Back with another great random review from author and friend of Uncomfortably Dark, Craig Brownlie. Craig took some time from his busy schedule to review a stellar collection of horror comics!
Check out Craig's thoughts below and then pick up a few of these for yourselves!
The Mammoth Book of Best Horror Comics
The Mammoth Book of Zombie Comics
Creepy Archives Volume 1
Showcase Presents: The House of Mystery 1
Showcase Presents: The Witching Hour 1
Reviewed by Craig Brownlie
Come on in! Would you like a cup of tea? Let me unclip a teabag for you. This one has only been used once. You look jittery, so you won’t mind a little less caffeine, but all the flavor is still in those leaves. Hard to deny that I’m a bit cheap, but a penny saved is another book bought, eventually.
These mammoth books are quite the deal, for instance. They are chock full of horrifying tales. The Mammoth Book of Best Horror Comics and The Mammoth Book of Zombie Comics came out around 2008. The reading can be a little tight on the smaller page size, but the stories will introduce you to the types of comics that scared multiple generations. You can see early work from well-respected creators working now, like one of my favorites, Steve Niles.
The real benefit of any anthology can be the writers (and artists) you discover and subsequently seek out. With older comics, credit listings can be buried to the point that knowledgeable fans still argue who did what in some cases. Most of these Mammoth collections did the legwork for the reader, but even the big companies (looking at you, DC) struggle with poor record keeping in their archives.
Creepy Archives collects the initial issues of the quintessential horror anthology comic, starting in 1964. Written by Joe Orlando and Archie Goodwin (additional folks pop up frequently), the art features Frank Frazetta, Jack Davis, Alex Toth, and Gray Morrow, among others. Over-sized Creepy hid among the magazines, rather than spinning on the comics rack. Originally in black and white (as opposed to the other books mentioned here), the line work shines in these collections.
Starting a decade and a half ago, DC Comics published Showcase Presents as 500+ page collections of older runs of their comics. This could get you twenty or more issues of whatever you fancied at less than a dollar per issue.
Joe Orlando moved from writing Creepy to editing House of Mystery. Between it and The Witching Hour, you have stories written by Steve Skeates, Marv Wolfman, Len Wein, and Gerry Conway, with art by Berni Wrightson, Neal Adams, Jack Kirby, Wally Wood, and Sergio Aragonés.
One of the best things to come out of the digitalization of comics and the fertilizing of our culture with superhero stories has to be the wider availability of marginal comics outside the usual suspects. Work by true greats, like those mentioned here, deserve a wider audience. Individual issues from all these collections are available online through various sources, though Comixology, owned by Amazon, is the monster in the playground.
In these four books, you will find over 200 short stories. Many of them are formulaic because they had 6-10 pages (about 40 art panels) to build character, show the setting, and move the plot right along. None of the writers or artists could be certain of the makeup of their readership but it was huge. DC reported 156,000 issues of House of Mystery sold every month, which would be outstanding for a comic nowadays. It was an average seller, though definitely paid its way.
Additionally, comics are a great way to see how the sausage is made. Much like Twilight Zone episodes, everything about telling a good story is out there on the butcher block. Enjoy the art and then dissect if you’re trying to learn because these are works of incredible craftsmanship.
Every one of these tomes is heavy enough to press a belladonna blossom or hold down the corner of a parchment so you can more easily work on a disturbing incantation. If you try to purchase one of these books, then you will see wildly divergent pricing, so buyer be wise. One person’s collectible is another person’s book filled with reprints. None of them have color interiors, because the cover price was meant to push these out to everyone.
Highly recommended for winter nights when the ATM is blocked by a snow drift.
FIND MORE FROM CRAIG BELOW:
Bio: Find Craig on the usual social media and who knows where else? He's been busy submitting stories and books. His collection Thick As A Brick comes out on Godless on January 30. In the meantime, read his stories in Haunts Magazine (Nightshade Publications), Unspeakable Horrors 3: Dark Rainbow Rising, Jersey Devil Press, Lovecraftiana, Stranger With Friction, No More Resolutions, and Demons & Death Drops. Or talk to him at a convention. He hopes to be at Scares that Cares Authorcon III and IV in 2024.