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Saturday, October 13, 2012

American horror comics back in the UK

British based company PS Publishing have recently launched the latest book in their ongoing line of hardback reprints of 1950s pre-code horror comics. Skeleton Hand collects all six issues of the comic of that name which were originally published by the American Comics Group (ACG) from 1952 to 1953. 

As with the other books from PS Publishing, Skeleton Hand reprints the entire contents of each issue from cover to cover, including all the ads. Each page is scanned from the actual 1950s comics, rather than the restore and recolour method that Marvel use for their archive books. Although the method PS uses means that any original printing flaws are repeated it also means you get a far more authentic facsimile of the genuine article. 

Admittedly a few pages in Skeleton Hand do seem to be a little more low-resolution than others (the reprint of issue 4 for example) but overall I now prefer this more faithful method of reproduction than that used by Marvel. (Although that said, I still respect the amount of hard work that Marvel's team put into restoring artwork for their Masterworks and Omnibus books.) 

Being a reprint of an ACG comic, Skeleton Hand isn't as outrageous or gory as some horror comics of the 1950s. ACG tended to run stories that pitted couples against supernatural forces with good triumphing over evil in the end. By modern standards they seem pretty cheesy, but that's all part of the charm. 

In the back of the book is a nice bonus; a complete facsimile of the only issue published of Clutching Hand from 1954. Although it's also an ACG comic this is far darker in its tone than Skeleton Hand, with shrunken heads, zombies, and considerably less comfortable conclusions to the stories. Great fun!

PS Publishing also recently released Chamber of Chills Volume 3. This is the latest in their Harvey Horrors series, reprinting 1950s comics from the Harvey stable. Whilst the ACG comics featured entertaining supernatural tales, Harvey's material was pure "horror comics", - the stuff that gave parents the jitters and brought about the anti-comics crusade of the time. 

A 'Spider Man' from 10 years before Marvel's superhero.
As with Skeleton Hand, Chamber of Chills also reprints the entire contents of each comic. What's revealing about that is how the ads were often aimed at adults, with adverts for car maintenance, careers in engineering, and women's underwear. Clearly, the horror comics were not being pitched solely at children despite the fears of well-meaning but misguided anti-comics campaigners about stories "warping" young minds. What a shame that the introduction of the Comics Code effectively turned comics into fare that was only appealing to children. Small wonder then that for so many years comics in the USA and UK fell behind those in Europe in appealing to a wider age group. 

If you want to judge for yourselves what those classic horror comics were like, I thoroughly recommend these books. They're not cheap at £29.99 each (or more if you want slipcased editions) but they are limited editions and the printing quality is superb. To order copies, visit the PS Publishing website here:

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