Saturday, April 12, 2008

Out of the Vault - Tales From the Tomb

When I delved into the vault last week, I pulled out three boxes of comics and one box of magazines. And in the magazine box was a rather unusual treasure from 1970-Tales From the Tomb.

Most comics fans are familiar with Seduction of the Innocent, the book by psychiatrist Dr. Frederic Wertham that accused comics of causing juvenile delinquency, and the Congressional hearings that followed. The hearings basically had two outcomes. First, like the movie studios before them, the comics publishers agreed to set up a private governing body to guarantee the decency of comics content (the Comics Code Authority, whose seal ran on the cover of every book from Marvel, DC, and other newsstand comics publishers).

And second, EC Comics pretty much went out of business. What was regarded by some fans as the best comics publisher of the 50's shut down their entire line of titles with the exception of Mad, which they then reformatted into a magazine so that they could skirt the CCA.

Mad's move to the newsstand paved the way for others to do likewise, like Warren Publications, who published Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella, and Marvel Comics, who experimented with more adult content in B&W magazines in the 70's and 80's.

And then there was Eerie Publications.

I didn't actually buy this one. My stepbrother didn't buy many comics, but he did buy a lot of magazine-sized ones, mostly Petersen stuff like Hot Rod CARtoons and the occasional horror mag like this one.

The cover above sums up Eerie's approach. Look at how pretty much all the text on the cover drips. Let's take a closer look at the illustration (you can click on the picture for a larger view). Note the lurid colors (I've brightened all the scans a bit to account for the overall dinginess of the magazine). Notice how the drooling monster is an odd amalgam of Dracula and the classic Universal Frankenstein Monster (flat head and stitches running up his forehead where his brain should be). Note how he's ripping the clothes off this lovely blonde for no discernible reason. And this is just plain weird: not only is she bleeding from the fang wounds in her neck, but she is also bleeding from the spiders' feet. Those are some freakin' scary spiders!

When I opened up the magazine to look inside, I got a huge surprise. The editor was a guy named Carl Burgos. For those who don't know, Carl Burgos was the guy who created the Human Torch for Timely Comics back in the 30's. Marvel Comics #1, which was once (and may still be) the most valuable single issue on the face of the planet, featured the Torch on the cover. The man was a legend. I was disappointed, though, that there weren't any other art or writing credits in the magazine. I'm sure I would have recognized some of the names.

When you get into the stories, however, you're in for a mixed bag. Though there is lots of lurid stuff, there's nothing to match the cover. And in some cases, like this opening splash panel for "Food For Ghouls," this little bit of titillation with the buxom girl in stockings is as spicy as it gets. The story itself is a pretty standard EC rip-off about a chef who abuses his family while lavishing money and gifts on his mistress and suffers a pretty gruesome final revenge from his wife. The first panel teases you into 5 pages of build-up for a gory three-panel payoff. But at least it had a payoff, which is more than can be said of some other stories in the magazine. Several of them are tame enough to fit comfortably inside a Code book like DC's House of Mystery.

But there are stranger things in the magazine, like this story of Kolah the Jungle Girl. The muddy grays are typical, but what is a jungle girl story doing in a horror magazine, apart from the grotesquerie of the teeth showing through the torn cheeks of both women? It sort of looks as if the wounds may have been added after the fact just to give this bit of jungle cheesecake some horror cred. And why is the lettering in just this story in that cheap typeset font?

Turns out, one way Eerie maximized profits was by repackaging old stories from pre-Code comics. The muddy grays are a result of translating color comics to black-and-white. The variations in lettering and the odd juxtapositions of subject matter give away their origins in different publications.

Of course, no story about Eerie Publications is complete without their trademark: the popped eyeball. I remembered this from some of the other Eerie mags my stepbrother had bought, but I had to look long and hard through this particular issue to find one. In fact, on my first runthrough, I couldn't find any. I knew they had to be pretty common though, not just because of my memories, but because of the remembrances on this page, where Dick Ayers, former Marvel artist who also drew stories for Eerie Pubs, said,

When Carl and Myron asked me to do the "eye-poppers" I said no-way and Myron told me to go see the movie just out -- "The Wild Bunch." I did and went along with Myron and Carl. When I draw at my table I give whatever my best so's I can enjoy what I do... and it looks like I had fun popping those eyes.

So I looked again, and sure enough, I found one. Actually, I may have found two: the bottom corpse on the left clearly has an eye popped out of its socket, but in the panel on the right, it also looks as if the girl has clawed an eyeball out of her attacker's face. Two panels later, though, the character's face appears with two healthy eyes, so I'm not sure what this panel is actually supposed to depict. It may be another case where the art was edited to add a little extra gore.

If you're interested in learning more, visit the link above from which I drew the Dick Ayers quote. Lots of examples of the Eerie style there. And for more information on the publisher, Myron Fass, see this profile of the "Demon God of Pulp." I think I have several of the magazines depicted on that page, including the Space Wars Heroes, maybe the Space Trek, and a couple of the UFO ones.

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