Unlikely Romance - "I Married a Ghost" from The Witching Hour #15 (June/July 1971)
October is upon us! And that can mean only one thing -- it's time for a good ghost story! This evening, I have for you "I Married a Ghost" from The Witching Hour #15 (June/July 1971). This story is a little outside the realm of romance comic books, but I think you'll agree that it definitely has romance comic book elements to it; and, with good reason. Not only was the cover of the issue illustrated by Sequential Crush favorite Nick Cardy, the interior art chores for the featured story were completed by Art Saaf -- a frequent romance comic book contributor. The story, written by "Al Case" (a pseudonym of Murray Boltinoff) also has a flair for the romantic. Though "I Married a Ghost" isn't a typical romance story, I think you'll enjoy the subtle touches you may recognize from the romance comics, along with its hefty dose of spooky horror tropes!
The story begins with a car crash, a theme used often in romance comics. On the splash page, Jennifer and Gil are introduced by Mordred, one of the witch narrators from The Witching Hour series. The couple is shown taking a drive the night before their wedding. Jennifer is scared the meeting will incur bad luck, but Gil chalks her fears up to silly superstitions.
Unfortunately, fate is cruel and as it turns out Gil is wrong. Dead wrong. While he survives the crash, poor Jennifer does not. Gil however, can sense her presence after she is declared deceased and exclaims to his friend, "Jack, she's still alive! Can't you almost see her spirit?"
Though we readers along with Gil can see Jennifer's ghostly form, Jack cannot, and is rightfully spooked when he is sent by Gil to fetch a bouquet. Gil is going to marry Jennifer -- alive or not!
Jack goes along with Gil's grief-stricken demands, and handsomely compensates a none too happy justice of the peace for his troubles. And with that, Gil and Jennifer become husband and "wife." After the ceremony, Gil insists on carrying his new bride over the threshold of the house he bought for them on Thunder Hill.
By the end of the week, Jack has made an appointment with a psychiatrist for Gil. When Jack goes to pick up his friend to try to get him to the city to see the doctor, Gil lets him know that he is busy working on something. As Gil leads Jack into his studio to show him the painting of Jennifer he's been working on, they pass by the dining room table which hasn't been cleared. Gil apologizes for the mess and says that Jennifer hasn't yet had time to clean up breakfast. Jack is taken aback when he realizes that both settings have been used! Jack wonders -- has he descended into madness along with Gil?
Gil is aware that everyone in town thinks he's a nut. He keeps the shades drawn to prevent prying eyes, and his trips into town for groceries are unpleasant, to say the least. After a violent attack on a mouthy townsperson, Jack grows increasingly worried about his friend. The morning after Gil's outburst, Jack goes to Gil's house to check on him. Upon entering, Jack is overwhelmed by gas. When he finds Gil strewn about on the bed, he finds that he has arrived just in the nick of time.
When Gil comes to, Jack inquires why he turned the gas jet on in the first place. Gil can only answer that he has no recollection of it. As Jack passes by the jet on his way back from calling the doctor, he feels a cool breeze and gets a faint whiff of Jennifer's perfume. He also sees a piece of torn gossamer-like cloth by the jet.
Finally, the doctor arrives to cart Gil off to treatment and help him realize that Jennifer is really dead. As the story ends and Gil is safe in the care of a doctor, we are left wondering -- will Jack be able to return to reality, or will he too be sucked into Jennifer's otherworldly charms?
Bonus! The splash page of the issue features the three witches of the series, Cynthia, Mildred, and Mordred introducing the stories that ensue. This panel from the splash featuring witch Cynthia gives a nod to the social climate of the time, and is reminiscent of the themes and language of romance comics in the 1970s! Just another reason this issue of The Witching Hour is worthy of the moniker, "Unlikely Romance!"
For more The Witching Hour with a story also illustrated by a romance comic book artist (Lee Elias) check out this post over at Detective Comics' Pages of Fear!