The Usual Suspects #59
Welcome back for yet another edition of The Usual Suspects. Continuing in the spirit of the season, this will be my final installment article for Halloween. The last two weeks, I looked at Marvel and DC’s Horror properties. So, even though looking at recent Independent Horror would have been fun, perhaps I will do that next year. Instead I wanted to delve into a topic that has interested me for some time, but I honestly didn’t know much about it. So, I switched into full on research mode and dove headfirst into Pre-Code Horror.
It’s about that time to take that pin out of this topic from last week and get into it.
I will be the first to admit that I know very little on this topic. I am by no means an expert. I sourced this list from books that caught my eye and that I wanted to look into from Ben C’s awesome Top 50 Pre-Code Horror List. If you haven’t seen the list you can check it out here, or if you want to see it in video format, Brian from Simpleman’s Comics has you covered here.
PCH Books have really seen a resurgence of late. No, not the Pacific Coast Highway and not The Publisher’s Clearing House. I’m talking about Pre-Code Horror.
But getting back to what I was saying, I am no expert here. So, if you want a master class run down on Pre-Code Horror, this wouldn’t be the place for you. I am just very interested in the topic and wanted to know more personally. So if you are interested in joining me on my novice tour of the subject of Pre-Code Horror, then welcome aboard.
So, what exactly are Pre-Code Horror comics? Horror comic books reached a peak following WWII, way back in the late 1940s through the mid-1950s. Before the horror boom these more graphic and adult themed stories and art grew out of the crime comic genre. And even some early superhero stories sometimes included popular horror monsters like ghouls and ghosts and vampires. But really the evolution from a subgenre of these Crime books is what spawned the horror craze. Take a look at some of these covers.
It’s Crime, but really pushing that envelope towards horror. So, in the late 1940’s comic books, these crime comics in particular, had become the target of mounting public criticism for their content and their potentially harmful effects on children. Many city and county ordinances had even banned some publications. Sound familiar?
Now this was a hot topic for a few years, and then in 1954 Dr. Fredric Wertham published Seduction of the Innocent, which that claimed horror, crime and other comics were a direct cause of juvenile delinquency. Yup it’s all the fault of comic books, crappy parents took no responsibility for raising crappy kids even back then.
Ok, I’m not gonna start a whole sociological debate on this subject, as I realize there are a lot of factors that go into a kid deemed to have “bad” behavior. My wife works in that field, so I get it. I’m just pointing out that on the macro level, even back in the 1950’s, we had some of the same debates. Fingers were pointed at a different medium to blame.
Anyway, Wertham’s book blamed violent behavior in children on them reading violent stories in comic books. Wertham also alleged that comics stimulated deviant sexual behavior. He noted that female breasts in comics protruded in a provocative way even using a cover by Matt Baker from Phantom Lady that was reprinted in the book with the caption, “Sexual stimulation by combining ‘headlights' with the sadist's dream of tying up a woman”.
And thus, now we have the term for that sub-genre of covers: Headlights. Thanks Freddy.
Now there is a lot more in his book to saying that comics promoted homosexuality by pointing to the Batman–Robin relationship, and lots of other outlandish claims. Excerpts from his book were published in Ladies' Home Journal and Reader's Digest, lending credibility to Wertham's arguments as well as riling up the mother’s everywhere. Seduction of the Innocent sparked a firestorm of controversy that led to a campaign for censorship.
Then in 1954 the public outcry got the feds involved. Yes, there were actually Senate Subcommittee hearings where comic books were being discussed and entered into evidence.
When all was said and done, the committee's final report did not find comics culpable for all crime everywhere, however it recommended that the comics industry tone down its content voluntarily. As a result, in the fall of 1954 the Comics Magazine Association of America (CMAA) and its Comics Code Authority (CCA) was formed.
Now when the Comics Code was formed that didn’t mean that Horror could no longer be published, but they did make it so any publication that didn’t adhere to their guidelines would not find distribution. So many of the larger publisher’s opted to shift gears and re-focus more towards suspense, mystery, and even science fiction.
Some horror publishers persevered as best they could in the subsequent years, but that isn’t the focus of this piece. No, I want to look at the books that brought us to this tipping point. The books that existed before the self-imposed big brother was watching. Pre-Code Horror.
Classic skull cover.
As I noted above, the horror genre grew out of the crime genre’s popularity and this is a book that crosses genres really illustrating the shift and the subgenre of horror taking root. Now from what I gather about Punch Comics, it appears to be an anthology book that features a lot of different types of stories. Looks like a mix of superhero types, crime, and horror.
And in researching, it appears that issues #3-#8 do not exist. I’m not sure why they would jump from issue #2 in 1942 to #9 in 1944 like that, but that’s what I found. And it was Mycomicshop that had the notation about the missing issues.
But this book is an absolute ghost and high atop the list for many collectors. Just look at it. So much going on with the gunfight, and the cash drop, and the damsel in distress; and all of it integrated with the skull design. And the red logo just pops off that stark black cover and white skull.
Market Analysis: These books will all be very hard to find. Not a lot of copies sold or available, especially on eBay. This is more of an auction house type book. That said there is one copy on eBay at the moment and it is a CGC 1.0 asking for over $6500. The cover is detached and missing quite a bit of the border, but there aren’t a lot of options.
1st horror comic book., Bondage cover.
So, this one-shot horror comic released by Avon Periodicals back in 1947 is credited as being the first true, stand-alone horror comics. It is also credited as establishing the horror comics’ genre. Gone are the days of Horror being a part of a mixed genre anthology. Now, a book could be full on Horror.
Just look at that cover which also hits a couple other cover collector sub-genres. Apart from the Nosferatu looking creeper on the cover you have the headlights, woman in red, bondage, damsel in distress aspects as well.
Inside the book, it was an anthology of 6 horror tales including works by comic’s legends Joe Kubert (The Man Eating Lizards) and Fred Kida (The Strange Case of Henpecked Harry).
Market Analysis: Once again, impossible to find book. Only copy available on eBay is a CGC 2.0 asking $3,500. Copy looks pretty clean apart from some tape down 2/3rds of the spine. But tape isn’t normally considered restoration, so it still gets the blessed blue label.
But this is the type of decision you gotta make on a book like this. If you have the cash and want the book, you may not be able to get the pristine top shelf perfectly preserved copy in your mind. You may need to settle for something just to be lucky enough to own any copy at all.
1st appearance of Crypt Keeper, and Crypt of Terror.
Another illustration of that genre shift from Crime to Horror, this issue of Crime Patrol features the first appearance of The Crypt Keeper and the Crypt of Terror. As you can see below, the original Crypt Keeper was an old witchy looking guy in a shroud as drawn by Al Feldstein.
As I mentioned last week, he didn’t take on the corpse-like puppet look until the Tales from the Crypt HBO series in 1989.
Somehow Tales from the Crypt was also adapted into a Saturday morning cartoon series called Tales from the Cryptkeeper. Yeah, a kid’s cartoon series.
Since the series was for kids it was significantly milder than the live-action HBO counterpart. Both series ran concurrently for a bit and all blood, gore, and innuendo was omitted in order to target the younger audience. But still featured John Kassir’s voice, so that at least made it still feel legit.
Market Analysis: In what is quickly becoming a theme, there is only one copy on eBay at this time. And that is a restored purple label CGC 5.5 asking a bit over $3,100. Based on the label it looks like some work was done to repair and reinforce the cover.
Personally, I’d rather have a raw beater copy than a restored one. I don’t know, there’s just something more pure and satisfying in that. Restoration feels like a cheat in some ways. Like implants. They’re just not the same.
1st issue. Numbering continued, from Crime Patrol #16
So, after a few issues Crime Patrol gets rebranded as it fully embraces a new horror direction and we get continued numbering, but a fresh new title with Crypt of Terror #17. This issue had a few short stories in the anthology form.
There was Death Must Come; a tale of cheating death by preserving youth. The Man Who Was Death; a state executioner takes the law into his own hands. The Corpse Nobody Knew; a couple find a body in their hotel room and play Scooby Doo. And finally, Curse of the Full Moon!; where a guy thinks he's become a werewolf after being scratched by a Wolfsbane plant. Very Vampire’s Kiss.
But this title only lasted 3 issues before it changed again to Tales from the Crypt with issue #20.
It would carry that title until it ended with issue #46. It’s weird to think that all of these titles were the same series; having previously been International Comics (#1-#5); International Crime Patrol (#6); Crime Patrol (#7-#16) and The Crypt of Terror (#17-#19) before becoming Tales from the Crypt with issue #20.
Market Analysis: A more reasonably priced book, and yet it’s still impossible to find copies. Currently you can get a set of #17-19 in low grade for $650. That includes a CGC 1.0 of #17, and a pair of readers in #18 & 19.
It’s either that or you can pick up a coverless copy for $145. But with books of this era, it’s really all in the cover.
1st issue. Formerly War Against Crime., Bondage torture cover.
The Vault of Horror was another horror comic anthology series published by EC Comics in the early 1950s. Along with Tales from the Crypt and The Haunt of Fear, these 3 formed a trifecta of top-notch EC horror anthologies.
This was yet another situation where the title changed from War Against Crime to Vault of Horror with this issue as the shift to Horror continued at EC comics. The Vault-Keeper became the title's host and occasionally shared duties with the Old Witch and the Crypt-Keeper from the other popular EC Titles of the time.
I think it’s also about time that we highlight the fact that this horror craze was really spearheaded by Entertaining Comics, more commonly known as EC Comics. Initially, EC was owned by Maxwell Gaines who originally specialized in educational and child-oriented stories.
When Max Gaines died in 1947 in a boating accident, his son William inherited the comics company. In 1949 and 1950, Bill Gaines began a line of new titles featuring horror, suspense, science fiction, military fiction and crime fiction.
EC published comics that pushed the boundaries of the times with its horror books featuring gruesome tales with grimly ironic fates. Shock SuspenStories tackled weighty political and divisive social issues such as racism, sex, and drug use; while Crime SuspenStories had many parallels with film noir. Or look at their war comics, Frontline Combat and Two-Fisted Tales, which often featured beat down John McClain types in edgier stories in stark contrast with the ultra-patriotism following the war. These weren't “heroes”, but selfish characters looking out for themselves.
Following the publication of Wertham's Seduction of the Innocent and the highly publicized Congressional hearing on juvenile delinquency, Gaines ended publication of his three horror and the two SuspenStories titles on September 14, 1954. Thus, marking the end of an era.
Market Analysis: Finally, an attainable book. Well attainable in that there are multiple copies up. A whole 7 different options right now, but they still are not cheap; and they are most definitely out of my current budget.
Top copies are a CGC 6.5 for about $3,300 or a solid looking raw copy for just under $2,800. The cheapest option being a $100 coverless copy; but again, the cover is really the big selling point of these books.
First let’s just start off with just looking at this crazy cover. It is just so awesome. The colors just pop, and the gritty details really make this stand out from the crowd. Granted this is a humanoid face in the vein of some Neanderthal Geico caveman type vibe, but it really just reminds me of this scene from Temple of Doom.
“And monkey's brains, though popular in Cantonese cuisine, are not often to be found in Washington D.C.”
Sorry, I'm a big fan of the movie Clue, so that couldn’t go unsaid given the set up.
That said, the story of an escaped convict being bitten by a vampiric being in the swamp which turns him into a demonic beast man seems clichéd by today’s standards, but this was a novel idea back in those days.
Again, this cover and art by Basil Wolverton is just so cool. He was an illustrator known for his intricately detailed grotesque images, specializing in bizarre, exaggerated, or misshapen people. The only thing cooler than this cover would have to be that name, Basil Wolverton. First and last are both awesome.
Market Analysis: Ok, back to the standard, only one copy available right now. In this case the only copy is a PGX 2.5 for just under $4k. Eww PGX, that’s grosser than the cover itself.
But seriously, you would have to get this re-slabbed by CGC and hope there was no resto as you are just throwing away value if you don’t. The sad fact remains that given all of the comics grading companies, CGC trades at a premium over the rest.
Origin and 1st appearance of, the Zombie (Simon William Garth).
This was an Atlas Comics release, the 1950’s precursor to Marvel Comics. The issue features the first appearance of the supernatural Marvel character the Zombie. A standalone story, the Zombie was introduced here but he would later become the focus for the 1970s black-and-white comics magazine Tales of the Zombie.
An absolutely gorgeous Boris Vallejo cover. And if it looks familiar, it’s because we recently had an In-Hyuk Lee Homage cover. I’m an In-Hyuk Lee fan, but Boris has him on this with the original. And he had a few outstanding covers on that mag before giving way to Earl Norem.
But before the magazine, which only ran for 10 issues, we had this comic from 20 years prior. And you can see the difference 20 years made. Looking at the above mag you get sort of a rock n’ roll vide with the hair and the open vest look. This is in stark contrast to the original introduction which featured a very Frankenstein/Solomon Grundy type.
The entire story was only 7 pages of this issue, so it’s quite surprising that it would be revived two decades later for its own title. But hey, why create new I.P.’s if you already have something in your catalogue, right?
Market Analysis: No copies up on this one. The market is emptier than Ralph Wiggum’s Valentine’s box.
Ok so this one is a biggie. This is definitely one of the more popular covers out there from this PCH era. I’m sure it’s in part due to its use by The Misfits as the cover of their single for Die! Die! My Darling!
And if you are not familiar, this is not the bad girl band from Jem and the Holograms, though they are pretty cool if you ask me.
No, this band of Misfits are a punk rock band often recognized as the progenitors of the horror punk subgenre. Plenty of other musical acts were influenced by their horror film themes and imagery. Plus, they are from Jersey.
Anyway, this isn’t about cartoons or bands but a blue-chip comic book. But honestly, while many folks are aware of this book, I’m not sure many even know what’s inside those pages. Myself included. The real selling point of this book is that iconic cover image which has found itself the subject of the homage treatment.
But diving in as I like to do, let me look into this a bit more for my own edification. But I will share my findings with you as usual. So, this is another horror anthology much like any other from that era. Can’t say that any of the below stories stand out for anything in particular.
It’s amazing how different times are when you read some of these older books. Just the beginning of the cover feature “Black Passion” would have you think this was a completely different story. Sort of a Mad Men meets In & Out vibe at the start.
Such different times. Jason has a different idea of unwinding, I guess. Back then you could also apparently lose weight by chewing gum or openly shame kids into taking supplements and steroids. I mean seriously, you could say anything back then. Doctor’s recommended certain brands of cigarettes in those days.
But once you get past all of insults aimed at skinny, spindly-armed sissies; I’m not sure if they are selling an exercise program or a lifestyle change. What young boy doesn’t want a free photo book of STRONG MEN.
Market Analysis: Our recurring theme for PCH books, there are very few options available. Only 2 to be exact. We either have our big boy collector CGC 6.5 copy available for $11k, or can I interest you in our Restored CBCS 1.0 for just over $2,100 for our more discerning shopper?
Once again, it’s all about the cover. This is just an awesome image with this zombie looking to get himself caught up in the “Me Too” movement. Look buddy, she’s not into it. Read the social cues.
But continuing with the 10-cent horror anthology published bimonthly by Harvey Publications, here we have another issue that is seeing interest based on that cover. A lot of PCH collectors have said to just buy covers that catch your eye as they may get their day in the sun.
That’s good advice if you can get any of these books at a decent price but good luck finding them. These are books that are nearly 70 years old, you aren’t gonna just flip past one in dollar bin.
Now Chamber of Chills was another title that had a wonky publishing history. It was formerly Blondie Comics and its numbering begins where Blondie left off (issue 20). The first four issues of Chamber are consequently numbered 21-24.
Then in 1952, the numbering was reset with the fifth issue. So, this particular issue Chamber of Chills should not be confused with the other #23 shown above. To make matters worse, the title became Chamber of Clues in February 1955 thanks to our buddy Freddie and then saw only two more issues before it folded in April 1955.
Market Analysis: A whopping 50% more copies of this Chamber of Chills #23 over that #19 on the market. That means there’s 3 whole copies available. Top dog is a CGC 3.5 for about $2,500 with a decent number of watchers. Folks are interested in these books even if they can’t buy in, they are interested.
And that $2,500 doesn’t seem so bad considering the two CGC copies that are 1.5’s are both looking for just under $2k. So, if a CGC 1.5 is $1,800, that’s $600 per ½ a point. By that rationale, that 3.5 should be $7k. So $2,500 is a steal.
And finally, we have one of the all-time Classic Warren Kremer covers showing man's face and hands burning away. I used to think this was a guy whose face burned away thanks to smoking a cigarette. Sort of an extreme anti-smoking ad for kids. Kind of like the vaping ones they run on TV today that look more like horror movie trailers.
Seriously my son has questions about them all the time. He’s 7 so he doesn’t quite get how smoking equates to worms under your skin. The metaphor is beyond him, so I just sell him the idea that smoking will literally give him worms under his skin. Whatever works, right?
I used to smoke, so hopefully he doesn’t make the same mistakes. You know how many more comics I could’ve bought if I wasn’t wasting my $$$ on cigarettes al those years?
That said, again this classic cover is one of the most recognizable and desirable horror covers from the 1950s. That Radium melting this poor guy’s face looks a bit like a Slim Jim. Perhaps this is a warning against nitrates and preservatives.
I’ve never seen inside this book, but rumor is that inside is some uncredited Frank Frazetta artwork. The story goes that in the 5-page short story, “Here Today…” Artist Sid Check did the layouts and pencils, while Frank Frazetta came in to help him finish the job with inks.
That little tidbit adds to the mystique of this book, but it’s still really based on the strength of this cover. Dude looks like he opened the Ark of the Covenant.
Market Analysis: Only one copy of this bad boy on the market right now, so a CGC 1.5 will run you $5k. That’s no small chunk of change right there, but that’s what a PCH Grail can run you.
So, that brings us to our final section. Here I’ll throw out a few more quick hits in the PCH genre. Some heavy hitters below even if I didn’t give them the full-on deep dive. Please enjoy.
Actually, there is a little bit more to say on this one. Once called the “most notorious cover illustration” of all time; this image has been the subject of multiple homage covers over the years. We had Locke & Key, Exciting Comics, The Shadow, Cult Classic, Die Kitty Die, and many more.
And of course, I’m sure we all know the Cover to Wolverine #55.
Just an awesome homage. One of my absolute favorites. It pays homage to the original; yet it gives its own spin on it with the claws instead of the ax and the context of the relationship between Logan and Creed. Seriously Greg Land can sometimes take a lot of flak for photo referencing and lifting images from sources that include hardcore pornography, but he outdid himself on this one. I wouldn’t even care if that was a Peter North face used for reference, it works.