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The Birth, Death, & Resurrection of American Horror Comics and MORE!
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The Bite #77
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The Birth, Death, & Resurrection of American Horror Comics and MORE!

September 24, 2019

In this Issue:


HORROR HISTORY: THE BIRTH, DEATH, & RESURRECTION OF AMERICAN HORROR COMICS

By Lonnie Nadler*

The war was over, the American Dream was dreamt once more, and comic books were sold by the millions. Pre-WWII comics were sanitary ordeals, but, by the late 1940s, post-war sensitivity was settling and publishers began exploring adult-oriented content inspired by rising fears. And so, in the final years of the 1940s, the Golden Age of horror was dawning.

In 1947, Bill Gaines took over EC Comics from his late father and was convinced by artist Al Feldstein to make it a genre trendsetter. To illustrate the possibilities that lay in wait, Feldstein created a story under the banner The Crypt of Terror in 1950. It was an instant hit and, not long after, the book was retitled Tales from the Crypt. That same year EC launched The Vault of Horror and The Haunt of Fear.

What defined these tales was their gruesome, unabashed desire to scare and shock. Gaines gave his artists few restrictions, and, as a result, EC’s comics offered something film no longer could due to the Motion Picture Production Code. If it was gore and sex appeal you wanted, you had to look no further than your newsstand.

Born out of the pulp magazines of the 30s and 40s, some stories were problematic by today’s standards. Many featured busty women taken hostage by handsy monsters and saved by equally horny heroes, showcasing all the repressed wartime S&M fantasies. It was this willingness to push boundaries that lead to less contentious, brilliantly executed tales that helped EC stand above the rest. In turn, other publishers tried to capitalize on the success of these daring titles.

Unfortunately, dusk fell just as quickly as dawn had arrived.

In 1954, Dr. Fredric Wertham’s released his book Seduction of the Innocent, blaming comics, especially horror, for juvenile delinquency. With other homegrown societal fears on the rise, the U.S. government saw comics as an easy enemy to be fought. During a series of Senate hearings, publishers, Gaines included, tried to defend their books, but it was no use. As an alternative to government regulation, the publishers formed the Comics Code Authority (CCA) as a means of self-censorship. The goal was to uphold “high standards of morality and good taste” by outlawing graphic content, violence, and sexuality. The result was a declawing of horror comics. Books vanished from the shelves and publishers disappeared overnight. The CCA not only nearly killed horror comics, but the American comics industry at large.

In the decades that followed, the genre slowly rose from its self-dug grave as creators began challenging the Code. The CCA slowly slackened their stranglehold over the years, but the Code wasn’t officially disbanded until 2011.

A Google search of EC artists like Graham Ingles, Al Feldstein, Johnny Craig displays the lasting appeal of these books. Much of their impact can be chalked up to the TV adaptations of Tales from the Crypt, and Romero and King’s Creepshow, which was designed as a direct homage to EC Comics. Without that 4 year boom, modern horror anthologies simply wouldn’t exist.

While on the one hand, these comics serve as a grim reminder of the dangers of defanging art through censorship, they also remain a testament to the everlasting appetite for horror, which has its roots firmly planted in the annals of American culture.


*Lonnie Nadler is a writer and filmmaker best known for his comic book work at Marvel and his critically acclaimed graphic novels The Dregs and Come Into Me. Lonnie has also written for Aftershock Comics, VICE, Bloody Disgusting, and numerous other publications.


IMAGE OF THE WEEK

Sid Haig (1939 – 2019)

We lost a legend this weekend as Sid Haig passed away. Born Sidney Eddie Mosesian, he studied acting at the Pasadena Playhouse. A character actor and a towering figure, he tended towards playing the heavies and villains, and had roles in cult classics like Spider BabyDiamonds Are Forever, and Foxy Brown to name just a few. In 1997, Quentin Tarantino cast him opposite his former scenemate, Pam Grier, in his ode to the Blaxploitation classic, Jackie Brown. But it was Rob Zombie’s decision to cast him as his Captain Spaulding in House of 1,000 Corpses that solidified his legendary status. A kind-hearted man, he quickly became beloved by the world for his twisted patriarch of the Firefly clan, which lead to a rediscovery of his older work. He will be deeply missed.


TINY BITES

MAIKA MONROE, ROB ZOMBIE AND MORE

American Horror Story: 1984 premiered last week, and the first episode was full of easter eggs. Needless to say, spoilers.

George A. Romero’s “lost” film, The Amusement Park, has been fully restored and will have its world premiere October 12th at Pittsburgh’s Regent Square Theatre.

If you love the original Creepshow as much as we do, you’ll really dig these other wicked anthologies.

Syfy Wire explains why they think raincoats are the scariest item of kids’ clothing in horror movies.

Maika Monroe may be better known as a Final Girl, but she really wants to take a stab at being the villain. Her dream? Freddy Krueger.

You may not recognize them, but you should absolutely know them. From Alice Guy-Blaché to Ida Lupino, these four women were major pioneers of horror cinema.

Esquire analyzed what makes Rob Zombie such a compelling filmmaker, and whittled it down to one key element – he’s fucking vile.

The legend of The Amityville Horror is almost as iconic as the film itself, but Popsugar examines the perennial question, was it all just a hoax?

Author and podcaster Brian Keene (you may remember him from issue 64) has been writing a monthly column on the history of horror fiction for nearly two years now, and he’s just made it to the first horror novel – The Castle of Otranto.


CAT DEAD, DETAILS LATER.

If you’re as excited as we are for Halloween, you must check out the Homicidal Homemaker’s Reagent Serum Jelly Shot Syringes. Full of just enough caffeine, they’re sure to revitalize you and your guests at your next party.


HEY, THAT’S US! – SHUDDER IN THE NEWS

‘Creepshow’ Review: Shudder’s Anthology Series Is a Bloody Good Ode to Old-School Horror

[Review] Shudder’s “Creepshow” Premiere Pays Tribute to Original Film and Forges Fun New Surprises

One Cut of the Dead [REVIEW]

Tigers Are Not Afraid Review

15 Horror Movies And Shows To Get Excited About This Fall, From The Walking Dead To Doctor Sleep (CreepshowThe Furies)