Weird War Tales
I get asked a lot as a writer and comic book geek if comics influence my own work. The answer is yes, of course they have.
One series above all others helped shape me into the writer I grew up to be. It was called Weird War Tales. The title's first issue was released in 1971 from DC Comics several years before I was born and canceled on issue 124 in 1983.
I discovered comic books at the ripe old age of 4 and by age 5, I was carrying bags of them to school with me. Other kids would play and run around outside while I sat and immersed myself in worlds far more exciting to me than the school playground. I was mainly a superhero fan. At that age, The Legion of Superheroes, The Fantastic Four and The Flash were my favorites and are still among them today.
My parents took me to visit Cope's in Sylva everyday of the week but Sunday (and that's only because they were closed then). I saved up not only my allowance but whatever other cash I could scrape together by doing work around the house or skipping lunch at school to buy books.
In between issues of the titles I was most addicted to, I would read almost anything I could get my hands on and take trips to the local flea market in search of back-issues. That's how I discovered Weird War Tales. While digging through stacks of comics, I came upon a Weird War Tales issue 13.
The cover featured an outside shot a German stronghold in World War II. There were two German guards, holding machines, standing outside the building. Had that been all there was on the cover, I would have tossed the issue aside and kept digging as “war” comics usually bored me.
However, above those two Nazi guards, in the sky, were a cluster of demon-like, vampire style creatures with wide wings, darkened by the shadows. I was already a horror fan by this point as well and that cover just screamed out to me. I picked up the issue and read it in the car on the way home.
From that moment on, I searched for Weird War Tales every time I visited any place that sold comics. Weird War Tales was a “war” comic, yes, but it intermingled horror and/or science fiction in every story the title featured. It was also an anthology style series with each issue usually containing more than one dark short story or vignette that was both wonderfully dark and disturbing.
Scores of comic book greats from Frank Miller to Walter Simonson worked on the series between its birth and cancellation. It left such a mark on me as a fan/collector, I spent years tracking down perfect copies Weird War Tales first three issues and even fought for DC to release a collected Showcase Presents' volume of the series.
As to how it affected me as a writer, well, if you've read any of my work you know. From my zombie stuff like Season of Rot to the Bigfoot War series, my horror usually has a very strong military edge to it. Weird War Tales laid the foundation in my mind that gave birth to the style of my own short stories and books as an adult.
I still wish DC would bring the series back in the New 52. Perhaps in today's much more diverse comic industry, it could find the niche it failed to find among both war and horror fans than it did when I was younger.