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!
Vault of Horror #34 (1953) EC Comics, Johnny Craig
Here is my second and final Johnny Craig cover for this month’s Pre-Code Horror covers, and I don’t know if a comic cover has ever creeped me out more than this. Johnny Craig’s cover for Vault of Horror #34 is easily my favorite Craig cover of all time. Take, like, twenty seconds and really look at it (I’ll wait).
Pure psychological horror right here, nothing fantastical or even graphic. Usually I love covers that put you in the scene, but this is just too much! From our point of view, we see our hands tied and bound together, a square cut out of the blackness that is our captivity revealing our captors looming above. The figure looking down in the foreground haunts my dreams! Look at those piercing, bright, wild, wide eyes shining in the shadows of his face and that horrible open-mouthed grin, with saliva dripping down. That disturbing and depraved look completely saturates the page with anxious energy. Hunched down studying his prey with a sinister yet childlike curiosity. What exactly is this man thinking? In the upper left corner we see another man standing and looking down with a cold and sinister look. Could you imagine opening your eyes and seeing this? This really is a fantastically well composed cover, powerful in its simplicity and execution. The shading is well done on multiple layers, the bound hands look realistic, anchoring you down into the scene, and the looming man’s face darkened by shadow highlights the intense insanity of his eyes and facial features. Johnny Craig, an artist who was never into illustrating gore, found his way into the comic horror artist pantheon by way of his technical artistic talent and a brilliant understanding of mood and fear, and this cover is a testament to those talents.