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Nexus Graphica
by Rick Klaw

Other Nexus Graphica Columns
For more information, you can try the following:
The 39 Screams comic
The 39 Screams band
Steve Bissette
Eerie Comics
Adventures into The Unknown
M. C. Gaines
EC Comics
1954 Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency hearings
Comics Code Authority
Warren Magazines
Creepy Archives Volume 1
Too Cool to be Forgotten
Dr Fate.: Countdown to Mystery
Recent Books of Interest

Creepy Archives Volume 1 (Dark Horse) Creepy Archives Volume 1
This hardcover compilation of the first six issues of the legendary horror magazine features amazing work from Frank Frazetta, Jack Davis, Joe Orlando, Al Williamson, Alex Toth, Gray Morrow, Angelo Torres, and Roy Krenkel. The volume, produced in the same oversized dimensions of the original magazine, includes the original color covers, advertisements, letters pages, and an interesting historical introduction by noted Warren magazine historian Jon B. Cooke. The Creepy Archives Volume 1 provides tantalizing insight into some of the finest horror ever produced.

Too Cool to be Forgotten by Alex Robinson (Top Shelf) Too Cool to be Forgotten
Reminiscent of Ken Grimwood's World Fantasy Award-winning novel Replay, in Too Cool to be Forgotten writer/artist Robinson relates the story of middle-aged Andy Wicks, who cannot quit smoking. Since all previous treatments failed, Andy gives hypnosis a try. Suddenly, he finds himself transported to 1985, fifteen years old and back in high school. Of course, high school sucked and Andy really doesn't want to relive it. Though the story stumbles a few times, Robinson manages to keep this engaging tale on course. His cartoony style and conversational writing mesh perfectly to create a thought-provoking, time travel tale.

Dr Fate.: Countdown to Mystery by Steve Gerber and Justiniano (DC) Dr Fate.: Countdown to Mystery
Writer Steve Gerber died while working on this series, leaving the story without a conclusion. An unheralded genius, Gerber penned long runs on Daredevil, The Sub-Mariner, Omega the Unknown, Defenders, Man-Thing, and his seminal creation Howard The Duck. Though creating nothing as lasting nor as important as Howard within, Gerber successfully reintroduced Dr. Fate, the Golden Age mage, into the contemporary DC universe. In a gutsy move, DC allowed four different writers to create possible endings while emulating the late author's style. In Dr. Fate.: Countdown to Mystery, Gerber used his trademark elements of the fantastic and topical intertwined with the goofy and terrifying. The book serves as a fitting tribute to Steve Gerber and his reality-bending stories.

Three Times the Terror

>The 39 Screams
Eerie Comics

When I mentioned The 39 Screams to horrormeister Steve Bissette, artist of Alan Moore's groundbreaking Swamp Thing run, he agreed with my assessment of it as perhaps the worst comic book anthology ever. Published from 1986-1988 by Thunder Baas Press and lasting for a shocking six issues, The 39 Screams offered some of the crudest, poorly rendered comic book stories of all time. The Godzilla image hanging on my file cabinet drawn by my five year old nephew compares favorably with this horror anthology's art. The series reads like some junior high student's project. Each issue contained three stories with little explanation about the creators none about the origin the origin of the title. My best guess is that thirty-nine is three times thirteen. Thirteen symbolizes terror and this comic offered three times the horror. Given the maturity of the work, that explanation makes as much sense as anything else.1

Prior to our first meeting, Bissette had already edited the seminal late-20th century anthology Taboo. Initially self-published under Bissette's Spiderbaby Grafix imprint (with the final two issues by Tundra/Kitchen Sink), each Taboo volume featured over 100 pages of visceral, no-holds-barred horror from the finest cutting edge creators of the era. Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Clive Barker, Eddie Campbell, Chester Brown, Charles Burns, John Totleben, Tom Veitch, Bernie Mireault, Michael Zulli, Richard Sala, Paul Chadwick, Moebius, Phil Hester, Dave Sim, D'Israeli, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Spain Rodriguez, S. Clay Wilson, Charles Vess, Jeff Jones, Matt Howarth, Mark Bode, Scott McCloud, Paul Grist, Joe Coleman, Jim Woodring, Tim Truman, and Bissette all contributed some of their finest works in the nine amazing books (1988-1995). Arguably Moore's finest story, From Hell, premiered in Volume 3. Far from the first horror comic, Bissette was shepherding a trend begun back in the 1940s.

An essential aspect of comics since almost the beginning of the medium, the first all horror anthology2, the one-shot Eerie Comics (Avon),3 appeared in 1947 with six stories including early work from art pioneer Joe Kubert. The following year, B&I Publishing (later known as American Comics Group) published Adventures into The Unknown, the first ongoing horror title. Featuring primarily ghost stories, the series ran for 174 issues for over twenty years. Both of these titles later seemed tame in terms of violence, gore, and content when compared to the emerging the EC line of terror tales, the first great horror comic books.

In 1950, publisher Bill Gaines, who had inherited the company from his father legendary publisher M. C. Gaines,4 and artist Al Feldstein remade EC Comics from a house that produced such benign titles as Tiny Tot Comics and Picture Stories from the Bible to the most notorious publisher of horror comics of the decade. Periodicals with gruesome titles like The Haunt of Fear, Tales from the Crypt, and The Vault of Horror altered the comic book landscape forever. By employing some of the finest artistic talent available including Frank Frazetta, Harvey Kurtzman, Graham Ingels (who signed his work "Ghastly"), Wally Wood, Johnny Craig, Al Williamson, Bernard Krigstein, Basil Wolverton, and John Severin, to illustrate the truly creepy stories, scripted primarily by Gaines, Feldstein, and Kurtzman, EC's products far outstripped their competitors in both terror and sales. One of the earliest examples of interactivity between a publisher and readers, Gaines regularly ran letters to the editor and encouraged fan clubs. The artists engaged in the then-unusual practice of signing their works so the appreciative fans could recognize the contributors. A cartoon "caretaker" (Crypt Keeper, Vault Keeper, and the Old Witch) hosted each series by introducing each tale.

In 1954 the entire movement collapsed. The infamous Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency hearings and the subsequent Comics Code Authority all but destroyed EC. The Code, self imposed by the majority of graphic publishers themselves, forbade titles with the words "crime," "horror," and "terror" and banned all use of vampires, werewolves, and zombies. Since most outlets refused to sell non-Code approved products, EC canceled all their titles, except for Mad which switched to a magazine format and hence beyond the Code's authority.

Some ten years later, James Warren, publisher of Famous Monsters of Filmland, resurrected the EC-style in a series of black & white magazines: Creepy, Eerie, and Vampirella. Primarily under the stewardship of Archie Goodwin, the periodicals returned the focus from the period's neutered, childish scary comics toward gruesome, well-crafted adult stories. Warren used several EC veterans alongside new artists including Neal Adams, Alex Toth, Gray Morrow, Richard Corben, Boris Vallejo, and Steve Ditko. Similar to the line that these magazines emulated, hosts Uncle Creepy, Cousin Eerie, and Vampirella, bookended each story. Vampirella even starred in her own adventures. Throughout the sixties and seventies, Warren publications witnessed several good and bad periods, but their impact on horror comics is undeniable.

In Warren's wake and the revision of the restrictive Comics Code,5 both Marvel and DC launched numerous horror comics throughout the seventies using talent first uncovered in or influenced by the Warren magazines. Artists Berni Wrightson, Mike Ploog, and Dave Cockrum and writers Len Wein, Doug Moench, and Don McGregor all buoyed popular comic book anthologies such as House of Mystery, House of Secrets, Adventure into Fear, and the magazine Savage Tales throughout the decade.

This rich history colored most contemporary perceptions of illustrated horror with lasting impacts on film and prose books. Authors such as Stephen King, Poppy Z Brite, and Joe R. Lansdale have expressed their love for EC and Warren comics. Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson, Sam Raimi, and Tim Burton rely on visuals learned from reading those books. Horror comics, like their prose and movie brethren, include the best and worst (sometimes in the same package) society has too offer.

1 The horrorpunk band the 39 Screams started in 2000, so perhaps they got the name from the comic. I hope not.

2 Though not the first horror comic. That distinction goes to the 1943 Classic Comics #13: Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (Gilberton Company).

3 Eerie Comics returned as ongoing series in 1951.

4 M.C. Gaines (along with Harry I. Wildenberg) compiled what is considered the first American comic book Famous Funnies: A Carnival of Comics (Dell 1933). Later Gaines started All-American Comics, originators of Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, and Flash. When National (better known as DC Comics) acquired All-American, Gaines started Educational Comics. His son renamed the press Entertaining Comics then eventually just EC.

5 The restrictions on vampires, werewolves, and ghouls were lifted in 1971.

Copyright © 2008 Rick Klaw

A life long fan of horror comics, Rick Klaw co-edited the groundbreaking Weird Business and was the managing editor for horror comics publisher Mojo Press. He's written countless reviews, essays, and fiction for a variety of publications including The Austin Chronicle, The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy, Moving Pictures RevolutionSF, King Kong Is Back!, Conversations With Texas Writers, Farscape Forever, Electric Velocipede, Cross Plains Universe, and Steampunk. MonkeyBrain Books published the collection of his essays, reviews, and other things Klaw, Geek He currently blogs at The Geek Curmudgeon and Dark Forces.

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