Jonesing for classic Fifties horror comic books? You know, the ones where people rise from the dead to torment those who killed them or made their lives hell, where bad people get their just desserts and where all manner of gruesome and supernatural atrocity is splashed across the pages in glorious color? Karswell, the creator of the fantastic blog The Horrors Of It All (and the frontman for “devil rockers” Sons of Black Mass) is the man to give you what you crave. From his massive collection (and the occasional contributions of other posters) he has conjured an online repository of vintage comic fear fare where individual stories from long out-of-print issues are posted in high resolution, page by page. For a fan of EC, Atlas and other Silver Age-era comic companies, it is pure heaven (and hell), particularly because many of these titles can cost $100 or far more on the market.
Attention Deficit Delirium caught up with Karswell to chat with him about his site, love for horror and thoughts on comics that were once considered reading material for delinquents — and inspired censorship and the creation of the Comics Code Authority — but now fetch top dollar on the collectors’ market.
When did your obsession with vintage horror comics start? What attracted you to them originally?
For as long as I can remember I’ve been obsessed with horror. From a very young age in the early Seventies I had the monster model kits, toys, spooky books and records. I collected Famous Monsters of Filmland and constantly scoured the TV Guide for when classics like King Kong and Creature from the Black Lagoon were airing. I loved ghost stories, and television in the early Seventies was awesome for it — Night Gallery, Kolchak, etcetera. I worshiped Alice Cooper as much as Vincent Price — still do, in fact. I was definitely the creepy kid in class, and every day was Halloween for me. But it was sometime in the late Seventies when I was with my grandmother at an antique store in rural Missouri that I found some coverless comics in an old box. I was already fairly obsessed with some of the hero comic books, so to find mags that contained full blown illustrated horror stories and no super powers totally blew my mind.
Did you collect these comics as a kid or when you became an adult? Have you inherited a lot of the stash you are reprinting online?
I actually got into hardcore Pre-Code collecting later as an adult — when I could actually afford these comics — but through my entire life I’ve always sought out the affordable Atlas and Prize Fifties reprints from the Marvel and DC Silver Age era, as well as the black and white Eerie Pub stuff which re-printed and sometimes “re-made” a lot of the other oddball 50’s publishers like Superior. Anything I could get my hands on, reading was my thing. Still is. And I’ve never inherited any comics. That’s like the dream though for every fanboy, isn’t it? Some crazy old Uncle you never knew leaving you a pile of Harvey horrors or Batmans in his attic. You’re never too old to keep wishing for that miracle.
What is your favorite illustrated horror story ever and why?
Jeez, I get asked this at least twice a week from readers who email me. I really have no clue. I have favorite illustrators like [Alex] Toth or [Bill] Everett, and of course everybody that worked at EC were brilliant. I guess my readers will probably find this shocking since I do not post EC stories, but if I had to pick an “all-time fave” story it would probably come from EC, and probably be one by Jack Davis or Johnny Craig. Is that a good enough answer?
How about this — Who is a cooler EC icon for you: The Vault Keeper, The Crypt Keeper or the Old Witch?
What do you think of a lot of the late Sixties and Seventies horror titles from DC and Marvel?
I love Silver Age horror, that’s the stuff I mostly grew up on. It was cool when Marvel would mix issues of say Chamber of Darkness with new stuff and older pre-Code reprints. I finally just completed an entire run of DC’s Witching Hour. That stuff is loads of fun.
How do you feel a lot of these stories have influenced the horror film genre in the last 50 years?
Well, aside from Creepshow and maybe a handful of others — most notably from England’s Amicus Studios in the Sixties and Seventies — I’d say not hardly at all. Which is surprising, because instead of endless cliche and re-makes, there’s a treasure trove of tremendous ideas sitting in old pre-Code books just waiting to be exploited. And it doesn’t have to be an omnibus film to harken the days of Pre-Code, just make something inspiring with a good ending for once! Christ, some of those one page quickies in Ace Comics have better character development within just six panels than an entire franchise of Hollywood hits containing multiple sequels. This topic comes up [on my site] a lot in the comments, and I love when our occasional deep threads or themes connect comics with film, or even music and TV. I used to concoct contests around it too, with “match a song to this story” or “Casting Call,” where you actually cast the film version of the days post with famous names. I should start doing that stuff again. I suddenly have no idea why I stopped.
What copyright issues have you faced in placing these stories online?
Not a single one. I have heard stories of the occasional scan poster getting an angry email from someone though, and it’s the main reason why I steer clear of EC stories since those great issues in particular seem to have never gone out of print. But if anyone ever has a rights problem with something I post just email me with proof, and I’ll take it down immediately. I sometimes wonder how I’d react if Stan Lee personally asked me to ixnay on the Atlas stuff. On one hand it would suck to have to remove Atlas horror from THOIA, but on the other hand — whoa, an email from Stan Lee!
What do you think of the recently resurrected and more modern Tales From The Crypt comic?
I’ve only seen the very first issue, and I wish it all the best. That’s a lame answer isn’t it? I have to be honest and say I didn’t give it much of a chance. After all, with a name like Tales from the Crypt you have some very big shoes (and coffins) to fill! What I did with #1 is the same thing I do with any new comic book I’m checking out on the stands — the quick flip-through test. Something has to really jump out at me and grab me by the throat to get me excited or interested enough in delving deeper. Especially at today’s prices! More specifically, it’s about the artwork. Since I’m more in tune with Golden and Silver age styles and vibe I was probably turned off by something as simple as a bevel / emboss photoshop filter on a story title. I don’t really remember. Do you recommend I give it another shot? Cuz I will.
Check out The Horrors Of It All for an amazing repository of the creepiest horror comics from the Golden Age.