Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Review - Creepy Archives

Creepy Archives
Edited by Shawna Gore
2009 Eisner Winner for Best Archival Collection/Project: Comic Books

I've mentioned it before but I love the current trend of archival projects. In the past five or six years old comics that had been unavailable for a long time have become relatively easy to get. Right now I can easily collect a sampling of every major creator and trend in comics from 1890 to today and if there's something obscure I'm interested in there's a very good chance that it's either been completely reprinted or someone is working on putting out the volumes. Not all of that material is going to be good to a modern reader but it's great to have the history available. That sums up my feelings on the Creepy Archives; the stories aren't very good but they are an important part of comic book history which I'm glad to have available.

The context of history is important here. It really starts with EC comics and their horror line which thanks to some fear mongering put the publisher before a congressional panel to defend himself against charges of corrupting America's youth. That publisher abandoned his comic line for MAD Magazine and the Comic Code Authority was formed to insure that no objectionable content appeared in comics. Ten years later the fear mongering had faded away and Warren Publishing wanted to create comics in the EC style. To avoid the Comic Code Authority they put their work into an oversized magazine format and so Creepy Magazine was formed.

Creepy specialized in the kinds of stories you would expect in horror from in 1964. It was still the era of The Twilight Zone and Creepy was kind of the Outer Limits of comics; desperately trying to be The Twilight Zone but never being able to live up to that standard. There's a vampire stalking the village where the new count and his wife are settling into the castle. Shocking twist: his wife was the vampire and not him! A murder is stalking the woods near a woman's house and her new husband sneaks out at strange hours. Shocking twist: after she kills him she finds out he was not the murderer!

That's how the stories work. Everyone has to have a big twist ending and just that fact makes it obvious what it'll be most of the time and the rest of the time it's something completely from left field. Since they're plotted around that weak twist ending it undermines the whole story. These are horror stories firmly rooted in the B-movies of the time and that can make them difficult to read today.

What makes the Creepy Archives something more than a historical oddity is the line up of artists that worked on it. Warren Publishing went to the people who worked on EC comics and brought many of them to their books. They also managed to find some great new talent; Bernie Wrightson, for example, had his first published work on a fan page that's included in the archive. Just to pick out a handful of the great illustrators represented in the first four books: Joe Orlando, Alex Toth, Wally Wood, Steve Ditko, Gene Colan, Jack Davis, Gray Morrow, Angelo Torres, and of course Frank Frazetta whose last work in sequential art is in the first issue. It really is a superstar line up; an all-star game of comic book artists.

With archive projects like this a lot depends on the presentation and I don't think it could be better. The books are the same size as the original magazines. All of the magazine contents are represented including the letter pages and fan club pages. The only change is they adjusted the page numbers on each issue's table of contents and added creator credits to the margins of the title pages for stories. The pages look sharper than they did when they were first printed. There's a good introduction that gives the history behind the magazine though I suspect anyone buying Creepy Archives will already be familiar with it.

I like having the Creepy Archives. In my youth I never collected the magazine format comics or showed any interest in them until they were already gone. But I still recognize that this is the kind of book that has limited appeal. I enjoy collecting the history of comics and just looking at the artwork but that's it.