Sunday, August 19, 2012

Part VIII: Horror We? How's Bayou! The EC Age of Comics


The New Reprints: A Voyage of Discovery to the Golden Age of Comic Books

Part VIII: 1980s until Today: The EC Age of Comics, 

and of course, the others companies too!

This project will be presented in twelve parts. Unfortunately, I can’t change the order, so later posts will appear first. Please try to check this out in order! And your comments are important. Please post how you became aware of comics and their history!
  1. Introduction/Comics in "real" books.
  2. 1960s: Reprints from the Comic Companies: 80 Page Giants & Marvel Tales!
  3. 1960s: The Great Comic Book Heroes
  4. 1960s: The Paperback Era
  5. 1970s: The Comic Strips AND the Comic Book Strips! 
  6. 1970s: DC from the 1930s and the Origins at Marvel Part I
  7. 1970s: DC from the 1930s and the Origins at Marvel Part II
  8. 1980s until Today: Horror We? How's Bayou! The EC Age of Comics
  9. 1990s until Today: The Archives and Masterworks
  10. How The West Was Lost
  11. When Comics Had Influence: Public Service, Education & Promotion
  12. Journeys End, What We Leave Behind: A Century of Comics
So let us continue our voyage to and from the 1960s and discover the world of comics once almost forgotten. Our expedition is mostly into the world of reprints that were available OUTSIDE the newsstands and comic book stores but we will have a few detours on the way.


In the last section, I wrote that this story would begin here.


But it actually began here:

Senator KEFAUVER: Here is your May 22 issue (Crime Suspense #22, 1954). This seems to be a man with a bloody ax holding a woman's head up which has been severed from her body. Do you think that is in good taste?
Mr. 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 the neck could be seen dripping blood from it and moving the body over a little further so that the neck of the body could be seen to be bloody.


 
Senator KEFAUVER: You have blood coming out of her mouth.  
Mr. GAINES. A little.
Senator KEFAUVER: Here is blood on the ax. I think most adults are shocked by that.
The CHAIRMAN. Here is another one I want to show him.
Senator KEFAUVER: This is the July one (Crime Suspense #23). It seems to be a man with a woman in a boat and he is choking her to death here with a crowbar. Is that in good taste?
Mr. GAINES: I think so.
Mr. HANNOCH: How could it be worse?
                            
The Senate Committee  to Investigate Juvenile Delinquency began hearings in New York City in 1954. Parents were finding articles like this in their morning paper:
                                 

My trips to the library in the 1960s to find out more about the history of comics involved searching through microfilms of old newspapers. This was the Google of that era. Almost every time the indexes  brought up articles about the "horror" comics, the 1950s Senate hearings, the Comics Code and very little else. In fact my school library has a book that just contained these Senate transcripts. Gosh, were those comics that bad? Would just reading them would make me a criminal? Or worse?
                                         

In an era without comic book stores, it was very hard to find EC or any old horror comics. Most parents had thrown them out, not necessarily because they were “bad” but because their kids had grown up and moved out. So, after all these years of reading about how the horror comics corrupted our youth , the EC Horror Compendium was released. It a big size, in full color for $20. I could not wait to read it. And I hoped I would be corrupted too!

Frankly, I was turned off by the violence and gore in many of the horror stories, stunningly reproduced here. Sadly, I have now become used to much of this sort of thing: watching TV, seeing movies and reading Golden Age and modern comics. The EC story that sickened me the most was “Foul Play” where they cut up a baseball player and, well, it was terrible.

The EC comics, “Crime Does Not Pay” and the other horror and crime comics had a strange but distinct morality. Bad people who did bad things will pay for their acts, often in bad, horrifying ways. Good didn't always triumph, but evil always lost. Even in “Foul Play” the corpse was once a very bad person.

Above: Jack Davis' Foul Play from Haunt of Fear #19. Below the story is "wonderfully" reproduced in the EC Horror collection. These were hard to take.
                               

"Barry ("Blood and Guts") Pearl is probably the most squeamish person I know. He absolutely cannot watch bloody or violent scenes in movies and avoids them like the plague. We're talking about someone who has never watched the bursting scene in Alien, and has been known to close his eyes on less shocking moments. My brother John and I can directly testify to this, since there have been times we've watched his reactions in disbelief. Nevertheless, he has the entire EC horror collection on his shelves; reprints of ACG and Warren material; Crime Does Not Pay, and assorted 1950s horror fare. To some this may sound like a contradiction (and it is!),but he truly appreciates comics of all types. Somehow though, I doubt the famous (or Infamous) EC Baseball story (you all know the one I mean) is on his all time favorite list."  Nick Caputo

The title, "Horror Comics of the 1950s" was a bit of a misnomer. The book contained other great stories of suspense ("A Kind of Justice") and science fiction ("Saved" and "Space Borne").  These were well paced, beautifully drawn stories that I was not used to seeing. They had strong, disturbing endings that  would be hard to forget.

I got my first look at Krigstein's Master Race. This was one of the greatest comic book stories I had ever read. It was drawn with great care, yet with simplicity; it told a great a moving story and made a haunting, unforgettable point at the end.
                           
Bernard Krigstein's Master Race was originally published in the first  issue (April 1955) of EC's Impact.This was one story that should always be in print.

 

This is what EC was about: the worst that comics could deliver and the best.

East Coast Comix had reprinted as comics, 12 EC issues from 1973-1975. Their first was the last issue of Tales from the Crypt which they entitled The Crypt of Terror. These comics were not available in bookstores. I just have a few of them and I am guessing I got them at the “new” comic book store. These comics were not printed very well, they were a bit muddy.


         The East Coast Comix had their own letter's pages too!


The Russ Cochran EC Library books are the best reproductions and representation of a comic line ever produced. The volumes came in sets and in sleeves. They were 12.5 x 9.5 inches bigger than the original comics. Their publishing started in 1978, but I didn't see them until a few years later.  The black and white printing highlighted the details and the care the artists had in producing these comics. They also reprinted important and informative interviews, the letters' pages and so much more. And at long last, I was to get a full picture of an historic part of the Golden Age!





                                           
                        



Picto-Fiction was the last published volumes, in 2006.  It took over a quarter of a century years to publish a total of 61 volumes, in 17 sets. (Above right, Cochran does not show the Romance, Westerns or Picto-Fiction volumes.)


Picto-Fiction had great painted covers and often great art inside. The stories, often re workings of their earlier comic book tales were too often bland and unoriginal. Yet, this could be considered a forerunner of the graphic novels.

The art in the entire EC line of comics was spectacular, the stories were interesting and the horror was often, well, ghastly. I was introduced to great, not just good, war stories. The Sci-Fi stories were wonderful. And then there was Wally Wood, whose work would be outstanding. As Nick Caputo states, The imagination of the incomparable Wally Wood is breathtaking. It encompasses a yearning for the wonders that exist beyond the stars. His depictions of gleaming spaceships and detailed machinery; curvaceous women and rugged men; bizarre aliens and playful creatures showcase a childlike wonder that fills his comic book work with a compelling vision. Wood was an exceptionally unique creator, and his personality, passion and creativity flowed through his hands. Like Sinatra, Miles Davis or Lennon and McCartney, he made a statement that resonated with his audience. His work remains a cornerstone of the best the medium has to offer."

It is best to read these books a few stories at a time. You begin to anticipate events and conclusions when you read them all together. The EC romance stories, westerns and the early crime stories are simple stories which were common for the era. Since the EC era lasted only five years, they keep most of their best talent and the stories don’t seem to repeat themselves until the very end. I had ready many of the early Mads in black and white paperbacks and it was great to see them, in their entirety and in full color. (Mad was the only one of these volumes in color) Oh yes, EC’s own competition for Mad was a comic called Panic, which they also published, and it’s very funny and weird.

War is Heck!

War is Heck, Don Heck that is. It would also be Ayers, Kurtzman and Severin
War, of course, is hell. It is even worse than that. But in the “Silver Age of Comics” war could only be heck. You could not see its horrors, nor the toll it took on those who fought it and those who survived it. These EC stories told in Two Fisted Tales and Frontline Combat showed the horrors of war and were like nothing I had seen in the Comic Code era. In the 1960s, Marvel and DC both passed on the then current war, Viet Nam, with just a handful of stories. Both companies placed their war comics in WW II and made them action and adventure tales. But it was different here. And it was subversive. You did see the horrors of war and its consequences, and it wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t glorious and it wasn’t fun. It was hell. The EC comics also should the suffering and hardship ON BOTH SIDES! EC also had war stories, In Two Fisted Tales and Frontline Combat that spanned all wars, past and then very present, Korea.

The Comics Code was put in place not just to get rid of violence and gore, but to align these companies to present a sanitized picture of 1950s America that didn’t exist. The code got rid of stories regarding social justice and southern justice; it got rid of stories about equality and kept comics as white as they could. I learned this from reading this comics, the congressional transcripts and the newspaper articles:



  1. Censorship can be more about stopping ideas and discussions of social progress, and less about violence or obscenities.
  2. We claim there is a freedom of the press in this country, but we allow government to censor TV, radio and use their power to impose regulations on comics, newspapers and other media.
  3. Parents wanted to blame comics, blame someone, for their lack of control of their children. Soon they were to blame TV shows, then movies, then books, then video games for their problems.
  4. If comics were not written just for 12 year old before the Comics Code they certainly were right after.
Harvey Kurtzman wrote great stories about several wars for his EC comics. Above is from the new color EC archives. Below, left, is a photo of his original art from "The Art of Harvey Kurtzman" and to the right is from the black and white Archives.


The "censors" will still there in 1965 when Warren Publishing, most famous for Creepy, published Blazing Combat, a series that was inspired by the great war comics of EC. They presented tough stories that showed the horrors of combat and were declared "anti-war," and not supportive of our involvement in the Viet Nam conflict. The distributors were able to block the distribution of this book. It was cancelled after just four issues. The hardcover and paperback collection of this series versions of this book are now available.


The code did not believe in progress. "Horror Comics Of The 1950's"  included one story which was not a reprint, "An Eye For An Eye" by Angelo Torres. It was slated for Incredible Science Fiction #33 but was pulled due to comics code objections. Marie Severin, famed EC (and later Marvel) colorist ,did the coloring of this story especially for this book in 1971. Instead of using this story publisher William Gaines scheduled a famous story, "Judgement Day" which had originally appeared in Weird Fantasy #18. The censors did not want a comic book to portray a black astronaut. Or America conflicted by a war. Or working women or anything else that would be interesting to write about.This was another story that should always be in print.



Al Feldstein: “Judge Murphy (head of the Comics Code) wanted to throw it (Judgment Day) out, and then he told me I couldn't have a Negro at the end, which was the whole basis of the story! And then when Bill told him to go screw himself, they were going to publish it anyway and have a press conference and show that the Comic Code Authority was racially intolerant. He said, "Okay, it can be a black, you've got to take this sweat off his brow." Because I had done a drawing at the end, at the revelation that he was black, like the distant stars on the perspiration on his face. He said we had to take those off or he wouldn't let it go through. It was ridiculous. As far as the code was concerned, as Judge Murphy was concerned, he was operating under the orders of the other publishers who wanted us out of business, period. We were trouble. We were writing good stuff, we had great artwork, and we were making it difficult for them, stealing their dimes.”

So, 20 years, later I get to read these stories for the first time and I get depressed! I learned that comics not only could have great stories, but great art. And the stories could be about something. I would never be a fan of the horror, but to have good stories you must have artistic freedom. But these types of stories, not just horror, but sci-fi and stories of social awareness, could not be on the newsstands.
In 2008, Cochran began reprinting the EC library again, this time in slightly smaller volumes, but in color. They are excellent and we have had discussions about which was better the color or the black and white editions. For a while they stopped publishing the color reprints, but I got word on June 30, 2012 that “We have been given permission to print 2 more EC Archive editions. They will be TALES FROM THE CRYPT VOL 4 and TWO-FISTED TALES VOL 3.”

EC published 91 Horror books but that is misleading. The "horror" genre crept trhough to their crime and sci-fi books.


Amazing Adventures #1-5 (S)
Weird Adventures #10
Terror 17 to 19 (Apr.—May 1950 — Aug.—Sep. 1950)
Haunt of Fear 15 to 17, 4 to 28 (May—June 1950 —Nov.—Dec. 1954)
Tales from the Crypt 20 to 46 (Oct.—Nov. 1950 —Feb.—Mar. 1955)
Tales of Terror Annual 1 to 3 (1951— 1953)
Three—Dimensional Tales from the Crypt of Terror 3—D no. 2 (Spring 1954)
Vault of Horror 12 to 40 (Apr.—May 1950 —Dec. 1954—Jan. 1955)


In 2012, IDW released the Wally Wood EC Artist edition. This featured actual size reprints of the original black and white artwork. The book is stunning. Check out the size compared with the other volumes and the Two Fisted Tales regular sized comic.

Let’s go to “A Weighty Decision." First, a photograph of the splash from the Artist’s Edition, then a scan of the original page, then a scan from the black and White archives and finally, one from the newer color one. Everyone I know likes the artist edition best, there is no question about that. But some prefer the black and white archives to the color one. The art is clearer and more detailed in black and white.

Mike Vassallo writes,
“I preferred the black and white because it made me feel like I was looking at the original art the artists produced. The Cochran books were actually shot from the original artwork or black and white stats. That and the large size made the experience for me much more intense and immediate.”

This is a photograph of the Wally Wood Artist Edition.


This is a scan of the original artwork. Below are scans from the black and white and color editions.


There was a bit of controversy regarding the look of the color reprints, they looked beautiful, but were not completely representative of the original coloring. Cochran responded: "Technology changes. We are now able to color these comics with an infinite palette, and to reproduce the artists' linework much more clearly. If these new computer generated color techniques had been available in the 1950s, I think Bill Gaines would have used it because it makes the EC work even more beautiful. So the EC material has been printed three different ways: with the old color, as originally published back in the 1950s, without any color, as it was drawn by the EC artists (the EC Library), and with the best color we can do with modern technology (the EC Archives)."

My take? Russ is right. I want the best looking books. I don't confuse the coloring with the penciling and inking. They had a limited color palette of 12 colors, now it's larger. These books are terrific.



               
From the 1970s into the 1990s, Russ Cochran, also published the EC library in various comic book forms including: EC Portfolios, The Complete EC Library, EC Classics, RCP Reprints and EC Annuals. The printing here varied from excellent to good. These were sold mostly in comic book shops and not in regular bookstores.



There will not be a lot of DC here. That is, DC did not have true “horror” comics in the 1950s. These were the DC tame "horror" comics

House of Mystery #1-35
Sensation Comics #107-109
Sensation Mystery #110-116
 
Marvel had “horror” and “crime” in 389 issues, but as with EC it crept into it's other genres. In fact the most "horror" I have seen in these Atlas Tales has been in their war stories.

Adventures into Terror 43, 44, 3 to 31 (Nov. 1950 - May 1954)
Adventures into Weird Worlds 1 to 30 (Jan. 1952 - June 1954)
Amazing Detective Cases 11 to 14 (Mar. 1952 - Sep. 1952)
Amazing Mysteries 32, 33 (May 1949 - July 1949) [34, 35 feature crime stories)
Astonishing 3 to 37 (Oct. 1951 - Feb. 1955)  
Captain America's Weird Tales 74, 75 (Oct. 1949 - Feb. 1950)
Journey into Mystery 1 to 22 (June 1952 - Feb. 1955) [23 to
Journey into Unknown Worlds 4 to 33 (Apr. 1951 - Feb. 1955)
Marvel Tales 93 to 131 (Aug. 1949 - Feb. 1955)
Menace 1 to 11 (Mar. 1953 - May 1954)
Men's Adventures 21 to 26 (May 1953 - Mar. 1954)
Mystery Tales 1 to 26 (Mar. 1952 - Feb. 1955)
Mystic 1 to 36 (Mar. 1951 - Mar. 1955)
Spellbound 1 to 23 (Mar. 1952 - June 1954)
Strange Tales 1 to 34 (June 1951 - Feb. 1955)
Suspense 1 to 29 (May 1950 - Apr. 1953)
Uncanny Tales 1 to 28 (June 1952 - Jan. 1955)
Venus 12- to 19 (June 1951 - Apr. 1952)

Marvel's horror was not on the same level artistically as EC, nor where they as gory as a lot of others. When the restrictions of the Comics Code were loosened in 1971, Marvel reprinted many of the “tamer” horror stories from the 1950s in their reprints books: Beware, Where Creatures Roam, Where Monsters Dwell, Weird Wonder Tales, Vault of Evil, Uncanny Tales, Tomb of Darkness, Chamber of Chills and many, many others. I now am sure several panels were edited, as we saw in chapter 2.  Sadly, none of these books included Atlas or Golden Age super-heroes.


 

                    Beware #1 (1973) reprinted a story from Menace #8 (1953), with no changes in the art.


 The Crypt of Shadows reprinted an early story from Strange Tales #3, with only an inconsequential  change in the right word balloon.


But the Comic Code would never allow the original cover.
By 1973, Marvel began competing with Warren’s Creepy and Eerie by releasing, quickly, a series of black and white magazines that would not need the Comics Code approval. These included Dracula Lives, Vampire Tales, Monsters Unleashed Haunt of Horror and Tales of the Zombie. Marvel also published, in this format, the Rampaging Hulk, The Savage Sword of Conan and Planet of the Apes. These were familiar characters in non-code stories. Under the original code regulations these magazines could not be advertized in regular comics, but times changed and ads for these magazine did appear in the regular comics.





















The revised Comics Code allowed the “undead” (Vampires) but would not allowed the “living” dead (Zombies). In 25 words or less can you tell me the difference between the undead and the living dead?  Well, Simon Garth, the Zombie got his own magazine.  Few of these publications went beyond 12 issues.

But these “horror” magazines were able to reprint many of the Atlas/Marvel horror stories from the early 1950s, uncensored by the code. Here is a Bill Everett story that originally appeared in Menace #5 (1953). See that Marvel occasionally added a color tint to a black and white page.


 I have now seen horror and crime stories published from a dozen different companies. Without a doubt, EC was the best. EC did not publish any action adventure comics, or any with super-heroes, they stuck with what they did best.


Warren Publishing had returned comic storytelling to horror in 1964 with Creepy and Eerie with no public outcry. Partially because these were published as black and white magazines. A few other companies came and went, and a few magazines offered black and reprints from the horror era of the 1950s.

Eerie publications starting in the mid 1960s, published 11 “horror” magazines including Weird Tales, Tales of Voodoo and Tales from the Tomb. Originally these were 35 cent black and white magazines, which were three times the cost of a regular comic. And they were printed very badly, with not so appealing covers. While some of their stories were new, most were reprints from the Ajax's 62 color comic’s line of the 1950s. It was difficult to determine what was new and what wasn’t. If you read Nick’s note about me, you can why I was not a collector of these comics. If you were interested in typical 1950s horror, these books were for you.

The Ajax "horror" books were:

Fantastic Fears 7, 8, 3 to 9 (May 1953 - Sep.-Oct. 1954)
Fantastic 10, 11 (Nov.-Dec. 1954 - Jan.-Feb. 1955)
Haunted Thrills 1 to 18 ( June 1952 - Nov.-Dec. 1954)
Strange Fantasy 2 (1), 2 to 14 (Aug. 1952 - Oct.-Nov. 1954)
Voodoo 1 to 18 (May 1952-Nov. - Dec. 1954)
Voodoo Annual 1 (1952)



 Currently, PS Publishing (http://www.pspublishing.co.uk/index.asp) have been printing a series of the Harvey and ACG Horror books books from the 1950s. But they were not the first to raid Harvey's vault. Fifties Terror had a six issue run in 1989. It had new covers but black and white reprints inside.  Here's a splash  from Chamber of Chills #8.



The illustrations in the PS editions are obviously scans from comic books and they have done their best to reproduce them. I have enjoyed their forwards and introductions, which have gotten better in time. Michael Gilbert and Roy Thomas have recently joined their fold.

Not only do they print the stories from each issue of “Forbidden Worlds,” “Tomb of Terror,” “Black Cay Mysteries, ”Chamber of Chills” and so many more, they also have great features on the original artists and their art. PS also reproduces many of the ads from that period, which are great to look at. If you like this sort of thing, this is the thing that you’d like. I will do a much longer piece for these books on this site soon. I have enjoyed these stories.



HARVEY "horror" ran 96 issues
Black Cat Mystery 30 to 53 (Aug. 1951 — Dec. 1954)
Chamber of Chills 21 to 24, 5 to 26 (June 1951 — Dec. 1954)
Thrills of Tomorrow 17, 18 (Oct. 1954 — Dec. 1954)
Tomb of Terror 1 to 16 (June 1952 — July 1954)
Witches Tales 1 to 28 (Jan. 1951 — Dec. 1954)

 AMERICAN COMICS GROUP "horror" ran 119 issues
Adventures into the Unknown 1 to 61 (Fall 1948 - Jan.-Feb. 1955)
The Clutching Hand 1 (July - Aug. 1954)
Forbidden Worlds 1 to 34 (July-Aug. 1951 - Oct.-Nov. 1954)
Out of the Night 1 to 17 (Feb.-Mar. 1952 - Oct.-Nov. 1954)
Skeleton Hand 1 to 6 (Sep.-Oct. 1952 - July-Aug. 1953)

  But wait there is more!!!

Four Color Fear, The Forgotten Horror Comics” by Gregg Sadowski immediately reminds us that it wasn’t just EC producing Horror comics in the 1950s. This entertaining, large size, 300 page anthology is in color and uses scans of the original comics. It sells for $30. This book gives us a great overview of the period, with an interesting afterword. For a great snapshot of this era, this is the perfect book.



The Horror, The Horror: Comic Books the Government Didn't Want You to Read!” by Jim Trombetta is also a color book scanned from the original comics and cost $30. It is very different from the previous book. This is a great overview, with less stories and more text, but with a great commentary of the era.  Uniquely it comes with a DVD containing a 30 minute documentary Confidential File, a rare 25-minute TV show that first aired on October 9, 1955, about the "evils" of comic books and their effect on juvenile delinquency.


                      





One book that I don’t recommend, “The Mammoth Book of Horror Comics” is an $18 dollar smaller (despite its title) but thicker book that is in black and white. The comics are half the size that they should be in this 512 page book. Not a lot of these stories are from the 1950s, many are much newer. But the printing is just poor, I don’t find the images sharp or even interesting to look at.


For the first time in a half a century, we are able to look back at the 1950s and earlier and get a more complete picture of what comics were like.

An Addendum

This is a blog about reprints of the actual comics and comics strips. In the 1960s and early 1970s we had to settle for what was out there, not the completeness of what we really wanted. So, in the 1980s, I am no longer looking at every book that is out there, but the books that contain full reprints of stories and comics never before reprinted. But let us take a detour to some later books that are still informative and ahead some light on this era.

First up are three books on EC, written by researchers and fans.  My favorite of the three is “Tales from the Crypt” by Digby Diehl, published by St. Martin’s Press in 1996 and sold for $45. (not cheap). The hardcover is now selling on Amazon for $317. Get the TBP.  This is a wonderful, over sized color book. There are  many stories, some shrunken, but many are enlarged, and all are in full color . There are wonderful features about the artists and, of course, a long history of Gaines beginnings and Comics Code disputes.  Also, the book has a great episode by episode guide from the HBO TV show. It even has an picto-fiction story. Great Fun.


 
Grant Geissman gets up twice this inning, with two books. Foul Play, which was published in 2005 by Harper Collins I have the trade paperback which cost $25 on Amazon. This book highlights the art and the artists by showing their work in full color. Much less text than the Diehl book, but I certainly enjoyed this book too! It contained a Picto-Fiction story never before printed, “Wanted for Murder.” It was drawn by Al Williamson with help from Angelo Torres.


Tales of Terror” Geissman’s second book, is a huge research project and it is complete and outstanding. He presents all the EC comics of that era, complete with color covers, dates and complete credits. There is a great deal of text here as he interviews artists and talks about the other people at EC. $50 on Amazon, cheaper if you get it used.


Three very different books. There are a zillion other books about EC and Bill Gaines, but they don’t quite fit into the category we have here. Next up: Mike Benton!


So Mike Benton was really born a few decades too late for this chapter. Mr. Benton has authored and researched several interesting books on comics, including The Comic Book in America. He has published three books that, if published two decades sooner, would have been strongly highlighted here.  These books don't quite fit because they do not reprint full stories, nothing to do with quaility or subject matter. The books are “The Illustrated History of Horror Comics,” (1991); “The Illustrated History of Crime Comics,” 1993 and “The Illustrated History of Super-Hero Comics” (1992).


These, however are really good books. Each of these volumes, which are in full color, gives the history of the genre and are filled with great illustrations and stories. The horror volume continues into the more modern era. It includes references to the Warren magazines and the Tomb of Dracula. My favorite features are sidebars on the artists and a checklist of each genre in the back of each book. Check them out if you can.

Today there is now so much out there: reprints comics from companies that are still with us and reprints from companies long gone. I can finally read Lev Gleason’s “Crime Does Not Pay.” This is really the comic magazine that started it all: the boycotts, the book burnings and the congressional hearings. Everything old seems to be new, and a bit expensive, again. I have wanted to read these comics for forty years, after hearing so much about it. I had read a stray copy or two, but now I get to read a run of them. Fortunately, they also published a “best of” anthology volume that goes into the later 1940s. The most frightening part of the book is the true life story of what happened to Bob Wood, the writer of most of these stories.





World Telegram 1942: Crime Does Not Pay is an excellent illustration of the new trend in comic strips, which is toward realism and accordingly slightly less juvenile in treatment Although Superman still is the leading character in circulation, surveys indicate the Batman is gaining on him.
 
I also knew that the character's name, Daredevil, came from Gleason's comics. My Daredevil was handicapped, he was blind. But the original Daredevil was also disabled, he was mute. Now in Silver Streak Archives the original DD is back!




(Above) Daredevil: “I swear to devote my time on Earth to make crime pay for the death of my mother and father.”

(Below)Batman: "And I swear by the spirits of my mother and father to avenge their deaths by spending the rest of life warring on all criminals


For those of you who may think that Marvel’s Daredevil was a copy of an original idea, then check this out!
Daredevil owes a great deal to Bruce Wayne.
This may be a surprise: in my book I discuss the Comic Code and how it almost destroyed an industry and removed a huge amount of it's creativity. But later I had....

Second Thoughts about The Comics Code.


I grew up opposed to censorship and hating the Comics Code and I remain that way. I would hear stories that comic book editors were forced to make not just major changes in stories but also trivial editing revisions to conform to the code. I grew up wondering what it would have been like if the comic book companies were given a free hand.

Now I wonder if there would have been a Marvel Age without the code. Of course, the code put many comic publishers out of business. I did not enjoy most of the Marvel black and White magazine publications, especially, Tales of the Zombie, or anything that had to do with the undead, living dead or walking dead.

Marvel was pushed back into the Super-Hero world by the falling of dominoes started by the adoption of the code. It is quite possible that without the code DC and Marvel never would have returned to the super-hero line. And even if they did, the comics would have been more gory and more violent and very much not what they were.

Today we have age ratings on TV shows, movies and video games. That is certainly better than censorship. “Would there have been a Marvel Age without the Comics Code?” The answer is probably not. The industry would have gone in another direction, maybe without me.







15 comments:

  1. Your point about the Comics Code and whether we'd have had all the great comics of the '60s without it is one that I've always pondered, Barry. On the whole, I think the code was a good thing. It made writers and artists stretch their ingenuity and creativity in order to tell a good tale, and we all benefitted as a result. Is it a coincidence, I wonder, that since creators are pretty much free to do whatever they want nowadays, comicbook sales are on the slide? Not the main factor perhaps, but perhaps one of a few. Great stuff as usual, Barry.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Sadly, censorship is usually about the censors, not about the material. To the public, they said they were controlling “inappropriate material” sex, gore and violence, so everyone cheers.

    But they stifled ideas and social change. You couldn’t have married working women, or black people anywhere, or corrupt politicians. Criminals had to be caught every issue, so there was no suspense. And then every OTHER issue began with the criminal breaking out of jail. How many times did Luthor spend a few panels breaking out of jail. How boring.

    The determined what hair styles women could have and what dress they could put on. The rules were endless and destructive at the end.

    But, the industry, on the whole, did nothing to prevent this. Why didn’t EC take Tales of the Crypt and make it a magazine like Mad? Why wasn’t there labeling that would have helped?

    But it probably wouldn’t have helped. You see, the politicians needed to convince the public that the cause of juvenile delinquency was NOT something the government could control..poverty…lack of education, bad housing etc. It was COMICS!!!!!

    But we did lose a lot of creative people AND creative people were no longer drawn to the medium. Notice that when we discuss the Marvel and Silver Age of comic, we are discussing creators in their 40s and 50s, not younger people, who found somewhere else to go.

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  3. I feel that while there's a certain degree of truth in what you say, the reason for the boring stories you mention was not so much down to the Code, but the fact that those comics were written for kids and that not ALL writers were motivated (or had the ability) to stretch themselves. However, in the case of those who did, such as Stam lee, etc., the finished product was well worth the trade-off. The stories by Alan Moore which I've enjoyed are invariably ones written within the perameters of the Code; when given free-rein and allowed to indulge himself, I find his stuff actually quite tedious.

    Meant to say, I've got the slipcase edition of EC's Mad comics, and it's absolutely brilliant.

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  4. Kid, I am terribly wishy washy on this. I go on both sides. First, let me remind you that when you wrote, "The stories by Alan Moore which I've enjoyed are invariably ones written within the perameters of the Code." He did NOT write under the original code, but the revised code of 1971. It was revised several times in the 1980s to allow more violence and sexual references.So it's a bit of apples and oranges here. It was Stan lee who broke the code in 1970, he had had enough.

    As I mentioned in the blog comics were then being written for children. But many of the better writers and artists sort work elsewhere. Harvey Kurtzman, who did great work for EC in war comics and humor, went to Playboy and other places. Marvel did excel, but there were the exception, not the rule. What would have EC done if they were allowed to stay in business and had the 1971 code to deal with?. You know of course, they were deliberately put out of business, and others like them, by their competitors, mostly Goldwater, who ran the code.It meant more shelf space for their comics.

    All that said, you know I love the Marvel Age, and I didn't like gore.

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  5. Barry, I'm aware that Moore wrote under a 'revised' code, but the point I was trying to make was that I enjoy his stories more when he's not given total carte blanche to do what he wants. I find that's the same with most comicbook writers. Obviously the '70s and '80s had a different attitude to what was acceptable (in degree, at least) than the '40s or '50s, but those who had the talent found that working within the parameters (not 'perameters' as I mis-typed in my previous comment) - or around them, even - made them produce better, more interesting tales.

    Even Stan didn't mind the Code too much, until he found that those who ran it were increasingly letting the 'letter of the law' contradict the spirit of it, which is why he jettisoned it for those two issues of Spider-Man which featured the anti-drugs storyline. How ridiculous - when you're prevented from condemning drug abuse because you're not allowed to mention it. The Code had its benefits 'though - until pedantic bureaucracy got in the way. Incidentally, I take it you mean 'sought', not 'sort' in line 2 of your second paragraph?

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  6. Hey kid,

    first, for these letters I am using my brand-new Dragon NaturallySpeaking software which allows me to talk into a microphone instead of typing. I see now it gets certain words mixed up. It mixed up censors with sensors and Stan Lee with Stanley,and doesn't capitalize Fantastic Four

    May I respectfully disagree with you? Stan Lee hated the code. Both in private, and in later years when he did not have to deal with them he has mentioned that. What you may not know is that the code was a business. In the beginning they got $15 a page, which was more than many artists were getting. They wanted to stay in business. Stan Lee knew that when he argued or antagonized person reviewing his comments they would seek revenge. That sounds funny right? So the argued with them over fantastic four number 12 and took it to their superiors he would get a huge amount of grief over the next issue. Also the code learned that they could pressure people like Stan to follow whatever dictates they wanted simply by threatening to delay an issue. Delays cost money, so they gave in more often than they fought the code.

    Again, Stan learned and they all did, that saying something against the comics code caused the censors to get even, so he would say that Marvel had their own code and it was very similar. But of course they had their own similar code otherwise they couldn’t publish comics. But before the comics code look at the Atlas comics… They were very different. Don’t full yourself, no one wants someone looking over their shoulder telling them what they can write in what they can’t write, how much smoke should come out of a gun, what hairstyles a woman should have and stuff like that.

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  7. Of course you can disagree with me - I'd imagine you know more about Stan Lee than I do. I'm going on what Stan has said in the past about the code, but that was when it was still in force so perhaps he was using his words carefully. He usually (from what I've read) said that it was no big deal and only affected small things like, as you say, the size of a puff of smoke from a gun, etc. The impression I got was that Stan was more amused by this sort of thing than annoyed by it, but maybe he was just being discreet. Now that the Code is no more, he probably says what he really thought about it. But Stan is Stan - he loves to tell a good story and tends to leans in the direction the wind takes. That isn't meant as a putdown, by the way. I'm one of Stan's biggest fans.

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  8. I am a Stan fan also. He wasn't just being discreet he was being a good businessman. He knew where to pick his battles and where not to. He certainly didn't want to sound destructive of the comics code and annoy the censors who colud hurt him. And he didn't want middle America to think that he wanted to do something that hurt their kids.

    But look at the Atlas comics, both the horror and suspense stories and the superhero stories that appeared a year before the code. And then in the same magazines look at the stories after the code. There are amazing changes there.

    Stan, Marvel, would also have to have a staff member, sol Brodsky, Marie Severin, or someone in the office to make changes quickly when I got something back from the code that needed to be changed. That was both a time-consuming and financial burden.

    But there is something else: Stan and other writers censored themselves because I didn't want to go through a battle with the comics code people. So they stopped doing certain stories and they stop themselves before the code did. Certain artists like Steve Ditko got mad at their editors for not fighting the code harder. This created some tension in the various offices. But the editors did not want to have a fight they could not win, but creators were always fighting for freedom of expression. T

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  9. Barry,

    I have to admit that you have made me re-consider my position on the comics code. I know that this is speculation, but do you believe that the comic industry would still be alive today if not for the comics code? Without the superheroes to carry the industry; could it have survived this long? Especially through the seventies when the industry was on shaky ground. Also would the superheroe stories ever have matured? It seems like the writers used the horror and crime stories to tackle social issues. With those gone it seemed like if the writers were going to express themselves and social change it had to happen with the heroes, or it would not happen at all. Think about how different pop culture would be today without our heroes.

    It is also amazing how much EC affected pop culture in just the few short years they existed. Movies, TV shows, cartoons, toys, and everything else. It is a true testament to their greatness that those stories are still loved and imitated today.

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  10. The comic book industry is not the same industry it once was. Superman once sold more comics in a month than the entire industry does today. No longer do children read comics, it’s older readers. And, honest to gosh, I talk about this in chapter 12.

    You wrote “Without the superheroes to carry the industry; could it have survived this long?” Frankly, who said the industry would be without superheroes? Marvel return to superheroes two years before the Flash and it failed. Maybe the Flash succeeded because people liked comics and it was nothing else at the newsstand. But the fact is publishers like Atlas and DC had a much larger variety of genre comics out there, Westerns, romance, sci-fi and superheroes and they would certainly notice when one became more popular. We see that today on TV. Do you remember a few years ago when “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” became a big hit? A dozen quiz shows immediately appeared. Same with comics whatever was popular would take off.

    Of course superhero stories would have matured, but the immature superheroes would still have been out there. In the 1950s there were comics for teenagers and adults and there were comics for children.

    I know people will say that superheroes saved the industry and I’m a huge fan of the Marvel age. But in the 1960s, there were only two major companies doing superheroes. Dell and Charlton tended not to have many of them. But did you know there were 29 companies that originally signed up to the comics code. 26 of them were out of business in two or three years. Thousands of people were put out of work.

    The superhero didn’t save the industry, it was its remnants.

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  11. Barry,

    I kind of dropped the ball with the questions I asked in my last post. I totally agree with your assessment that superheroes are the remnants of the industry. I also know that comics are not really for kids anymore. I had that discussion a few months back with my girlfriend's mother. I believe my parents generation still believe that comics are only for kids. I even asked if her grandsons read comics. I think her oldest is ten. She replied "They only read real books."Those statements always break my heart. I seem to remember an article I read about four years ago detailing how the average age of a comic book reader/collector was thirty six. It was right around the time the first Iron Man movie was released.

    As the horror, romance, western, crime, and war comics died off all that was left were superheroes. I have read from different sources that the comic book industry as a whole was in trouble in the seventies. There have been a ton of articles written that Star Wars saved not only Marvel, but the entire industry. Could the industry have survived through the seventies and eighties without the superhero? Could it have even survived without Marvel. I have read that DC did not make a dime on their comics through the seventies and eighties. Without Warner Brothers holding them up would they have closed their doors years ago? Marvel owned the industry through the eighties. The comic code killed the horror and crime comics. The space age killed the western. I am guessing, but I believe the Vietnam war killed the war comic. I guess at some point little girls quit reading comics and there went the romance lines. Science Fiction was dead until Star Wars came along in 77. What I took from your article is that the companies that went to superheroes survived because they made that change. If their was no code they would have continued business as normal. That they went to superheroes because the comics code was so strict at the time that they had to find new formats. That lead to the return of the superhero. I know that Superman and Batman never really left, but they were about it for quite a while. Could horror and crime comics have carried the industry going forward?

    The industry has changed so much. I can remember a time when there was a spinner rack of comics in almost every store I shopped. I have always thought that if the comic book companies would just release a few core titles in with magazines at major retailers that would help sales. If as a kid and I had only been able to pick up books at a comic book store I probably never would have gotten into the hobby. Harvey comics were gateway books for me. They were once a huge company and had to close their doors in the early eighties. If Harvey was in business today and sold their books in drugstores, convenience stores, grocery stores, or whatever else you want to add; could that bring in younger readers? Has that ship sailed and there is just no going back? What about the way you could pick up three comics packaged together? I know a lot of people from my generation were introduced to comics in those bags. Would any of those help bring in new readers, or I am just grasping at straws?

    I have read how bad things were after the comic code went into effect. How the page rates went very low. I think you even touched on that recently in a post you had written about John Buscema on Comic Book Collectors Club. I just never knew so many companies bottomed up as an after effect. Once again you bring the knowledge and I am a better for it! Thanks again.

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    1. James,

      I suspect comics will survive into the future, but not in the way we are used to seeing them. the standard comic book format has no value or interest to kids growing up today. Everything is at a faster pace and technology is prevalent. They may ssurvive in some form on the internet, but I doubt many children will be sitting down to read a comic book, or waiting paitently for the next instalment in a month. Too, the movies have supplanted comics. They can now do everything that comics were only able to do, including continuity. It is a very different world indeed.

      For decades the industry has been moving away from the content being important. Liscensing their characters became more profitable, and that was the main reason many of the Comics continued to be produced. I don't see any sign of that changing. Once the "older generation" of fans/collectors fades away I doubt a new generation will replace it.

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  12. What put me on the speculation path was your comment that if not for the comic code would their even have been a Marvel Age? Without Marvel, especially in the sixties and eighties, would the entire industry have dried up in the seventies and eighties? Marvel was such a small operation when the Fantastic Four hit. Would they have made it without superheroes? I know at that point DC was disttributing their books and their were only allowed so many a month. I also have to ask what do you consider the start of the silver age? Fantastic Four 1 or Showcase 4. I know some comic historians have a difference of opinion on which truly started the silver age.

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  13. James: I have a final chapter entitled "What We Leaver Behind" which will cover ALL the issues you mentioned.

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  14. One of the problems with the Code is that people like Stan had to second-guess them. As Ditko recounts in one of his essays, Stan was worried that Spider-Man's poses might be too frightening and the Code might object. The Hulk couldn't be too dangerous. The Red Skull may have initially been held back (Baron Zemo was possibly used in his stead) because his image was too frightening, and Roy Thomas has explained that when the Skull was used his mask had to LOOK like a mask. A lot of their rules were arbitrary and could change depending on who was reviewing the material.

    What happened at Marvel was that Lee, Kirby and Ditko eventually circumvented the Code with their continued stories. Soon, villains like the Green Goblin didn't go to jail every time they fought a hero. Villains often were assumed to be killed off, but returned, sometimes with explanations. Lee had Dr. Doom walk freely as the King of a country. And then there were menaces to the very planet, like Galactus, who were not punished at all.

    The Code was an easy way out for companies to say their work was clean and acceptable to children. Companies like Dell and Gold Key were able to have their own standards of conduct that were supposedly higher than the Codes, but in truth they were able to present elements that the Code forbade. Their supernatural stories were a bit more violent, and they could use vampires (Dark Shadows could not have been produced by DC or Marvel in 1969) and other taboo subjects. What I found foolish was the fact that any kid could see images of vampires or Zombies on their local afternoon movie or TV show, yet the Code forbade this in a comic. Of course, when restrictions were loosened Comics pretty much went right back to as much gore and violence as they could get away with. One of the problems was that there was little balance. EC had some gory stories, but there were plenty of other companies that went overboard and had no sense of morals or good taste. They didn't help their own cause when parents could easily point to them and seriously question if they had any value whatsoever.

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