Tag Archives: Warren Publishing

The Rise And Fall Of Horror Comics

Source: wikipedia

Horror comics have had it rough.

For a few years they were at the forefront of the comic book industry, pushing the envelope with the stories they told, and influencing some of the most recognizable names in horror over the past five decades. From the late 40’s to the mid 50’s, horror comics essentially printed money for their publishers.

It would not, it could not, last.

There is some debate as to the first horror comic; Prize Comics #7 began an eight page feature adapting Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein,  causing some to label it as the first true horror series. There were other adaptations during the early to  mid 40’s, one of which was Gilberton Publications Classic Comics #13. Printing a full adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Classic Comics #13 is the earliest known comic book dedicated purely to horror.

Comic book cover shows a bald, robed man moving toward a frightened woman on the floor in a strapless dress. Her hands and feet are bound. Price of the comic is listed as 10 cents.

Source: wikipedia

However the first horror comic with original content is widely recognized as Eerie Comics #1, by Avon Publications cover dated January of 1947 (but the comic was actually published at the tail end of 1946). This volume of Eerie Comics never had a second issue, but it was relaunched in 1951.

Horror comics enjoyed some popularity on the newsstands, but it wasn’t until 1950 when EC Comics came on the scene that the genre really exploded with EC’s “trifecta of terror”: The Haunt of Fear, The Vault of Horror, and Crypt of Terror – which later became Tales from the Crypt.

The stories in the above comics, and the others that would follow, are bloody, gory, gruesome, macabre, sinister, and, at times, silly. They were truly horrific comics, but for some they were absolutely wonderful, and their influence on game-changing artists and writers can’t be overstated. Stephen King and George Romero, both hugely influential men on their own, created the film Creepshow as a love letter to the comics that influenced them as children. Alan Moore, one of the most acclaimed comic book writers of the past few decades, has a character reading an EC Comics-like story at a newsstand throughout the main story of Watchmen. Years later, HBO would develop a very successful anthology television show that ran from 1989 to 1996 based on the content of many EC stories published in during the 50’s, turning the Cryptkeeper into a household name.

But the golden age of horror comics of the early to mid 50’s would not last.

With the fallout from Fredric Wertham‘s book Seduction of the Innocent, and the Comics Code Authority (CCA) that resulted, horror comics, hit hard than any other genre, were virtually wiped out over night. Jobs were lost, publishers nearly went out of business, and the face of comics changed forever. Horror comics were everywhere, until suddenly they weren’t.

To say horror comics vanished over night isn’t strictly accurate. The essence of the comics stayed alive despite the CCA’s best efforts. James Warren of Warren Publishing would produce black and white horror comics, but published as a magazine, they were exempt from the CCA’s rules. By publishing these stories in a magazine format, Warren paved the way for other publishers to produce horror comics magazines.

Horror comics, like any good villain, wouldn’t stay down forever.

Although the Comics Code Authority spelled the end of horror comics for many years, we are currently experiencing a resurgence in horror comics – in a large part, perhaps, because the CCA has been entirely abandoned by publishers. The  old EC Comics, those classically macabre stories that are finally making their way into reprinted volumes that for fans of the genre are an unparalleled look into the past. Modern comic books like The Walking Dead, American Vampire, and 30 Days of Night are only a handful of the titles that are carrying the torch of influence that can traced back to the golden age of horror of the early 50’s.

While perhaps not as popular as they were 60 years ago, when they accounted for almost a quarter of all comics published, horror comics have been making a steady return to prominence in the comic book world.

That’s not a bad thing.

Review: Eerie #3

20309Those who know their comics, know that Dark Horse means horror (among other things), and there’s no better showcase of this than series like Eerie and Creepy, which are Dark Horse’s hallmark to the horror comics of the 1960s and 1970s, using the same names of the Eerie and Creepy magazines published by Warren Publishing (Vampirella), which was a big competitor with DC and Marvel until 1981, and they were able to put out risqué comics banned in regular comic books because they published in magazine format, which was not restricted by the Comics Code Authority. Like those old magazines, Dark Horse’s Eerie #3 is a horror anthology featuring weird, out-there stories, the general goal is which are to be unsettling. Not to mention a fantastic cover by Paul Chadwick.

Issue three is composed of three short stories by different artistic teams. “Hunger,” penned by Landry Q. Walker and drawn by Troy Nixey, who has worked on some Mignola books, is a weird exploration of what happens to an alien stranded on Earth, and a criticism of our largely empty calorie diet. Walker builds a rather strange story, if not slightly predictable in its oddness, and the final turn is rather funny in that I-shouldn’t-laugh sort of way. What makes this first story incredible is Nixey’s black and white pencils, which create a complex, detailed world which highlights the erratic, frightful nature of the story, and makes the experience unbelievably gross (but cool).

Jonathan Case’s “Saturnian Infantroids” is an equally absurd tale, in which he uses a rather classic line style populated with Kirby dots to create a black and white world reminiscent of 1950s sci-fi comics to spin a yarn about giant radiation-mutated babies destroying an American colony on Titan. This story mocks America’s current Puritanical fear of birth control, by making use of birth control a subject of paranoid monster making, blaming the ‘Red’ Soviets for the creation of birth control and its defuncts (those giant babies). It’s rather hilarious, and a fun, short read, the out-there-ness of which counters the creeped-out factor of “Hunger.”

Imagine if the plot of The Search for Spock had involved Spock being reborn in the body of a grotesque, multi- ocular monster that can devour anything by absorbing and digesting it through its skin. Also, imagine that a woman were in love with Spock previous to his demise, and that that woman still wants to spend the rest of her life with the new green-bodied monster. Gerry Boudreau’s “The Manhunters” illustrated by Wally Wood has basically that plot, and it’s of the highest class mid-20th century sci-fi. Little else needs to be said, other than perhaps praising Wood’s ability as a colorist (my god, those bright and stark contrasts!) and artist, since his work is entirely enjoyable and captures the weird feel of the narrative.

Writing a short story is embarking on a dangerous journey of critics and fans and haters who will claim the work is “too short,” “not fulfilling,” “left me wanting,” but good short stories is exactly what Eerie #3 presents here. Each of these stories is classic horror or sci-fi, with enough content to feel satisfied but with a diegetic world interesting enough to be explored in future comics or in the reader’s imagination. As a fan of old horror comics, I’m definitely looking forward to more from Cousin Eerie (and Creepy).

My only complaint lies in the fact that I believe at least the last story is a reprint, since Wally Wood died in 1984, and it would certainly be eerie if Wood were making new art for Dark Horse. My complaint is miniscule, just that I couldn’t find citation information if this is indeed a reprint, because I completely enjoyed the comic regardless of being a reprint, and these classic horror/sci-fi pieces need to be brought back to the present readership. After some research, I discovered that “The Manunters” is a reprint from 1974’s Comix International #2 published by Warren Publishing. While this was the only reprint I thought to look for, it’s possible other of the contents are as well—but that’d be no reason to think this a bad book, just proof that the comics therein are in fact worth the read!

Finally, I love Eerie’s creation of the Cousin Eerie mythology and the back-up interview with Richard Corben, one of my absolute favorite artists and  Poe-adaptationist par excellence. In the interview Corben provides an interesting perspective on editors, since he says that horror comics editors have gotten more relaxed over the years, whereas mainstream opinion sees superhero comics editors as ruling with an “iron fist” (the same phrasing used by Corben about earlier horror editors, probably a result of the new Comics Code Authority and today’s lack of such restrictions). If you like horror and sci-fi, or good art, or you want to explore the possibility of short-story comics, Eerie #3 is the book for you! It’s an anthology and a learning experience for just $3.99.

Dark Horse, if you’re reading: thank you. It’s books like Eerie #3 that I hope to edit someday soon and bring well-written quality comics to readers everywhere, and it’s further proof that Dark Horse is the company.

Story: Landry Q. Walker, Jonathan Case, Gerry Boudreau  Art: Troy Nixey, Jonathan Case, Wally Wood, Paul Chadwick (Cover)
Story: 8  Art: 9  Overall: 8 Recommendation: Read/Buy

Dark Horse provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review