Saturday, September 18, 2010

Out of the Vault - 1984

In 1978, Warren Publications, publishers of Creepy, Eerie, Vampirella, and Famous Monsters of Filmland, put out a new comic magazine named after one of the great dystopian science-fiction novels of all time, 1984. However, the dynamic cover art by Richard Corben, featuring a battle in space between two rival alien races, made it clear that this 1984 would bear no resemblance to George Orwell's bloodless allegory.

So exactly what approach would this new magazine take? Would it feature the nonsensical, yet vaguely artsy sex fantasies of Heavy Metal, or would it more closely resemble the updated EC stories of its sister publications, Creepy and Eerie? In the end, it did a little of both, mixed with liberal doses of gore and comedy. The final result was not pretty.

The inside front cover of the first issue is perhaps the worst case of false advertising ever in the history of ever. Under the title "Remember the Good Old Days? Who Would Have Thought They'd Return... in 1984?," the copy speaks of the good old days of classic adventure--Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, the Shadow. It speaks of the desire to return to those days of fun and adventure, without the modern weight of "relevance" to slow the stories down and make them depressing.

We, at 1984, are trying to recapture some of the fun of old. We've taken a dash of adventure, a smidgeon of excitement from the golden years of our youth, and mixed it with a healthy dose of relevant irreverence of the day. We've tried to recapture the spirit of a time that didn't take itself as seriously...

Wow, that sounds pretty good, and the cover certainly looks awesomely action-packed. Let's take a look at the first story and see how that turned out?

"Last of the Really Great, All-American Joy Juice" is pretty typical of what went on in the pages of 1984. Basically, the Soviets have devastated Earth with a weapon that sterilized all the males in the U.S. Naturally, there was retaliation, and now the human race is dying out. A space freighter, sent into space with the remnants of the last sperm bank in existence, comes under attack from a force of women out to knock themselves up. They are overjoyed to discover not just the sperm, but possibly the last functioning human male plumbing in existence. Unfortunately, the guy it's attached to isn't exactly cooperating.

"Poontang-pushin' prevert" is about as good as the humor gets in 1984, and that type of stuff dominates virtually every single panel of every single story. The editor of the magazine was a guy named Bill DuBay, who also did much of the writing, and who wasn't above rewriting other people's stories to make them fit into his vision of the magazine.

Probably the most egregious examples of this were stories from the first two issues, "Quick Cut" and "One Night Down on the Funny Farm," with art by the great Wally Wood. According to this page, the art for the two six-page stories came from one 12-page story by Wood titled "The End" which DuBay butchered, not only completely rewriting the dialogue to make lame jokes like this one ("Just like a woman...")

but also completely reordering pages and panels and adding captions to make the second story completely unrelated plot-wise to the first (while also adding even more awful "humor," such as dialogue for Japanese characters like "I clome to take you away flom it all! Hold hland."--apparently, Japanese people not only confuse L's and R's, but also add random L's to the first syllables of words).

Wood never worked for Warren again.

Apart from the cover, Richard Corben also did stories in the first few issues, an ongoing serial titled "Mutant World" where twisted people scramble for food in a dangerous environment where sometimes the food eats back.

Good-looking work, but oddly (both for Corben and for 1984) there were no tits to be found.

The first issue also featured a proto-steampunk story by Jim Stenstrum and Luis Bermejo titled "Faster Than Light Interstellar Travel," featuring Professor Elias Zong who developed a space-travel-capable riverboat that took a tour of the galaxy. Not being written by Bill DuBay, it was not a six-page thesaurus of sexual insults and profanity, but instead a lighter tale featuring sophisticated humor like this (I have left the yellowed paper uncorrected to give the story a sepia-toned look).

I actually bought the second issue of 1984 as well. It was mostly memorable because, although it was advertised on the back cover of issue 1 like this (dig that crazy slit-scan lettering, man)...

the actual cover looked like this.

No idea why the brunette was changed to a blond, other than to imply that she's having more fun.

Beyond that, it was more of the same: a post-apocalyptic war between the "Glows" (radiation-infected men whose semen causes instant death to their partners) and the "Hung" (barbaric brutes with big and non-lethal organs), interstellar wars between all-male alien races over human females, a gory ad for a customized suicide kit, an alien sex researcher who has had sex with virtually every type of female in the galaxy (except backward, bestial humans of course), another "Mutant World" chapter.

The best story in the second issue was "Janitor," an amusing sex romp mainly notable because it was completely silent--no dialogue, no captions. After having to deal with the eyeball-scrape that was DuBay's writing in virtually every other story, "Janitor" was a blessed relief. And the women were sexy.

But even I wasn't masochistic enough to buy a third issue. Somebody was ,though, because the magazine kept going. Starting with issue 11 in 1980, the title changed to 1994. When I saw it on the newsstand with the new title, I figured they'd just realized that the actual year 1984 was getting pretty close and no longer felt so futuristic, but apparently, it was to avoid a lawsuit by the George Orwell estate. Either way, the magazine managed to keep cranking until 1983 when, after 29 issues, Warren went bankrupt.

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