For many modern comics readers, mention horror comics from the 1950s, and the one comics line that comes to mind is EC, home to such groundbreaking titles as The Crypt of Terror and Weird Science. But there were a slew of EC followers in the fifties, most of which have been long-forgotten by all but the most devout comics maniacs, and pop oddity fanatic Craig Yoe has been doing his best to keep their memory undead. Editing a series trademarked “The Chilling Archives of Horror Comics,” Yoe has put out three collections of choice material from the pre-Code years, of which Zombies (IDW/Yoe Books) is the latest.
Co-edited with Steve Banes, the comic-sized hardbound is an engaging sampler of horror schlock. The zombies in this book are not the shambling brain-eaters of the Romero age, but walking dead creatures either returning to enact their horrible vengeance on some deserving victim or themselves falling prey to some sorceress/voodoo curse. More than one tale is subsequently set in the southern bayou where, sonuvagun, there’s plenty of big grisly fun. “How do I know what’s living and what’s dead down here in bayou country where the undead roam?” one hapless detective asks after his contact with a procession of zombies—and the answer that that question is, “You don’t,” though most of the undead in these comics do look pretty messed up.
The horror fare from the early fifties may not be as outlandish as the stuff we see in movies half a century later, but it still manages to push the bounds of good taste. Take, for example, the Dick Beck-illustrated “Horror of Mixed Torsos,” which originally appeared in Dark Mysteries back in 1953. The tale concerns a grotesque mortuary assistant who falls for a gorgeous redhead from afar. When she dies suddenly and is placed in his hands, he steals her corpse and places it in a glass aquarium, only to learn to his dismay that the corpse is going to be disinterred for reburial in Europe. Our obsessed anti-hero winds up killing both the sheriff and the young girl’s uncle, chopping their bodies in two then storing them for a laugh with the halves mismatched. Of course, the two pissed-off corpses return wielding their own axes.
Zombies’ editors dutifully credit the artists for each story, though the writers behind these garish comics don’t receive their due—in the days before Marvel Comics put credits on its stories, comic book writers, in particular, typically remained anonymous. For art fans, though, the book’s cover trumpets a top-flight marquee of big-name artists from the period, even if some of these (Frank Frazetta and Basil Wolverton, most notably) only appear in a cover gallery. Still, a few of the names who show up for full stories are definitely worth noting: Jack Cole’s “The Corpse That Wouldn’t Die” puts his typically manic style to fine use in a horror pulp setting, while Wallace Wood’s “Thing from the Sea” blends that artist’s slick penwork with some effectively eerie panels. The shot of a murdered sailor walking through an underwater ocean vista is particularly striking.
While most of the selections in Zombies are in (slightly murky) color, two entries are original black-and-white art pieces taken from the collection of artist Bill Leach. First of these, “Live Man’s Funeral” (from Black Cat), is illustrated by Al Eadeh, a prolific artist for Atlas/Marvel in the early fifties. The story of a grave robber who meets an unhappy end in a glass coffin, it has the aptly grotesque look of a less scratchy Graham Ingles—just the thing for this tale of undead revenge. I was unfamiliar with Eadeh’s name before I opened this volume, but now that I’ve seen it, I want to track down more of it.
In this, the resurrectionists of “The Chilling Archives of Horror Comics” would doubtless say that they’ve succeeded in their mission.