Friends and neighbors:
As most of you know, I am writing a book about journalists in comic books. It's a riff on my Master's thesis. It's kinda fun, and I want to share that, since it's consuming all my time. I think maybe you guys would like to be in on the conversation in my head.
I know some of you have done books on your own, and haven't asked any help here. I acknowledge that, and am not asking for help myself.
I just think it will be fun.
So, do you guys want to go on this journey with me? Sure, you all get credit in the Foreword.
But the first question is ... do you want to play? If not, I'll continue to toil in darkness.
Let me know, Legionnaires!
I have long since thought you should write a book (long before you actually undertook to do so), and from time to time find myself wonderng about your progress. If you're willing to share, I for one would be interested in following your journey.
Yes, please! I'd love to share the ride. Being more visually oriented with photography and drawing, I have always had great admiration for those that can string words together well. I would enjoy reading about the process.
Sounds great, Cap! Count me in.
I like ham.
Only if I get to approve of who plays me in the movie!
At the risk of revealing my secret identity, sure!
I've had some surprises that I've wanted to share, so yay!
Here was my first surprise: When I pitched the book, they looked at my thesis and said "This is great, but can you make it longer?"
I spent thirty-plus years in newspapers, so that was the first time I'd ever heard that phrase.
I started researching pre-Code horror books, because I'd given that sort of short shrift in my thesis, and in the years since I wrote it (2010) I'd gotten a lot of PS Artbooks reprints.
Of course, that begs the question "what's a horror book," and one surprise I had is that there's sort of a consensus on that subject. Basically, everyone has just signed off on the list in the appendix of Four-Color Fear. That list is pre-Code books that are entirely horror (or meant to be), so it doesn't include things like the "Frankenstein" strip in Jumbo Comics, but does include the Frankenstein book (for the issues it was horror and not humor).
Four-Color Fear, Wiki and the GCD all seem to agree that the first horror book was a one-shot named Eerie Comics from Avon in 1947. I don't really understand that, since Baily Publishing put out a one-shot called Spook Comics in 1946 that sure looks like a horror book to me. I'll just write around that.
It turns out there are a LOT of horror books, and PS Artbooks don't even cover half. That's mostly because Timely/Atlas was responsible for a lot of them, maybe a third. And they're not public domain. Fortunately, Marvel Masterworks covers Journey into Mystery, Menace and Strange Tales in the pre-Code era, and Tales to Astonish, Tales of Suspense and some Strange Tales and JiM in the post-Code era.
Much of what I'm missing can be found online at sites like Comic Book Plus, Digital Comic Museum and Read Comic Online. Some less savory sites have some of the copyrighted material, and I'm sure that my hard drive is riddled with viruses from them by now.
My original plan was to check out every horror book, write down the number of stories, write down the number of stories that have reporters as major characters, and produce a percentage. And I have done so for every book I have access to. But there are probably 40-50 books that aren't available anywhere, and as a lifelong journalist I have a deep suspicion of secondary sources like GCD, Public Domain Super Heroes (pdsh.fandom.com) and so forth. I'll say for the record that I've found so many errors and omissions on PDSH that it's virtually useless to me. And if I must use secondary sources, I want at least two of them that match, and that's a challenge as well. Also, you know, I'm just getting hints and descriptions that I have to infer from, which means it won't be entirely accurate, so what's the point?
So I may drop the idea of using any math. There's plenty to talk about with what I've found, which is that reporters are usually good guys, editors are usually humorless, publishers are usually evil and nobody likes art/theater critics. I have zillions of examples.
One revelation is how certain subgenres emerge. There are a lot of stories about ventriloquist dummies, puppets and marionettes coming to life. If there's one in the story, it's going to come to life and kill someone, sure as shootin'. You should also never search for as Yeti, as that never ends well. Don't stay in haunted houses overnight on a bet, for a TV/radio show or because you inherited it from an unknown relative. That doesn't end well either. (Ditto for European castles.) I have learned a lot of life lessons from horror books!
I'll probably include the DC suspense books of the horror era, like House of Mystery and Mystery in Space. I don't think anybody can rightly call them horror, but that's what they were offering as competition, and they are a major publisher.
Horror books have a natural endpoint, too: I stop where the Comics Code starts. Many books end before that, and a few struggle on for a few issues with the seal, but man, everything just grinds to a halt in early 1955. Atlas and DC soldier on with a lot of titles until Atlas crashes and burns in 1957. No wonder there are comparatively few reprints from the late '50s -- there's just not much there, and what is there is pretty bad.
Anyway, I've done all the research on horror books I'm going to do, and those are some of the revelations I've had.
Wow, Cap, you should get some sort of medal just for reading that many horror comics. I haven't read much at all, and I couldn't imagine reading all that you have. I just found most of it not good...at all.
Great information! I really enjoyed learning about the starting point and end point.
I'm not a journalist or a published writer, but if anything sparks my memory I'll jump in.
Strange that 1947 is the supposed beginning of the horror comic when 1948 saw Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (which is on Svengoolie this Saturday) which was considered the end of the great horror films, at least until Creature From the Black Lagoon. I wonder why comics ignored the genre during the second phase of Universal's monsters from 1939-1945.