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!
Astonishing #30 (1954) Atlas Comics, Joe Maneely
This bizarre and graphic cover to Atlas Comics’ Astonishing #30 (1954) is by Philadelphia’s own Joe Maneely, Atlas Comics’ work horse. Joe Maneely is easily in my top 3 favorite comic book artists of all time. Not only was Maneely able to draw absolutely anything, but he did it with skillful dynamism and incredible speed, earning him the nickname Joe “Money” Maneely by his peers. Where to even begin with this strange and unsettling cover!? First thing that sticks out are the giant bloodshot eyes looming in the black sky, with only a furrowed nose ridge serving as any evidence of form. The flat yellow light emitting from the pupils really pops against the predominately black background as it shines down upon the confused and terrified man shredding his clothes and melting his muscle and flesh exposing him down to his skeleton, his legs ending not with feet but instead a puddle of liquescent plasma. The melting figure really showcases Maneely’s ability to change up his style to fit the feeling of his subject. The frightened melting man is rendered in such great detail and with a brilliantly thoughtful range of art styles, from realistic to downright cartoonish, further emphasizing the real and the surreal, and the moment when they meet and impossibly coexist. The extreme terror of that situation is evident. Look at the woman’s reaction, not only is she obviously totally scared but she looks mad, like this sight before her is way too much to comprehend and her mind cracks and lashes out in rage against the unknown and unfathomable. This piercing image is powerful enough that it doesn’t even need to be set in a graveyard, it could really work anywhere. A lot of people don’t know this, but, the precursor to Marvel Comics, Atlas Comics (which earlier was Timely Comics), had an excellent horror comic line up that rivaled even EC Comics in artistic excellence during the time when super heroes weren’t very popular, in the early to late 1950’s.