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cover
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solid writing
exceptional art
historical bonus 2
total score 7
Back Cover
Back Cover
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AVERAGE SCORE 8
Tales from the Plague
1st Printing / November 1971 / 36 pages / Weirdom Publications
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Tales from the Plague comes from Dennis Cunningham, the creator, publisher and editor of the long-running 1960s comics fanzine Weirdom. The original story in this book was written by Cunningham and illustrated by Corben for Weirdom #13, which was published in 1969. Based on the success of the thirteenth issue (and Richard Corben's involvement), Weirdom evolved into an underground comic title in July of 1971, though it only survived for two more issues.

Tales from the Plague was published by Cunningham a few months after Weirdom #14 in November 1971. With just a couple of changes from the fanzine version, this book reprints the entire story that appeared in Weirdom #13. The story is about the Black Death (from bubonic plague) that first swept through Europe in the 14th century, killing up to half of Europe's population and reducing world population by some 20%. Tales from the Plague focuses on one of the bubonic plague's many recurrences in Europe in 1664.

The story is hosted by Laural-Li, the buxom young woman who served as Weirdom's hostess since its tenth issue, though this is the first time that Corben draws Laural-Li. Laural-Li introduces the story by reporting that she has found two ancient manuscripts pertaining to the Black Death in the ruins of the Chelmesford courthouse and the Chelmesford prison. The first of these manuscripts is attributed to a witch-hunter named Hopkins, who describes the arrest and trial of a suspected witch named Ann Ashby. The town folks believed that Ashby had put curses on their families and maniacally chant for her execution as the trial concludes with a guilty verdict. Sure enough, Ann Ashby is burnt at the stake.

The second manuscript is from Ann Ashby herself, written from her Chelmesford prison cell as she awaited her trial. Ashby provides a completely different account of everything written by Hopkins, revealing that she knew the Black Death was about to unleash a disastrous new pandemic across the land. Her side of the story injects a sense of tragedy into this chronicle of persecution and blunders.

Tales from the Plague, as illustrated by Corben, is incessantly dark and morose, without even the slightest comedic relief (except that which may be discerned from Laural-Li), and with no gratuitous sex or violence. There is violence, mind you, but its entirely ingrained in the story. Tales from the Plague includes some gruesome, sometimes shocking depictions of suffering, death and acutely diseased children and adults.

Cunningham clearly researched the subject of the Black Death before writing this story, and the details about the bubonic plague he presents in the book are mostly factual. Though scripted as fiction, the story about persecuting a so-called witch for bringing on a plague is entirely plausible in the culture depicted, as hysteria and unjustified massacres were commonplace during the era of the Black Death.

Tales from the Plague is an unyieldingly grim comic book that offers a gripping version of an apocalyptic catastrophe. Like EC comics from the '50s and early Warren magazines, the script suffers on occasion from overwrought melodrama, but that can almost be excused given the nature of the story. This is really a must read for fans of horror and horrific history.
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keyline
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HISTORICAL FOOTNOTES:
There are two printings of this comic book. The 1st printing is from Weirdom Publications and the 2nd is from Bill Leach Studios/Eclipse Books. The 1st printing (10,000 copies) has a 50-cent cover price. The 2nd printing (15,000 copies) has a $3.95 cover price and all-new front cover artwork by Richard Corben.
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COMIC CREATORS:

Richard Corben - 1, 3-36 (art)
Dennis Cunningham - 4-36 (script)