Devil’s Arcade, by Martha Thomases
In honor of Halloween, here are some things that have scared me during my lifetime.
* Dell Comics. When I was ten years old, my friend Kenny Raffle had a big pile of comics he let me read. In the stack was a Dell horror comic about a giant hand that would come out from under the street through manhole covers, grab people, and devour them through holes in its palm. It was stupid but terrifying. Several years later we had squirrels in the walls of our house, and when they ran around in the middle of the night, it sounded like fingernails on the wall. I’ve since learned that Dell didn’t submit their material to the Comics Code, arguing they were inherently wholesome. I mention this not to defend the Code, but to demonstrate that what seems wholesome to one person can terrify another. Stephen King was afraid of the “twi-night double-header.”
* High School. I know now that it’s almost impossible to be an interesting adult if you had a good time in high school, but it still haunts me. I dream about finding myself still there, despite my insistence that I’m an adult, I graduated college, and I can’t live in an all-girls dorm anymore. Also, I can no longer fit in my uniforms.
* The first Alien movie. John and I got ourselves on a list for a screening at Book Expo (then the American Booksellers Association convention) before the official release. I was so excited that I read the graphic novel (by the beloved Archie Goodwin and Walter Simonson) the night before. It was so scary I couldn’t sleep. I insisted we get to the screening early so we’d get good seats but, once the monster was loose, I had to leave. It’s the only time I ever left a movie in the middle, and I still can’t watch it, even cut up on television.
* Submarines. They’re dark, small, damp and probably smell bad, and you can’t get out of them when you want to. Paradoxically, the subway seems perfectly normal.
* Plastic bags. They’re so scary they have warning labels, telling you not to put them on your head. If you need to know why, see James Coburn in Charade.
* Nuclear war. Not the kind that makes our President shake his metaphorical fist at Iran, but the kind we practiced for in the 1960s. Nothing brings home the reality of a radioactive holocaust like lining up in the school hallways and learning how to duck and cover.
* Pregnancy. It’s impossible, of course, but I remember illegal abortions, and it was not a fun time. If I were to have a baby now, I would be on Medicare before her bat mitzvah.
* Vampires. Even before Joss Whedon, I spent a lot of time wondering what it would be like to be a vampire. I mean, it’s not their fault they need to drink blood to stay alive. They were especially scary because they didn’t just kill you, but also changed you, so you were trapped forever with an undying craving. As an adult, I’ve experienced these feelings for coffee.
* Nazis. When my mother was growing up in Jamestown, NY in the 1930s, the German-American Bund would have all kinds of pro-Hitler rallies. He was going to clean up society, get rid of undesirable foreigners, defend traditional values, make the country safe and secure, and the trains would run on time. Mom died in 1980, so she didn’t know this would be the Republican platform for 2008.
Martha Thomases is the media goddess of ComicMix.