out thirty years ago now, and I can still remember which corner shops and small supermarkets I got them from, (many of which are still hanging in there). I remember that it was one of the few comics that my Mum liked to read, and it was no problem getting the 55 cents I needed out of her, because she would always read it straight after me. I remember having to properly hunt down number nine and finding it on a trip to Dunedin, and I remember really wondering what editor Ghastly McNasty actually looked like under his hood. (They revealed it after the comic was cancelled. It wasn't that Ghastly.)


And I remember the sinking dread I felt when #16 didn't show up.

 There had been no warning, some stories were in mid-stream, it was just over. It took me a few weeks to realise that Scream had been killed before it had even really got going, and I knew it was all over when a couple of Scream stories were added to the Eagle title that was running at the time.

Even the nine-year-old me knew that's what they always did with dead comics. It was even called Eagle And Scream for a few months, before it was just Eagle again, and even The Thirteenth Floor and Monster were eventually wrapped up.

 Scream did exist in some sort of shambling half-life for a few years, with Scream Holiday Specials coming out every UK summer, but the quality quickly went out the window, and the last one they put out wasn't even called Scream, and that was that.


But that fondness I had for the comic never died, and just last week I bought all 15 issues again, without hesitation. The original 15 comics I bought off the shelves in 1984 had been lost, stolen or just fallen to pieces through overuse, so there was no question about getting them all again.

And they're still clunky, and creepy, and occasionally beautiful. I still love Scream like vampires love blood, (and it is nice to find out I'm not the only one – some other little monster has put all 15 issues up on the web here). My inner nine-year-old is still gutted that there were only 15 issues, but that's still 15 issues of bloody perfection.

2 comments:

Matt Emery said...

Wow, I never saw scream ads on the tele. There were ads for the eagle reprints of dredd, i suspect there were probably others on the nz tv just before our time. This was such a great comic, would love a collected volume of the complete run...

David said...

IPC usually gave their new comics at least 22 weeks to prove themselves. As I remember it, IPC got hit by a printers' strike at the time of the seventeenth Scream, and by the time they could publish further issues they figured that all momentum had been lost, and that there was no point in throwing good money after bad