Monday, January 31, 2011

Best Horror Comic Cover - Part 2

We'll get to Creepy 79, I promise.

But first, I wanted to talk about, well... this:

This is the cover to Harvey publications' 'Black Cat Mystery' issue 50, June 1954.
Cover artist is probably Lee Elias (although it may have been Warren Kremer).

At first glance, you probably say 'Ewww' or 'Man, they could get away with a lot before the Code came in!' It's a pretty gruesome image; a man's face and hands being melted away by a small bar of Radium. Actually, as Radium goes, that's a HUGE bar of Radium. And you'll be happy to know that even a huge bar of Radium-226 won't melt your face off at all, but radiation poisoning does exist so don't try this at home.

Where was I?

Oh yes.

The shocking cover is going to sell comics. Especially horror comics. And that is a shocking image. But do you know why it's a great cover.


'Yeah, the A-Bombs won the war but now they've blown up in our face! Science has really mucked it up this time!'

1954. Nine cold years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Most people were led to believe that the Atomic bomb was just a really powerful bomb. It blew stuff up. Radiation was good, it made X-Rays and glow-in-the-dark numerals on your Swiss watch. Governments around the world were testing atomic bombs left, right and center. Check out Bikini Atoll for a little history lesson.

Horror is exploitative. Let's be honest. It uses sex, murder, monsters and any other headline it can wrap its talons around. So in June 1954 it was Radiation Poisoning!

One last thing...

You'll notice with all these old covers that the logo takes up the top third of the comic. That's a lot of real estate. Do you know why that is?

Take a look at the typical newsstand in 1948:

For 90% of the titles, the only thing you would see was the top third. :)

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Best Horror Comic Cover

Comic Book Covers...

The comic book cover is the "brand" of the comic within. The cover is sex appeal, it's a high wire act, it's art. It's the publisher's best effort to get their book into your hands.

The strange dilemma of horror... How does the appalling appeal to us? Why do we buy something that may scare or disgust us? Is there some moral lesson imparted from these tales of fright that we need to hear for our own damned good? Will it put us on the path of righteousness? Or do fictional horrors serve to allay our own bed-time fears? Or just remind us to lock the door?

Perhaps we just like a good scare. Maybe all of the above and more.

So what makes a great HORROR cover?

It really is a case-by-case basis, isn't it? Let's consider perhaps THE most notorious comic cover in history, featured in Fredric Wertham's 'Seduction of the Innocent'... Johnny Craig's cover to Crime Suspenstories #22:
We could make the argument that this is a Crime comic, although William Gaines would disagree...

Senator Estes Kefauver: "Here is your May issue. This seems to be a man with a bloody axe holding a woman's head up, which has been severed from her body. Do you think that's in good taste?

William Gaines: Yes, sir, I do...for the cover of a horror comic. A cover in bad taste, for example, might be defined as holding the head a little higher so that blood could be seen dripping from it, and moving the body over a little further so that the neck of the body could be seen to be bloody...

OK, it's a Horror comic. And damn if Johnny Craig couldn't rock a cover!
There's just something about how the center is this guy's belly and your eye has to drift for a split second to put the elements together. The bloody axe, the half-shot of the woman's body on the floor and waitasecond... is that a severed head he's holding?! Whoa!

Right off the bat, you knew what kind of comic this was. Sure it ushered in the Comics Code Authority and destroyed comics for the next 20 years in America, but... whoa.

Next Up: Creepy #79