Imagine a place and time where experts share their love and knowledge of every pop culture topic dear to them. Now imagine you couldn’t find an expert on that one corner of pop culture you need to learn more about. There’s a signpost up ahead – next stop, the Twilight Zone.
That’s only fitting. I’ve been trying to find an expert on Twilight Zone comics, and I keep coming up empty-handed.
It’s important for this big project I’m working on. This March 23 and 24th at ITHACON (the Ithaca Comic Convention), we’ll be celebrating the life and works of Rod Serling. You probably know him as the creator and host of the Twilight Zone, but he’s so much more. And he was a professor at Ithaca College, where they maintain his archives. We’re going to display these amazing treasures for fans at ITHACON. That will be a special treat as we also celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Twilight Zone.
There’s a lot of Twilight Zone authors and experts, but everyone seems to ignore the comics.
A Middle Ground Between Light and Shadow
After the big industry scare in the 50s (it was argued that comics caused juvenile delinquency) the genre of horror comics was vaporized. After a while, the guidelines eased a bit and the national focus was directed elsewhere. In early 1962 Western Publishing launched a new Twilight Zone series under their Dell imprint. It wasn’t quite a horror comic, but it was close.
This effort lasted just two issues, but later that year they started again, in earnest.
By and large, these comics stories weren’t on the same level as the classic series. Maybe that’s why I’m having trouble finding that expert.
There were some bright spots. Twilight Zone #4 featured two stories by the legendary Alex Toth. The second one, “The Captive” is a wry comeuppance tale that features 1950s Western program TV stars. The story doesn’t exactly say that Toth was drawing Gene Barry as Bat Lash or Hugh O’Brian as Wyatt Earp, but it’s pretty clear that’s what’s going on. It’s a quick read and I know you’ll enjoy it.
Western programs were dominating TV, so this commentary was particularly appropriate. In fact, after Twilight Zone ended, Serling would take a stab at this genre with his series, The Loner, starring Lloyd Bridges.
The Gold Key Twilight Zone series is also memorable as the place where Frank Miller started his long career. Diversions of the Groovy Kind explored his professional origin, and showcased it here.
(I think Frank Miller’s first professional comic con appearance was at an ITHACON in the late 70s/early 80s. Jim Shooter dragged him along when a big-name Marvel artist cancelled. But…that’s another story for another day.)
There have been a few bites of the apple from other publishers. NOW Comics had the license in the 80s and created some fun comics – including a few issues with creators like Harlan Ellison, Mitch O’Connell, Neal Adams and David McKean.
More recently, Dynamite Entertainment stepped into the Twilight Zone. This publisher brought along with favorite creators like Francesco Francavilla and Michael Straczynski as well as, surprisingly, favorite characters like The Shadow.
There’s more to celebrate, about these comics. I’m going to push on in learning more about Twilight Zone comics in time for ITHACON.
Big things are also ahead as the Twilight Zone television show is about reboot (yet again). Fingers crossed that there will be some interesting comics and graphic novels that spin out of it. I’m cautiously optimistic for this show– Rod Serling left such big footsteps in which only the bravest and most creative should follow. Serling himself told us, so many times, that the trick was using one’s imagination to get there.
“You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension – a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. You’re moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. You’ve just crossed over into the Twilight Zone!”