Sunday, June 11, 2006

Anthology of Slow Death

If ever there was any doubt of the influence that Bill Gaines’ EC horror and science-fiction comics had on the underground comics artists of the early seventies, look no further than this book. Published in 1975, ANTHOLOGY OF SLOW DEATH collects stories from the first few issues of this originally ecologically themed underground complete with a legitimizing introduction by Harlan Ellison. I was still two years younger than allowed to purchase the book at the time but apparently the bookstore where I got it hadn’t looked closely at it so they sold it to me anyway. I admit to being profoundly disturbed by some of the things in this book. I was, at the time, firmly in the "Entertainment shouldn’t make you think!" camp. Although filled with explicit sex and violence, SLOW DEATH also deals with how we’re killing the earth through pollution and corporate greed, it deals with the horrors of war in a way Sgt. Fury never could. It deals with feminism, racial prejudice and political evils, subjects just not covered in SPIDER-MAN. It was a revelation. The story structures are similar to EC, sometimes more overtly so as in Rand Holmes’s calculatedly Wally Wood influenced sci-fi piece. There’s even an EC-like black humor piece in which the artists find out publisher Ron Turner’s terrible secret.
The art in the book is wide-ranging. This was my first wide exposure to underground artists and it was definitely a mixed bag. Crumb I knew. Even then, he was well-known. The others were all brand new to me. I liked Holmes both because of his Wood-like style and his naked women but Richard "Gore" Corben’s work just blew me away. I had never seen anything like his rubbery art and his color pieces were mindboggling! The detail seen here from the cover of SLOW DEATH 4 should be considered one of the greatest comic covers of all time. Other creators I met here who became favorites include Dave Sheridan and Greg Irons, both of whom would die young. Some like Jack (Jaxon) Jackson and particularly Charles Dallas just truly rattled me.
Last Gasp published SLOW DEATH and, in fact, the name Last Gasp was an alternative title for the comic. They’re still around here Last Gasp Online Catalog - The Last Gasp Storyand Ron Turner has led them to become a highly respected but still politically and socially astute publisher of all types of books from TIN-TIN to international erotica to cookbooks. They still publish comix, too. Hopefully somebody’s eyes are being opened to the possibilities of the medium right now the way mine were thirty-one years ago with ANTHOLOGY OF SLOW DEATH!


prades said...


boba said...

Hello Steven Thompson, which other series would you recommend me that resembles the drawing style of 'Slow Death' along with fantastic themed such as war, occult etc. Thx !

Steven Thompson said...

SLOW DEATH was actually pretty unique in its environmental slant. Many of the same artists--Rand Holmes, Corben and Jack Jackson (Jaxon) appeared in a number of other early seventies underground comix, though. Jaxon tackled various war and historical themes in his later solo works. Corben did some absolutely gorgeous work for Warren's CREEPY, EERIE and VAMPIRELLA, but mostly straight horror or occasionally sci-fi.