Monday, October 31, 2016
Guillermo del Toro and I obviously love the same stuff, so it's no surprise that he's also a fan of gothic romance. Crimson Peak is set in a crumbling castle in the mountains of northern England and features Mia Wasikowska as a young author who marries a charming, but darkly mysterious man played by Tom Hiddleston. And there's Jessica Chastain as Hiddleston's even more mysterious and dangerous sister.
It's a bit more graphic than I'm used to from the genre, but that's in the Hammer tradition, so it's not inappropriate and the movie works. If anything, it disappointed some horror fans who didn't know what to expect from gothic romance and pleased some folks who are typically skittish about horror. It's a great example of the genre, easily my favorite Del Toro film, and the perfect place to end this countdown.
Happy Halloween, everyone!
Sunday, October 30, 2016
A dastardly count tries to control a young girl (and her siblings) for nefarious purposes, all under a wonderfully gloomy atmosphere. Lemony Snicket's 13-book series is classic gothic romance with a wicked sense of humor.
I haven't read the books, but I enjoyed the movie and was disappointed that it never spawned sequels. Fortunately (though Snicket would disagree), we have the Netflix series coming in January.
Saturday, October 29, 2016
If we were to define gothic romance by atmosphere alone, almost any of Tim Burton's films would fall into the category. But Sleepy Hollow is the most gothic romantic in the way it hits all the traditional themes and tropes. Like Great Expectations, it gender swaps the traditional roles, having an aristocratic woman employ ancient evil to menace Johnny Depp's perpetually frightened Ichabod Crane. There's also a great, old manor house and of course the coolest ghost ever.
Christina Ricci also looks especially appropriate as the angelically beautiful Katrina Van Tassel. She's not a traditional gothic romance heroine - wonderfully spending most of the movie making Crane wonder if she's his ally or enemy - but ends up playing another gender swapped role: the handsome young man out to rescue his love from the villain.
Friday, October 28, 2016
The word "gothic" was being used to describe particular rock bands long before what we think of as goth music was ever a scene. It was applied to The Doors in the late '60s, referring to the gloomy atmosphere of their sound. Critics have retroactively given the adjective to The Velvet Underground as well, referring to their dark, droning sound that was certainly influential to later, for-reals goth artists. So, like so much of what gothic literature and cinema had become in the '60s and '70s, the term as applied to music was first used as a description of mood, not themes.
That changed though as the psychedelic experimentation of The Doors and The Velvet Underground devolved into the rawer play of the punk scene, which then reconstituted into the post-punk movement that begat goth. By the '80s, bands like The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Joy Division, and Bauhaus had set up shop in a dark, foggy corner of the post-punk landscape. From there they gave birth to groups like Flesh for Lulu, Gene Loves Jezebel, and the Cocteau Twins. The punks had been all about getting in your face with the revolution, man, but goth bands turned inward. They married atmospheric music to introspective lyrics as they wrestled with mysticism, religion, and death.
In that sense, a lot of goth musicians got back to the original meaning of gothic romance. They were fascinated with decay: both society's and their own. But they sang about these ancient troubles from a romantic perspective, finding beauty in the darkness like Belle in the castle of the Beast.
I haven't kept up with the goth scene and I've never adopted goth fashions, but I'm still a huge fan of goth music, especially the stuff I discovered as a kid. Here are some of my favorites.
Thursday, October 27, 2016
Marvel also tried their hand at a gothic romance series, but in a different format. Instead of a comics anthology series, they published a black-and-white text magazine through their Curtis Magazines imprint. Since magazines weren't bound by the Comics Code Authority, Marvel had formed Curtis as a way to publish Mature Readers stories that wouldn't fly in the regular comics. In addition to classics like Crazy, Deadly Hands of Kung Fu, and of course Savage Sword of Conan, there were less-successful attempts like Gothic Tales of Love.
Unlike some of Curtis' other black-and-white magazines that included comics in them, Gothic Tales of Love was all about text stories with some illustrations. Some of the stories were original, but others were reprints of what the editors thought were under-read, contemporary gothic romance stories. The True Love Comics Tales blog has some great posts about the magazine, including the table-of-contents of each issue and a full story (in two parts) from the first issue. (As long as you're perusing True Love Comics Tales, be sure to check out this post that serves as a gateway to complete stories from Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love and Sinister House of Secret Love.) You can also find the full, second issue of Gothic Tales of Love at Archive.org.
Even though Marvel went a different route with its gothic romance title, it had a similar result to DC's efforts. Gothic Tales of Love only lasted three issues before it was cancelled.
Interestingly, comics publisher Dell had tried something similar a few years earlier with a black-and-white magazine called simply Gothic Romances. It had also contained a mixture of reprints and original stories and had also lasted only three issues. It got a second chance by being renamed Gothic Stories, but that only carried it three more issues before its final cancellation.
Wednesday, October 26, 2016
DC wasn't able to get a gothic romance series off the ground for more than a few issues, but their low-budget competitor Charlton Comics got almost a year's worth of issues out of theirs. Interestingly, though, they did it in a couple of chunks. It launched in early 1973 as a bi-monthly series and lasted five issues until the end of the year. Then it went on hiatus for almost a year, picking up where it left off in late 1974 and going for another six issues.
Like the DC efforts, Haunted Love was an anthology comic and included work by some comics legends. Joe Staton did a few stories and Steve Ditko drew a couple as well. And also like Forbidden Mansion and Sinister House, Haunted Love expanded the definition of gothic romance to include any love story with a hair-raising, supernatural element.
For a taste of the series, check out the Charlton Comics Reading Library. It has the whole first issue, written by Nicola Cuti and Tom Sutton, and drawn by Joe Staton and Tom Sutton.
Tuesday, October 25, 2016
About a month after the debut of Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love, DC launched a companion series called The Sinister House of Secret Love. Like Dark Mansion, Sinister House featured young women in romance stories with a malevolent, sometimes supernatural twist. They even both featured artists Tony DeZuniga and Don Heck, but Sinister House also got comics legend Alex Toth for an issue.
It's that issue, #3, that my buddy Siskoid and his pals covered on an episode of The Lonely Hearts Romance Comics Podcast. It's an excellent episode of an excellent podcast and you should listen to it. You can also see some of the pages that they discuss on the LHRCP site.
Sadly, also like Dark Mansion, Sinister House was renamed and refocused after only four issues. It became Secrets of Sinister House, yet another horror-suspense anthology, though with a gothic-inspired cover for the first issue after the change. And true to its gothic romance roots, Secrets got a young woman as its horror host: Eve, who was cousin to Cain and Abel from House of Mystery and House of Secrets.
Monday, October 24, 2016
In the Autumn of 1971, DC launched not one, but two gothic romance titles. I've read neither of them and can't speak to the differences (if there are any), but the first was The Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love. It usually featured full-length stories and a text piece by various writers and artists, but the artists are legendary: Tony DeZuniga, Don Heck, and Ernie Chan.
As with the run of gothic covers on House of Secrets, DC's experiment with full gothic romance comics was short-lived. The Dark Mansion of Forbidden Secrets was cancelled after four issues and retooled in early 1972 to become Forbidden Tales of Dark Mansion, a straight horror-suspense anthology. Though the gothic covers did continue for a couple of issues into that series as well.
This Autumn, DC has sort of revived the original title with a mini-series starring the character Deadman. Written by Sarah Vaughn (Alex + Ada) and drawn my Lan Medina (Fables), Deadman: Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love tells the story of a young woman in an old mansion who teams up with Deadman to battle whatever evil is infesting the house.
Sunday, October 23, 2016
DC's House of Secrets comic was never officially a gothic romance series, but it did sport a nice run of gothic romance covers in the early '70s by Neal Adams, Gray Morrow, Bernie Wrightson, and Nick Cardy.
The series was conceived as a mystery/horror/fantasy anthology title in the late '50s, but it was cancelled 10 years later and then revived again a few years after that. During this revival, the comic got its horror host Abel (brother to Cain, the host of DC's House of Mystery) and focused mostly on spooky, EC-style horror tales.
Even though the stories in the comic weren't gothic romance, starting with issue #88 and lasting for about eight issues there were a lot of young women running from spooky, old houses (even though "There's No Escape from... The House of Secrets") or otherwise being menaced by sinister figures (including Swamp Thing, who debuted during this period). It's interesting that even if DC wasn't willing to turn The House of Secrets into a gothic romance series, it was willing to publish misleading covers to attract fans of the genre. It just goes to show how popular gothic romance had become.
And it's not like DC was opposed to publishing gothic romance, because it was also during this time that they went ahead and started an actual, proper gothic romance comic. But we'll talk about that tomorrow.
Saturday, October 22, 2016
Whether it was the popularity of Hammer horror films or Dark Shadows or both or something else entirely, I'm not sure. But gothic romance novels - with an emphasis on "romance" - became very popular with paperback readers in the 1960s and '70s. Romance publishers like Avon - and even speculative fiction and pulp publishers like Signet and Ace - cranked them out like crazy, almost always with covers featuring a young woman fleeing a big, ancient house (with one, lit window) on a dark night.
There are way too many of these to catalog, but Mystery File's Steve Lewis has a great, extensive list and there's also a cool review blog called - appropriately - Women Running from Houses. Lots of great stuff to be found in both of those.