Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Shock of Horror Comics

There's a wonderful book out now, Jim Trombetta's THE HORROR! THE HORROR! COMIC BOOKS THE GOVERNMENT DIDN'T WANT YOU TO READ!, that not only offers many splendid reproductions of those notorious horror comics of the early 1950s, but text that educates and fills in some of the gaps in the birth of monster kid-dom that came with a magnificent bang with SHOCK Theater TV programming later in the decade.

Trombetta: "Of the eighty million comics that were released each month in the United States and Canada during the early fifties, a quarter were horror comics. From about 1950 to 1955, they were so popular that fifty to one hundred horror titles (everything from American Comics Group's ADVENTURES INTO THE UNKNOWN to Comic Media's WEIRD TERROR) were released monthly."

These horror comics were far more sensational than even some of the "spicy" horror pulps that preceded them and soon became the concern of parents and society. In 1954, the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency examined the supposed bad influence of such comics on the young, compelling the comic industry to adopt the "Comics Code Authority," which tagged acceptable comics with a seal of approval. Comics now began to self-censure themselves into lessening the gore and sex and outright horror (unrestrained by moral or religious codes) prevalent in titles like TOMB OF TERROR and CRIME DOES NOT PAY. Many magazine/comic distributors refused to carry comics that did not have the Comics Code Authority seal.

Within a year, those wicked and subversive (and beloved) horror comics were gone. This created a considerable vacuum for kids and teenagers across the country who now missed a steady diet of delicious and gruesome frights. One can only surmise that this yearning for horror found joyous release when another mass media vehicle--television and not comics--began its steady diet of horror, with many SHOCK programs hosted by macabre characters who dabbled in some of the far-out scenarios as did the several comic character hosts of the disowned horror comics of the early 1950s.

Unless repressed by totalitarian regimes, horror will out!

1 comment:

The Creeping Bride said...

I'm glad you wrote about this book, Mirek... I hadn't heard about it before now.

Another book that I have yet to see myself but which I have heard a lot of positive buzz about is Greg Sadowski and John Benson's Four-Color Fear: Forgotten Horror Comics of the 1950s.

And as a side note, for those interested in the War on Comic Books, there's a great rant-manifesto by Jon Scieszka about the censorship and banning of comic books in the 1950s that serves as an introduction to The Toon Treasury of Classic Children's Comics (2009). There's a big photo in that essay of a December 1948 bonfire of comic books in a Binghamton, NY schoolyard that was organized by the Cub Scouts... incredible...