Welcome, fright aficionados! Today, The Longbox of Darkness is dusting off a cult classic from my youth that rattled the UK’s comic book scene in the 1980s and was a huge influence on a generation of budding horror addicts. While not that well-known in North America, it was all the rage in Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa (where I hail from) back in the day. That’s right! We’re discussing none other than the legendary British anthology horror mag ‘Scream.’
The ’70s and ’80s were kind of a golden era for comic books in the UK, what with titles like 2000AD shaking up the newsstands. But it wasn’t all just science-fiction and war comics! We also saw the rise of sequential horror and spine-chilling narratives emerging (even 2000AD published their fair share of horror). During this boom emerged a horror anthology that would etch itself into the hearts of fans and critics alike. Amid this thrilling cacophony of the macabre, the weekly ‘Scream! magazine made its debut, shivering its way onto newsstands in the spring of 1984, ushering in a whole new era of nightmares in its wake.
A product of IPC Magazines, Scream! entered the comic book scene with a loud, haunting shriek that couldn’t be ignored. The creators dared to delve into heretofore unseen territory, with a vision to revolutionize the horror comic landscape. From eerie graveyards to haunted manors, the settings were all impeccably grim and exquisitely British.
In contrast to its American counterparts, Scream! adopted a more measured approach to horror. It was less about gore and more about the creeping dread, the kind that lurks around the corner and chills you to your very core. This distinct characteristic made Scream something of a novelty in the comic world, earning it an immediate niche following.
Even though it ran for only 15 issues and half a dozen Holiday Specials before IPC Magazines suspended its publication – due to an industrial dispute that, like an unpredictable plot twist, spelled an untimely end for the magazine – the tales of terror that Scream! spun left a bloody handprint on the genre. It was short-lived, yes, but it was the kind of ghost that refuses to be exorcised from the memories of those lucky enough to have experienced it.
Other than having one of the weirdest horror hosts to ever helm a horror comic – one ‘Ghastly McNasty’ – the magazine’s unique appeal lay in its storytelling. Each issue was a masterful mosaic of standalone shockers and serialized sagas, all imbued with a quintessentially British sense of gloom and humor.
Take the fan-favorite strip “The Dracula File.” This series subverted the traditional vampire narrative by placing the infamous Count in the heart of 1980s Britain, seeking refuge from vampire hunters of the Eastern Bloc! The stories were infused with a sense of claustrophobic terror that was both chilling and compelling.
Another seminal strip (and my personal favorite) was “The Thirteenth Floor.” The story’s central character featured Max, a super-intelligent and sentient residential computer, in charge of administering a tower block known as Maxwell Tower. Max had a unique feature: the ability to fabricate a thirteenth floor, a virtual reality space used to deal with problematic residents or intruders. On this eerie floor, he could conjure up personalized nightmares to punish or deter offenders, making the comic a unique blend of science fiction and horror. Despite its relatively short run due to the abrupt cancellation of Scream magazine, “The Thirteenth Floor” left a lasting impact, earning a dedicated fanbase and later seeing reprints in the “Eagle” comic. This blend of psychological horror and artificial intelligence served as a trailblazer in its genre, fondly remembered for its innovative narrative and chilling plot.
“Terror of the Cats“, another noteworthy Scream! strip, was an eclectic mix of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds and James Herbert’s The Rats, but with frightful felines instead of feathered terrors or rapacious rodents.
Then there was “Monster,” a grim tale following a deformed, misunderstood hunchback as he embarked on an ill-fated road trip across England. It challenged our perceptions of heroes and villains, adding a dash of poignancy to the usual horror fare. A list of other strips followed – The Nightcomers, Tales from the Grave, Library of Death, A Ghastly Tale, and others. All sported their own quirky storytelling approaches. These narrative innovations made each issue of Scream a Pandora’s box of horror, suspense, and above all, surprise. Boring this comic was certainly not.
The Legacy of ‘Scream’
Though Scream Magazine had a comparatively short run, its legacy is anything but brief. The tendrils of its influence have seeped into the fabric of British horror comics, leaving a chilling imprint that’s palpable even today.
What made Scream Magazine stand out was its audacity to push the boundaries of horror narratives while maintaining an uncanny blend of creepiness and wit. Its sudden disappearance from newsstands only added to its mystique, transforming it from a magazine into a legend whispered about in comic book stores and late-night fan forums.
Despite the passage of time, Scream’s spirit continues to live on. Its stories have found new life in reprints and have even crossed over into other comic series. While its physical presence might have been short-lived, Scream Magazine’s essence lingers on, an ethereal phantom in the annals of horror comic history.
Scream Magazine didn’t just host terrifying tales. It also provided a platform for a host of talented writers and artists who lent their unique touch to its pages.
Luminaries included Alan Moore and John Wagner, the brains behind “Monster,” a series that had readers questioning traditional notions of heroes and monsters. Moore only penned the first issue, then John Wagner took the reins. Wagner was no stranger to the comic world, as he had been writing for 2000AD since its inception, and is considered the greatest-ever Judge Dredd writer. He also conceived and worked on the celebrated series “Strontium Dog” with Alan Grant. His knack for inverting expectations was apparent in his work for Scream from the very start.
Gerry-Finley Day, himself one of the greatest British comic writers, penned the Dracula File alongside Simon Furman, who also produced the scripts for “Terror of the Cats.” And then there was illustrator José Ortiz, with his dramatic and atmospheric style. His work on “The Thirteenth Floor” showcased his ability to infuse each panel with a pervasive sense of impending doom, and his art played a pivotal role in shaping the magazine’s distinct aesthetic.
Impact and Cult Status
Despite its premature departure from the scene, Scream Magazine continues to reverberate throughout the horror comic community. Its impact extends beyond its original readership and into a new generation of horror enthusiasts. This is evident from the cult status it has acquired over the years, with original issues becoming highly sought-after collector’s items.
In the 2000s, the magazine made a triumphant return in the form of a series of reprints by Rebellion Developments (who now also own 2000AD), introducing the uninitiated to the unique brand of horror that Scream represented. Additionally, its tales and characters continue to resurface in modern comic books, paying homage to its enduring influence, and in 2017 and 2018 Rebellion even released two Scream! Holiday Specials.
As we conclude our journey into the heart of Scream Magazine, its significance is clear. It wasn’t merely a publication that dabbled in horror – it was a trendsetter that dared to challenge conventions, to push the envelope, and to reimagine the genre in unique and unsettling ways. Its stories, steeped in eerie atmospheres and unexpected twists, left readers with a peculiar sense of dread and an insatiable thirst for more.
Despite its untimely demise, Scream’s influence continues to haunt the corridors of horror comic lore. Its pages, once filled with ink, are now etched with the legacy of a magazine that was terrifying, innovative, and unapologetically different. Long live Scream – the spectral phantom that continues to inspire chills and thrills in the world of horror comics.
References and Further Reading
For those who wish to venture further into the haunted domain of Scream, check out 2000AD.com or download their App, which contains collections of The Dracula File, The Thirteenth Floor, and Monster, among many many others.
Finally, thank you for joining me on this journey into the dark corners of horror comic history. If you’ve had your own experiences with Scream or have thoughts to share about its impact, LOD invites you to leave a comment below. And remember, subscribing to the blog will keep you updated on more posts like this.
Until next time, fellow horror lovers – may your dreams be filled with the nightmarish reverberations… of Scream!
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