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Monday, October 31, 2011

Victory of the Horror Comics

Many full moons ago a mixture of people who ranged from the well meaning to the pious, from the twisted to the sinister, decided that horror comics were corrupting the youth of the Western world and, for all intents and purposes, either neutered the comics with the Comics Code or forced them out of business.

Who would have guessed that one day those forbidden treasures would be reprinted in luxurious hardback and paperback collections on quality paper? That those classics would be unearthed from the grave for future generations to decide for themselves whether the stories would "deprave or corrupt"?

Yes, over the past several years those gruesome, garish horror comics that were hounded to their death in the 1950s have returned in force. In fact there are so many collections of pre-code horror comics available now, and more are coming, that it's a struggle to keep up. Here's just a few...

Several Marvel Masterworks reprint the Atlas Era of horror, with volumes of Strange Tales, Journey Into Mystery, and the done-in-one volume of Menace.

After a recent glitch and change of company, the EC Archives are soon set to return from new publisher GC Press, beginning with Haunt of Fear Volume 1 and Vault of Horror Volume 2, carrying on the line from Gladstone.

British publisher PS Publishing has recently begun reprinting Harvey horror comics in quality hardbacks. Volume 1 of both Chamber of Chills and Witches Tales are out now, with Tomb of Terror and Black Cat Mystery to follow.

Craig Yoe ( who has produced some beautifully designed books on comics, spotlights individual creators, with his book on Dick Briefer's Frankenstein already out and Bob Powell's Terror lurching through mailboxes soon.

There are some great anthology collections available too. Two I would definitely recommend are Four Colour Fear from Fantagraphics and The Horror, The Horror: Comic Books the Government Didn't Want You to Read.

The latter book even contains a DVD of the American TV programme Confidential File which "exposed" the evils of horror comic books... except it was made after the Comics Code had been put in place. The programme is a disturbing propaganda piece that attempts to manipulate the viewer into believing its wild claims. What's most outlandish about it is a filmed scene which shows a gang of children in the woods about to torture another child, suggesting that comics are to blame when in fact the whole thing is staged for the camera under the instruction of the programme makers themselves.

Some horror comics were trashy rush jobs, some were true quality created by masters of the form. A few were gorier than others, but mild in comparison to modern standards. Mostly they were fun, and kids have always loved monsters and creepy stuff, as evidenced from the growing popularity of Halloween. They know it's not real. It's very satisfying to know that those simple comic books that were considered so harmful without actual proof can now be seen again, and in formats that will endure the years. Finally, the horror comics won! The downside is that many of the artists from that era are no longer with us and never knew that their work would finally receive the respect it deserved.

Happy Halloween!

1 comment:

Retail Sexism said...

I do wonder how many of the socially conservative types who demanded such strict regulation of what artists and writers were allowed to produce and distribute for public enjoyment were economically on the Cold War bandwagon of anti-communist/anti-anti-capitalist hysteria. Wouldn't be a unique example of a knee-jerk reaction talking itself into a corner of doublethink.

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