Desk Bird

Experience “The Horror!”

Posted in Book Reviews by PJ on 2013/08/11

In the early 1950s anyone who visited a drugstore or newsstand had a good chance of ending up face to face with ghouls, corpses, axe murderers, and witches. These and other creatures lived in states of perpetual menace on the covers of comic books like Tomb of Terror, Weird Fantasy, and Tales from the Crypt. This was the era of soda shops, sock hops, and Leave It to Beaver, but it was also, for a few short years, the golden age of horror comics. In The Horror! The Horror! Jim Trombetta has compiled pristine, full-size color prints of some of the strangest, scariest, most salacious, and most beautiful horror comic books from that era, and in well-researched chapters he describes the rise and abrupt fall of the genre in the early 1950s.

Trombetta takes us back to the time when horror comics flourished. Artists were working with almost complete creative freedom, pushing the boundaries with shocking images and subversive storylines that commented on society, culture, and government. Not surprisingly, this stirred controversy, and in 1954 Dr. Fredric Wertham published a book, Seduction of the Innocent, in which he argued that comic books contributed to juvenile delinquency and were “the death of reading.” Subsequently, the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency held hearings on the issue, and according to Trombetta “comics became the first pop-art medium to be regulated nearly out of existence by the government.” Although never officially implemented by the government, the Comics Code was established by the magazine and comic book industry as a way to self-regulate (and censor) itself and purge horror comics from drugstores and newsstands.

Flipping through the comics in The Horror! The Horror! it’s understandable why a lot of people (parents, especially) were uneasy with children reading this kind of material, but Trombetta does a great job exploring the issue of censorship, revealing how censors ultimately deprive us all of works with cultural and artistic value even if they have good intentions.

I loved taking this journey back in time, and I honestly loved the comics in this book. Such modern horror series as The Walking Dead, Hellboy, Sandman, and Uzumaki are masterful works of literature and graphic art, but none of them can recreate the raw creepiness that oozes from the covers and pages of the classic comics included in this volume. They’re weird, scary, funny, and beautifully executed. The Horror! The Horror! The reproduction was so well-done that I had a sense of what it must have felt like to page through these comics sixty years ago. If you’re interested at all in the history of American comics (or are just unabashedly eager to see ghoulish illustrations of demons, monsters, and aliens), you’ve got to check out

P.S. If you find yourself hooked and looking for more horror comics, you’ll want to get your hands on ‘Tain’t the Meat…It’s the Humanity!, a collection of every story that Jack Davis, a master of the genre, illustrated for Tales from the Crypt.

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