Hello boils and ghouls, it’s yer ‘ol pal Johnny here, and boy do I have quite a treat for you! Every day of this frightful month, I will be posting and spooking — I mean speaking — about deviant “Pre-Code” horror comic covers. Pre-Code refers to anything published before 1955, when the Comic Code Authority was created in 1954 to censor comics from publishing “lurid and unsavory” stories and art, meaning things such things as vampires, werewolves, ghouls, zombies, ect could no longer be portrayed in comic books. As a result, good must ALWAYS triumph over evil and villains can never be sympathetic. Words such as “horror” and “terror” could not be used on comic covers. Dark times indeed. My selection for the month isn’t focused on those that are the most shocking (though a few are) but rather on the best of horror and terror (physical and psychological) and those which display a variety of classic horror images and settings. Over 20 different artists from over 10 different publishers will be featured. I hope you all enjoy!
Men’s Adventures #26 (1954) Atlas Comics, Russ Heath.
Russ Heath is an artist most people usually associate with war and western comics (mostly war), or for his work at Playboy magazine on “Little Annie Fanny”, so it was fun discovering this wicked little gem during my research and finding his name attached. Heath is so well suited for horror, he has an incredible capacity to create mood with his particularly detailed style and masterful use of textures and lighting (which is one of the reasons his war comics are SO good). I really dig the vengeance theme of this macabre cover — this is not a simple case of the dead rising at midnight in the morgue and killing some person who works there. Clearly these dead have a – ahem – bone to pick with this man. Each of the ghoulish cadavers emerging from the morgue drawers, reaching out to the terrified fleeing man, are all sporting matching torn emerald outfits and have the same extreme, deathly pallor. The shadows from the bright overhead lights of the morgue which fall across the corpses’ clothes and emaciated forms beneath are beautifully rendered. I really appreciate that the terrified man running towards the door is not looking forward, but is looking back at the putrid pale corpses reaching out for him. He is so distracted by them that he doesn’t even notice his exit is being barred by a ghoul behind him, located off page. I love the arm reaching over to lock the door and the mocking “click!” sound effect (my favorite part of the cover!) giving this “vengeance from beyond the grave” scene a darkly humorous tone. Speaking of humor, Russ Heath, famously overstayed his welcome while helping with a project for Playboy Magazine. He and the other artists were put up in the Mansion until they were done working, and during that time were welcome to anything they wanted: food, drinks — whatever. Once the project was completed, everyone packed up and left except for Heath! He stayed and stayed for months until someone noticed that he didn’t belong there and kicked him out!