“Suddenly, a violent gust of wind erupts, wrenching Esau Collins from his own tombstone!”
I thought it would be fun. You know? I had to go away — to Germany, for a conference, not that it matters — and I wasn’t going to be able to keep up with an episode post every day. So I thought, I’ll spend two weeks writing about the 1971 Dark Shadows comic strip. That’ll be fun and easy, I can write them on the plane (which I didn’t, really) and I won’t have much to catch up on when I get home (which I really did).
The thing that I didn’t realize was: this comic strip is a wake. It started just before the show ended, and then kept going for a year, a drawn-out death rattle. This fun little two-week sidebar has turned into my first real encounter with the end of the show, a vision of April Third and what lies beyond: a Christmas Yet to Come.
I’ve written about other post-mortem spin-off material — the 1991 revival, the Big Finish audios — but this one feels different, because the comic strip was there, at the scene of the crime. And right now on the blog, I’m in the 850s, right at the peak of Dark Shadows’ popularity, and just before things start to go wrong. The comic strip is a vision of the near-future, and not a promising one.
But what is Dark Shadows, if not a contemplation of death? Yes, the show will be cancelled. The nighttime revival will fail, and the teen-drama reboot, and the several disappointing movies. Dark Shadows will never come back. I will die, and everything that I love will die. But at least I’m going to outlive this goddamn comic strip.
Continue reading Dark Shadows Comic Strip, part 10: The Do-Over
“Let’s all go up to the top of the west wing and look for that missing room!”
So I think we can all agree at this point that the 1971 Dark Shadows comic strip is extremely dangerous, and must be stopped. I’ve been spending the last two weeks writing about this hazardous spin-off — it seemed like a good idea at the time — and now I’m starting to understand just what I’ve unleashed.
The Dark Shadows comic strip premiered on March 14, 1971 — and within three weeks, the show was cancelled. Then the strip just kept on going, sauntering away from this obvious patricide and looking for new worlds to destroy.
So far, the comic strip has kicked out most of the cast. It’s defanged Barnabas, turning his senseless, selfish crimes into a tepid “bite of love” that doesn’t even draw blood. It’s rewritten his never-ending war with Angelique into a failed ploy to get Barnabas to join up with Mr. Sinestra, some sea cow in a caftan we’ve never heard of. It’s even killed Carolyn’s dog.
And now it’s coming for us.
There’s only one thing that we can do — fight fire with fire, even if it’s the cool green flame of witch’s fire. We have to unwrite the comic strip, and make sure that it never exists. I am being completely serious about this.
Continue reading Dark Shadows Comic Strip, part 9: The Treachery of Images
“Was she so hysterical as to mistake a snake for a cat?”
We’re spending two weeks reading the 1971 Dark Shadows comic strip, and I know, I’m just as sick of it as you are. The thing just runs and runs, and never really gets anywhere, because the show’s been boiled all the way down to a simple, repeatable formula.
Barnabas is a vampire, Elizabeth and Carolyn are rich clueless women living in a huge mansion, and then an interloper appears — a ghost, a goddess, a werewolf, a warlock, whatever you have lying around. The newcomer puts someone in danger. Barnabas tries to fight it, and fails. Then he talks to someone, or travels somewhere, and figures out the villain’s secret weakness. Barnabas sets a trap for the baddie, waves his magic wand, and then everything is fine.
It’s an added bonus if you can connect the monster of the month to Barnabas’ past, but honestly, it could be anything. I mean, you could even do a woman who turns into a cat with snake venom on her claws. Oh wait, they already did.
Continue reading Dark Shadows Comic Strip, part 8: The Ballad of Big Boy
“Am I doing the right thing? Would anyone else free this most evil of all beings?”
The twisted Mr. Sinestra, leader of a secret sect of underground Satan-whisperers, has decided that the de rigeur must-have soul of the season is Barnabas Collins, for no particular reason other than he’s the star of the show.
We’re spending a couple weeks reading the 1971 Dark Shadows comic strip, because it seemed like a good idea at the time, although by now it’s turned into a grim look at the End of All Things, and what lies beyond the portal of April Third. The newspaper strip — which outlasted the parent TV show by forty-nine weeks — is trying to grind the show’s narrative into powder, grabbing handfuls of history and scattering them to the winds. It’s possible that I’m overthinking this.
Continue reading Dark Shadows Comic Strip, part 7: Swipe Left
“Are you trying to make us doubt our senses? We saw you fling a man over the sea cliffs!”
So that’s where we find ourselves, halfway through this special feature on the 1971 Dark Shadows comic strip — on the knife edge of a story untelling itself. Starting just a few weeks before the television show jumped into a gypsy caravan and drove off into the night, the daily comic strip stayed behind, performing a dark ritual of — well, what’s the opposite of summoning? Cause that’s what the comic strip is doing.
Distilled down to three characters and a house, the Dark Shadows comic strip was the remains of a party, after most of the guests have gone home. Gee, look at the time, they all said, glancing at the calendar. See you all next week, on Ryan’s Hope. Then they were gone, chased off by the dreadful chimes of the church bell tolling April Third, April Third.
Now, only Barnabas is left, accompanied by the pale shadows of Elizabeth and Carolyn, performing his dark ritual of dispersing.
Continue reading Dark Shadows Comic Strip, part 6: The Thousand-Year War
“All my instincts tell me… it wasn’t a wolf! No… It was another kind of creature!”
So here’s the question: Is Dark Shadows cursed?
Over the last couple years on this blog, I’ve watched and read and listened to a growing number of Dark Shadows spinoff products — the 1991 revival series, the Gold Key comics, the Paperback Library novels, the trading cards, and the Big Finish audio dramas — and they all have one thing in common, namely: They don’t make any goddamn sense. And we haven’t even gotten to Night of Dark Shadows yet, one of the outstanding leaders in the field.
It seems like people are unable to write Dark Shadows stories that hang together in a coherent way, up to and including the writers of Dark Shadows. So what kind of chance does the Dark Shadows comic strip have? For these two weeks, while I’m out traveling, we’ve been reading this 1971 strip, and so far, it looks like the curse of not making sense is in full effect. So as we go along today, I’m going to periodically check in with the ABC7 AccuWeather Sense Tracker, to see if we can figure out what’s wrong with the structure of Dark Shadows stories.
Continue reading Dark Shadows Comic Strip, part 5: Try to Forget
“How strange! At first, I too wished your final death!”
The story so far: Turns out eccentric millionaire Barnabas Collins is the reincarnation of the ancient Egyptian god Osiris. This comes as a surprise to you, me, him and the ancient Egyptians, but Isis — the mythical wife of the mythical Osiris — has shown up at Collinwood pretending to be a doctor, and she’s got a magic amulet that helps you tell the difference between people who are ancient Egyptian gods and people who aren’t.
Convinced that Barnabas has the soul of her lost love, Isis uses the amulet to hypnotize him into remembering his previous incarnations. “Gaze into the past!” she urges, as if Barnabas ever does anything else.
Continue reading Dark Shadows Comic Strip, part 4: Ptainted Love
“At last, after thousands of years, I shall be in the presence of the soul of my beloved!”
I’m traveling right now, so instead of writing regular episode posts, I’m doing a special two-week series on the 1971 Dark Shadows newspaper comic strip, because it’s easier to write these on planes. You might be wondering if having a book of vampire comic strips in one hand and scribbling sarcastic jokes with the other hand would excite comment among one’s fellow passengers. The answer to that question is yes.
But the interesting thing about the strip so far is that Barnabas has been a passenger too, riding shotgun on a storyline that was entirely about other people. He coasted through the magazine publisher warlock assassin story, which really could have worked itself out without him. Basically, he had one cool villain fight scene where he was temporarily enveloped in fire-retardant fire, and besides that, it was mostly thinks monologues. For Jonathan Frid, it’s hardly been worth showing up at the newspaper for work, really.
Continue reading Dark Shadows Comic Strip, part 3: The Bite of Love
“Is there nothing that can stop the power of that witch’s flaming hate?”
It’s day two of our special feature on the 1971 Dark Shadows comic strip, which appeared in newspapers every day for a year, starting about three weeks before the show was cancelled. The strip stars America’s grooviest ghoul Barnabas Collins, of course, who inhabits the great estate at Collinwood with a couple women named Elizabeth and Carolyn. And that’s it for the regular cast, so they have to import characters from the outside if they want to have anybody to talk to, or — as is often the case — anybody to look at while doing a lengthy thinks monologue.
There’s a lot of thinks in this strip; for Barnabas, it’s about 50/50 between thinks and actual dialogue so far, and the scale is tipping pretty strongly in the direction of internal dialogue. If they ever filmed this story, Jonathan Frid would hardly have to remember any lines at all; he could just pre-record everything, and then stand there doing facial expressions.
Continue reading Dark Shadows Comic Strip, part 2: A Forever Death
“I thought there were only two Collinses left. That means there are three who must be destroyed!”
Now, I know that Quentin Collins is at a particularly thrilling crisis point right now — forced to wear jewelry that he doesn’t particularly care for — but I’m afraid we’re going to have to put his problems on hold for a minute, because I’ve got problems of my own. I’m leaving the country for a conference, and I won’t have time to write regular episode posts for the next two weeks. But I can’t just jump forward into the future and leave the rest of you behind, at the mercy of gypsies.
So I’ve come up with another crackpot idea for what to do over these two weeks, namely: write about the Dark Shadows comic strip, which ran for one year, starting in March 1971. These will probably take me longer to write than the regular posts would have, but I wanted a chance to cover the comic strip anyway, and you only live once, probably.
Continue reading Dark Shadows Comic Strip, part 1: The Tortured Undead