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Confessions of a Boy Fraidy Cat

Posted on September 15, 2010 by Flames is pleased to present you with an essay written by Bob Fingerman, an author and artist with roots in the comic book industry. Fingerman has worked on a number of horror-themed works, including BOTTOMFEEDER, ZOMBIEWORLD: WINTER’S DREGS and the zombie graphic novel entitled RECESS PIECES. Just recently, his new zombie novel PARIAH was released from Tor Books.

In this essay, Fingerman offers us an insightful look into his personal experiences with the horror genre as a kid. Be sure to stay tuned for an exclusive preview of PARIAH and our review of his second novel.

Confessions of a Boy Fraidy Cat

    In my junior high school yearbook, my pal Charlie closed his inscription with the portentous decree, “…may you forever draw zombies.” It’s hard to know whether that was adolescent well wishing or some diabolical gypsy-style curse, but however you look at it, it was prescient at the very least.

    As a kid, I had an acute love/hate relationship with horror. So much of the way I was wired was based on equal parts attraction and repulsion for the same things. The local candy store-Stanley’s-was a classic soda fountain: long wood and marble counter with spinning stools, wooden telephone booths, pinball machine in the back and, up front, comic book and magazine racks. Slightly out of my arm’s reach in the periodicals rack were the horror anthologies Creepy, Eerie, as well as various knockoffs. The Warren magazines boasted enticingly lurid covers featuring great paintings of monsters and vixens1. Unfortunately, they were stocked near the wrestling magazines, the covers of which made the horror comics look positively tame (the ugliest men in the world, their faces often slathered in oozing blood).

    I was squeamish as a kid. Very.

    Part of it came from my overactive imagination. I would often close my eyes during “the scary parts” of movies, which was always, as it turns out, a big mistake. The stuff I pictured in my fevered little brain was way worse than what was depicted onscreen. Always. The apex of this, I’m not proud to say, was Star Wars. In the cantina scene, Obi-Wan Kenobi slices off Ponda Baba’s arm with his light saber. There’s a quick shot of the severed limb, its bloody stump3 staining the floor. So, naturally, when Obi-Wan faced off with Darth Vader, I thought: oh jeez, it’s gonna be a bloodbath. I am embarrassed to admit I closed my eyes during that scene. And what did I see behind my shut eyelids? Carnage galore. Limbs flying, guts spilling, gore, gore, gore. I made it so much worse.

    I was twelve.

    I had already seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail, at the age of nine. Oddly, I had no adverse reaction to the scene of King Arthur lopping off all of the Black Knight’s limbs. None. I laughed. It was so over the top the humor cut through my queasiness. The scene in Grail that did bother me was the aftermath of Lancelot’s burst of manic swordplay that left the wedding guests bloodied. Their injuries were realistic. One woman, bleeding from the mouth, particularly upset me. It wasn’t the first time Python had gotten to me. The “Sam Peckinpah’s ‘Salad Days’” sketch from the TV series, featuring poncy toffs spraying blood everywhere, got me off the couch and into another room. Like I said: I was very squeamish.

    So, it’s a mystery to my parents, particularly my dad, that I derive so much pleasure from gore now. Consuming it as well as purveying it. A change of heart (and other organ meat). A few years ago my dad told me that when I was a kid he worried that I “had a morbid fascination.” I guess he was right, but it took a while to fully blossom. On the black and white television in my bedroom I’d watch airings of Night of the Living Dead and Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things on the local channel, but those had been edited for broadcast.

    George A. Romero’s seminal Dawn of the Dead opened in my final year of junior high school. It was released unrated and the TV spots announced, “This picture contains scenes of violence that may be considered shocking. No one under 17 will be admitted.” That was terrifying and exotic. The image of the zombies rushing through opening elevator doors toward the viewer’s POV scared the crap out of me.

    However, when my courageous friend Charlie (well under the age of 17) went to see it, I couldn’t wait to hear about it. He and I would warm the bench in gym class and he’d lay on the gory detail, favoring in particular the zombie that gets the top of its head sliced off by the rotating helicopter blades and the idiot biker in the sombrero who decides during the epic final mall battle to take his blood pressure and gets his arm torn off4. Charlie’s enthusiastic retelling of the movie entranced me, but I was pretty certain I’d never “nut up” and see it myself. When I finally did, at the age of twenty, I fell in love with it.

    By that point I’d already succumbed to the dank side and was devouring horror movies at a pretty decent clip on VHS. Once the advent of home video came along, off flew the lid of Pandora’s Box and I consumed video nasties with abandon. I still had some taboos. Anything that purported to be real was off limits. No Faces of Death or any of its ilk. I liked my horror, generally speaking, to be fantastical in some way. The escapism made it not only more palatable, but more fun.

    Though I’m a long way from being the kid who covered his eyes during the Jedi Master and his former pupil’s showdown5, there are still things I refuse to see. My feeling is, I can’t un-see them, so why put certain irrevocable images in my head? I have enough bad stuff up there. I won’t see Gaspar Noé’s Irreversible. Nine minutes of brutal rape? I don’t need to see it. Same goes for The Human Centipede. The trailer was enough. In both cases it’s not the physical effects. Gore is fine. It’s the emotional and psychological effects. Fine for others, but I’ll take my gore with a splash of the unreal, please.

    So, here it is, thirty-one years since Charlie wrote what he wrote in my yearbook. I’ve written two zombie graphic novels, one of which I illustrated (Recess Pieces), and have just released my latest, the novel Pariah (from Tor Books, August 2010). It’s got some gore, it’s got credible characters with depth and I believe it delivers a fresh new wrinkle to the zombie genre. I’m very proud of it. And if some wise soul decides to turn it into a movie I promise to keep my eyes open.

    Unless it gets too scary.


    1. Vampirella, anyone?
    2. I had to look up the character’s name. I’m not that big a geek. But for those who don’t
    want to look him up, he was the one with a face that looks like a walrus giving birth to a
    human ass
    through his mouth. And to think an arm getting cut off grossed me out.
    3. Why Manatee McButtface’s arm wasn’t instantly cauterized is, I’m sure, a topic of
    debate elsewhere.
    4. Shades of Ponda Baba. An actor named Pasquale Buba, coincidentally, played the biker,
    so I guess if your surname is Baba or Buba, mind your arm.
    5. Even I can’t get over that one. Obviously. Wow, what a wimp.

    Bob Fingerman – 2010

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