It was probably a Saturday afternoon in that summer just before I turned eleven when I spotted it.
It was laying on the sidewalk outside the Victory Soda Shoppe on Waters Avenue in Savannah, Georgia. No one but me was around that moment and no one had stepped on it yet.
It hadn’t been laying there long.
Someone, almost certainly a kid, had either dropped it accidentally or bought it for the large pink square of bubble gum that left its powdery presence behind on the card. The image was of a drawing of the back of a nice looking blonde girl or woman and she was walking down the street. The caption over her head at the top of the card said, “With a face like yours, you should be in movies–”
When I turned the card over, I was simultaneously shocked and delighted to see another drawing of the same girl, but this time I got a clear view of her face.
It was misshapen and warty, she had a short, stubby turned-up nose and sunken eyes. Her mouth was distorted and open and just a hint of crooked green broken teeth through swollen purple lips. She was ugly.
Above the image of her face the card continued the message from its other side: “–HORROR Movies!”
I thought that was the coolest thing I had ever seen.
In the lower right hand corner there was a name, “Jack Davis”. I think that was the first time that I realized that there were actually people creating the pictures that I liked. I don’t remember seeing names in the corners of the pages of the Little Golden Books my grandmother had read me, when I first became enamored of colorful illustrations.
But there it was right there on that card. You couldn’t miss it: “JACK DAVIS”.
Clearly this was the work of a genius. Yes, these pictures I loved so much were being done by real people. I found out later those people were called “artists”. I made up my mind that very instant that I wanted to be one of them when I grew up.
I did become an artist, but I never did grow up.
Not long after that, I rode my bike down Waters Avenue and crossed Victory Drive and went a couple of blocks to The Eagle Barber Shop for a haircut, as I had done every few weeks of my entire life since my mother had taken me there for my very first haircut when I was a very small child.
I always read comic books while waiting my turn for a haircut.
Meanwhile, Mr. Upchurch and Mr. Ulin snipped away with scissors at some man’s head or energetically cranked the big barber chair back for another man, leaving him flat on his back and covered up to his chin in a white sheet. They stropped their straight razors in preparation for shaving these men– and I read on.
The comic I picked up to read had been read so many times by countless other boys that the cover had fallen off and the yellowish-brown pages were dog-eared and brittle. The first thing I noticed on the one I was reading was a man in a blue bathrobe. It was tied around his waist with a rope. It was the same kind of rope that they used to hang people. But what struck me about the man was that he had long silver hair hanging down to his shoulders.
It was 1953. None of the men I knew, not my father, or the fathers of other kids, nor people who worked in stores, not even men you passed on the street–none of them had hair like that.
I was fascinated by that man. I read the first balloon, anxious to see what he was saying. He introduced himself. He was The Crypt Keeper. I wasn’t sure what a crypt was, it didn’t sound like anything I wanted or needed, so as far as I was concerned he could keep it.
I read on, fascinated with what the man with the long silver hair had to tell me. He seemed to be looking at and speaking directly to me. I read on, feverishly–fervently hoping that I wouldn’t be interrupted by anything so mundane as having my hair cut.
When I got to the bottom of the first page, there was that name again: “JACK DAVIS”.
A few years later, when I first began reading Mad Magazine, I saw that name again. I was already a JACK DAVIS fan, but when someone at school told me he was from Georgia, my home state, that cemented my determination to follow in his footsteps. I didn’t realize at the time how large those footsteps were.
Fast forward fifty years.
I’m sitting at home petting the dog and drawing when the phone rings.
It’s my old friend Jim Salicrup, former editor of Spider-Man at Marvel Comics where I had worked for about twenty years. He had recently become editor-in-chief of a new publishing company in New York called Papercutz. They were bringing back Tales From The Crypt, featuring my old friend The Crypt Keeper.
Jim wanted to know if I would like to be the artist of The Introductory Pages, which featured the man with the long silver hair, his cohort, The Vault Keeper, and their associate in a droopy red hat, The Old Witch.
Of course I said “Yes”. Who wouldn’t? I hadn’t worked in comics professionally for nearly ten years and was thrilled at the opportunity to draw that character which was so memorable to me as a child.
Jim wrote the stories and I drew them until the scripts finally stopped coming a couple of years later. It seems the fans of the original series didn’t like the new approach which had the Crypt Keeper working on his laptop or talking on a cell phone. And the current generation of kids, who were the target audience, had no idea who these weird characters were.
So the series morphed into The Papercutz Slices series of parody books.
And I kept drawing.
Overall, it was a great thrill for me and a great honor to follow in the giant footsteps of my idol, Jack Davis. To be a tiny part of the history of those artists who have drawn “The Ghoulunatics” was one of the highlights of my career.
Although I drew the characters hundreds of times, I never came close to imbuing those three characters with the same energy and style that Jack Davis had.
But God knows I tried.
While I was working on the series, I used to notice an old man walking past my house several times each day. He was an odd, hermit-like fellow who bore a strange resemblance to The Vault Keeper in those stories I was drawing.
I became friendly with the old man and we often chatted. He seemed to be stuck in time somewhere way back in the distant past and his observations and remarks about the world he knew, though harmless, clearly set him apart from me and the rest of society. But I liked him anyway.
One day I asked him if I could have my photo taken with him. (I didn’t want to tell him it was because I thought he looked like the Vault Keeper, but I confess, that was partially why I wanted a picture of him).
I stood next to him and my wife took our picture together. In the resulting photograph he looked just like the Vault Keeper, just as I knew he would. What was even MORE surprising is that, to my horror, I looked exactly like The Crypt Keeper.
Now I’ll bet Jack Davis could never do that.