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brilliant writing
masterpiece art
historical bonus 2
total score 10
Psychotic Adventures Illustrated #3
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AVERAGE SCORE 8
1st-2nd Printing / June, 1974 / 36 pages / Last Gasp Eco-Funnies
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In 1974, after two issues of Psychotic Adventures Illustrated had sold decently but not been best sellers, and after the underground comics distribution network was reeling from the Supreme Court obscenity ruling the year before, Last Gasp published the final issue of the title. Ironically, Psychotic #3 had two printings, but it probably deserved several more. Within a year or two after this publication, Charles Dallas disappeared from the field of comic-book creation, never to be seen nor heard from again.

The excellence of Psychotic Adventures #3 makes Dallas' disappearance all the more tragic (though I caution he only moved away, he didn't die). Like the first issue, the third issue features three stories, except this time one of them is by Larry Todd and it leads off the book.

"The Wreck of the Ship John B." is typical of Todd's work in the early '70s; strong, sometimes astonishing illustration and well-written scripts. This story is set in 1861 and follows a deck hand on the clipper ship John Barleycorn, which sets its sails for Cuba but encounters a nasty storm southwest of the Bermuda Triangle. As presaged in the title of the story, the ship experiences a calamitous wreck, but the deck hand miraculously survives and is rescued by the crew of...an aircraft carrier in the 20th century. Todd's script is expertly written and the artwork superb in this homage to the mysterious Bermuda Triangle (aka the Devil's Triangle!).

The second story is the longest in this issue (taking up half the book) and ranks with the best Charles Dallas ever produced. "Women of the Wood" is adapted (by both Dallas and his wife, Sharon) from Abraham Merritt's exquisite 1926 short story "The Woman of the Wood," which was originally published in the reverentially regarded Weird Tales magazine.

The Dallas adaptation is about a despondent Vietnam war veteran named McKay who has retreated to a modest inn on a small lake nestled in a forest. While recuperating from the sorrows of war, McKay's spirit is renewed by the trees in the surrounding hills, but he's unsettled by the sense that there is trouble lurking. He takes a nap in a petite grove of birches and firs across the lake, but is awakened by the sharp crack of an axe cutting into a nearby birch tree. McKay proceeds to spy on three woodsmen, one of whom is chopping into the young birch. When the birch is felled, it topples against a nearby fir, which springs loose a branch that smacks the axe-wielder violently in the face, putting out one of his eyes. McKay is almost certain that the fir tree deliberately attacked the man who chopped down the birch.

Back at the inn later that night, McKay hears a symphony of voices rising from the grove, imploring him to come back. He returns to the birches and firs and soon encounters a group of ghostly, supernatural men and women who clearly sprang to life from the trees. He is mesmerized by their presence, but they plead with him to kill the three woodsmen who had chopped down the birch tree earlier that day, explaining that the men would soon chop down the entire grove. McKay is repulsed by their request to slay the woodsmen, but later feels he must at least try to reason with the men. He goes to their cabin but is angrily rebuffed by the woodsmen, and McKay begins to feel he's losing his mind over the trees.

But later the woodsmen come out to the grove with axes in hand, leading to a climactic confrontation with both McKay and the tree people. The outcome of that fatal struggle leads to an unexpected metamorphosis and leaves behind only tattered remnants of an obsolete existence.

"Women of the Woods" is an engaging story and the exceptional artwork demonstrates that Dallas' illustration skills have significantly improved over the course of only two years. I don't particularly like the way he depicts ethereal mists in the forest, but he does a fine job with most of the rest of the portrayals. The story ends differently than Merritt's "The Woman of the Wood," but it's a perfectly appropriate alternate ending.

The final story is "The Death of Doctor Dark," in which Dallas takes yet another leap forward in his illustration skills. The story is an EC-inspired tale based in the mid 19th century about a mysterious man who suddenly journeys to a home in South Carolina that is haunted by a beautiful female ghost. The man, who calls himself Dr. Dark, begins a relentless but chaste courting of the ghost, but after a couple weeks the ghost's true master shows up to show Dr. Dark who's really in charge.

The script is fine and dandy (really quite good), but Dallas outdoes himself with the artwork, which is reminiscent of some of Greg Irons' better work (which is truly a great compliment).

It's a shame that someone with as much talent as Dallas would exit the field of comics so soon after producing a classic underground comic book like Psychotic Adventures Illustrated #3. Outstanding efforts like this in mainstream comics would lead to even greater success for the creator as well as greater financial reward. Instead, Charles Dallas soon abandoned San Francisco, Last Gasp, the underground and the comic industry to move to another city and try to make a living as a freelance illustrator.

I hope he found everything he was looking for.
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keyline
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HISTORICAL FOOTNOTES:
There are two printings of this comic book, which are considered indistinguishable from one another.

Abraham Merritt, author of "The Woman of the Wood," was an extremely successful journalist in the early 20th century, earning $100,000 a year in the early '40s (about $1.5 million today). His fiction work was almost like a hobby to him, but he was very influential on H. P. Lovecraft, who was one of Charles Dallas' literary heroes. "The Woman of the Wood" was one of Merritt's notable stories, but not one of his most famous. This seems to indicate that Dallas would've had to have read sci-fi, pulp, and fantasy fiction voraciously to discover this little gem by Merritt.

Dallas gives full credit for "Women of the Wood" to Merritt, though at the end of the story he acknowledges that he and his wife, Sharon, adapted it for the comic book. The original 11,000+ word story was modified considerably for the comic, and while both are good I highly recommend you read the original version by Merritt. But I would also recommend you read Dallas' comic version first so it does not suffer in comparison to the much longer and more detailed and nuanced original by Merritt.
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COMIC CREATORS:
Charles Dallas - 1, 10-26 (art, story adaptation), 27-36
Larry Todd - 2-9

Sharon Dallas - 10-26 (story adaptation)
Abraham Merritt - 10-26 (story)