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Selling Horror: the early Warren comics magazines

Horreur en vente : les premiers magazines de bande dessinée Warren
Nicolas Labarre

Résumés

Les magazines de bande dessinée d’horreur Creepy et Eerie, édités par Warren Publishing à partir de 1964, sont habituellement lus comme poursuivant l’œuvre entreprise par les publications EC Comics au cours de la décennie précédente. Cet article vise à montrer qu’il est possible de placer ces magazines dans une autre généalogie, devant plus au cinéma d’horreur et aux magazines de monstres, dont le pionner Famous Monsters of Filmland, également publié par Warren. Les analyses textuelles et quantitatives permettent en effet de montrer que le contenu de Creepy et Eerie diffère sensiblement de celui des comic books EC, et emprunte au contraire nombre de thèmes et d’images non seulement au cinéma d’horreur, mais encore aux produits dérivés de celui-ci, abondamment promus dans les pages mêmes des publications Warren.

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Introduction

  • 1 Warren Publishing also published numerous other comics magazines, including Blazing Combat (1965-19 (...)

1On November 4, 1964, Warren Publishing published the first issue of Creepy, a 48-page black-and-white horror magazine, which proved deeply influential in the history of American comics. Creepy was larger than contemporary comic books, more expensive (35c as opposed to 12c) and crucially able to ignore the restrictions of the comics code, which had de facto banned horror from American comics a decade earlier (NYBERG 1998; HAJDU 2008; WANDTKE 2018). Creepy and the nearly identical Eerie (after 1965) became an immediate success (GABILLIET 2010, p. 77). These magazines, along with Vampirella (1969)1, then provided a template which both DC and Marvel used in the following decade, as the publishers sought to market horror comics to an older audience, in a bid to compensate for declining superhero sales (DUNCAN, SMITH 2015, p. 52; GABILLIET 2010, pp. 77-78). In the 1960s and 1970s, the Warren magazines offered professional publishing opportunities for a new generation of American comic book creators, including Jeff Jones and Richard Corben – a role best summed up by Jones’ statement in 2001 that were it not for these magazines “[she]’d probably be selling shoes” (ROACH, COOKE 2001, p. 57). They also played a key role in the circulations between the European and American comics cultures, through their reliance on Spanish artists or via the translated editions available throughout Europe (ROACH, COOKE 2001, pp. 257-265; LABARRE 2017, pp. 121-143).

2The place of Creepy and Eerie in the history of American comics is further cemented by their being commonly read – by fans, scholars and by the creators themselves – as the belated continuators of the celebrated EC horror comic books of the early 1950s (GOODWIN 1988, n..p.; ROACH, COOKE 2001, p. 34; HEWETSON 2004, p. 6; COTTER, 2008, p. 69; VOGER 2015, p. 125, TIRINO, 2018, p. 222; WANDTKE 2018, p. 51) as they employed several prominent artists who had worked with this publisher, including Wallace Wood, Joe Orlando, Reed Crandall, and many others. Even though they had lost much of their cultural cachet by 1982, when all the Warren magazines stopped publication, the view that Creepy, Eerie (thereafter C&E), as well as Vampirella constitute a minor but vital part of the history of American comics is thus a compelling one.

3Through a content analysis of the first period of C&E (which lasted until issue 17 and 12 respectively, in late 1967, after which both titles ran into severe delays and resorted to numerous reprints, until late 1969), this article will argue that the magazines should also be understood as part of a different history: that of the commodification of horror, in the wake of the ‘monster craze’ of the 1950s.

  • 2 While comics scholars frequently mention the fact that Warren publishing was tied to the monster cr (...)

4Warren Publishing was built on the success of Famous Monsters from Filmland (1958-1983), edited by Forrest J. Ackerman, the first publication which capitalized on the renewed interest for horror at the movies and on television in that decade, and a crucial catalyst for the monster craze (SKAL 1993, pp. 268-274; HEFFERNAN 2004, p. 212; COTTER 2008, pp. 32-33; AUBUCHON 2018). Famous Monsters provided a template for the Warren publications of the early 60s, as the publisher sought to expand its line. For instance, although Harvey Kurtzman was able to introduce some of his own interests in Help!, which he edited for Warren from 1961 to 1965, the project was initially conceived as a variation on the Famous Monsters funny photographs and fumetti formula (SCHELLY 2015, pp. 410-412). This editorial history suggests that Creepy and its successors should be read as belonging simultaneously to two complementary genealogies, two “architexts” (GENETTE 1992): horror comics on the one hand, and the transmedia explosion of movie monsters on the other2.

5As of this writing (February 2020), Wikipedia offers a revealing snapshot of the way these competing perspectives are used: the page for Famous Monsters describes Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella as ‘spin-offs’ of the 1958 magazine, but conversely, the individual pages for these comics magazines make no such claim and stress their comics lineage instead (FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND 2018; CREEPY (MAGAZINE) 2018; EERIE 2018; VAMPIRELLA 2018). Indeed, as noted by Jon B. Cooke in The Warren Companion, after Creepy, Warren all but stopped producing non-comics magazines, which suggests a reorientation of the publishing line rather than a mere extension (ROACH, COOKE 2001, p. 11).

Genesis

6Though I hope to show that C&E had deep ties to the Warren monster magazines, there is little historical evidence to suggest that the comics publications were ever seen as spin-offs by the publisher. Thanks to Kurtzman, Warren had made forays into comics, and some had even made their way into Famous Monsters of Filmland (#29, July 1964 contained a reprint of DC Comics’ “Jerry Lewis Meets the Monsters”, for instance). Simultaneously, MAD had been demonstrating for years that it was possible to create and sustain a popular comics magazine removed from the stigma of the comic book format. It is therefore not surprising that Russ Jones, a young Canadian comics creator, should have chosen to approach James Warren with his idea for a horror publication in the magazine format.

7However, Warren initially demurred, and Jones’s first collaborations with the publisher took different forms: photo-novels (Horror of Party Beach, The Mole People, both in 1964) and official adaptations (in the first three issues of Monster World, 1964). These projects, which originated with Warren himself (JONES [no date]), demonstrate that the publisher was eager to explore new permutations in his iconotextual exploitation of the horror craze, and serve as evidence that horror comics were but one of the possible visual forms in which monster architext could be presented.

8Furthermore, by Jones’ own account, the project underwent a process of institutionalization before it became Creepy: the application of preexisting norms, codes, and modes of production made it possible to turn the idea into a marketable commodity. Against the grain of a celebratory discourse which puts the emphasis on individual contributions to the project – from editor and writer Archie Goodwin to the numerous distinguished artists who contributed to the titles – I will consider C&E primarily as the result of these outside or internalized constraints, rather than as the product of individual tastes. Some of these constraints were visible, such as Warren’s self-censorship code, meant to avoid attracting hostile public attention (JONES [no date]), or his close supervision of everything printed in the magazines (ACKERMAN 2009, p. 5); others may have been more indirect but no less pressing, notably the fact that the mail order catalog peddling monster merchandise in the final page of each issue was the main profit driver for the publication (JONES [no date]). The integration of C&E in a larger structure is evidenced by the fact that covers and content from the film magazines were sometimes used for the comics magazines, and vice-versa.

9My approach takes into account individual stories and intent but suggests that C&E can and should be read as magazines, as institutions, which incorporate, subsume, benefit from and occasionally resist individual agency. It is thus possible to reconcile the apparent contradictions in the accounts of the genesis of the project, with James Warren stating in the same interview that “the people involved in the production of Warren comics had no great love for the horror genre as exemplified in the pages of Famous Monsters” and “The Warren publishing genre was horror and monsters, so it was logical to put this same theme into comics” (ROACH, COOKE 2001, p. 31; 37). Individual tastes were accounted for but did not supersede institutional considerations.

Selling horror through advertisement

10An analysis of advertisements in C&E confirms the validity of this institutional approach: a typical issue of C&E contains 11 to 12 pages of promotional material, every single one of which was in one way or another produced by Warren itself. Unsurprisingly, these ads include subscription and back issues offers for other magazines, including Blazing Combat (war comics), Screen Thrills, Monster World and Famous Monsters of Filmland itself. These ads exclude some of Warren’s output, however, such as Spacemen - which attempted to be to science-fiction movies what Famous Monsters was to horror - but also Help!, which was still running when Creepy debuted. In other words, C&E were immediately positioned within a specific segment of the Warren ecosystem, defined as the convergence of comics, horror, cinema, and fan merchandise.

  • 3 The Warren Companion includes a list of the Warren-produced and Warren-licensed products distribute (...)
  • 4 There appears to be non-systematic differences between them, but also between Creepy and Eerie. An (...)

11The rest of the ads are not strictly internal: they promote Aurora horror-themed figures as well as various posters and records, most of which the publisher did not produce directly3. However, all of this merchandise was distributed by Warren, through its subsidiary, Captain Company. As such, they follow the same institutional logic as the rest of the magazines, and contribute to the framing of its comics content; Warren even used the box art for Aurora’s “Gigantic Frankenstein” as the cover for the 1965 Famous Monsters Yearbook. The first observation is that these ads were essentially identical to those found in the Warren monster film magazines4, furthering the link between the two types of publications. Secondly, the ads’ contents heavily skewed towards movie monsters. Roughly half of the products directly referred to classical monsters of the screen – Dracula, Frankenstein, the Werewolf, etc. – mostly in the then-ubiquitous Universal versions, and occasionally in the more recent Hammer interpretations. While some of the products offered a fetishized version of the monsters, through recordings of movie soundtracks or 8mm film excerpts, a number of them testify to the fact that the monster craze had by that point moved into self-referentiality and fan appropriation.

  • 5 While the humorous intent is made clear by the design of the cars and creatures, hot-rodding in the (...)
  • 6 This is of course what Famous Monsters had been doing since its inception, influencing a generation (...)

12Indeed, by 1964-1965, the classical movie monsters existed both as icons, the visual center of a series of much-admired films (Karloff’s face as Frankenstein’s creature was used in innumerous covers, for instance), but also a humorous narrative shorthand, harmless relics of the 30s struggling to cope with domestication, on television, in comics and elsewhere. Ads for an animated figure in which “Frankenstein loses his pants” (the creature has no visual connection to Karloff), or for a series of deformed monsters driving hot-rod cars testify to this humorous reading5. Furthermore, these two readings of the monster coexisted with invitations to appropriation: Aurora figures and models, plastics masks and make-up contests invited readers not only to watch the monsters but to play with the icons.6 In Targets (1967), Peter Bogdanovich had Boris Karloff deplore that his horror movies were now seen as “camp, high camp” and that “nobody [was] afraid of a painted monster anymore.” While the final affirmation may have been true, we have seen that the ‘camp’ or ironic reading of the monster movies coexisted with at least two other modes: reverence (iconic) and appropriation (playful). These three modes – iconic, ironic and playful – are apparent in the Captain Company ads in C&E, and they provide a useful frame to understand the use of the monsters in the comics themselves.

Horror movie stories

13Perhaps the most immediate link between monster movies and the comics content of C&E lies in the frequency of stories set in Hollywood or otherwise focusing on the exhibition of the monsters. Out of about 200 stories published in C&E in the period under study, 8 use horror cinema as a setting, or to use a different metric, one in four issues contain such a story. As a point of comparison, the 27-issue run of EC’s Tales from the Crypt (1950-1955), 108 stories, features only one movie producer, who is in no way associated with horror films.

14In “The Monster from One Billion B.C.” (Tom Sutton, Eerie #11), a make-up artist builds his reputation by digging up actual monsters, which he then uses in lieu of special effects. The monsters and the movies are recognizable as Universal Monsters, in particular Frankenstein creature’s distinctive appearance and costume, which appears to directly reference Boris Karloff in Son of Frankenstein (1939). While the story mentions a few fictional films along the way, it all but acknowledges this connection by including a Frankenstein poster in which Karloff’s name is only half-erased.

15An even more revealing example is to be found in “Scream Test” (John Benson & Bhob Stewart/Angelo Torres, Creepy #13), which nearly bridges the gap between C&E and Famous Monsters. The story focuses on an old man obsessed with Lon Chaney’s films, which he screens in an old theater. At the end of the story, the man is revealed to have been wearing a mask himself. “Scream Test” is distinctive in that it uses actual movie stills to represent Lon Chaney’s films, culminating in the revelation of his famous make-up from Phantom of the Opera (1925), which coincides with the unmasking of the old man (picture 1).

Picture 1

Picture 1

BENSON John et STEWART Bhob (story), TORRES Angelo (art), “Scream Test”, Creepy 13 (Feb. 1967), p.26. (as reprinted in Creepy Archives Volume 3, Dark Horse Publishing, 2009)

© New Comic Company LLC / Dark Horse Comics

  • 7 The Warren magazines were discontinued in 1983 because of the publisher’s financial difficulties, b (...)

16The presence of these images confirms the cinematic subtext of the many Creepy monsters, by equating the act of reading the magazine with the position of a spectator in a movie theater7. In their account of the creation of the story, Bhob Stewart and John Benson describe a series of iterations that eventually led them first to the device, then to the plot itself. Benson’s description makes it clear that “Scream Test” is a product not only of the attraction to horror cinema at Warren but also of the existence of a cottage industry dedicated to the horror fandom:

I supplied the stills, which I made from a little gizmo that I purchased that would make a photographic negative from a 16mm film. I had about 100 feet of the unmasking scene from The Phantom of the Opera that I'd probably gottenmail order [sic]. We may have tried to find stills before resorting to this process. (Stewart 2010)

17Benson’s account is incomplete since the stills included in the story encompass other Lon Chaney films beyond The Phantom of the Opera (Julian, 1925), notably The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Worsley, 1923). However, it calls attention to the intimate ties between the retailers selling film 8 or 16mm excerpts of these decade-old movies to fans of black-and-white horror and the act of writing for Warren. Captain Company advertised the excerpts described by Benson month after month in C&E.

18Indeed, the final still used in “Scream Test” must have been instantly recognizable to readers as the much-enlarged version of a thumbnail picture present in nearly all the issues of the horror magazines: it was generally presented on a page also advertising alluring excerpts from such films as The Vampire Bat, I Was a Teenage Werewolf or The Beast with Five Fingers (picture 2). Both Stewart and Benson (who edited the EC fanzine Squa Tront) were fans-turned-creators, and as such, their story reflects the content of fan culture, which outfits like Captain Company were helping define. Thus “Scream Test” displayed not only a fascination for classical horror cinema, but a validation of the mode of consumption promoted in the Warren magazine and epitomized by Famous Monsters of Filmland (the same Lon Chaney’s face was used on the ad for Famous Monsters itself in Spacemen #1, in 1961, for instance, and again in the lead story in the Famous Monsters of Filmland 1964 Yearbook, among many other examples).

Picture 2

Picture 2

Captain Company advertisement, Eerie 5 (Sep. 1966). (as reprinted in Eerie Archives Volume 1, Dark Horse Publishing, 2009)

© Captain Company

19In addition to these forms of direct address to film fans, the centrality of movie-horror in the content of C&E is made manifest by the prevalence of movie monsters in the stories. Once again, the comparison with Tales from the Crypt is enlightening, as it demonstrates the extent to which the Warren magazines transformed the formula of their avowed model, the better to reflect the growing importance of movie tropes.

20In the following table, I have counted the number of stories featuring movie monsters in Creepy, Eerie and EC’s Tales from the Crypt. These ‘movie monsters’ are vampires, werewolves, mummies and Frankenstein creatures, along with a few isolated borrowings (cat-people, creatures from the black lagoon). Of course, this list is debatable, as most of these creatures also exist in other media, including popular literature. However, in both eras, the center of gravity of this transmedial architext is cinema, and traces of the monsters’ cinematic presence suffuse their uses in these comics. The directness of the inspiration varies from story to story, but if anything, a more detailed examination of representation choices would probably widen the gap between the Warren magazines and their EC predecessor.

Table 1

Table 1

Survey of movie monster stories in Creepy and Eerie ; compared with Tales from the Crypt.

By Nicolas Labarre

21Movie monsters thus appear 2,5 times more often in E&C magazines than in Tales from the Crypt. Or to use a slightly different metric, Creepy #11 and #15 are the only issues in our Warren corpus that do not feature a movie-monster story – though the monsters were present in the ads of both issues – while 16 out the 27 seven issues, about two thirds, of Tales from the Crypt do not feature any of the creatures.

22Perhaps the most telling example of this movie influence is to be found in the use of Frankenstein’s creature, since it can be traced to a distinct cinematic source, which had pretty much superseded all the previous visual representations. As indicated above, Karloff’s body and face as transformed by make-up artist Jack Pierce for Frankenstein (1931), Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and Son of Frankenstein (1939) had become one of the visual hallmarks of the monster craze. These films had all been released and re-released on several occasions by the heyday of EC Comics, yet the creature appears only once in Tales from the Crypt, in a striking story entitled “Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall,” illustrated by Jack Davis in #34 (cover-dated Feb. 1953), a first-person narrative told by a character who has been brought back to life by a mad scientist. In the climax of the story, the narrator enters a hall of mirrors and discovers that he now has a barely altered version of Karloff’s face (the bolts are on his temples). The scientist’s speech, shortly before being strangled by the narrator is predicated on what I have called the “iconic” use of the movie-monsters, as demonstrated by the emphasis on “tableau” and “exhibit”:

I made you live! I always believed it was possible! Out there… in my chamber of horrors… there’s a tableau of Frankenstein… and his monster! You’re my monster... my Frankenstein! What an exhibit you’ll make! I’ll be famous! (Gaines, Feldstein, Davis 1953, p. 6)

23In C&E, Frankenstein’s monster appears in 11 stories, either as a member of a larger gallery of monsters, as a transparent reference or as a protagonist in a revised version of the original story. Some of these uses are clearly in the iconic mode, such as the full-page pin-up titled the “Man-Made Monster” as part of the recurring “Eerie’s Monster Gallery” feature in Eerie #5. In most other cases, however, the tone is more playful and makes use of the various permutations made possible by the icon, as “In Frankenstein’s Footstep”, by Archie Goodwin and Reed Crandall, in Eerie #2 (picture 3).

Picture 3

Picture 3

GOODWIN Archie (story) and CRANDALL Reed (art), “In Frankenstein’s footsteps”, Eerie 2 (Mar. 1966), p.5-12 (as reprinted in Eerie Archives Volume 1, Dark Horse Publishing, 2009)

© New Comic Company LLC / Dark Horse Comics

24In the story, Dr. Byron King, an evocative name, arrives in a strange small town in Northern England, which looks strikingly similar to the Mitteleuropa set of the “Universal village” of the 1930s and 1940s. There, he joins forces with a local scientist, Dr. Sebastian, to animate a body, which the latter has constructed out of corpses and in which he is planning to transfer his own mind. Upon being presented with the plan, King astutely exclaims: “It’s like something out of Mary Shelley”; however, the movie versions provide a more direct source, and the creature is once again a variation on Karloff’s appearance, with bolts on its temples. The operation is a success, but an angry mob surrounds Sebastian’s castle in the dark and stormy night, and when he opens the door to chase them, now inhabiting the creature’s body, he is struck down by lightning. Reed Crandall’s illustrations use no grey tones, only a stark black-and-white which establishes a visual continuity with the expressive lighting of the Whale movies, and part of the pleasure of the story lies in the skillful visual reinterpretation of familiar visual tropes: the laboratory, the creature itself, the castle illuminated by lightning towering over the village, etc. Goodwin’s script similarly relies on familiarity with the story and on the pleasure of the unexpected permutations, as it joins the idea of transplanting a normal brain in the creature, seen in House of Frankenstein (1944), with the core elements of Frankenstein (1931). This is, in other words, a process of appropriation and recombination, which uses the same cast and sets as the original but endeavors to put them to new uses, much as kids were encouraged to “make a monster” and to combine them in the ads for the Aurora monster figures, whose line debuted in 1962 with a Frankenstein creature (MITCHELL 2016).

“Duel of the Monsters”

25This playful use of the movie monsters is nowhere as obvious as in the numerous cases of monster encounters and mashups. It is no exaggeration to suggest that if the typical EC story is that of a gruesome domestic vengeance, usually involving some decaying corpse, the archetypal Warren plot in 1964-1967 involves a case of mistaken identity between a monster and another monster. Not all of them draw their inspirations from the Universal movies – ghouls and witches are also common occurrences – but the logic of these encounters is that of a shared universe in which all the fantastic creatures coexist, and are often aware of each other, regardless of their points of origin. Among numerous other monster mashups, 11 stories between 1964 and 1967 feature two or more of the iconic movie monsters, which also feature on a memorable (and aptly titled) “Duel of the Monsters” cover by Frank Frazetta for Creepy #7. In a tongue-in-cheek origin story, Uncle Creepy, the magazine’s mascot, is even revealed to be the heir to the Universal monsters, in one of these mashups (“Monster Rally”, by Archie Goodwin and Angelo Torres, in Creepy #4).

26While Warren’s take is distinctive – with its combination of the iconic and the playful mode – these mashups were endemic in popular culture in the wake of the monster craze. To give but one example, Frankenstein’s creature, Dracula and the Wolfman were recurring characters in the comics adventures of Bob Hope throughout 1965 and 1968. In toy lines, magazine ads, comics narratives, TV shows (such as The Munsters or The Addams Family, both 1964-66) and animated films, the monsters were presented as inhabiting what Frankenstein specialist Catherine Spooner, drawing on Michel Foucault, calls a “monster heterotopia” (SPOONER 2018), a de facto shared universe based on the 30s movies. However, the camp reading of the monsters, a logic of innocuous and flaunted excess, clearly visible in The Munsters for instance, is never fully embraced in the Warren stories, in which even the most excessive stories tend to be rendered in an elaborate and ostensibly serious visual style. As a result, the mashups they depict replicate the logic of iconic juxtaposition to be found in the ad pages: just as realistic masks or movie stills coexist in these sections, realistically depicted monsters cohabit on the comic pages. Like the Aurora toys or Famous Monsters itself, the monster heterotopia they depict relies upon both an iconic reading of the Universal films and a strategy of appropriation. In that context, the importance and frequency of the monster mashups in the Warren comics magazines is a clear indication that they should be read not only as heirs to EC Comics but also as part of the monster craze, alongside Famous Monsters.

27The readers’ letters that appeared in C&E testify to the fact that both magazines were indeed read as expansions and continuation of Famous Monsters and the other Warren monster magazines. This ranges from direct mentions of these magazines (Famous Monsters, but also Monster World) to the use of cinema as a point of reference, as in the rhetorical question published in Creepy #16, about the story “The Terror Beyond Time”: “Who but Neal Adams could do a movie length and type story so well?”. Previously, in Creepy #8, a reader had asked why the magazine contained no stories “such as ‘Godzilla’ or ‘Gorgo’”, two series which had recently been the object of keen interest in the movie-monster magazines.

  • 8 Scholars have indeed discussed them as such, see for instance Inge, 2001; Tirino, 2018.
  • 9 From a contemporary standpoint the fact that both EC and Warren told short stories with twist endin (...)

28As always, readers’ mail should not only be read as evidence regarding the reception of the magazines but also and primarily as a manifestation of the institution’s agenda, vindicating editorial choices through a careful selection of published messages (STEIN 2013; LABARRE 2017, p.100). This ambiguity makes it difficult to assign definitive meaning to the oft-reignited debate taking place in the letter columns concerning the use and overuse of classical monsters, from vampires to Frankenstein creatures. There was probably an element of humorous editorial taunting in printing in Creepy #5 a letter arguing that there should be “more Vampire and Werewolves stories in the next issues”, after having printed in #4 a message urging the editor to: “Abandon the trite (and at this point, inane) and incessant use of witches, warlocks, werewolves, et al. and strive for something new and unique.” In any case, these letter columns clearly suggest that some readers were unsatisfied with C&E’s abundant use of the monster craze’s key creatures, and read both magazines for the other stories. They also act as a reminder that visible and important as these monster stories were, they represented only a third of the stories published in the magazine, or about half, if one includes ghouls and witches. C&E also printed adaptations from classic writers, horror without monsters, or even without fantasy at all, and even a few sword-and-sorcery tales. In other words, their strong ties to the movie monsters architext – which I hope to have demonstrated – do not encompass their entire meaning and do not preclude their belonging to other architexts or other revealing “cultural series” (GAUDREAULT, MARION, 2015, p. 155-6). To give but one example, the numerous adaptations of Poe’s short stories in the period under study but also in later eras of E&C place these magazines in dialogues with Classics Illustrated more than with EC Comics8. Conversely, the visual connection between EC Comics and the Warren magazine is undeniable, immediately striking, and sufficient on its own to demonstrate that the two publishing endeavors should be read as part of a cultural series9. The result of institutional constraints and norms need not be a homogeneous publication, especially in an anthology format.

Conclusion

29Through a comparison with the EC Comics of the previous decade, I have shown to what extent the Warren horror comic magazines were tied to the monster craze and the commodification of horror in the mid-1960s. Like all the other Warren magazines, they served as independent publications but also as widely distributed catalogues for Warren’s mail-order company, Captain Company. In turn, the content of this catalogue provided a frame inviting the reader to juxtapose the monsters and to play with them. Still, C&E occupy a specific place in the monster craze because of their reluctance to use an overtly camp reading of the monsters – even though some of the Captain Company products did – foregrounding instead the iconic uses and on the possibilities of playful appropriations.

30While the movie-monster architext is certainly not the only valid angle to read these magazines, this essay suggests that the history of comics needs be written within an extended consideration of the ties between the medium and other media. The Warren magazines have long been described as a conscious effort by the comics industry to revisit its own history (even is nuances accounts, such as David Annwn Jones’s, 2016), yet even that apparently insular project appears tied to other cultural currents and caught in other cultural circulations. These intermedial circulations were likely even more decisive for publishing projects not explicitly concerned with the history of their own medium, and this study suggests that a more systematic intermedial approach to comics history would enlarge our understanding of other cornerstones of the medium.

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Bibliographie

Corpus

Tales from the Crypt, EC Comics, 1950-1955

Creepy (first period), Warren Publishing, 1964-1967

Eerie (first period), Warren Publishing, 1965-1967

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Notes

1 Warren Publishing also published numerous other comics magazines, including Blazing Combat (1965-1966), which retailers refused to distribute because they objected to its anti-war content, Comix International, a color anthology (1974-1977), 1984/1994, a science-fiction publication inspired by Heavy Metal (1978-1982), The Rook, a time-travelling super-hero (1979-1982), as well as Will Eisner’s The Spirit (1974-1976). These magazines bore striking resemblances to Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella, often using the same creators and mostly resorting to the format established in 1964: 48 pages of black-and-white stories within a striking color cover, with little to no editorial content beyond the letter columns.

2 While comics scholars frequently mention the fact that Warren publishing was tied to the monster craze (see for instance JONES 2016, p. 176; WANDTKE 2019, p. 50-51)—even as they acknowledge EC’s influence—the interactions between its comics magazines and that craze has not been examined. A reading similar to the one I am advocating here is implicit in Mark Voger’s account of the Warren magazines in his illustrated history of the 1950s monster mania, Monster Mash, which relies on interviews with various protagonists of this history more than content analysis (VOGER 2015, pp. 122–130).

3 The Warren Companion includes a list of the Warren-produced and Warren-licensed products distributed through Captain Company, mostly posters and masks (ROACH, COOKE 2001, pp. 247–249).

4 There appears to be non-systematic differences between them, but also between Creepy and Eerie. An examination of a few contemporary issues reveals no pattern to these differences.

5 While the humorous intent is made clear by the design of the cars and creatures, hot-rodding in the early 1960s was still dangerous and something of an outsider’s practice. Placing the monsters in hot rods is of course a funny update, but it also brings in close proximity to a rebellious subculture. In fact, Cynthia J. Miller and A. Bowdoin Van Riper have argued that monsters, rock-and-roll and hot rods were part of a cohesive cluster of teen movies, from 1957 to 1966. Their corpus includes The Horror of Party Beach, which was famously adapted by Warren as a film-photonovel in 1964 (MILLER, VAN RIPER 2015). Many thanks to Aaron Aubuchon for pointing out this reading.

6 This is of course what Famous Monsters had been doing since its inception, influencing a generation of future horror creators, from Steven Spielberg to Joe Dante and Stephen King.

7 The Warren magazines were discontinued in 1983 because of the publisher’s financial difficulties, but it is striking that the decline of Warren coincided with the increasing availability of the VCR, which made direct access to a wide range of filmic horrors at home possible.

8 Scholars have indeed discussed them as such, see for instance Inge, 2001; Tirino, 2018.

9 From a contemporary standpoint the fact that both EC and Warren told short stories with twist endings also constitutes a striking similarity. However, this is to a large extent the result of their sharing a then-popular anthology format. Most Archie stories from the 50s and 60s used a similar narrative structure, for instance.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Picture 1
Légende BENSON John et STEWART Bhob (story), TORRES Angelo (art), “Scream Test”, Creepy 13 (Feb. 1967), p.26. (as reprinted in Creepy Archives Volume 3, Dark Horse Publishing, 2009)
URL http://journals.openedition.org/comicalites/docannexe/image/4793/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 158k
Titre Picture 2
Légende Captain Company advertisement, Eerie 5 (Sep. 1966). (as reprinted in Eerie Archives Volume 1, Dark Horse Publishing, 2009)
URL http://journals.openedition.org/comicalites/docannexe/image/4793/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 658k
Titre Table 1
Légende Survey of movie monster stories in Creepy and Eerie ; compared with Tales from the Crypt.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/comicalites/docannexe/image/4793/img-3.png
Fichier image/png, 28k
Titre Picture 3
Légende GOODWIN Archie (story) and CRANDALL Reed (art), “In Frankenstein’s footsteps”, Eerie 2 (Mar. 1966), p.5-12 (as reprinted in Eerie Archives Volume 1, Dark Horse Publishing, 2009)
URL http://journals.openedition.org/comicalites/docannexe/image/4793/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 686k
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Pour citer cet article

Référence électronique

Nicolas Labarre, « Selling Horror: the early Warren comics magazines », Comicalités [En ligne], Bande dessinée et culture matérielle, mis en ligne le 01 mars 2021, consulté le 18 octobre 2021. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/comicalites/4793

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Auteur

Nicolas Labarre

Nicolas Labarre is an assistant lecturer at University Bordeaux Montaigne, France, where he teaches American society and culture, comics and video games. His research focuses on genres and intermediality in comics. In addition to numerous articles, he is the author of Heavy Metal, l’autre Métal Hurlant (Presses Universitaires de Bordeaux, 2017), La bande dessiné contemporaine (Presses Universitaire Blaise Pascal, 2018) and Understanding genres in comics (Palgrave, 2020).

Nicolas Labarre est maître de conférences HDR en civilisation américaine à l’université Bordeaux Montaigne. Ses recherches et publications portent sur la bande dessinée nord-américaine, notamment au prisme des questions de genres et d’intermédialité. Il est l’auteur des ouvrages Heavy Metal, l’autre Métal Hurlant (Presses Universitaires de Bordeaux, 2017), de La bande dessiné contemporaine (Presses Universitaire Blaise Pascal, 2018) ainsi que de Understanding Genre in Comics (Palgrave, 2020).

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