Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Review: Four Color Fear- Forgotten Horror Comics of the 1950s

FOUR COLOR FEAR: FORGOTTEN HORROR COMICS OF THE 1950S (Fantagraphics, 2010; Softcover)
Collects selections from Adventures Into Darkness No. 10, Adventures Into the Unknown No. 51, Baffling Mysteries No. 20, Black Cat Mystery Nos. 39, 45, 46, 50, Chamber of Chills Nos. 7, 8, 17, 23, 24, Eerie Comics No. 1, Fantastic Fears No. 8, Forbidden Worlds No. 6, Haunted Thrills No. 13, Journey Into Fear No. 12, Mysterious Adventures No. 20, Nightmare No. 1, Out of the Night No. 2, Out of the Shadows No. 9, Strange Mysteries No. 18, Strange Suspense Stories No. 4, Strange Terrors No. 7, This Magazine Is Haunted Nos. 5, 12, Tomb of Terror No. 14, Voodoo No. 14, Web of Evil Nos. 1, 8, 9, Weird Adventures No. 2, Weird Mysteries No. 5, Weird Tales of the Future No. 3 and Witches Tales Nos. 6, 15, 25 (cover dates January, 1947- August, 1954).
Writers: Unknown
Artists: Fred Kida, Bob Powell, Jack Cole, The Iger Studio, Basil Wolverton, Al Williamson and many others.
While Spider-Man is my all-time favorite comic book character, these '50s pre-code Horror comic books rank right up there as well. I am a sucker for classic Horror.
The writing is often derivative and inbred, stealing as much from other comics of the day as well as books and movies. Even EC was guilty of this...just ask Ray Bradbury. Go on, Google it. I'll wait for you to come back.
The level of violence is awe-inspiring, especially when you consider the era that these comic books were released in. There was no Twilight Zone yet. Heck, much of the country was just starting to get television! While there were plenty of Horror movies, there was nothing this gruesome. Psycho wasn't even released yet. One can only imagine the horror that parents felt when they discovered their kids reading this stuff.
The artwork in the pre-code era of comics was superb. Bear in mind that these cats toiled in anonymity and near poverty, with their love of their art being their sole reward. It should also be noted for younger readers that these guys did this level of quality of artwork skin and bones. No Photoshop to save their asses or help with panel composition. 
These artists, especially Bob Powell, had ideas for 'framing' that were almost cinematic. It bears repeating that many households in the United States were just getting television during this era, and certainly most of those were black and white sets. The impact of this work must be reassessed when put in this context.
Many of these great artists left comics once the whole Wertham thing castrated the medium. The self imposed censorship stifled creativity. These old school Horror comics are art of the highest order, and are worthy of a place in any self respecting comic fan's collection. 

The cover pictured is the one that is on the first printing which I own. Fantagraphics often changes covers on second printings, and the one on the second printing of this book is far superior to mine. See for yourself:
The OCD zone- Fantagraphics always produces top quality books, and this one is no exception. Like all Fantagraphics softcovers, this boasts sewn binding. The paper used in this book is uncoated stock, which is a point of debate among many collected editions obsessives. Many prefer it to the coated, semi-glossy stock found in Marvel books. I like it as well as liking that stock. One is an apple, one is an orange, and they're both delicious. There is a section of covers in the middle of the book that is slick magazine paper, which was done to better capture the colors of the glossy covers on the original issues. A nice touch that no one would have complained about if they hadn't included it. It's the little things like this that earn Fantagraphics the praise that I always heap on their products.
The restoration is cleaned up, high resolution scans. I like this warts and all approach, as you can see the line bleed and all of the defects of the original comics. I also love the fully restored colors that can be seen in Marvel Masterworks. This is another apple and orange scenario. I cannot recommend this collection enough...go out and get it already.

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