Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Saga Of The Victims

Skywald Publications was barely a blip on the comic book scene during the 1970s. Although something of a small cult is beginning to surround Skywald these days, the company lasted barely four years--their books cover-dated December 1970 to April 1975. Best described as a poor man's Warren, Skywald attempted to ape Warren's line of black-and-white horror mags with cheap-looking titles like SCREAM, NIGHTMARE, and PSYCHO, though its stories were far below the normal standards of Warren's CREEPY and EERIE (Skywald also did standard color comics for a couple of years, but let's stick with the horror books for now).

However, I must give major props to Skywald's magnum opus--by far the apex of its "Horror-Mood" line. A six-part serial written by Skywald editor Al Hewetson and drawn by Jesus Suso Rego debuted in SCREAM #6, the June 1974 issue. And what a stunner it was.

Called "The Saga of the Victims," the story arc featured Josey Forster and Anne Adams, sexy college students who returned to their Manhattan dorm after a double date, only to be kidnapped by monstrous mutants that carried them miles below the Earth's surface to a hooded sadist who threatened them with torture and degradation. The girls managed to escape to the surface, where they were immediately captured in separate plastic bags and hauled to the top of a skyscraper, where they met Horror itself, a ghastly being with no skin--just organs on the outside of its body.

And that was just the beginning of Anne and Josey's horrible ordeal. Over the next four installments (in SCREAM #7, 8, 9, and 11), the girls were captured by pirates, attacked by snakes, grabbed by pterodactyls, caught in the tendrils of a giant squid (that turned out to be a submarine piloted by a lone Nazi dwarf!), scalded by boiling water. And so on. One brutal situation after another challenging the girls' sanity and their desire to live.

In some ways, I can compare "The Saga of the Victims" to the TNT novels, in that Hewetson and Rego's stories presented one strange, sadistic trial after another with no backstory or exposition to get in the way. Smack from one brush with terror to the next. Hewetson once said his goal was to create a story in which nobody would be able to predict what would happen next, and I'm certain he succeeded. But what was the purpose of the girls' ordeal?

Readers never found out. Skywald folded before the sixth and final chapter could be published, and for 30 years, Josey and Anne's final fate was never revealed.

Thankfully, Headpress released THE COMPLETE SAGA OF THE VICTIMS in 2003, a trade paperback that collected the five chapters published in SCREAM and the never-before-seen finale, which was written by Hewetson and looks to have been laid out at least by Rego. I gotta say that this black-and-white collection is a helluva read. Hewetson's bleak tale is blisteringly paced and beautifully rendered by Rego, whose eye for beauty (Josey and Anne never look less than stunning, whether surviving a sandstorm or walking the plank of a pirate ship) easily matches his ability to create a mood of omniscient doom.

I've read a few other Skywald Horror-Mood stories and been less than impressed. But THE COMPLETE SAGA OF THE VICTIMS finds the company at its best with a story that can be mentioned in the same breath with Warren's elite.


Anonymous said...

Interestingly, the final chapter WAS published, in Spanish, in the horror magazine Dossier Negro [Black Dossier] in 1975. Issue #80, in fact. I know, because I own a copy.
Dossier Negro reprinted a lot of Skywald and Warren material, and they seem to have gotten hold of a fair amount of Skywald's unpublished final material. A further chapter of Skywald's Tales Of Nosferatu series also turned up in Dossier Negro, for instance. I suppose this was largely down to the ease of securing the rights to the Spanish artwork concerned.
In the case of the final instalment of The Victims, it's also interesting to note that while the resolution to the story is essentially the same, in a couple of places the artwork is quite different. Perhaps John Gallagher only had poor-quality photocopies to refer to for the 'complete' edition, as it's obvious which panels he's drawn himself, and which retain some of Suso's original artwork.

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Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous
Yes, that’s exactly what happened. All Al H had left were some badly damaged photostats. So we had to try and reconstruct the last episode from them I had no idea the final chapter had been printed anywhere. If I had it world have saved me a great deal of trouble. To late to include it in the book now obviously... but I would still love to see it. If you could get in touch with me I would gladly pay for good quality Photostats. Thanks.
John Gallagher.