US: 7 Oct 2015
IDW Publishing and Gussoni-Yoe Studio are responsible for a great horror series called Haunted Horror. Haunted Horror reprints comics from the horror comics golden age of the early ‘50s, from the time before the Comic Code killed the genre and almost killed comic books. The little white stamp on the cover (“Approved by the Comics Code Authority”) meant that all the scary and bloody things had been removed from comic books, along with most of the quality storytelling and art that made them interesting in the first place.
There have been plenty of reprints through the years of the very best of pre-code horror comics, namely the classic tales produced by Bill Gaines’ EC Comics. EC books were known for their graphic depictions of violence and horror, for their tongue-in-cheek moralizing, and for their extraordinarily good artwork. They deserve to be reprinted, and re-read, again and again.
The bulk of horror comics from that era, however, have remained lost to all but the most ardent fans and collectors. Fortunately, Haunted Horror is working to bring those tales to light by unearthing the remains of some of the best horror comics of that age of cold war paranoia and sexual repression. Instead of reprinting whole series, the editors have wisely chosen to curate this musty old collection and provide us with choice selections from the vault.
Haunted Horror #19 has arrived just in time for Halloween with the latest grisly bits from these rotting old comic book cadavers.
Like most issues in the series, the latest batch of stories is a bit uneven, and none of the stories here are anywhere near as good as even the most mundane stories from EC’s Tales from the Crypt. For the most part the artwork is rushed and the stories seem truncated. Having read and re-read all of those EC reprints over the years, everything here seems pretty tame in comparison. That impression is probably reinforced by the fact that beginning in the ‘70s underground and post-code horror comics have taken us to terrifying places that these old books would never have dared to go. Furthermore, many stories in this issue involve a romantic subplot, not surprising considering that romance comics were just as popular as horror comics in the day, but tiresome, nevertheless.
There are some real treasures here, however, enough to warrant picking up a copy of the book for some Halloween reading. Among the best are “Out of the Black Night”, a story from 1953 with art by Lou Cameron, and “How to Be a Gracious Ghost!” from 1957 with art by Gerald Altman. The first of these tales is kind of scary, even if the twist ending is ruined by an over-anxious narrator who, apparently, wanted to lessen the blow. The latter story is a gag story with laughs that come more from Altman’s humorous illustrations than from the dated script. Both of these tales are enjoyable, but remain mostly historical curiosities.
There are a couple of real horrors here, however, things that gave me, at least, a bit of a fright. First up is the magnificent cover by Bernard Baily, originally seen in Weird Tales of the Future #7 from 1953. Baily did a lot of work with National Comics (later DC) in the ‘40s, including teaming up with Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel to create the Spectre. His talent is evident on this cover, as a monstrous horde of zombies, werewolves and devils process from the mouth of hell, personified as a horned, mustachioed devil with rotting teeth and bloodshot eyes.
The scariest one from this issue, however, is a little story called “Trick or Treat”. The story was originally published in Weird Mysteries #10 in May of 1954. The art is by Eugene Hughes who drew an awful lot of horror and war comics in this era. His pencils appear rushed, as if he was being paid by the page and needed to make rent, which is a likely explanation, actually. Oddly enough, however, the roughness of the art somehow adds to the atmosphere of this piece, providing a kind or primitiveness that seems appropriate for this tale of lust and murder.
This is especially true in the opening panel where we are given a glimpse of some insane Halloween party in which bobbing for apples is a deadly sport and a game of “Pin the Tail on the Donkey” requires a half-naked man to be tied to the wall as a target. Likewise, in the final scene, when two lovers discover that their Halloween costumes come with a curse that make them take on the characteristics of their characters, in this case a desire to feed! Hughes, and the unknown author, manage to put two images in my mind that I won’t forget any time soon.