LOD: A Personal History

The current state of The Longbox of Darkness.

In 2017 I started a blog called The Longbox of Darkness, which eventually morphed into a podcast about horror comics. I don’t recall exactly how this all happened, but what I do remember is that the podcast planning and production soon ate up all my time and I ended up neglecting the blog. I still kept it running by posting episode updates and links related to topics discussed on the show, but this was a sad state of affairs indeed. Doing LOD the Podcast was fun, but the effort I put into it took away a lot of my impetus for maintaining the blog, and eventually I let the whole endeavor fall by the wayside.

Fast forward some years later and I got the hankering to blog again, mostly because I had a lot of time on my hands due to COVID lockdowns, but also because I felt the need to write down my thoughts instead of just incessantly feeding them into a microphone. There wasn’t much of a connection between who I had become and who I had been when I first conceived the blog, so I decided to start fresh. Longboxofdarkness.com was no more, but darklongbox.com was young, spunky, and ready to make its mark.

Except it didn’t.

Life and a new job got in the way, which left my brand new blog untenanted. Even my podcast schedule was affected, such as it was. Clearly matters couldn’t remain the way they were, so I took time off to sort things out. This turned out to be a great idea. In the process of distancing myself from online publishing and content creation I managed to reconnect with family and old friends, and strangely even with my love of the horror genre, which had been in a bad state since about early 2020, truth be told. The rude intrusion of the pandemic, the loss of family members, and the erosion of professional relationships had made my love for escapism through hobbies seem hollow and worn out. I was no longer finding joy in that which, for more than 40 years, had brought me so much pleasure. This could not stand. Something had to be done.

To combat this mental lethargy I forced myself to remember the distant past, with the intent of pinpointing and bookmarking events and moments that had feuled the spark in those long ago days of halcyon childhood; the spark that ignited my love of the horror genre. Having talked about this so-called personal horror origin of mine on numerous podcast episodes, either as a guest or as a host, I had come to realize that many factors played a part in my becoming a horror fan. This blog, for instance, would not be here if I had not been mentally scarred by accidentally viewing more than half of David Cronenberg’s film The Brood at the tender age of 4. This probably turned me into a wannabe rage baby of a kind, much like the scary little tykes in that flawed but unforgettable movie. The Longbox of Darkness itself would not exist had an uncle not gifted me with a black long box filled with hundreds of horror comics on my fifth birthday, nor would I be writing these words if my dad had not bought me three copies of Boris Karloff’s Tales of Mystery and a battered 2000AD Annual for my 7th birthday. My first excursion to a corner store to buy reading matter with birthday cash I had been given resulted in a heap of horror comics that opened the door to an obsession. Even my dad buying my first horror paperback for me when I was in third grade, Stephen King’s Night Shift, is a seminal part of my origin as a horror fan. Would it have been any different if I had not been exposed to the genre at a young age? Maybe, maybe not. After all, there are other monster kids out there with unique origin stories of their own, and not all follow the same trajectory. Exposed to horror, I never shied away from it, as so many other kids did. Like a true monster kid, I embraced it with a goofy grin plastered all over my face.

My parents were surprisingly open-minded when it came to what my sister and I could and could not read. The often raunchy Warren Magazines with their lurid covers were predictably verboten, but everything else was deemed acceptable. No matter how scary the covers of Marvel’s Tomb of Dracula, DC’s House of Mystery, or Charlton’s Haunted appeared, my mom would often briefly glance at them while I was reading and simply mutter: “Looks scary. Mind you don’t have nightmares.” And that was that. No comics were ever confiscated (save for a precious half-dozen treasured Vampirellas a friend had given me, but that’s a tale for another day). My folks viewed reading as an exercise in broadening the mind, and as long as they weren’t kept up by the nightly jitters, we were allowed to read nearly everything we got our grubby little mitts on.

Looking back on it now I’ve come to realize that I wasn’t a kid who had a lot of nightmares. I lived out my fears and wrestled with my dark thoughts in the pages of the comics, novels, and short stories I read. I wasn’t watching as many movies as I would once 1985 came around and I was allowed to go to the cinema by myself, but whenever I did spy a particularly scary piece of cinematic contraband on a video store shelf, my dad would gleefully rent it for us and we’d watch it together late on weekends after my mom and sister had gone to bed. Jaws and A Nightmare on Elm Street, John Carpenter’s Halloween and The Thing, Ridley Scott’s Alien – these were some of our particular favorites, among many many others.

Have I ever been happier than I was in the 80s? Probably not. As monster kids we watched hundreds of movies, cycled around the neighborhood, visited friends, swapped comic book issues, and discussed whatever disturbing piece of cinema we sampled the night before. We had monster model kits and action figures and horror movie posters on the walls. We obsessed over Alan Moore’s Saga of The Swamp Thing, old back issues of Conan The Barbarian, Adventure Into Fear, Weird War Tales, and Charlton Comics. We hunted far and wide for Marvel’s black and white Monster publications, and hoarded 2000AD mags as if they were precious stones. All of these moments led me to reminisce about the very first time I encountered a spinner rack, and the time I bought a score of cheap horror comics from a corner store in my small South African hometown of Randfontein; a store that always had an abundance of old horror mags and horror paperbacks, because that was what sold back then. Randfontein was a pretty conservative place, and busybody housewives were not averse to forming protest groups to defend the minds of their kids from so-called filth and Satanic corruption. Luckily the Greek owner of that corner store weathered the storms and the half-hearted protests and kept selling us entertaining filth and Satanic corruption, as well as a fortune in candy, snacks and soda between 1982 and 1989. Hell (or is that Heaven?) never looked (or tasted) so good.

Finally there came a time when I discovered specialty bookstores in nearby cities such as Pretoria and Johannesburg, or on vacations in coastal cities like Cape Town and Port Elizabeth. My friends and I went further and further afield to satisfy our reading addiction, and started neglecting the spinner racks and the corner stores of our youth. In the late 1980s I stopped in at one of the old corner store ‘Kafees’, as they were known in SA, and was mildly surprised to see that there were no spinner racks to be had, but rather magazine shelves with precious little comics or horror paperbacks on them. At that time I did not feel a sense of loss. The big city stores were satisfying my lust for horror nicely, and I had since become a rabid collector of horror movies in the form of old VHS video cassettes. My growing collection meant that I could watch or rewatch as many as two to three movies a day, which I often did, and this was usually done at the expense of reading. I had also fallen deeply in love with science fiction and fantasy. With what the 1980s weaned us on (hell, the Saturday morning cartoons alone) who wouldn’t have? But the spinner racks were gone, as were the old Kafee’s horror and scifi paperbacks, and corner stores would never quite be the same.

Leaving the 80s behind and heading into the 90s, my literary diet consisted of Stephen King and Clive Barker novels, DC Comics’ Vertigo titles, an obsession with H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard, and a newly discovered love of classic Universal and Hammer Horror films. I collected everything I could find, on video cassette or early DVDs, and comic book trade paperbacks and new-fangled ‘graphic novels’ were filling up my shelves along with old paperbacks excavated in second-hand bookshops – books by Harlan Ellison, Michael Moorcock, Fritz Lieber, Poul Anderson, Ursula LeGuin, Terry Pratchett, Ray Bradbury, Mervyn Peake, M. John Harrison, and James Tiptree Jr, among many many others. Things were slowly getting more and more expensive though, and my buying habits changed. I was forced to become more selective.

After high school I majored in English Literature at university, and tried my hand at being a writer for a while. Nothing much came of it. I soon left South Africa for London and greener pastures. This was in early 2001. During my time in the UK my horror addiction flourished. I had no budget and spent money recklessly, but the joy I got from the movies, the comics, and the novels I consumed seemed worth the financial angst. I traveled Europe, worked, had fun, made some great friends, and even evolved into a more thoughtful and philosophical fan of horror, mostly through conversations and shared reading experiences with others. My time abroad enriched me. I went to horror conventions, spoke to authors, and quizzed like-minded fans. It was an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world. Eventually though, an opportunity presented itself and I relocated again, this time all the way to Taipei in Taiwan. Specialty stores were harder to come by here, but I had since started buying online via Amazon, and whatever new horror publications I craved were not too hard to come by. This has now been my life for twenty years, living and traveling in Asia and beyond, still reading and enjoying horror media and other genres. The only difference is I now blog and podcast about it.

Sharing your passions is an essential trait for all of us. Doing so reminds us of unique periods in our lives where we fell in love with something that speaks to us, something that ended up changing us irrevocably but advantageously. Oftentimes reality will make us forget these moments, seek to dampen our passions and blanket the things that make life worth living. Even family, friends, and loved ones – yes, even our love for them can be tainted by despair. Casting our thoughts back and remembering the origins of our love for them, for our hobbies and that which makes us happy, can combat this despair. But it isn’t always enough. Our feelings and thoughts yearn to to be shared with others in order to help us reclaim or reinstate their value, to embed them ever deeper into our hearts and minds, so that they may become that much more difficult to dislodge.

Ultimately, I guess this is why LOD is back. Hopefully, it will stay around a mite longer this time. I hope that you, fellow horrorling, will embark on a new journey with me as we explore the secret recesses of The Longbox of Darkness together.

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