Chamber of Chills Volume Three
Chamber of Chills Volume Four
PS Artbooks, $48 each, color
Writers and artists: Various
Collecting Chamber of Chills #14-26 (Nov 52-Dec 54)
Of all the pre-code horror books being collected these days, the Harvey books are probably the most horrible, in a couple senses of the word.
The EC stories, as we all know, were very tightly written with a strong twist ending. The ACG stories put the emphasis on adventure, and weren't very scary at all. The Timely stories were generally written or edited by Stan Lee, so they were at least passably professional, and occasionally funny, but rarely scary. DC's horror books were so mild they probably could have passed the Comics Code even before it was written.
But the Harvey books we've seen so far are all over the place in quality, pacing, bad taste, everything. Truly bad things happen, often to good people, but sometimes to people who deserve it, too. Sometimes the protagonist is killed a little too early, and then you'll have a page or two of exposition (when it should be the other way around). Sometimes the twist ending has so little build-up that it seems like it belongs to some other story -- you have to flip back a few pages to make sure you didn't skip any.
Which makes these books, I have to admit, fun in the sense that you have no idea what's going to happen in the next story, or even on the next page, because the creators didn't seem to. It's all seems to be written on the fly by drunks or children or the mentally challenged, so it's not really good so much as its unpredictable. And, honestly, that's pretty entertaining, if only for the WTF factor.
Which probably wouldn't work if the art sucked, and fortunately for us, it doesn't. Harvey, like most of early 1950s publishing houses, had a regular gang of artists who could be relied on to show up in almost any issue, some of them very good. For example, Lee Elias does most of the covers. And Howard Nostrand is a regular, whose artwork went from being influenced by Jack Davis in his early work to being almost a clone of Jack Davis in these two books, and it's attractive work. Bob Powell shows up occasionally, and since he both writes and draws, his every submission is borderline classic -- and stories like "Happy Anniversary" cross that line into timeless.
Of course, not all the Harvey artists are of that caliber. Al Avison, Joe Certa and Don Perlin show up, and nobody would consider them top tier, despite work on familiar titles like Captain America Comics, House of Mystery and Defenders, respectively. Some of the regulars I know very little about, such as Vic Donahue, Moe Marcus, Rudy Palais, Manny Stallman -- nor am I inclined to research much, as they are merely mediocre.
Also, PS includes the original advertising, and some of it is really entertaining. For example, I'd like to meet the advertiser who thought the (mostly male) kids reading comic books in the early 1950s were really interested in buying bras, girdles, evening dresses and other women's clothing. And apparently there was an epidemic of skinniness, because there's at least three companies (including the famous Charles Atlas ads) fighting to help kids beef up. That, and all the cheap tricks and lousy toys make for some fun reading.
Unfortunately, this is the end of the Chamber of Chills run. But PS hasn't finished its other Harvey books, like Black Cat Mystery and Witches' Tales, so there's more of this material to come. And I, for one, will be standing by with my wallet.
Everybody knows DC and Marvel superheroes, and everybody knows EC horror. The cool thing about “The Golden Age of Reprints” is that we can now all acquaint ourselves (should we so desire) with what the other guys were doing. Like you, I’m sorry to see Chamber of Chills come to an end, but I’m really looking forward to the complete run of Dick Briefer’s Frankenstein, coming soon from PS Artbooks. (IIRC, I enjoyed the Craig Yoe collection more than you did.) I do like the Al Avison/Syd Shores team on GA Captain America Comics, though (more than I do the art of Simon/Kirby to tell you the truth), although I admit I can’t pick who did what. Perhaps you meant Avison’s work on Chamber of Chills wasn’t up to that on Captain America…? No matter. It’s a minor point. YMMV, and all that.