Points Of Light Halloween Edition: Horror Comics
Greetings from the boneyard as we celebrate All-Hallows Eve. Tonight, we head into the past for one of the earliest examples of horror in the last century, horror made with ink and pen and paints for children of all ages. Today, we end October with a look at the grand history of horror comics.
Horror comics can be traced back to the early 19th century in America, with Prize Comics’ “New Adventures of Frankenstein” widely considered the first of the genre in the States. While many other publishers produced such books, the most well known was EC Comics, and its three series Haunt of Fear, Vault of Horror, and Tales From the Crypt. These comics reached a massive high in the 1940’s, with famous artists such as Johnny Craig and Reed Crandall writing and drawing the frightening tales.
Unfortunately, these books also experienced a tremendous backlash as parents of the time preached on the bad influences of horror and crime in comics. Dr. Fredric Wertham also published Seduction of the Innocent, which claimed that violent caused children to be violent, painted the comic industry as a shadowy, Mafia like operation, and even pointed to Batman and Robin as propagating homosexuality. In response to the claims (which were based on largely undocumented anecdotes), the Comics Code was formed, which put a ban on many of the essential details for horror and crime comics. As a result, most horror comics faded away, though some were repackaged under sci-fi and mystery.
However, horror comics did find their way around these guidelines, and in the 1970’s the code did relax enough to allow Marvel to create the vampire Morbius, and even their own version of Dracula. Alan Moore also had great success at DC resurrecting the Swamp Thing and modern comic writers have found success with characters like Hellboy, and series like 30 Days of Night, Deadman, The Midnight Sons, and Marvel Zombies.
While many horror comics were generally simple horror tales, their influence has allowed for much of the creativity in comics today. Without their influence, it is unlikely their would be much, if any, supernatural influence in the comic world today, or any real seriousness. Indeed, many look at the Silver Age of Comics (done under the Comics Code), as one of over the top stories, with such gimmicks, as Lion-Headed Superman, and Bat-Baby (really. They both happened). Even a long lived character like Batman suffered without the elements of those early horror comics, becoming farther and farther removed from his grim beginnings until the 70’s and the loosening of the Code. Because of that, comic writers today have further freedom and creativity to weave not only frightening tales, but to explore darker, more serious elements that challenge readers instead of merely satisfying them.
As mentioned the EC Comics are largely among the most popular horror comics, with various anthologies existing today. The titles mentioned previously are also worth looking for the modern ramifications of horror. However, those with a taste for the silver screen can also be satisfied. The classic TV anthology Tales From the Crypt, is based on the comic of the same name, and many episodes are direct adaptations. Stephen King and George Romero’s Creepshow is a feature length tribute to EC, featuring graphics and stories straight out of the classic comics. So if you’re looking for a way to get some scary fun next Halloween, take a trip to your local comic story. Until then, boils and ghouls…