Borderland Speakeasy #7: Creepy's Cabinet of Wonders

Oliver Ho

Ten years after the Comics Code Authority put an end to the now-iconic work of EC Comics, James Warren brought horror comics back to life with Creepy.

Ten years after the Comics Code Authority put an end to the now-iconic work of EC Comics, James Warren brought horror comics back to life with Creepy. Among the surprising joys that come from reading the first Creepy collection now, there are appearances from two horror movie icons in pivotal and strangely similar stories.

"Turned off by the insipid, preadolescent blandness that plagued the comics industry of the day, Warren dreamed of making a significant impact of his own, but outside the stifling regulations of the Comics Code, away from the stupefying trappings of the superhero genre," writes Jon B. Cooke in his introduction to Dark Horse's first hardcover collection of Creepy.

During the period of Creepy's debut, in 1964-65, Boris Karloff appeared in two wildly different movies, each a far cry from his classic work: Bikini Beach and Die, Monster, Die. Perhaps unwittingly, he also turned in a memorable performance in the pages of Creepy.

Creepy's second issue features the story "Wardrobe of Monsters," written by Otto Binder, with art from Gray Morrow. The story tells of the discovery of five mysterious caskets in an Egyptian pyramid by a team of archaeologists. Each casket holds a different creature: a mummy, a vampire, a werewolf, a "satanic devilman," and a "misshapen unhuman patchwork like Frankenstein."

One team member deciphers a message left by the pharaoh (the mummy), which explains how to project one's spirit into the creatures at will. That unscrupulous treasure-hunter decides to use the creatures to kill off the rest of the team, to reap the rewards for himself. That character bears an uncanny resemblance to Boris Karloff. When he inhabits the bodies of the mummy and the "unhuman patchwork" creature, it's easy to imagine Binder and Morrow paying homage to two of Karloff's greatest roles.

"There can be little doubt that the biggest creative impact in the first few years--a true golden age for the Warren comics magazines--was the stewardship of lifelong EC 'Fan Addict' Archie Goodwin," Cooke writes. "Goodwin is still considered today ... to have been one of the nicest people ever to work in American comics, never mind one of its best editors."

"The artists under Goodwin's direction, too often disrespected and dismissed by other editors in mainstream comics, would go the extra distance to please their beloved editor, and their affection showed brilliantly on the printed page," Cooke writes.

Family Reunion For A Fiend: Uncle Creepy gathers his family around his red armchair

During this same period, Vincent Price was enjoying his period of collaboration with Roger Corman, and starred in The Last Man on Earth, The Masque of the Red Death and The Tomb of Ligeia.

In issue number four, Goodwin pens the story "Monster Rally," with art by Angelo Torres. Upon his first appearance, there can be no doubt the character of Doctor Habeas is a homage to Vincent Price. That alone would be enough to send many horror-nerds into fits, but the affectionate pastiche goes further.

Doctor Habeas is a mad scientist (of course) working with the notebooks of Frankenstein to reanimate dead flesh. In the dungeon of his castle in Transylvania (where else?), he keeps a "little menagerie," as his humpbacked assistant Drakow describes it, which includes a werewolf, mummy, witch woman, and a vampire.

This wonderful story seems to reference not only the classic Universal horror films, but also Price's then-concurrent work. If that wasn't enough, "Monster Rally" holds a place of honour in Creepy's macabre pantheon for revealing the origin of the series' famous host, Uncle Creepy.



Borderland Speakeasy appears every alternate Monday and explores classic and contemporary horror and crime comics.

#1: Echoes of Vengeance

#2: 'They Found The Car'‚ Gipi's Inverted Noir

#3: Needle in the Eye

#4: In Praise of Modesty Blaise

#5: Mirror Image Murders

#6: Moral Bankruptcy and the Smell of Fear


Preview: Creepy Archives Volume 1

Warren Magazine Art and Artists of the 1960s and 70s





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