Back when this writer was a blood-thirsty teen, my main source for grand guignol comics were the Warren magazines (Creepy, Eerie, Vampirella) published in the mid-sixties. Inspired by the great EC horror comics of the early fifties – comics I’d been too young to read at the time – the Warren titles were beautifully illustrated black-and-white mags featuring work by top-flight illustrators, many of whom had been a part of the early EC stable. They were so popular that they naturally inspired their share of cheesy rip-offs, foremost of which was Eerie Publications, which started a year after Creepy’s debut in 1964.
The mutant brainchild of low-rent publisher Myron Fass, the company’s mags worked to slake horror comics fans’ love of the grotesque with some of the most out-of-control images possible. Warren’s books took their inspiration from EC, and in the hands of inventive storytellers like writer/editor Archie Goodwin and former Vault of Horror artist Johnny Craig, the black-and-white mags were able to hold their own as well-wrought original horror fare. Eerie Publication, on the other hand, took an easier route, grabbing stories produced in the fifties by EC’s imitators and paying journeyman artists from the old comics shops to redraw them to look more contemporary. One small problems: said imitators were by-and-large crap and refurbishing them with new art, no matter how professional, was still like putting lipstick on a pig.
Still, the mags have their appreciators – and perhaps their very artlessness is a part of their appeal. Like a low-budget drive-in filmmaker, the creators of these knock-offs set out to shock by forsaking any sense of craft of storytelling subtlety, by zipping straight to the grisly finish. Characterization was for sissies; this was pure stick-a-needle-in-yer-eye comics. Where EC typically relied on ironic punishment to bolster its horrific conclusions, (e.g., the murderous ballplayer whose vengeful teammates festooned the baseball diamond with his body parts, the tainted meat seller who winds up in his own butcher display), their imitators indulged in gore for gore’s sake.
Which brings us to The Worst of Eerie Publications (IDW), the latest addition to gonzo re-packager Craig Yoe’s “Chilling Archives of Horror Comics.” Edited by Mike Howlett, the 152-page hardbound collection features both black-and-white tales and color repros of the line’s lurid covers. One look at the book’s Chic Stone front cover – which features a giant Frankensteinian creature gnawing on the torso of an unfortunate damsel – and you know this is exactly the sort of stuff that the Eisenhower Era anti-comics crusaders warned about.
The stories aren’t quite as outlandish as the covers – how could they be? – but they come close. In one tale, for instance, an unfortunate hotel visitor runs afoul of skin-eating caterpillars because he’s the descendant of a white man who once killed an Indian tribe’s “sacred caterpillar.” In another, a doomed married couple land on a desert island housing giant flesh-eating ants. And in my personal favorite, a housewife gets stalked by a sentient jealous saguaro cactus. Ludicrous? Campy? You betcha.
Occasionally, you can see one of the book’s anonymous writers ripping off their betters: “From for Ghouls” (from the 1954 issue of Mysterious Adventures) takes its basic plot structure and shock ending from Tales from the Crypt’s “Taint the Meat . . .It’s the Humanity” (one of the most egregious puns ever perpetrated in a horror comic) published two years earlier. So it went in the disposable days of early comic books: nobody thought that we’d be looking at this stuff fifty years later. Thanks to tireless archivists like Yoe and Howlett, though, we can.
You may vary as to whether that’s cheer-worthy news or not.