By Andrew A. Smith
Scripps Howard News Service
Nov. 2, 2010 -- Halloween is over, but there’s still a lot of scare fare in the Teetering Tower of Review Stuff.
Four Color Fear: Forgotten Horror Comics of the 1950s
(Fantagraphics, $29.99) tops the pile, a collection of off-brand (and probably public domain) comics from before the Comics Code of 1954 (which effectively neutralized the horror genre and infantilized the medium). This book will be intoxicating to comics fans, and just a hoot for casual readers.
I suspect that most horror comics were pretty bad even before the Code – bad in the quality sense, not the gory sense (although there was that, too). But you wouldn’t know it by this book, which contains the crème de la blood from the wacky, unrestrained Halloween party that was pre-Code horror comics. Editor Greg Sadowski assembles a lot of famous names here (Jack “Plastic Man” Cole, Joe “Sgt. Rock” Kubert, Basil “Lena the Hyena” Wolverton), artists that later became famous at the legendary EC Comics (Reed Crandall, George Evans, Al Williamson) and guys who were very good at aping EC Comics (Sid Jacobson, Howard Nostrand) or aping Will “The Spirit” Eisner (the Iger studio).
Speaking of EC, you won’t see any stories from that publisher here, nor will you see any from Timely/Atlas (later Marvel Comics, which may have published as much as 50 percent of the total) or anything by the unique Steve Ditko. Given the book’s title I didn’t expect any, because those stories are the most famous – hardly “forgotten” – and are readily available elsewhere. Even so, I’m impressed with Sadowski’s academic thoroughness, as he acknowledges their omission, explains why and then points to where they can be found.
My only complaint is that Sadowski’s copious notes are not included with each story individually, but are instead collected in the back, forcing a lot of flipping back and forth. Still, the stories stand alone just fine without the notes, which are not always about a specific story, but instead are often general information or quotes from 1950s artists. That should still be welcome to both fans and historians, as so little has been written about non-EC, non-Atlas, non-Ditko 1950s comics.
In fact, everything about this book is welcome. What a delight to immerse one’s self in the pop culture Id of the 1950s, where technology and social mores were so different – while people, in all their petty evil, were exactly the same. Funnier still is to consider how these stories, tame by today’s standards, could have caused such an uproar in that simpler, buttoned-down past.
Meanwhile, Dark Horse’s series collecting Warren Publishing’s Eerie
magazine is up to volume 4, which reprints issues from the late 1960s – when Warren’s books were at their weakest. The art and stories are mostly by second-raters. But the editing is what annoys this ink-stained wretch the most, as it became simply atrocious after Archie Goodwin quit as editor around 1966. Replacement Bill Parente routinely allowed serious misspellings (“Suspence” on a cover blurb, for heaven’s sake), content errors (“the smell of sulfur and brimstone,” which even novice horror readers know is the same thing), erroneous homophones, jarring malapropisms– honestly, this level of incompetence wouldn’t fly at a weekly newspaper.
But if you’re not a copy editor – and given the awful spelling and grammar I see online – most readers may not care as much as me. If so, then Eerie Vol. 4
($49.99) may be worthwhile, mainly for the (very) few stories by accomplished pros Goodwin, Crandall, Ernie Colon and Tom Sutton.
Moving to the modern day, the first episode of AMC’s adaptation of Image Comics’ The Walking Dead
Oct. 31 was top flight. I’m not usually a big zombie fan, but writer Robert Kirkman’s tale of survival after the apocalypse has compelling characters and intriguing storylines, punctuated by random moments of genuine horror. With some additions, Kirkman’s tale has made the transition to the small screen intact, and I have high hopes for it.
So does Image Comics, which will be reprinting the original (and still ongoing) series as The Walking Dead Weekly,
with an issue each Wednesday for $2.99 beginning Jan. 5. If you’re in a hurry, the Walking Dead Omnibus Vol. 3
($100) reprints issues #49-72 (so you’ll have to pick up the first two Omniboo for the entire story). As the description notes, the Omnibus is big – big enough to use as a weapon against pesky zombies.
Contact Andrew A. Smith of the Memphis Commercial Appeal at