… to see something really scary?

why whatever do you mean, "that's fucked-up?"

Why whatever do you mean, “that’s fucked-up?”

There is, in so many of the cosmic-y comics I like so much, the notion of a “node,” or “critical turning point.” It can be an object, it can be a person, it can be an event or set of events. Maybe it’s Hegelian or Nietzschean or some other 19th-century German-ian – as in its operation, there’s reconciliation with the past, but also a distinct discontinuity; there’s redemption and transformation and realization, but also a dramatic necessity for blood-and-guts violent confrontation; there’s the sense of throwing off all the taboos to find both the depths of depravity and the chorus of angels all in the same moment. It’s idealism and excess, horror and exaltation. Plus boobies. [I know, I know, there was another post scheduled for today, but researching Ms. Danvers is surprisingly taxing. Still working on it.]

Beings who read this blog, I give to you, the magazines Creepy and Eerie, both from Warren Publishing (James Warren), both born the same year I was, and without doubt, as a duo, the node of which I speak, for comics as a medium.

creepy29frontcreepy29coverThroughout the 70s they were readily available to little kids like me – good Lord! <choke> (that’s a joke; it’s sort of the beam-me-up-Scotty for E.C. in the 50s, lovingly recaptured in these mags) They were at the newsstands if we could scrape up the fifty cents, which in my day meant mostly Spanish artists (no bad thing), and too, Alex Toth, Carmine Infantino, and John Severin. Guaranteed as well, though, you could find stacks and stacks of the 60s back-issues everywhere, used bookstores, barber shops, whatever. Warren must have published zillions of copies.

I say again, little kids. Flip open Creepy #29, because that cover isn’t fucked-up either, no!, and feast (ugk! gak! you see what I did there) on the one-pager on that very cover’s inside. (The latter isn’t credited so I can only guess that it’s Corben channeling Will Eisner, or … is it possible? the other way around?) I was soaking this stuff up, along with the weirdness of Marvel at that time, plus National Lampoon and Mad, which were not actually joke-books at that point. I bet if you actually found all of us who read these things at that time and at that age (mostly through older siblings’ purchases), you’d discover some profile or syndrome that exists in no one else.

That said, they weren’t all that explicit. Most of the gore was done in black splatter rather than detailed rendering, and as I think about it, the horror really came from characters’ shocked, terrified, and above all despairing expressions. I think the lasting childhood impact might have arrived most from the grim and outright cynical depiction of human nature, depicted with ruthless six-page efficiency and gothic nastiness. I cannot say in which title, or maybe some related mag, Berni Wrightson scarred me forever with a story about hillbilly cannibals … I actually live in fear of ever seeing that story again.

Oh wait … I do recall that in the later issues, the Spanish, South American, and Filipino artists were quite good at tossing in more-than-side-boobs and corners of pubic hair that might have been shadow. … … What?

Eww, that's gorgeous!

Eww, that’s gorgeous!

In industry terms, it’s evident to me now that I’m looking at them again and reading the bylines, that these were the break-in market for everyone. Warren needed to crank this stuff out faster’n a parrot shits, so, kid, you wanna draw comics? Here, I’ll toss you a mummy script (scribble, scribble), draw that, here’s some extra India ink ’cause you’ll want that, and come back tomorrow. Yes, tomorrow. Next kid, get in here! You wanna draw comics?

You can see the extensive, ongoing crossover both with underground comix and with the entry into Marvel and especially into DC. This crossover was the stew from which the next phase of American comics greats emerged.

The art is simply a Hall of Fame: Frank Frazetta, Wally Wood, Dick Giordano, Ernie Colón, Rich Buckler, Dan Adkins, Dave Cockrum, Esteban Maroto,Tom Sutton, who I think had the longest run of any artist in these titles, what I think of as the Kellys (K. Freas, K. Jones, Ken K.), and of course Richard Corben, because I suspect he showed up even when not asked with yet another entirely horrible-beautiful canvas under his arm, wondering what to do with it.

creepy62story

Gonzalo Mayo, Creepy #62

Who was overseeing this art, anyway? Here again we find one of comics’ unsung true heroes, long-running art editor Billy Graham, whom I wrote about in Man of steel. it’s much more ambitious than the four-colors dared then, outside of a couple of oddities like Steranko and Adams. Eerie and Creepy set the bar for SF and fantasy and pop art, and provided the training ground. For Graham not to be acknowledged as a major contributor to the whole 70s-and-beyond culture of comics art is simply a crime.

My scans can’t capture the B&W, as the yellowing in my copies is so thorough that the scanner reads it all as black smears; that’s why they all look yellowy-beige here (their actual color now). You’ll just have to run a search on “creepy magazine stories” and “eerie magazine stories” to see the astounding range of black-and-white, from classic pulp taken to its highest impact, to outright experimentation. Everything I wrote about in Inking is sexy is in there, and tons more besides.

Eerie #27

Eerie #27

eerie35

Eerie #35

The writers, too! The list is just too long, so I’ll focus on a couple of points. First, exigencies of pump-it-out scheduling produced some surprising combos: that’s a Vaughn Bode and Kelly Jones cover on the left there, and on the right, a page from a Gardner F. Fox and Mike Ploog story. Stop. Did you see that? A Fox and Ploog trippy sword-and-sorcery story!!

Second, the direct links across the decades, with older writers who’d done E.C. and whippersnappers fervently wishing to do more. The story models are fixed, but strong: you’ve got your “illustrated classics” with a strong nod to Poe obviously, your pure recaps of E.C. type stories with their ironic comeuppance and splatter, you’ve got your thought-provoking SF with aliens and humans who think each other are monsters, and you’ve got your tripped-out fantasy where Dax-the-warrior asks the maiden of Death whether she knows of LOVE.

Clearly, Goodwin’s’ editorial runs in 1966-67 and 1970-71 were not only good for the mags, but the mags were good for Goodwin. You can see him honing his total editorial and narrative mastery, nailing the genius of story conflict-and-closure in six-to-ten page chunks. Credit goes too to Joe Orlando, working with Goodwin for some of that time; and to Louise Jones (whom some of you know by her second married name, Simonson), as story editor in the late 70s. Thematically, the comics corresponded with a lot of SF at the time, with one foot in the 50s pulps and one foot in the 70s comix, connecting “shake the squares outta their gourds” with the 70s’ “new world, new values, new choices, break the rules to find the rules.”

The decade-level continuity’s consequential: not only were they and their sister Vampirella the collective “fuck you, man we are back to dance a bloody jig on Wertham’s grave!” (Warren claimed the Code had no sway over “magazines” and dared them to say different), they were the spawning ground for all those Marvel monster, movie, and fantasy mags, much of which directly and indirectly redefined mainstream comics and pop culture imagery, permanently. All respect to Metal Hurlant and its American manifestation … but it should be recognized as more of these, and these set the tone, pace, content, and energy for all such endeavors to come.

Creepy #41

Creepy #41

... and its facing page

… and its facing page

Then there were the ads, a whole world of their own, in combination totally surreal. It’s like a fever dream from the low-grade fringe fandom collective unconscious. Like here, for instance, you have Vampirella’s plastic hobby kit, apparently one of the many miniature medieval torture sets available then, with the very famous posters at the bottom; you’ve got an admittedly classy offer of a good solid historical comics collection; and look! … uh, Frankenstein [the monster]. Losing his pants. Click to read these things, really.

Other standbys included the veritable zoo of monster masks splashed with red paint, the cheap-ass forerunners of what you find in Halloween stores today; all those rubber bats and dog whistles and fake vomit; Heidi Saha posters (who? you say … sigh); various exercise and workout stuff as in the four-color comics (which were of course not homoerotic, right); and a surprising assortment of great books which in the mid-late 60s, anyway, were not yet quite in the stores, such as the original Lancer paperbacks featuring Conan.

One of the ads bears mention, or rather, it’s not actually an ad but a PSA, first appearing in 1965,  produced in-house and sacrificing income-producing ad space for years:

Yes, that would be Frank Frazetta; writer is Archie Goodwin.

Looks corny, right? Maybe PC? I mean, who’s selling cigs to fifteen-year-olds anyway? Think again. At that time, anti-smoking was not politically correct or popular. Even identifying it as a health issue was decidedly a minority view; physicians were still advising pregnant women to smoke a pack a day to stay slim. When it came to sales and ads to teens, there was a big fight over TV commercials that the cigs, at that point, were winning, and they dominated every magazine. They even had color inserts in most paperback books. For Warren to eschew that income stream was a pretty big economic deal.

Maybe you’re getting the wrong idea, that I’m all moralistic about cigarettes. I’m not; this is about something more than the single issue. Here’s the bigger picture, in Warrens’ editorial from Eerie #29, in 1970 (all emphases are from the original).

An editorial to the President of the United States and all the Members of Congress

— on behalf of our readers , most of whom are from 10 to 18 years old …

We are a magazine publishing company that is in business to entertain and enlighten our auidence. We don’t publish politically-oriented magazines (3 of our titles are in comics-format), but we do get involved in the serious issues of our times.

Both this company and our young readers have felt for some time now that our country is in deep trouble. Our first personal taste of this trouble occurred in 1965 when we came out with BLAZING COMBAT Magazine. Blazing Combat was a comic book that grimly pointed out that war is hell, and inhuman – and not the glamorous, adventurous matter often depicted in the mass media. Editor Archie Goodwin wrote some of the finest anti-war stories ever seen in comics form. It was a publication we were proud of. Yet, Blazing Combat was a failure on the newsstand. It lasted 4 issues.

We suspect that part of the reason it failed was because some of the people involved in the sales and distribution of our product didn’t like the attitude we took on Viet Nam. Back in 1965 it was considered, by most, extremely unpatriotic not to support our country’s position. We received complaints along about our second issue. We ignored them, but could not ignore the economic effect of losing thousands of dollars each issue. We ceased publication.

We were angry – that a magazine we thought deserved to live – had died, possibly because it proclaimed a message that said “War is hell – and the Viet Nam war is not only hell, it’s absolute insanity for our country.” And so Blazing Combat went quietly out of business.

Still another involvement for us is the running of our Anti-Cigarette Smoking ad.

Created at our own expense, this half-page Comics Format ad “EASY WAY TO A TUFF SURFBOARD!” (written by Archie Goodwin, drawn by Frank Frazetta) has been running in all Warren Magazines for the past 5 summers. It’s not the kind of ad you’ll see in any other publication in America. It doesn’t help sell our magazines, but we run it because we believe the message is important (more important than advertising revenues) – and deserves exposure in our pages.

Now we must again speak out, concerning that most urgent issue – our involvement in  Southeast Asia.

We realize that only you, Mr. President, can end this war – the longest and costliest war in our history. Failing this, only You – the Members of Congress – can stop the President from continuing in a war that is taking the lives and limbs of our youth, soiling our national conscience, and splitting this country down the middle.

Most of us readers are under 21. We can’t vote – yet. But we don’t have to be 21 to die ina war that was a mistake to begin with. That’s why we are angry with you adults, Mr. President and Members of the Congress. You adults have let this drag on for half our lives. We’ve tried to tell you this in demonstrations. We tried to tell you this at Kent State. Were you listening?

Perhaps you don’t listen because you think we’re children. You may even think it strange that words like these appear in a magazine such as this. But we’re deadly serious about what we’re now saying.

Do something about it NOW.

Before another human life is wasted – give us PEACE, NOW!

James Warren / President / WARREN PUBLISHING CO.

The Warren mags were political, in a sense that I fear is wholly lost today. For Warren, to hold a policy position was no more nor less than breathing. To be a publisher is to speak your mind; there is no candy-ass nonsense about “balance” and “neutral.” There’s no wussing out with “we publish entertainment, it’s not our place to say anything.” Money – making or spending – is simply a subroutine of these things, with no intrinsic power to override them. Ask yourself which pop culture equivalent said anything like this in 2003. Or 2010. Or says it now.

That core of personal grit, an actual position and presence, was a real thing, and the same goes for the whole line, as magazines. In his and the contributors’ case, the magazines were fantastic-fiction, yes, – but they were deliberately culturally defiant, deliberately anarchic in the very best sense of that term (also sadly lost). Don’t let the boys mag style in the ad or anywhere else distract you. They were schlock to the max, utter trash, the very essence of “how can you read this garbage” – but this, oh beings, is the node. The comics you read, the movies you watch, the pop culture you swim in, grew right here. In the dank and the dark, written in the heat of emotions and thought about the real world, now only preserved on paper that’s so brittle and beige.

I wrote earlier about how I don’t bother to keep my comics in plastic – these are the exception.

Links: Enjolra’s World, Eerie cover gallery, Creepy cover gallery

Next comics: Aug 9, One Plus One, I Want In p. 6; August 11, Sword of God, The Edge p. 3

Next column: Carol Danvers spits on your grave (really, this time)

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About Ron Edwards

Game author and publisher via Adept Press / Biology author and former professor

Posted on August 7, 2016, in The 70s me and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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