Saturday, December 06, 2008

Out of the Vault - Plop!

In mid-1973, DC launched a new title, an experimental book combining humor and horror. Titled Plop!, it billed itself as "The Magazine of Weird Humor." (Please excuse the quality of the scans; the comics are old and yellowed, and the printing quality wasn't the best to start with. I tried to clean them up as well as I could. And remember, you can click on any image to see a larger version)

See the thing about horror comics in the 70's was, they weren't. Horror, I mean. They tried, lord, they tried. While Marvel was trying the Monster-as-Superhero route with mixed success, DC continued to publish traditional horror anthologies like House of Mystery, House of Secrets and The Witching Hour. However, they were heavily restricted by the Comics Code Authority, so much so that they couldn't even use the word "horror" in the titles. So although they copied the tried-and-true format of EC comics, with creepy hosts giving pun-filled ironic introductions to stories of the macabre (a format lifted by EC from radio shows such as Inner Sanctum Mysteries and The Hermit's Cave), the stories themselves rarely managed even a single goosebump. They were more often little morality plays, where a bad character receives his just desserts in an ironic twist, and usually more funny than scary.

So in 1973, DC apparently decided to just go with the humor whole hog and created Plop!, a combination of their regular horror mags with early Mad comics. Above you can see the cover of the first issue, typical of most of the run--a bizarre random Basil Wolverton character (who has nothing to do with the inside of the book) surrounded by Sergio Aragones drawings.

The insides were just as much of a hodge-podge. Each issue had a framing sequence drawn by Aragones, featuring the hosts of DC's horror comics--Cain from House of Mystery, his brother Abel from House of Secrets, and one of the witches from The Witching Hour. The three would try to outdo each other in telling outrageous stories of things that go "plop" (that moment when everything goes down the tubes). There were no ads. Instead, between the framing pages and the four- and five-page stories would be pages of single-panel gag cartoons around subjects like monsters and prison.

Most of the gags were corny, but some of the stories were fun. Like "The Escape" in issue one, an Aragones story in which a prisoner escapes from a dungeon with the help of an army of trained rats. Unfortunately, when he and the rats escape to the outside world, they bring the Plague with them. D'oh! I also liked this Aragones story from issue 10, which has fun with the Shazam problem, namely, if saying "Shazam!" makes Captain Marvel super, why don't the bad guys do it too?

As corny as the book was, though, it was a Who's Who of big comics names. Comics legend Wally Wood did a few covers. Kurt Schaffenberger and Murphy Anderson came over to do some humorous comics featuring DC's superheroes,including this further illustration that Superman is, indeed, a dick, (although frankly Lois was asking for it).

The biggest coup of all, though, was landing Berni Wrightson, who had become a certifiable star for his work on Swamp Thing. Wrightson did stories for at least the first two issues, but the one that will be remembered for all time, the one that made Plop! an early success (successful enough to run for 24 issues, anyway), the one that will always give it a place in my heart, is "The Gourmet."

Written by Steve Skeates, illustrated by Wrightson, and winner of the Shazam Award for Best Humor Story of 1973, "The Gourmet" tells the story of Vernon Glute. Insanely rich and grotesquely fat, Glute spends his days at his dining room table eating the world's finest delicacies, including his personal favorite, frogs' legs. And Glute demands they be fresh, the fresher the better, so fresh that he has live frogs shipped to his kitchen so they can be butchered on the spot.

Then one day, the frogs have their revenge...

PLOP! heh heh

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