Tuesday, January 2, 2018

“Read a Damn Book – 063: Creepy Volume One”



Shawna Gore (ed.) and numerous others – Creepy Volume One (2008)

To do this collection any justice, we have to go back in time to the 1940s and 50s, when a little company called Entertaining Comics published some groundbreaking horror and science fiction titles. These books had clever, tongue-in-cheek writing, gratuitous violence, and brilliant artwork by some of the best artists to ever work in the field. The comics were intended for a sophisticated, adult audience (according to Al Feldstein, one of the super-stars of the EC stable, as he said in the documentary, Comic Book Confidential,) but most of America felt that comics were just for kids. By the mid-1950s, there were complaints that these comics were corrupting children, and then there were congressional hearings, and before the government could come down on comics and make them illegal, a self-censoring agency was created to regulate what could and COULDN’T be included in a comic book. Books that weren’t submitted to the Comic Code Authority, and didn’t have their stamp of approval, couldn’t get distributed, and according to William Gaines, almost every word that he used in the titles of his comics was BANNED. EC shifted gears, dropped their comics, and moved into producing a humor magazine call MAD. (Maybe you’ve heard of it.)

The overall effect of the Comics Code Authority was that all of the FUN was sucked out of comics---for at least the next ten years.

By the mid-1960s, however, Warren Publishing decided to try to resurrect horror comics, although they decided to publish them in black and white format and as magazines, in order to get around the Comics Code Authority, which wasn’t concerned with magazines. Warren enlisted a number of classic EC artists, like Al Williamson, Frank Frazetta, Jack Davis, Joe Orlando, Reed Crandall, George Evans…, as well as some great non-EC talent, such as Gray Morrow and Angelo Torres, and went about recreating that fantastic, tongue-in-cheek horror mood of books like Tales from the Crypt and Vault of Horror, with Creepy and Eerie.

So what’s in THIS collection? Dark Horse Comics, in putting Creepy Volume One together, reprinted the first five issues of Creepy magazine. They also included an interesting introduction by Jon B. Cooke (which covers a lot of what I mentioned above, but in much greater detail), some fascinating LETTERS pages, in which fans and detractors express their thoughts on the various issues, and even a bunch of vintage advertisements, which are pretty cool in their own right!

The stories in this collection are very fun. They aren’t particularly SCARY, but more humorous, with twist endings and snarky puns. The stories might be considered a bit cheesy by today’s standards, considering they’re primarily based on vampires and werewolves and witches and the like, but they are ALSO pretty funny. Most of the stories are introduced by a wise-cracking ghoul named Uncle Creepy (who is clearly modeled on the Crypt Keeper from Tales from the Crypt.) In one of the later stories in this collection, you actually get an “origin” story for Uncle Creepy, which I thought was pretty clever---if a bit silly.

The black and white artwork throughout this collection is exceptional, with brilliant artists, like Frazetta, Morror, Torres, Crandall, and Jack Davis (of course), creating atmospheric settings and brilliantly conceived creatures. All in all, the stories and art work well together, and produce the perfect mood, while retaining that classic, gothic feel where it counts. And all of the covers, which are also reprinted in this collection, are wonderful. (My favorite is the cover of the first issue by Jack Davis. He was good!)

If you are familiar with EC’s horror line, the Creepy stories may seem a bit tame by comparison, as they tend not to be as gruesome, but I think the black and white art actually lends something to the telling of gothic fair, so I’m pleased with that difference. The stories are also pretty funny, at times, although some might find the inevitable twist endings to be unsatisfying. Most of the stories are short, and there are few recurring characters (besides Uncle Creepy), but that’s okay with me. One thing this book has going for it, though, is the SIZE. The first issue of Creepy was a full 68 pages, and even though the book would eventually slim down to 48 pages, that’s still a lot of stories, when your tales are only about 8 pages each! (I think it’s about 240 pages, altogether.)

So if you enjoy good, “creepy” comic stories, with exceptional artwork and a sly, humorous bent to the tales, then Creepy will be the book for you. Unfortunately, the Dark Horse hardcover edition has gone up in price quite a bit, but the digital download is still reasonable. Again, the book isn’t particularly gory or explicit, though there is a bit of a body count. Personally, I enjoy the tone, but I’m also a fan cheesy old horror in general, things like the Universal films, like The Invisible Man and Bride of Frankenstein, and even the Abbott and Costello parodies! It’s just good, fun stuff, with lots of monsters in it! (What else does anyone really need???)

---Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Grand Hoohaa of The P.E.W.)

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