Monday, October 22, 2012

October is Spookey Month: "The Slipped Mickey Click-Flip"

"The Slipped Mickey Click-Flip" by Doug Moench and Richard Corben first appeared in Creepy #54 (July, 1973) and readers seemed either to love it or hate it, if the letters pages for the next two issues are any indication.  And they must be; they're the letters pages for Creepy, which printed the story, for corn's sake.

But I have to admit I don't love this story.  It's a pretty good story, but I don't think it works as well as it could have.

A twisted mutant named Diment (as in "dementia") takes offense at a certain Dr. Nugent for trying to cure him of his insanity.  He takes over Creepy magazine and marginalizes poor, innocent Uncle Creepy himself to punish the doctor.  Diment does this by way of his "Click-Lick" device, the workings of which we never truly learn; he keeps turning away from us before using it.

I'm a fan of both Moench and Corben, and I admire them for their audacity in breaking the fourth wall-- and especially Corben for visually interpreting Moench's feverish, hallucinatory script.  They playfully push the boundaries of good taste-- even by the admittedly lax standards of mid-70s black and white horror magazines-- with gruesome images like eyeball-sucking butterflies and crazy-eyed trains that decapitate people.  Oh, and a woman who explodes into maggots.  I mean, if you like people who explode into maggots, you really need to buy Dark Horse's Creepy Archives #10 so you can experience this singular event rendered by Corben in full loving detail.  Never before have maggots looked so full-fleshed as they explode out of a comic book character's torso.  Gorgeous, gorgeous maggots.  Still, I thank my Uncle Creepy this story wasn't one of their color sections, which the magazine experimented with during this era, usually with Corben's art.

Unfortunately, a lot of the non sequitor dialogue seems forced and ham-fisted, sometimes repetitious ("idiot" is over-worked and begs for a week off in the Bahamas), Nugent and his wife are little more than puppets to the story and we never learn enough about them to develop any sympathy for them or become overly concerned with their plight.  But Diment himself is no prize, either.  I find him repulsive and off-putting.  I could see myself settling down on some moldy divan to listen to Uncle Creepy spin many a yarn, but once is enough with Diment.  More than enough.

Of course, "Slipped Mickey" is psimply a psick psychedelic romp, not meant to be taken seriously by any means, but as a supposedly enlightened 21st century citizen of the world, I can't help but find the depiction Diment's mental illness troubling and retrograde even for its time.  But I have to admit I apply this standard inconsistently.  What bothers me here might not in another story.

It's memorable as all get out, enough so you can find it in its entirety posted online and a few reminisces about it from fans who read it back in the day or in the years since and fell in love.  After all, for a horror story the only true mark of failure is boring readers to sleep, and "Slipped Mickey" definitely avoids that.  As you can see, the Creepy letters page in issue #56 (September, 1973) features nothing but praise for the story, with one reader calling it a masterpiece and Moench a genius and another praising it before opining it takes place entirely in Diment's mind (which is a comforting reading, I have to admit).  Negative reaction slips into the mix with a lone dissenter, who declares it "low class horror," then intensifies ever so slightly for Creepy #57 (November, 1973) when seven letters (out of 14) mention the months-old story, five praising it and two criticizing it.

One thing I enjoy about reading the Creepy letters pages-- even though we're now years past the point their relevancy died like poor ol' Dr. Nugent, his wife and even their dog-- is the editors weren't afraid to allow some nay-saying, and in this case actually spotlighted it with a sidebar box.  There's a feeling of some real give-and-take and that someone actually read the letters and put some thought into it, but also that the letters page is largely a forum for reader opinion without a lot of defensiveness from the Creepy staff, as if dare the readers to form their own opinions instead of just joining a praise-pack, that it was just as much the fans' comic as it was theirs.  You can imagine what the message boards would have been like had this taken place in today's Internet-savvy comic book society.

Oh, and before I leave you to Google search for this story and read it for yourselves-- to make up your own minds about it, just like Uncle Creepy would have it-- let me tell you this is exactly the kind of story that would have sent me off the rails for a few days if I'd read it as a child.  I had this stupid over-imaginative reaction to horror comics, especially stories as whimsically arbitrary as this one.  I can imagine little-me trying not to think much about Diment for fear of his being real, or somehow making him emerge from the comic book into our world and wreaking havoc on me specifically.  You just do not want to piss Diment off, and disapproving of him would probably be more than enough to earn his wrath

So I would have been sleeping with the lights on in my bedroom, picturing the happy little crazy train running over my head or killing my dog.  DC's House of Secrets and Weird War Tales were bad enough, Marvel's black and white Planet of the Apes magazines scared me as often as they thrilled me with adventure (especially with their house ads for Tales of the Zombie and even Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction, the latter featuring a Michael Moorcock story that crosses the border into blasphemy for those of us in the Bible Belt deep South).  I'm a little nervous even now, writing about it.

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