Four Color Fear: Forgotten Horror Comics of the 1950s – Introduction & Table of Contents

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Digital edition available from comiXology

Introduction by John Benson

Those wonderful, terrible horror comics of the 1950s are still so embedded in our popular culture that it’s hard to realize that those who actually remember reading them when they came out are now in their late sixties or early seventies. That these old comics still seem contemporary is largely due to the Entertaining Comics (EC) titles Tales from the Crypt, Vault of Horror and Haunt of Fear, which have been made into several feature films and a popular HBO series, and have been in print continuously for over forty years in a variety of formats (they’ve even been adapted in text form for younger readers). Horror masters Stephen King and George Romero have readily acknowledged an indebtedness to EC comics, which alone would be enough to prove their relevance to current entertainment tastes, but many others have also been influenced, directly or indirectly.

Undeniably, EC created a whole new style of horror. Rather than relying on traditional supernatural elements, EC typically focused on events that could actually happen, such as someone being boiled in oil or hacked to pieces. Realistic situations would build to “trick” endings that might be better described as ingenious rather than truly imaginative. When there was a fantastic element, it was often in the form of traditional vampires and werewolves entering a modern real-world setting. A vital EC element was its three “GhouLunatics,” the hosts whose sardonic and often humorous patter was integral to the horrific proceedings, but EC’s most important component was publisher Bill Gaines, who co-plotted most of the stories, loved the material he published, and encouraged his artists to do their best. Gaines brought a rare consistency to EC, though that consistency came at the expense of an increasingly narrow range as the series progressed.

Yet the EC titles represented a mere seven percent of the total 1950s horror comics output. What about the rest? Is it really possible that they were all so inconsequential that none merit a second look, even though they held 93 per cent of the genre? Truth to tell, many were pretty bad. About thirty companies published horror comics, and some were tiny, sometimes one-man outfits that cared little for content. Typical of these was Comic Media, which promised on a cover blurb “SHRUNKEN SKULLS; DECAPITATIONS; CEMETERIES; MURDERS” and featured a rising sales chart as its logo.

But larger companies like Avon, Fawcett, Harvey, Quality, St. John and Standard also published horror comics, often exhibiting high standards and using excellent artists and writers, with a wide range of pictorial and narrative styles. None of the stories in this volume (with one intentional exception) would have been likely to appear in an EC comic, though several of the artists also worked for EC. Here you’ll find a panorama of horror themes, not only traditional ones (animated skeletons, rotting flesh, vampires, voodoo, pacts with the devil, old curiosity shops) but a surprising number of disturbing original concepts. In addition to being a selection of the best, this book strives to present many kinds of stories, from the droll put-on of “I, Vampire,” the sinister whimsy of “Here Today…,” the nightmare intensity of “Valley of Horror,” the off-the-wall strangeness of “Nightmare World” and “Servants of the Tomb,” to the unsettling think-piece “Experiment in Terror.”

Comics writers in the 1950s toiled anonymously for the most part, one factor that has led collectors and enthusiasts to concentrate on the art to the exclusion of the writing. But comics are a narrative medium – they tell stories! The original buyers of these comics didn’t just look at the pictures, they read them avidly. So this book isn’t intended as merely a collection of horrific images or a portfolio of art by great comics artists, though it should well satisfy those criteria. These stories are also entertaining as stories. In the best of these, the art and the narrative complement each other in subtle and sophisticated ways.

Rather than being grouped by artist, publisher, subject matter or chronologically, these stories have been arranged “aesthetically” to provide maximum variety and change of pace when the book is read straight through. So, relax, curl up in a cozy chair, set aside a block of time, and imagine yourself as a kid in the 1950s, reading these stories slowly to savor every chilling moment.


Table of Contents

9: The Strange Case of Henpecked Harry – Fred Kida
17: Pit of the Damned – Bob Powell
24: Corpses…Coast to Coast – Iger Studio
31: A Pact with the Devil – Jack Cole
40: The Corpse That Came to Dinner – Reed Crandall & Mike Peppe
48: The Maze Master – Lou Cameron
55: Swamp Monster – Basil Wolverton
61: Discovery – Manny Stallman & John Giunta
66: Death Sentence – Sid Check
71: Death Deals a Hand – Iger Studio
80: Custodian of the Dead – Jack Cole
87: Servants of the Tomb – Bob Powell
94: Nightmare – Harry Lazarus
102: Me, Ghost – Jack Katz
107: Dust unto Dust – Howard Nostrand
112: Drum of Doom – Al Williamson & King Ward*
117: The Body Maker – Warren Kremer
124: Green Horror – Iger Studio
129: Cover Section
161: Puppet Peril – Ernie Bache & Harry Harrison
168: Mother Mongoose’s Nursery Crimes – Howard Nostrand
169: Chef’s Delight – Dick Beck* & Bill Savage*
175: Colorama – Bob Powell
180: The Thing from the Sea – Wallace Wood
187: The Flapping Head – Al Williamson, et al.
195: Amnesia – Warren Kremer
200: Vision of the Gods – Everett Raymond Kinstler
201: The Man Who Outdistanced Death – George Evans
209: I, Vampire – Howard Nostrand
214: Experiment in Terror – Iger Studio
221: Art for Death’s Sake – Rudy Palais
226: A Safari of Death – Bob Powell
231: Night Screams – Iger Studio
240: Here Today… – Sid Check & Frank Frazetta
245: Cat’s Death – Joe Kubert
253: The Wall of Flesh – Bob Powell
261: Nightmare World – Basil Wolverton
265: What’s Happening at… 8:30 P.M. – Howard Nostrand
270: Valley of Horror – Jack Cole
276: The Slithering Horror of Skontong Swamp – George Evans
287: Evil Intruder – Iger Studio
296: Notes
316: Cover Section Key
318: The Pre-Code Horror Comics

* Attribution not certain