From 1954 to the early ’70s, comics publishers kept a tight rein on the horror genre to avoid the kind of Senate investigation-inspiring trouble that horror comics got into during the early ’50s glory days of E.C. Comics and their many imitators. However, the early ’70s saw a loosening of the comics code that allowed for a return of macabre creatures and themes to the world of comic books. Magazine-size publications were free from such restrictions but they took advantage of the new permissiveness in comics to do what their four-color cousins couldn’t get away with.
The Warren Publications trilogy of Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella are the best-known and most successful of magazine-sized horror comics but they experienced a burst of competition during that early-to-mid ’70s horror comics boom. The most notorious of these competitors was Eerie Publications, an outfit devised by infamous fly-by-night magazine publisher Myron Fass. They published a string of titles – Weird, Horror Tales and Tales From The Tomb among them – that were awash in gore and bad attitudes that launched a synapse-melting assault on many a budding young horror fan.
Given the erratic nature of these magazines – inconsistent publishing schedules and numbering systems, sparse and often misleading credits – many horror comics buffs spent decades wondering where these oddities came from and whose sick minds put them together. Thankfully, those questions have been laid to rest by The Weird World Of Eerie Publications, an excellent book by Mike Howlett.
Howlett has multiple aims with this book but he successfully integrates them into an engaging read full of surprises and color (both literal and figurative). After a pair of introductions – one by Howlett and one by famous comics/film scribe Stephen Bissette – that do a good job of setting up the sleazeball allure of Eerie’s cheap horror comics, the book dives into the history of Myron Fass. He started as a comic book artist during this field’s original boom period, developing a feel for horror before the genre became too controversial circa Seduction Of The Innocent and the subsequent Senate investigation.
From there, Fass moved into publishing, doing everything from humor to men’s magazines before the attention-getting success of Warren Publications led him to return to the horror genre. He developed a gleefully quick-and-cheap approach to the format that started with reprints of ’50s pre-code horror, mutated into reprints with artists adding touch-ups for extra gore and cheesecake content and finally became redraw/rewrite takes on those classic stories. The final cheaply-published but often nicely-drawn result became a newsstand staple and a cult fave for a certain type of trash-loving horror fan.
Howlett gives you the lowdown on how these magazines were published, who was actually involved behind those kooky faux-credits, the wild magazines that Fass’s group published outside the comics world and the even wilder nature of life in the Fass office (note: he was a gun enthusiast who was known to prowl his office with a pistol). You also get biographical profiles for the editorial staff, who reveal themselves to be a real rogues’ gallery of the publishing world, and bios for the artists who worked on these magazines. The latter set of bios is really fascinating because the artists included a mix of golden ages comics vets, artists from the ad world and, most intriguingly, a group of Argentinean artists who provided some of the most striking work in these magazines.
If that’s not enough for you, The Weird World Of Eerie Publications still has some gas in its tank. Other features include a gallery of the eye-popping artwork used for Eerie’s horror magazines, a newly-drawn version of a classic story by comics legend Dick Ayers and a series of appendices that cover an array of fascinating tangents. Said appendices include material on Fass’s ventures into superhero and teen comics, sources for lifted cover art, info on where the magazines’ text stories came from and more.
As the last few paragraphs suggest, you get all the available info about the strange history of Eerie Publications. However, the thing that puts it all across the plate is Howlett’s authorial voice. He can deploy some playful, tongue-in-cheek humor when the moment is right but he shows respect for his subject matter by doing quality journalism about its origins. He also displays a nice knack for artistic commentary when discussing the styles of the different artists. His nimble approach carries the reader nicely through the various topics covered by the book and the book’s appeal is completed by a slick, colorful layout that makes excellent use of art from the Eerie’s different publications.
In short, if you have a serious interest in horror comics, The Weird World Of Eerie Publications will fill in an oft-overlooked piece of the genre’s history. This book is proof you can educate yourself and have lots of trashy fun at the same time.
For more info on the book and a free 36 page sample, click here.