With Further Ado #030: Twilight Zone Comics – Part 2

There’s that old saying about imitation as the sincerest form of flattery.

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the Twilight Zone, and I am focusing on that show, and Rod Serling, as it will all be a part of the 44 annual Ithaca Comic Convention.  My focus has expanded, and now I’m even taking a look at competitive, and or derivative, properties.

In the world of this particular niche – Twilight Zone type comics – I’m finding that imitation goes hand-in-hand with the notion of copy degradation. There’s less use of the actual Xerox machines today, but you understand the concept: every time you make a copy of a copy it tends to lose something. That’s exactly what I’m finding with comics series similar to Twilight Zone comics – copies of copies tend to lose something.

The Outer Limits was a science fiction anthology show from the Golden Age of Television. It was ushered in right about the time that The Twilight Zone was being ushered out by CBS. Despite scripts by top-notch writers (Harlan Ellison, Robert Towne, Joseph Stefano, etc.) and some great acting (Robert Culp, Jill Haworth, etc.), this series is often remembered as an also-ran to The Twilight Zone

Likewise, Dell’s The Outer Limits comic series reads like an also-ran to Twilight Zone comics.  The series eschewed the innovative opening introduction (Vic Perrin’s classic “We are controlling transmission” voice over) and packed each comic with several science fiction short stories.  Painted covers on the first issues brought along a certain level of implied importance, but all too soon traditional covers and pedestrian interior artwork, often by Jack Sparling, conspired to create forgettable comics.

What a miss! Especially when one reflects upon comic book heritage here.  As many fans know, the ground-breaking Watchmen series liberally borrowed a key plot point from an Outer Limits episode.

For all the disappointment I previously expressed in my brief exploration of the Twilight Zone comics, that series stands head and shoulders over Dell’s The Outer Limits.

When I was a kid, Boris Karloff’s Tales of Mystery was one of those comic titles that I’d see around but never buy. Back in the Silver Age, there were so many other more interesting comics that a title like Boris Karloff would get pushed waaaay down the priority list. It was the type of comic I’d stumble across at the barber shop and quickly flip through.

Boris Karloff wasn’t a name I was familiar with back then anyways. Who was he?  Some spooky guy? Some creepy storytelling author? In this series, he’d simply introduce each short story

But like they say, truth is stranger than fiction.  Boris Karloff such a fascinating career.  He was a British actor who hit it big in Universal monster movies, most famously playing the monster in the Frankenstein series and the reincarnated Egyptian in The Mummy.  His impressive career spanned everything from starting up of the Screen Actor’s Guild to providing the voice of the Grinch in the Chuck Jones animated classic.

In her brilliant podcast, You Must Remember This, Karina Longworth recently detailed, and dovetailed the careers of Karloff and fellow creepster Bela Lugosi in her “Boris and Bela” series. Like so many Hollywood stories, it’s a tale of triumph and tragedy.

Even as an adult, I’ve always found the Gold Key’s Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery series to be pedestrian at best. Oh sure, several high-profile comic creators rotated into the mix briefly (Toth, Sekowsky, etc.), but I never seemed to stumble across them.  Too many times, I’d read a bland tale with a watered-down twist ending, illustrated by an artist like Jack Sparling (him again!) that was ostensibly narrated by Boris Karloff.   

The origins of this title provide an insight. Karloff was the presenting narrator of a Twilight Zone-esque anthology TV show called Thriller.  In fact, the comic started out as Boris Karloff’s Thriller, but changed the title with issue #3. The Thriller part of the title was forgotten. Boris Karloff’s name was the bigger brand.

I don’t think anyone was buying the fact that Karloff was the writing genius behind these stories. On the other hand, with Rod Serling, you somehow got the impression that he was masterminding the whole Twilight Zone thing, even when he didn’t actually write every single episode.  These Karloff stories just didn’t have that same authenticity.  I can’t help but wonder if he even read the stories.  Many times, the story artist wouldn’t actually draw him into the story –his face would just be pasted into opening and closing panels! 

I’m getting hip deep into Rod Serling and The Twilight Zone as we prepare to celebrate the man and his accomplishments at ITHACON 44.  We’ll even be trotting out select items from the Rod Serling Archives (they are maintained by Ithaca College) for this convention next month.  And the more I learn about Serling, the more I am impressed with his accomplishments.  Likewise, the more I learn about competitive or derivative product, the more impressive Serling’s original works and execution become.

Oh, one last thing – these comics are perfect for finding unusual ads!