Re/Read: Four Color Fear

Re/Read in a recurring column by Fantagraphics Bookstore curator Larry Reid that examines backlist titles you may have missed or are worthy of another look. This time we’ll feature Four Color Fear: Forgotten Horror Comics of the 1950s.

The sensational success of EC horror comics in midcentury America gave rise to a multitude of imitators. Four Color Fear collects the most compelling of these much-maligned comics. The book includes acknowledged masters of the medium, including Jack Cole, Basil Wolverton, Al Williamson, Wallace Wood, Reed Crandall, and Joe Kubert, but it’s the back bench artists and anonymous writers that make this anthology uniquely appealing. The prolific output of Ruth Roche at the seminal Iger Studio is among the many revelations in the book.

While these comics mimicked the lurid aesthetic of the EC line, they are largely absent the explicit violence and grotesque gore that led to the imposition of the Comics Code Authority, which effectively banned the genre. A meticulously annotated appendix by John Benson and Greg Sadowski includes amusing anecdotes, interviews and related information, as well as a colorful cover gallery. Currently in its 3rd printing, the stories of Four Color Fear call into question the conventional wisdom that there is nothing to fear but fear itself.