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Saturday, 14 October 2017

The Thing Below!


Dene Vernon From The Burning Heart To The Thing From Below

If any of you out there has purchased Black Tower Golden Age Collection vol.1 you would have found the strip Dene Vernon -The Burning Heart”.  But who is Dene Vernon and why is he important to British comics history?

Firstly,his proper credit was “Dene Vernon. Ghost Investigator”.  In the 1930s and 1940s the work of ghost investigators such as Harry Price [despite what people write about his work at Borley Rectory] and the great Elliott O’Donnell could be found reported on in national newspapers as well as on radio.  
If they could inspire me as a teen to get involved in this type of work imagine the effect on everyday folk in the pre-TV era and before all the faking of Most Haunted and Ghost Hunters, Ghost Adventures as well as others.
Comic Book Cover For Funnies Album 1949 Part 2
But Amalgamated Press and D.C. Thomson were too “clean” to touch this type of subject unless it was a “real hoot” in a humour strip.

Gerald Swan changed all that.  His comics introduced a whole group of paranormal/occult types fromKrakos The Egyptian to Robert Lovett:Back From The Dead [all subjects of Black Tower collections].    Vernon’s appearance in Thrill Comics No.1,April,1940,marked the very first truly supernatural strip series in British Comics.
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Tall,lean with a high forehead and thinning hair,Vernon bore a resemblance to the young Harry Price in a way.  However,his cases seem to have been pure O’Donnell and in case you are asking who O’Donnell is I give you Wikipedia's somewhat weak entry on the man:

Elliott O’Donnell (February 27, 1872 – May 8, 1965) was an Irish author known primarily for his books about ghosts. He claimed to have seen a ghost, described as an elemental figured covered with spots, when he was five years old. He also claimed to have been strangled by a mysterious phantom in Dublin.

He claimed descent from Irish chieftains of ancient times, including Niall of the Nine Hostages (the King Arthur of Irish folklore) and Red Hugh, who fought the English in the sixteenth century. O’Donnell was educated at Clifton College, Bristol, England, and Queen’s Service Academy, Dublin, Ireland.
In later life he became a ghost hunter, but first he traveled in America, working on a range in Oregon and becoming a policeman during the Chicago Railway Strike of 1894. Returning to England, he worked as a schoolmaster and trained for the theater. He served in the British army in World War I, and later acted on stage and in movies.

His first book, written in his spare time, was a psychic thriller titled For Satan’s Sake (1904). From this point onward, he became a writer. He wrote several popular novels but specialized in what were claimed as true stories of ghosts and hauntings. These were immensely popular, but his flamboyant style and amazing stories suggest that he embroidered fact with a romantic flair for fiction.

As he became known as an authority on the supernatural, he was called upon as a ghost hunter. He also lectured and broadcast (radio and television) on the paranormal in Britain and the United States. In addition to his more than 50 books, he wrote scores of articles and stories for national newspapers and magazines. He claimed “I have investigated, sometimes alone, and sometimes with other people and the press, many cases of reputed hauntings. I believe in ghosts but am not a spiritualist.”

Remember that bit about being strangled by a ghost [not unique in the lore itself]. This is what Denis Gifford wrote about Vernon’s first adventure:

“..Vernon spends the night in a haunted bedroom where a weary wanderer was found on the floor. ‘A gasp of horror came as they gazed on the terror-distorted features of the dead traveller!’  Vernon saves Dick from being throttled by a grinning black monster,chained by its neck since 1785.  But he had to burn the house down to do it.”


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You know, I am quite sure that there is a similar O’Donnell story -though he never burns places down!

The creator of the strip was Jock McCail who also drew oriental detective Ah Wong for Swan’s New Funnies [1940-1949], Darrell King Of The Secret Service in Thrill Comics [1940-48],New Funnies [1949] and Slick Fun [1950].  McCail also drew Get-Your-Man-Gilligan, a Western strip for the Amalgamated Press title Jolly between 1938-39.

Dene Vernon ran as a strip between 1940-1946 so must have been popular -as many of the Swan horror strips were.
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It would be nice to put together a complete Dene Vernon book at some point but these old British comics are very rare to get hold of either as printed items or scans!

But, in 2011, Vernon featured in his first adventure since 1946.  Yes, post-war Britain was the setting for…
DENE VERNON -THE THING FROM BELOW!

A4B&W54 pages£8.00
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I think over 60 years was a long enough rest for him -and THE THING FROM BELOW was enough of atough task for him but...well, his final fate in The Green Skies is really ...."gutting"

hehehehehe er, Sorry.

But maybe an appearance in Black Tower Super Heroes before that?  I can't really say -I don't want to spoil the fun!!

Remember the name, though: Dene Vernon!

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