DID HORROR COMICS EVER LEAVE US? By Mike Wall
I’ve grown up reading horror comics. I loved when Gemstone reprinted the old EC comics so I can actually read the early horror. Aside from EC, DC comics killed it for horror comics in the 70s and the beginning of the 80s in my opinion. Yet the debate I just had with my employee was, did horror ever left the comic zeitgeist. I am a proponent for the idea that they never really left. This entry will be my reasoning why we have never been without horror comics. Remember this is my opinion so please don’t send me any messages telling me how wrong I am. I know who to call for that.
Horror comics started in the 40s with adaptations of Edgar Allen Poe stories or even the Classics Illustrated. One of the biggest books was Adventures Into The Unknown. After the World War II, a lot of the superhero comics that had heroes fighting Nazis were no longer relevant. So some of the Atlas comics (which turns into Marvel Comics later) changed into horror comics. Then came the 1950s.
The 1950s was the horror boom. Leading the charge was EC comics. It became so popular that every comic company that was printing had at least one horror comic. EC had the superior art and stories. Yet the “upstarts” still were not too shabby. There were more horror comics than you could shake a stick at. This horror boom had a looming shadow of dread coming for them. The publication of Seduction of the Innocent and the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency that followed put an almost end to horror comics altogether. They believed that the graphic images of horror and crime lead to juvenile delinquency. This killed horror comics for a little bit. The Comics Code Authority was created and certain things were banned for the publication of comics. This lead to companies changing their horror comics to more mystery and suspense genres. A lot of companies that tried this lasted for a few years but had to close due to low sales.
The late 50s and early 60s was a bleak time for horror comics. Then Dell/Gold Key started publishing adaptations of horror movies and TV shows. Sure some of the TV shows were horror comedies but they still had somewhat of a horror bend. They also did the Twilight Zone and Ripley’s Believe It or Not with different subtitles. So comic companies were testing the waters and bringing horror out but with the Comics Code approval. Then there was Warren publishing. They got around the Comics Code by publishing in a magazine format. This is where we get Creepy and Eerie and later on Vampirella. There was another publisher who did the same called Eerie publishing. The art on their covers were not the best but they were pretty gory.
The late 60s saw another resurgence. Charlton started publishing a few horror comics. Then Marvel resurrected their old horror comics like Chamber of Darkness and Tower of Shadows. DC changed their titles back to the original horror bent. This start lead to the 70s boom.
In the 70s, DC lead the charge with 7 different titles. Some being the new ones like Swamp Thing who came from House of Secrets. Charlton kept plugging away with their titles as well. Marvel tried some different angles. They created titles such as Tomb of Dracula and Werewolf By Night. They even created a book for Satan or at least his son. Marvel also went the way of Warren publications and started publishing magazine to get around the Comics Code as well. They had titles like Dracula Lives and Monsters Unleashed. At least we had something to read.
Then came the 80s which was a very “Yay Boo” decade. Independent comics like Pacific/Eclipse published EC like comics. Those titles included Twisted Tales and Alien Worlds. DC had the Swamp Thing book which was revived by Alan Moore. Then later the character created by Moore in Swamp Thing got his own series and that character was John Constantine, the Hellblazer. Those were the “Yays”. Now onto the “Boos”. DC stopped publication on all their horror comics in 82. Warren stopped publishing their magazines in the 1983. There were some other independent publishers but their content was very hit or miss.
Then the 90s hit. Marvel took the 80s off but came back in force. They published a “Midnight Sons” line with their horror adjacent “heroes”. They also published books related to Clive Barker’s characters. DC created an imprint called Vertigo. Their horror was more cerebral oriented. The imprint opened the genre from the literary to the graphic. Harris also resurrected Vampirella which brought about the “bad girl” horror genre. The titles created were usually from Chaos like Lady Death. Glenn Danzig also created his adult horror line called Verotik. There was plenty of horror in that “extreme” decade.
The 00s brought us mega-horror books. IDW gave us 30 Days of Night which gave vampires a renaissance. Image had a little zombie book called Walking Dead which blew up into worldwide sensation. The only problem was that everyone started doing vampire and zombie books trying to capture the lightning that those 2 books got. For quite a few years horror comics just seemed to be redundant. We haven’t really gotten anything that different until the last few years.
The past few years has seen a plethora of different horror books. We have some about vampires and zombies but also supernatural forces as well. James Tynion IV has spearheaded this renaissance. He has created books such as Something is Killing the Children and Nice House on the Lake. Two different types of horror. I would also argue the Department of Truth is horror as well. A lot of the independent books are taking the horror genre in different directions. Some are winners and some not so much. If you are looking for a horror comic to read, I am sure any Graham Crackers Comics employee can give you their recommendation. Thank you again for listening to my ramblings.