Friday, October 21, 2011

25 Horror Comics That Prove... DOCTOR WERTHAM WAS RIGHT!!

Okay, not really. In spite of Frederick Wertham's claims in his legendary anti-funnybook screed Seduction of the Innocent, reading lurid comics featuring gruesome images of horror is cathartic, natural, and (most important) fun! For the whole damn family!

But, man. Sometimes, when I'm browsing through pre-Code horror comics, the sheer excesses on display make it a little easier to understand why people lost their shit over this stuff. Take this shy and retiring example from Gilmore Comics' Weird Mysteries #5...

Abby... Normal...
Okay, so that's one of the more notorious examples from the period. But, still. WTF, man?!

I can't promise that any of the rest of the covers I've culled for your Halloweenie enjoyment this evening will match that one, but there's still some real gems waiting... after the jump!

One of the things you notice most when you look at comics from this era is that there are certain motifs that repeat. Like the most famous of them, as noted by Dr. Wertham himself: the injury to the eye motif. Well, here's the best example of that I can imagine:

The motif I noticed most in this trip through pre-Code horror, though, was that of the horribly decayed face. Check these pretty boys out:

Surgeon General's Warning: Radium Cigarettes May Cause Facial Decay

Okay, so this one's not that great. I just like that there was a comic called "This Magazine is Haunted."

And that last one brings us to another common pre-Code motif: Bad Sex! Putting a beautiful woman on the cover, sometimes scantily-clad, usually with her breasts jutting crazily forward, was a sure-fire sales ploy, and one that pre-Code publishers went for with a passion. This lead to some pretty hysterical stuff on the horror comics...

Surprise from the sea!
Serial Killers of Ancient Egypt
...or to completely batshit covers like this one...

...but the really disturbing images of this ilk come from the crime comics. Though not technically horror images, I'm including the next few covers because they're more horrific than anything I could find on any horror comic I looked at. First is perhaps the most notorious of these:

Jesus Christ! I don't even know how to respond to that. It happens in the story, too, something that wasn't always the case with these shock covers. (Oh, and that ghostly figure behind the bad guy up there? Don't get the wrong idea: he's not a ghost, he's Mister Crime, the spirit of crime itself, and host of Crime Does Not Pay. He's not so much a supernatural being as a personification of everything that makes people rob banks or... shove their girlfriends' heads into flaming stove burners.

And speaking of burners...

I guess "Weird Terror" was technically a horror comic. But tales of murder kind of blur the line, so I'm including it here. Of course, some comics combined crime and horror, too:

Fuck the severed limb! There's a LIVING SKELETON in the next cell!
But this next one's clearly from a crime series, and it's even more horrifying. Think the current generation invented pointless torture-porn? Think again!

Crazy Hobos are always bad news!
Weird faces were also big on these covers. I love a bizarre visage, myself, so I snagged a fair few of these...

That last one's particularly nice, I think. Lots of great mugs on that cover, and the melty faced guy at the bottom just takes the cake: exposed brain, skulls for pupils, and one gigantic fang in the center of his mouth. Awesome!

And speaking of melty people...

When eyes attack!
Of coure, pre-Code horror also dealt with things that weren't outrages against common decency. Or at least, with more traditional horror story concepts. Like the devil, for instance...

...or graveyard jazz bands...

...or even plain ol' shrunken heads!

My favorite kind of pre-Code horror covers, though, are the really inventive ones. Take this skull-based shoot-out from Punch! Comics, for example:

Nothing wrong with a well-rendered scene of a man being drowned by a warty demon hand, either:

That one's a particular favorite of mine, actually. The colors, the expression... everything really comes together nicely here. That's not so much the case with this next one, but...

...I can't not love something entitled "The Ghost Spider of Death!" Seriously, that's just insane. Idiotically, wonderfully insane.

But maybe not as insane as our last cover of the evening. If the date weren't printed on the freaking cover, I wouldn't believe this thing came from the 50s. I can't quite put my finger on what makes it so very disturbing, and so I'm utterly fascinated. It's as creepy as anything Charles Burns ever put to paper, and I hope it sends you off in the proper Halloween spirit...


  1. I would love to repost this to Wildclaw's blog... :)

  2. I am totally going to my Halloween parties this year as the Ghost Spider of Death

  3. Feel free to repost anywhere you like, Trelbee. I'm flattered.

  4. Man, if only I made Nick Cage money, these all would be mine ;0)

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