Herman Munster vs Lurch

Our celebration of Frankenstein’s Monster as an honorary zombie has a twofer to cover the next two weeks. 1964 was an… odd, year for television. Both the Beatles and the Rolling Stones made their American debuts on the wildly popular, The Ed Sullivan Show, and  Jackie Mason was banned from the same show for giving Ed “the finger” on air. Both Gilligan’s Island and Jeopardy premiered as well, to the eventual delight of stoners everywhere, the Rankin and Bass classic Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer. British audiences witnessed the first ever interracial kiss on television. NBC began their tradition of broadcasting the Olympic games with the first ever live telecast from Japan via the brand new Syncom 3 communications satellite.

It was also the year that, for some reason, American audiences demanded competing sitcoms featuring monsters. The Addams Family debuted September 18th on ABC, and the The Munsters began six days later on CBS; both ran until mid 1966. Both featured Frankenstein monster characters. Lurch, the long-suffering Addams Family butler played by Ted Cassidy, and Herman Munster, played by Fred Gwynne, the lovable schlep at the head of the Munster’s table.

So, who wins? Herman may have the speed, but it’s hard to argue with Lurch’s single-minded determination. Herman is quite a schemer, though; he may be able to outwit the less cosmopolitan Lurch. Lurch, on the other hand is a musician; you know what they say about “hidden depths” and all? So again, who wins in a knock-down, drag-out between these two? Who will pick up the (literal) pieces? Who?!

Fables, Frankie

From the exciting conclusion of “Witches”, issue #91, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialona, Daniel Green, Lee Loughridge and Todd Klien

Now that we’ve gotten through the obvious, our celebration of Frankenstein’s Monster as an honorary zombie can start to dig into some of the more interesting interpretations of the character. One of my very favorites is Frankie from Bill Willingham’s amazing comic series “Fables“. Although the series will sadly end with issue #150 early in 2015, it has left an indelible trail of joy for thousands of dedicated fans.

Although a minor character, Frankenstein’s Monster, “Frankie” for short, was a memorable one. First introduced in issue #29 as part of a not-so-subtle homage to 1943’s pulp classic, “Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man“, he was the result of a Nazi super-soldier experiment. While initially hostile, he calmed down quite  bit after being decapitated by an enraged Bigby Wolf. He spent the next decades unliving a peaceful existence in the Fabletown Business Office.

He really came into his own during the “Witches” storyline (Issues #87 – 91) when the magically expansive business office was cut off from the rest of Fabletown and left to fend for itself against the resurgent powers of the evil Baba Yaga. Frankie, having recently discovered his genius (which he missed because he rarely thought about anything) became the brains behind the operation led by the brave Ozian flying monkey, Bufkin. With the help of several unexpected allies, and no small amount of luck, they were able to liberate themselves and defeat the witch.

When Bufkin was later convinced to go on an epic quest (because that’s what heroes do), Frankie was left in the Business Office with his good friend, the Magic Mirror. As neither are particularly ambulatory we have to assume that’s where they remain to this day.



Boris Karloff as FrankensteinOur celebration of Frankenstein’s Monster as an honorary zombie would be a sad affair if we didn’t include the single most recognizable incarnation of the creature, the one that defines him for at least three generations: Boris Karloff’s portrayal in 1931’s classic “Frankenstein“. The term “iconic” is thrown around loosely, but indisputably applies here. Only 70 minutes long, the movie received universal acclaim and remains firmly ensconced on any serious list of the best movies of all time.

The instantly recognizable make-up was designed and applied by legendary artist Jack P Pierce, who was sadly uncredited. The scarred, protruding forehead and low-brow summoned images of primitive man and ape. The heavily-lidded eyes bespoke the creature’s lack of perception and intelligence while the pinched, cadaverous mouth reminded one of his ghoulish origin. Finally the scars, stitches and bolts graphically evoked the torture of the creature’s existence.

The film made Karloff (actually William Pratt as “Boris Karloff” was purely a stage name) a star. The role was a tortuous one; the four-inch platform shoes weighed 11 pounds each and that was the least part of the elaborate make-up and costume. His performance, significantly changed from the mindless killing machine of earlier scripts, was subtle and nuanced and brought pathos to the creature that resonated with audiences. He was monster, to be sure, but a reluctant, pitiable one.

It may be said, in fact, that the movie overshadowed the source material in a way few adaptations ever have.. Nearly every incarnation of the story sense owes at least something to this film. Every parodied scream of, “It’s alive!” and every stiff-legged, grunting monster are directly inspired by it. For almost everybody this is “Frankenstein”.

Bernie Wrightson's Frankenstein - CopyContinuing with our celebration of Frankenstein’s Monster as an honorary zombie we, of course, must start with the source material itself. The first edition of Mary Shelly’s seminal novel was published in 1818. It wasn’t until the second edition, however, that the author’s name would actually appear on the book (after which many of the negative reviews would focus on her gender rather than the material). The novel faced mixed reviews upon release, but caught the public imagination and was popularized across Europe through theatrical adaptations.

The absolute best version of the novel is via Bernie Wrightson’s Frankstein, first published in 1983. Wrightson, a comic legend, is best known as co-creator of the beloved character, Swamp Thing, and for the definitive illustrated editions of many Stephen King novels such as “The Stand” and “Cycle of the Werewolf”. “Frankenstein” was a labor of love for him and is widely considered the definitive visualization of Shelly’s work.

The staggering, obsessive, level of detail in his pen-and-ink work is obvious and gets much of the deserved praise. It’s an amazing technical achievement that forces you to reexamine your ideas about the limits of human ability. Wrightson’s real genius, in my opinion, is his attention to the literary detail, however. Every other artist, writer, director or actor that has ever worked with the story has adapted Shelly’s work into their own visions. While this can be successful, and we’ll explore some of those variations in the coming weeks, Wrightson joyfully incorporated Shelly’s original vision into every aspect of his work.

As you read through the edition you’ll linger for long minutes over the illustrations that so perfectly reflect the unfolding story. This is Shelly’s Frankenstein brought to visual life via Wrightson’s art. He lavished his attention and skill on bringing her Frankenstein to life rather than one inspired by her. In 2012 Wrightson began work on his personal vision of the Frankenstein story in “Frankenstein: Alive, Alive“, a sequel that continues Shelly’s story. It’s just as amazing as you’d expect it to be.

Walking Dead Vol 1The Walking Dead is a great show – one of the best currently on television – and most people know that it was originally a comic but few people actually jump mediums and start reading the comics.  Brian Huntington, over at, has written an excellent introduction for those interested in giving the books a try but not wanting to spoil the show: “Jumping from the Show into the Comics“.

He covers which volumes are “safe” to read because the show has already passed that point in the narrative.  It’s an excellent introduction, straight from the source, but I’d like to give some of my thoughts on the matter as well as I think he may have inadvertently given the wrong impression.

The simple truth is that the comics and show really don’t share as much as he intimates.  The comic, now well over 100 issues and 10 years in, has created a rich menu of iconic imagery and events that the show picks liberally from but doesn’t mimic.  Lifted plot points are presented in a different order, affect different characters and often have drastically different outcomes.  The story remains grossly similar and is familiar to comic readers but is often radically different in execution.

To illustrate this consider that many of the characters fundamental to the show: Daryl, Merle and T-dog don’t exist in the comic at all.  Others exist only in the comic or had greatly expanded (or reduced) roles there.  Many of the iconic scenes shared by the two featured different cast members or circumstances.  Herschel, for example, never lost his leg in the comic (although somebody else did).  Finally there are major differences with character longevity between the two.  Many characters that we’ve lost on the show are still struggling in the comic and vice versa.

Some of this is purely practical.  When you kill off a character in a comic book you simply draw a new character.  On a television show you must consider actors, casting and contracts.  Should you want to make your main character an amputee you just don’t draw as much.  On television there’s complex planning and effects that must go into such a decision.  On paper a herd of thousands of zombies is nothing more than a literary motivation, on film it’s a massive undertaking with dozens if not hundreds of extras.

In other respects it feels like many of the decisions were made specifically to keep the story fresh for existing fans.  The show has made every effort to drag the comic fans out of their comfort zones.  Major events will begin to play out, or be staged, exactly as they were in the comics but then take shocking turns away from the original path and other events, some hugely significant, are completely new to the show.  At the risk of a spoiler I will simply say that nobody was as shocked to see Sophia come out of that barn as long term fans of the comics.  It was a gut-punch, pure and simple.

The television production has done everything it can to retain the flavor – the “values”, if you will – of the comic while making it a completely new experience.  Having read the comics simply doesn’t spoil the show because the show is so very different.  The only real insight that you’ll gain from enjoying both is the unsettling realization that nobody is safe.  Nobody at all.  It may also make you insufferable as you constantly explain to your family and friends how different things were in the book and how they really should start reading it.