but it was a hoot

by Jesse Marinoff Reyes:

Horror of Party Beach
Warren Publications, 1964
Illustration: undetermined (see story)
Design: uncredited, possibly Harry Chester or Wally Wood
Story Adaptation + Art Direction: Wally Wood (1927-1981) and Russ Jones (b. 1942)

—JMR Design—

Countdown to Summer Vacation….

Gee, I hope we’re not going to be at one of those teen-age “party beaches.” Usually all hell breaks loose at THOSE places…

Jim Warren’s Warren Publications, by this time firmly ensconced in Famous Monsters of Filmland, and launching the adult comic magazine Creepy—followed by Eerie magazine in 1966 and Vampirella in 1969—adapted the drive-in, “teen market” monster film Horror of Party Beach as a one-issue (ostensibly part of its Famous Films series of magazines) Fumetti, aka “foto funnies” format comic story—using film stills with comic style captions and layout. Rather brilliant in its low-budgetedness: Take advantage of the fascination and consumption of almost anything aimed at the nascent and burgeoning youth market of the exploding Baby Boom AND take advantage of the monster fad sweeping the pop culture spectrum of the early-1960s (both The Munsters and The Addams family would debut on network television that same year for example) at the same time! And to pull it off? Bring in EC Comics veteran and expert comics packager Wally Wood (with 22-year old Russ Jones in tow) to craft it in movie-meets-comic book form. Though Wood did not have to illustrate a single panel in Horror of Party Beach, he drafted the comics layout design of the story and lettered it—from the dialog captions (“word balloons”) to the display, “splash” lettering, including an especially expressive intro title lavishly illustrating the word “Horror,” using all of the narrative comics storytelling skills that he was a master of. I’m guessing here, but one imagines Russ Jones adapting and editing the film script to comics-format dialog for Wood to letter and design around.

The cover illustration is a bit of a conundrum, as it doesn’t “look” like Wood’s work much beyond maybe a preliminary draft. Someone else may have finished the painting, but I cannot say for sure (our colleague J. David Spurlock suggests it may have been Russ Jones doing the finishing as Wood’s assistant). The masthead treatment however, has many of the hallmarks of Warren’s excellent workhorse staff designer, Harry Chester—when “magazine design” wasn’t even much of a concept in the low-budget, black-and-white newsprint world that Warren, much like the comics companies of the day, functioned in. Many of those tasks were considered routine, production manager-type duties. And Chester was precisely that, a production manager or layout manager. He likely did not look at the wonderfully-crafted custom lettering he did for nearly every publication under Warren’s umbrella as being anything particularly special or unusual, being a guy who likely cut his eye teeth as a youngster doing sign-lettering, but it was exceptional, memorable work. Picking up a copy of Famous Monsters that had its headlines merely typeset was always a bit of a let down, compared to Chester’s hand-lettered “monster” typography.

Yet the efforts of people like Chester and Wood, looked down upon by more formal commercial arts practitioners—like design studios or advertising agencies—were effortlessly producing material that endures for its iconic simplicity (think of the fascination with comic books and more precisely, comic book production and coloring method, by the Pop Artists). Here, they were “slapping it down and shipping it out,” on a shoestring and on a tight deadline, yet the discipline and craftsmanship of these lowly magazines were remarkable. Wally Wood is one of the legends of comic book history—as important a figure in many ways as Harvey Kurtzman, Will Eisner, or Jack Kirby—and like them could produce a minor masterpiece on a regular basis. Horror of Party Beach is a throwaway compared to his comics draftsmanship, but even here the light touch and fully realized execution beats the krap out of most contemporary comic output today, benefitting from high-end production values and all the tricks Photoshop can deliver, but entirely lacking in narrative simplicity (“less is more”) and burdened by heavy-handed, lofty, literary pretension (c’mon, not EVERYONE can craft stories like Kurt Busiek or Alan Moore!).

Horror at Party Beach may not have been remotely literary, but it was a hoot.

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