Dead Presidents

Twisted Tales

By Wil Forbis
August 1, 2005

  I find as I grow older, as a I mature along the path towards my future, I gain a form of wisdom that I did not possess in my younger years. What were only dim observations in my youth have fomented into great truths. Like a lot of people I find myself thinking, if I only knew then what I know now. If only I could mount a time traveling Pegasus and go back in time to tell my high school self what I have learned. So much pain and frustration could have been avoided.

Of course I can't do that. But I can perform one selfless act, and that is to try and pass on what I know now to the youth of today. What would I say?

Have sex, gentlemen, and lots of it. You're never going to have a better chance to get at the firm, trim bodies of the girls in their prime so go for it. If you have to get them drunk, or pretend to be a rock star or tell them you love them, do it - whatever it takes!

Also, take lots of drugs. Everyone is telling you they're bad for you or they'll destroy your future but screw it. Who wants to be some successful 34-year old yuppie who's never really enjoyed the mind expanding properties of an acid trip or cocaine binge? Music really does sound better on pot. Plus, drugs really do make you cool. Crystal Meth, heroin, ketamine - Go for it! I beseech you!

Finally, try your hand at violence. Everyone should have a couple good fights in their past. An experience they can recount for their buddies at the pool hall once they've turned 50 and their backs are starting to hurt and their hips are feeling out of place. Nothing brings man more in touch with his primal self than feeling his fist smack against an opponent's jaw and seeing the blood, teeth and spittle spatter against the wall like a gooey orgasm. Never will you be more alive as when you feel the pummeling of an antagonist's paws against your chest and you realize the pain is only prompting you to render this man into a pile of bloody hamburger.

I say you should do all this stuff because I never did it. Well, except for the drugs. You see, I was a comic book nerd. Comic book nerds didn't get laid and they didn't get into fights. Instead they just read about all that stuff.

But I gotta say, if there ever was a comic that brought sex and violence to life (without all the downsides like STDs and broken ribs) it was Twisted Tales. Twisted Tales was all about what every teenage boy is obsessed with: nubile bouncing breasts, fantastical schemes of revenge, willing eager young women, and the bone breaking, gore spilling destruction of your enemies.

Twisted Highlights: Issue 1
The first issue of TT featured a great Richard Corben cover featuring a hoard of zombies in pursuit of an amply breasted blonde in a torn blue dress. Corben handled the artwork for the first story, penned by Bruce Jones, about a man who makes a fatal assumption while pursuing a woman who claims to have "crabs." But the best tale came at the end of the ish and was called "All Hallows." A group of high school boys wearing undersize costumes go through their town on Halloween collecting candy from their frightened neighbors. Passing a graveyard they are joined by "Skeeter" a silent lad in a ghost costume, obviously much younger than the rest. On their final stop, the boys collect not candy, but a young teenager named Eddie who is handed over by his fearful parents. It becomes clear that Eddie is the last of a group of boys who killed a fellow youth years earlier by accidentally  burning him to death. When the sheet is pulled off Skeeter, revealing a decomposing ghoul, it's clear that he was the victim and he and the boys have been claiming one of the perpetrators every Halloween since his death. The boys then proceed to pour gasoline on Eddie, !!light him on fire!! and go about their merry way, while Skeeter, his thirst for vengeance finally sated, returns to the graveyard.

Twisted Tales ran as a horror anthology series in the vein of classic pre-comic book code E.C. series like Tales From the Crypt and The Vault of Horror. It was published by Pacific Comics and lorded over by editor/writer/artist Bruce Jones, a creative raconteur who'd spent part of the 70's working on the adult Warren magazine* line. As you might glean from the company name, Pacific Comics was based on the west coast, San Diego to be exact. This might seem like a moot point, but there's a subtle significance. The comic book industry for years had been run out of New York with its most successful practitioners, Marvel and D.C., pawning off an endless series of underwear wearing superheroes onto the dim-witted comic buying public (myself included.) I suspect it took the cool breezes of the Pacific Ocean to encourage the authors and artists of P.C. that comics could be a little different. They merged the sensibilities of classic pulp novels, 50's exploitation comics and the adult comic book explosion of the 60's and 70's (highlighted in European comic magazines and their American counterpart, Heavy Metal) to produce a line of periodicals featuring titles such as Somerset Holmes, Elric, Captain Victory**, Alien Worlds and Twisted Tales.

* Best known for their Vampirella comic book.
** Drawn by disgruntled Marvel Comics legend Jack Kirby.

Undoubtedly, the driving force behind the horror focused Twisted Tales (and its sci-fi counterpart, Alien Worlds) was author Bruce Jones. He wrote all the stories and even lent his credible artistic abilities to a few. The plots were of the standard "Horror/Twilight Zone/twist ending" variety, albeit with ample supply of naked chests and eviscerated intestines. (Jones' characters had a variety of humorous moans they would make when being disemboweled, often along the lines of "Flrrbbble." or "Glubble.") In one story a small child recounts his discovery of a baby dinosaur who he grows to adulthood by feeding him various neighbors. But at the end we discover there is no dinosaur and it's the boy's insane, carnivorous father who's been doing all the dining. In another tale a woman discovers a race of underground hideous monsters feasting on the corpses of disemboweled women. She destroys them but in the final panel learns that she is pregnant and only then realizes that the creatures were feasting on their mothers - and she'll be next!

Twisted Highlights: Issue 7
The first issue I ever bought was TT: 7 which featured a cover of a yarn knitting grandmother looking lovingly at the severed head on her mantelpiece. Every story was a classic, including "Hooked" about a jaded fisherman (in flashback we discover he's a callow gigolo) who finds an unconscious brunette on a desolate beach. He carries her to her house and upon her awakening she explains that she has finally extricated herself from a relationship with her often abusive husband. She reveals that she had a child, deformed at her husband's hand but the fisherman is more concerned with getting his mitts on the woman's voluminous chest. Upon completion of the coital act the fisherman attempts to leave, only to discover the woman's son, a seven-foot tall human monstrosity. He proceeds to literally turn the fisherman inside out.

Plots aside, Jones had a canny knack with the English language and could deliver grade A pulp writing with the best of them. For example, check out the opening text to "Infante Terrible" from Issue 2. Ulla-Lean Kincaid sprawled seductively on her parent's lumpy, thread-bare sofa, raven hair flowing like a dark waterfall about her slim alabaster shoulders. She stretched one long, perfectly-shaped leg toward the worn away living room carpet and flicked absently at a piece of loose threading with her bare foot. She sighed loudly, stretched, arched her slim back until the scrap of material that passed for a blouse strained precariously against her swelling adolescent bosom.

The artists that graced Twisted Tales were no slouches either. Mike Ploog, famous for Marvel's "Man-Thing" illustrated a story in issue 2 about a loser who falls in love with ceramic aquarium doll. Richard Corben of Heavy Metal fame did several stories and covers. Bret Blevins, known in the 80's for Marvel's Cloak and Dagger series drew the gore infested "Sunken Chest" from issue 3. Famed horror pen-and-ink man Bernie Wrightson did a cover featuring an axe-wielding madman with a belt made out of human heads.

Sadly, like a lot of the upstart 80's independent comic companies that rose up to challenge Marvel and D.C., P.C. didn't last. (Marvel itself collapse into bankruptcy in the 90's.) Twisted Tales ran 10 issues and then imploded into itself like a severed head being stepped on by an elephant. Bruce Jones went on to write for HBO's "The Hitchhiker" series (a TV horror anthology show) and faded from view until he fell back into the comic book world taking over the writing reins of Marvel's "The Incredible Hulk."

Twisted Highlights: Issue 5
Issue 5 began with a page long editorial from P.C. editor April Campbell clarifying the comic company's official policy towards racism. (They were against it.) This was because the final fable of the issue, "Banjo Lessons", which would become the most infamous story of the entire series. Drawn in a campy noir style by artist Rand Holmes, the tale detailed a man being charged with the murder of his three best friends. He explains his ill will as having originated from a hunting trip with his comrades years earlier wherein the men had gotten stuck in a snowbound cabin and were forced to eat a 'coon dog one of the men owned. (This scene was shown in a rather grim panel where the dog is served up with an apple in his mouth.) By after being hammered by his defense attorney the man reveals the true incident - it was not a dog the men ate, but their black hunting guide. (In the corrected version, he too is served up with an apple in his mouth.)

Only the most committed racist could have possibly found the story to be an advocate of bigotry, and in the letters column on issue 7, one reader called out Twisted Tales over their hemming and hawing over what they were presenting. He said, "I'm certain 'Banjo Lessons' was deeply felt by Bruce and Rand when the approached the story. And I understand April and Pacific Comics concern that none of their readers concern the story with a pro-racism story. But the approach of the story was so, 'Isn't this terrible, my, shouldn't we all feel guilty about this, there's a lesson to be learned by all of us,' that it comes off as just another horror story."

So is Twisted Tales gone and forgotten? Not in Hollywood, where everything gets a second chance. Comic book celebrity Todd McFarlane (creator of the rather dreadful "Spawn" series) has been working with Fox to develop a Twisted Tales television show. With any luck, the nubile teenage whores, eviscerated organs and ghoulish screams that made the comic book a masterpiece will soon be found on your TV screen.

With any luck.



Wil Forbis is the pen named shared by such noted authors as James Ellroy, Katie Roiphe, and Jim Thompson. E-mail him, I mean, them, at

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