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Monday, April 16, 2007

Bring back horror comics!

Here's another selection of 1950s Marvel Comics covers from a few short years before the Comics Code Authority was set up. Bending to pressure from "concerned parents" about "juvenile delinquency" the formation of the CCA decimated the horror comics industry, (see ) but did juvenile crime rates fall with the castration of comics? No, the opposite happened because comics never caused crime in the first place.

Today, American comic publishers are mostly free of CCA restrictions as it became a pointless exercise when Marvel and DC began aiming their product to an increasingly "sophisticated" audience (ie: 20 year old fanboys who mainly like superheroes). However, attempts to target the younger audience are still very tame affairs, and are more likely to involve titles such as Marvel Adventures and Archie rather than anything resembling a horror comic. Sure, there are horror comics for adults today (such as DC's Vertigo line and Marvel's ultra-violent Punisher) but back in 1952 the comics shown above were aimed at kids under the age of 14, and no such graphic horror exists in children's comics in the USA or UK today. I don't believe that's a change for the better.

Kids have always loved creepy stories and the trappings of traditional horror (skulls, bats, monsters, ghosts, etc). In an age where Halloween is merchandised more than ever it seems madness to keep such imagery out of the comics. (Yes, we show zombies and creatures in a humourous way in comics, such as my work in Toxic, but the black comedy is never depicted in a straight style, as in the comics shown here.)

Surely it's time for the horror comic to make a comeback for the juvenile market? Comics such as those shown here were prolific in the early 1950s, and reprints also appeared in UK newsagents. Artists such as Bill Everett and Joe Maneely (for Marvel) and Al Feldstein and Johnny Craig (for EC Comics) were masters of their craft, producing atmospheric and absorbing chillers with tongue in cheek graphics. There's no doubt that the talent for new horror comics for the kids' market is out there amongst today's artists too.

I believe that contrary to the public opinion of comics desensitizing children to horror, they actually achieved a beneficial opposite effect, and that the comics acted as a catharsis to any personal demons, making the readers less likely to be violent or callous. Children know the difference between fantasy and reality and, if anything, the excitement of reading a horror comic must stimulate the mind more than flicking through the bland "safe" activity magazines which fill newsagents shelves today.

Sadly, there's no chance that horror comics will be returning to the shelves of UK newsagents anytime soon. In this over-protective age, no publisher or retailer is going to risk the sort of media witch hunt that shut down some publishers in the 1950s, or the overblown madness that closed Action in 1976. (The way it works today is that if a parent complains to a retail giant about a comic, the shop pulls the title from its shelves to avoid scandal, then fines the publisher for lost profit! So everyone is on their best behaviour, producing and selling incredibly tame children's comics. Much as I detest the phrase, it is indeed "political correctness gone mad".)

The covers shown here are once again taken from the excellent Atlas Tales website. Have you visited it yet? It's well worth a look and showcases some of the most bizarre cover images ever seen on comics. With Marvel currently reprinting some of their Golden Age material in their hardcover Masterworks line, (such as this one) one can only hope they soon get around to covering the pre-code horror material too.


John Freeman said...

Did you know the police can still raid your house if they suspect you of making horror comics? See my blog item, picked up from a CBS news story

Lew Stringer said...


I'm bemused by the words "materials used to produce horror comics". Are ink and paper the new WMDs? ;-)


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