Hello boils and ghouls, it’s yer ‘ol pal Johnny here, and boy do I have quite a treat for you! Every day of this frightful month, I will be posting and spooking — I mean speaking — about deviant “Pre-Code” horror comic covers. Pre-Code refers to anything published before 1955, when the Comic Code Authority was created in 1954 to censor comics from publishing “lurid and unsavory” stories and art, meaning things such things as vampires, werewolves, ghouls, zombies, ect could no longer be portrayed in comic books. As a result, good must ALWAYS triumph over evil and villains can never be sympathetic. Words such as “horror” and “terror” could not be used on comic covers. Dark times indeed. My selection for the month isn’t focused on those that are the most shocking (though a few are) but rather on the best of horror and terror (physical and psychological) and those which display a variety of classic horror images and settings. Over 20 different artists from over 10 different publishers will be featured. I hope you all enjoy!
Vault of Horror #30 (1953) EC Comics, Johnny Craig
This whole “Month of Pre-Code Horror” started while researching for my original month-of-October blog post plan: 10 Pre-Code Horror covers and 10 Modern Horror covers. That plan didn’t quite work out – by the time my Pre-Code list was at around 60 or so, I totally panicked. How could I just pick 10!? So here we are, with 31 (which was still a struggle!). That feeling is very similar to how I felt choosing JUST one or two Johnny Craig covers to include in this list. This cover of Vault of Horror #30 made the cut because it’s an excellent example of my favorite thing Johnny Craig does — focus on the reactions to horror as opposed to the actual physical aspects of horror. This cover is even a bit gorey for Craig! The disembodied arm is rendered in incredible detail with it’s manly amount of body hair, the muscles and tendons gripping the handle (the knuckles are even white!) all outlined in strong black lines giving it weight and making the rest of the scene almost feel a little out of focus. When it gets down to the gore, it is detailed but not too realistic. The bone is almost cartoonish in its simplicity, and the shredded flesh and green slime are more sickening than scary or shocking. The man and woman in the center of the page are completely racked with fear. Look at the man’s hands and overall posture of total shock and repulsion! The woman in the green jacket to the left, mostly obscured by the GhouLunatic pictures, serves as another body in the scene but her real contribution to the cover is her jacket open exposing a little knee, which was a pretty sexy thing in the 50’s! The passengers to the right of the severed arm are spot-on caricatures of shock and fear: the old man looking up from his paper with a bewildered look, the lady next to him about to faint, and the two awestruck gentlemen. The “Stomach Upset?” sign in the background adds some humor and self awareness to the image and is also just a great detail. When I look at this picture, I can’t help but wonder not only what happened, but also how and when? Judging by everyone’s reactions it seem like whatever happened JUST happened and the green slime makes me think some kinda creature or monster is responsible, but still, so many questions! Did they SEE the creature? Did the lights go out and flicker back on and a man standing in the subway train was suddenly just an severed arm? Or is the creature still there lurking behind the arm behind the cover? Are we looking through the creature’s eyes and the looks of fear on the panicking passengers faces not for the arm hanging but for the impossible sight of the monster?