Monday, October 19, 2009

The Occult Files of Dr. Spektor


Back in the 1970s, there were two main comic book companies, Marvel and DC. When I would browse the spinner rack (Hey Kids! Comics!) at Blair's Foodtown Grocery store I would occasionally see comics by a couple of smaller companies. One was Charleton, who seemed to have the world's cheapest paper and the world's worst printing, and the other was Gold Key. Gold Key comics were easy to spot because their adventure titles had distinctive painted covers, looking more like Young Adult novel covers than comic books.
I was familiar with Gold Key because they had published the Tarzan comics my mom collected, so I tended to look for the painted covers. Distribution was pretty spotty back then and Marvel and DC (And Archie. I forgot Archie because I rarely read them. That would come later.) took up most of the rack space but I would occasionally spot gold key titles like Turok Son of Stone, The Jungle Twins, Star Trek, Mighty Samson, etc. (Gold Key lost the rights to Tarzan to DC shortly after I began collecting comic books.) I almost always bought them if I had the money because Gold Key comics tended to have complete stories in each issue so it didn't matter if you missed an issue. There was no continuity to speak of. Plus, they had a lot of good, solid adventure stories with nice artwork.
I didn't know it at the time but Gold Key was the comics arm of Western publishing, who also published Little Golden Books and the like, and whose titles had formerly been distributed by Dell. Dell Comics had been dedicated to providing wholesome comic books for decades. You weren't going to get a lot of blood and gore from Dell. Thus, the Gold Key comic line was less bombastic than Marvel and DC.
Anyway, I never got into Gold Key's supernatural themed books, The Twilight Zone, Grimm's Ghost Stories, Boris Karloff Mystery, and such, so it's a little unusual that the cover for The Occult Files of Dr. Spektor #10 caught my attention. Perhaps it was the mummy crashing through the window. The afternoon television show Dialing For Dollars tended to show the Universal Studios Mummy movies a lot and I rather liked them. Maybe it was the title. Dr. Spektor had a nice ring to it. It may have been the interior artwork by Jesse Santos. I had already discovered Santos' art in Gold Key's sword and sorcery comic, Dagar the Invincible and really liked it. More about that in a bit. Whatever the reason, I decided to pick it up. I was very taken with it, and afterwards would buy any issues of Spektor I spotted.
Dr. Adam Spektor was an occult specialist, sort of like the famous literary occult detectives Jules de Grandin, Lucius Leffing, and Anton Zarnak. He was apparently independently wealthy as he lived in a mansion, Spektor Manor, and seemed to have a lot of free time to hunt spooks and monsters. He was aided in his battles against supernatural menaces by his beautiful Native American secretary, Lakota Rainflower. Spektor sported a black Inverness style coat, giving him a sort of Victorian look, but his long hair and Van Dyke beard were straight out of the 70s. By the time I discovered Dr. Spektor he had already run into a Dracula-like Vampire named Count Tibor, Frankenstein's Monster, a resurrected Mr. Hyde, the Mummy Ra Ka Tep, a spectral hound, a vengeful witch, and other creepy opponents.
After I had met the good Doctor he would face, among other creatures, zombies, a swamp monster, a sea monster, the living brain of an ancient sorcerer, and a werewolf who would turn Spektor into a werewolf as well. In other words, Dr. Spektor pretty much ran the gamut of the monster world.
I didn't know it at the time but the creator and writer of Dr. Spektor was uniquely suited to write about all these supernatural menaces. Donald F. Glut (rhymes with flute) seems to have had a lifelong interest in monsters. He made his first monster movie at age 9 and went on to make 41 amateur films, including homages to Frankenstein and the Teenage Werewolf. Over the years Don has written novels and short stories about Frankenstein's monster, Dracula, the Mummy, etc, as well as numerous non fiction books about dinosaurs, vampires, Movie Monsters, werewolves, Frankenstein, and more. These days Don runs Frontline Entertainment, a company that produces, you guessed it, monster movies. The man knows his monsters. And if that wasn't enough, Don credits his entry into the world of professional comic book writing to Forest J. Ackerman, long time editor of Famous Monsters of Filmland.
Glut was one of the few new writers brought into the Gold Key stable in the 70s, most of the staff having been around since Dell days. Glut was something of an envelope pusher, bringing a touch of Marvel style continuity to his titles, linking Spektor to Dagar and Dagar to Tragg and the Sky Gods. In some ways, Glut created his own small 'universe' in comics. This Glutiverse would make a good topic for a separate post at some point, come to think of it. He also wrote continued stories, once an absolute no-no at Gold Key, and he brought back several defunct Gold Key characters like super heroes Dr. Solar and The Owl.
Glut was aided on Spektor, Dagar, and Tragg by artist Jesse Santos. Santos was one of the artists from the Philippines who popped up in the 1970s to work at Marvel, DC, and Gold Key. Santos had a style like no other I'd seen. He rarely used the traditional comic book inking technique of "feathering" to suggest tone, but rather used interconnecting lines of various widths to give a very different effect. His later work became more impressionistic as he went. His painted covers for Spektor and Dagar are vivid and very unlike the other Gold Key cover paintings. And he drew beautiful girls, of which there were plenty in both Dr. Spektor and Dagar the Invincible. Quite a bit of Santos' work can be found on the net and it's worth looking up.
Anyway, I'm currently re-reading the run of Dr. Spektor as part of my Halloween horror reading. I'm impressed yet again at the solid writing of Don Glut and the lovely art of Jesse Santos. Dark Horse Comics is currently reprinting a lot of Gold Key titles in hardback and I'd certainly like to see a collection of all 24 original issues of Dr. Spektor in one volume.(Along with the one Spektor issue of Gold Key Spotlight and Spektor's appearances in Spine-Tingling Tales.) And a Dagar volume as well. Are you listening, Dark Horse?

You can learn more about Donald F. Glut at his website here:

http://www.donaldfglut.com/index.html

And read an interview with Don that I did here:

http://www.swordandsorcery.org/int-comics-glut.asp

2 comments:

Lanny said...

Those painted covers really are great!

Anonymous said...

http://occultfiles.blogspot.com