The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of Horror Comics: A Basic History
In the Beginning
Depending on who you ask, the answer may vary on the origin of horror comics. Mike Howlett, a horror comics history scholar, would tell you to look back to December 1940 for the comic based on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. This story was published in “The New Adventures of Frankenstein” from Prize Comics #7. Individual horror comics could possibly trace their origins to the comic adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde appearing in Gilberton Publications’ Classic Comics #13 in August 1943.
Looking back even further, DC Comics decided to get in on the fun with Dr. Occult in the 1930s. Eerie (1947) from Avon Publications is championed as the first horror comic series with original content. However, it is Adventures into the Unknown (American Comics Group) that claims the title of the first horror comics title since 1948.
From then on, the genre continued to spread and evolve with mixed reception.
Yet horror comics began to expand. Many tropes of today can be found in these popular stories. They began to include terrible villains, bloodshed, monsters, scanty damsels in distress, torture and more.
Gilberton, Dell Comics, Gold Key Comics, Warren Publishing, and many others filled the spaces of horror than fans needed. Fawcett, Youthful Magazines, Harvey Comics, Charlton. The list goes on and on.
Readers became more exposed to these treacherous tales thank to a sudden boom in the genre. About 1950, comics saw the great birth of horror from EC Comics! Famed as one of the most influential in the horror game, fans today still speak their praises. Censorship in the 1950’s pushed EC a bit off track, but it didn’t stay for long. Some great tales from its day can now be found in reprints, but you can always look deeper into seller sites for the real deal. EC Comics was often imitated but never duplicated.
Some of your favorite publishers got caught up in the wave too, creating such titles like Journey into Mystery, House of Mystery, and Strange Tales. Our favorite superheroes may not have existed if not for this great explosion. What a thought!
Enter: Dr. Fredric Wertham!
You all knew this was coming. In 1954, comics all over were hit when Dr. Wertham published Seduction of the Innocent. Comics all over were hit with, regulations and policies and near censorship. Crime and horror comics were seemingly choked, and some were laid to rest altogether. Pretty soon your favorite titles had that big CCA on the cover. Not all books felt the same effects as others, though.
Crime and horror had to be set straight. The heroes must be distinguishable from the villains. No bloodshed or mangled bodies after a fight. The heroes must always win! Sounds pretty lame, right? Not everyone wants a happy ending.
The comic book media was determined to keep moving forward. Even through failed titles and “implosions”, the mainstream publishers grew. Wertham couldn’t keep his claws in our books forever
Not Dead Yet
Not even the off base “studies” of an out of touch psychiatrist could hold its grip on horror comics. Lots of publishers began to fill in the void. There was no stopping this hype train.
In 1962, Dell Comics published Ghost Stories to kick off it horror line. 1966 saw the birth of Charlton horror comics with Ghostly Tales. The blood-sucking seductress Vampirella made her debut in 1969.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Marvel dipped its hand into the game. They began putting out titles like Tower of Shadows, Chamber of Darkness, Where Monsters Dwell, Where Creatures Roam, The Fear, and others. Some of these publications dropped of or were simply reprints of old stories, but the ripple effect is still felt .Comic titles Werewolf By Night, Tomb of Dracula, and other classic horror tales sprung up. During this time, we see the emergence of fan favorites Morbius, Man-Thing, Blade, and more.
Many of these characters may be featured in more modern stories or crossing over with your favorite web-slinger or such.
DC Comics got in on this too. Stories like The Unexpected, House of Mystery, Secrets of Haunted House, and more popped up and sometimes spurned spinoffs for readers to enjoy. The Modern Age saw fit to carry on some horror titles as well. DC Comics imprint, Vertigo, also threw its hat in the game with Hellblazer, Preacher, and others like it. Swamp Thing, John Constantine, and Elvira were just a small few of the characters of horror that have stayed fan faves for years.
This doesn’t begin to cover the horror titles that come out from other parts of the world. Many countries published many of their own comics. Some have more classic characters and stories than others. Mexico, India, Japan, Korea, and many countries all over the world staked their claim in the game. Many of them stand on their own. I haven’t read these books, but I’m sure they’re good reads. As interesting as they seem, I’m only one person with so much time on her hands. I would certainly say that if you are looking for something more mature, definitely check out non-American books.
Disclaimer: Some of these titles are more adult than others. We are not responsible if you got caught reading dirty books.
In the last two or so decades, indie comics and publishers have been on the rise. You can still find a few horror comics from your favorite big names. However, the amount of books available is exciting and can be daunting to some. I say, there are no wrong ways to go about your horror comics hunt. Everybody’s getting in on the horror comics.
In the information age, he only thing stopping you from bloodcurdling books is a bad Wi-Fi connection. Archie, Revival, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Jughead, iZombie, Hellblazer, Preacher are a drop in the bucket of horrific content. You could have it all! Please do not read this as Outright Geekery being in support of illegally obtaining comics.
DC Comics, Vertigo, Image Comics, Aftershock Comics. I could sit here all day pointing fingers in different directions.
So What’s the Big Deal?
Why are people so interested in the horror game, you may ask. Well, why shouldn’t we be. People have been obsessed with things that go bump in the night for as long as stories have been told. Whether you want a rush or to satisfy some dark fantasies, there’s something for everyone. There’s gotta be a dark spot to counter all that truth, justice, and American way, right?
Personally, I love good scare. The dark, and morbid nature of humans is brought to light in these fantastical tales. That, is an interesting thing to see. Combine that with the spooky voice of the writer, the compelling and supernatural pencil of the artist, and the attraction and relatability of the characters. Just look at those covers! How can you sit there and say you don’t want to rip those open and give them a read?
The human mind is complex thing. What better way to poke and prod at a man’s subconscious than to bring out his worst nightmare? What better way to poke and prod at our own psyche than to want to read such stories?
Itching for more spine-tingling and flesh-crawling stories? Check out your local comic shop or visit the website of your favorite publisher for more. Now, go get your spook on!