The horror comics of the 1950s were highly influenced by the creepy stories that were broadcast over the radio years earlier. The aged voice of Old Nancy, The Witch of Salem (and her cat Satan) from The Witch’s Tale is mentioned as a direct influence for The Old Witch who hosted EC’s Vault of Horror. What better source of short terrifying tales than those that had already used imagination as their color palette?
The obvious first crossovers were the crime comics; Blackstone the Magic Detective, Crime Does Not Pay, Gangbusters. Next came the heroes like Green Hornet and The Shadow, who had also been appearing in the pulps since long before their radio debuts.
“More than three years after the demise of his comic book, The Green Lama was resurrected for a short-lived CBS radio series that ran for 11 episodes in 1949″.
“Mysterious Traveler Comics #1 (Nov. 1948) had a direct tie-in with the radio series, including the story “Five Miles Down,” taken directly from an episode scripted for the radio program. (Charlton Comics published a separate Tales of the Mysterious Traveler comic book for 13 issues from 1956 to 1959.)” [Wikipedia]
Stories of terror from beyond the grave were not far behind. Some series, like Suspense, crossed over from radio to comics and on to television and movies!
So finally, here is a tantalizing taste of terror that will tickle your ears!
The comic book stories are followed by the radio version. Listen with the lights out!
Black Magic in a Slinky Gown
From Baffling Mysteries #6 (1952)
CBS Radio Mystery Theater (#265) – Black Widow (1975)
Stranger in Studio X
From Eerie (Avon) #16 (1954)
Lights Out – The Coffin in Studio B (1946)
EC Comics Adaptations
If you are lucky enough to find these gems in reprint, the following list of comic book stories from EC Comics have all had broadcast radio versions:
Crypt of Terror #18 – The Maestro’s Hand
Witch’s Tale – The Gypsy’s Hand
Weird Fantasy #13 – Home To Stay
Suspense – Kaleidoscope
Weird Fantasy #4 – Mad Journey
Escape! – The Earthmen
Vault of Horror #1 – Horror In The Night
Suspense – House on Cypress Canyon
Weird Science #12 – Chewed Out
Suspense – The Invader and Dimension X – Pictures Don’t Lie
Weird Fantasy #1 – Trip into the Unknown
Suspense – Report From A Dead Planet
Crime SuspenStories #2 – The Corpse in the Crematorium
Suspense – Dead Earnest
Tales from the Crypt #29 – Sucker for a Spider
Lights Out – The Spider
Tales from the Crypt #38 – Tight Grip
Lights Out – The Story of Mr. Maggs and Mysterious Traveler – The Visiting Corpse
Tales from the Crypt #29 – A Rottin’ Trick
The Strange Dr. Weird – White Pearls of Terror
*For the bulk of this list I am indebted to Radio Horror Hosts, one of the foremost sources for the history of Old Time Radio horror and the creeps who hosted it.
Awake at Midnight welcomes author Zac Brewer! Zac is the best-selling author of the Vladimir Tod series (Eighth Grade Bites) and the Slayer Chronicles, The Legacy of Tril series, and his latest novel Cemetery Boys.
Awake at Midnight: What inspired Cemetery Boys? Why did you choose to introduce us to a romantic new monster like the Winged Ones after creating such a rich world of vampires in the Vladimir Tod series & The Slayer Chronicles?
Zac Brewer: I wanted to write horror in the vein of King and Hitchcock. And if I was going to write horror, I was determined to return to one of the scariest places I could imagine– the small town I grew up in. The Winged Ones are such a strong symbol of belief in the book. I wanted to chase the question, “How far would someone go for their beliefs?”
Pretty far, I can say.
How did you feel about the representation of your characters in the graphic novel adaptations of Eighth Grade Bites and its sequel?
Penguin was so wonderful to give me creative control of the Vlad Tod graphic novels. I was able to be very involved in the entire process, so the characters appear as I see them in my head. That being said, it’s totally cool if Minions disagree with the way that they perceive the characters’ portrayal. I created the characters… but they belong to the Minions now.
How old were you when you first made the decision to start writing seriously, and how did you get your start as an author?
I’ve always written, and realized at the age of 12 that I wanted to be an author, but everyone around me convinced me that writing books was something only rich people did. It wasn’t until I was 28 that I learned that it was a viable career option (by Googling “how to be an author” …seriously). I wouldn’t be here, doing this, without the support of my husband, Paul. He’s the one person who’s always encouraged me to follow my dreams.
What was the scariest experience you remember growing up?
I grew up terribly bullied at school and in an abusive household, so “scary” to me might not line up with what most people would list as “scary” to them. I could point to countless things, including five house fires, but I think the scariest thing I ever encountered was learning that I had no one but myself to rely on.
That being said, I don’t view supernatural experiences (of which I’ve had many) as “scary”. Just interesting.
Do you have a favorite Twilight Zone episode?
I have several faves, but one of my top choices is “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street”. In the episode, strange things begin happening on a street in a normal, suburban town, and soon, the residents turn on one another, placing blame. A man is shot, and chaos reigns. In the end (spoilers!) it turns out that aliens were affecting things like the lights and cars, just to get the people to turn on one another. They say that it happens at every street in every town they visit, without fail.
The entire episode really sums up my concerns about society as a whole. We should be standing together, looking for the actual cause of our shared problems, rather than pointing fingers at one another.
What is the scariest YA book you’ve read, and what made it memorable?
Scowler by Daniel Kraus. It was so scary, I couldn’t finish it. Just horrific. But so well written.
Who do you think are the most exciting new young adult authors?
That’s like picking your favorite flower! There are so many amazing YA authors out there, and several who are just starting out that have caught my interest. But I’d really rather not name names, because readers should read ALL OF THEM.
Should we expect to see your next few books turn towards realism like your upcoming The Blood Between Us (slated to be a 2016 summer release from HarperTeen)?
I’m trying something new right now. The Blood Between Us is contemporary realism, as will be the book the follows it. But I’m still writing about monsters. It’s just that, at the moment, the monsters that I’m writing about are human.
Do you plan to continue writing stories with supernatural elements?
I adore supernatural elements, so I can’t imagine stepping away from that completely. I’m sure I’ll return to that someday. I just don’t know when.
You speak a lot about bullying. In fact, I remember the best advice I have heard on the topic was from a talk you gave at the Rochester, NY Teen Book Festival: that in order to make a difference to the victim you don’t have to confront the aggressor, just witness what is going on.
“I saw what s/he did. You didn’t deserve that”
You’ve also spoken about how your experience of bullying has informed your writing and your characters. Would you have been as motivated to become an author had you not encountered that kind of cruelty? What other direction might your writing have gone in?
While my experiences with bullying definitely nudged me to books, the library, reading, it’s hard to say whether or not I would or wouldn’t have become an author without it. I like to think that I would have written books, no matter what childhood experiences I had. But the truth is, I don’t know. And I don’t like the idea of giving bullies any kind of credit for shaping my career.
I know that, no matter what, I would always have been drawn to the macabre, the spooky. I’ve been fascinated with horror from a very young age. It’s just who I am.
Have you experienced bullying that resulted specifically from others’ expectations of feminine/masculine behavior and appearance? Did that particular flavor of bullying affect you differently than the standard tack on a chair/ shoved into a locker type of persecution?
My bullying largely came from this indefinable “there is something different about this person– we must punish them for it” mindset. I can’t recall anyone bullying me for not being feminine or being too masculine. It was more like they were bullying me, simply for being me. But then, I didn’t realize that I was trans until my 30s. I knew I was different. But I didn’t know what it was that made me different.
How has your journey with gender issues shaped your writing?
It’s definitely kept me away from writing much in a female perspective. I find such a thing enormously challenging, and certainly don’t want to offend those who identify as female by misrepresenting them. I’m trying hard to be as bold as all of the genderfluid people I know, and to see past gender to the person within. It’s leading me to interesting places in my work, for sure. The book that will follow The Blood Between Us features a female protagonist.
Cemetery Boys has a pretty steamy make-out scene. When you write teenage romance, do you find it easier to write from a specific gender perspective?
Definitely. I’ve always found it easier to write from a male perspective. The answer is obvious and easier to discuss now (before I came out, I would simply share how much I could relate to the male perspective). I’m male, so writing males is just easier for me.
And the gender of the person my male protagonists are attracted to doesn’t seem to matter. My next book features a queer boy, who kisses a boy and a girl, and has a history of doing so. My former books have featured heterosexual relationships. I guess it doesn’t seem to matter who they’re kissing… as long as they’re kissing someone that they want to kiss.
Some details of my next book: A boy named Adrien, a car named Maggie, suspicion, chemistry, explosions, betrayal, pain… and wisdom.
Within your announcement you throw light on a very important distinction between gender identity and sexuality that would welcome further exploration. Will we see a book for teens from you specifically dealing with gender issues, maybe following along the lines of James Howe?
I definitely want to write about gender identity and sexuality in a more direct way. It’s something, in fact, that I’ve wanted to write about for a long time. But when you’re closeted, you tiptoe in circles in that closet, worried that anything that you do or say might out you. It felt good to throw open those doors. Now nothing is hands-off to me.
“Auntie Heather” has always been very nurturing and supportive of her fans, her minions, encouraging them to be comfortable being themselves. As “Uncle Zac”, how can we expect that relationship to change? Will you become an old-school author with leather patches on your elbows, or will you continue to role-model as a fuchsia-haired punk rocker?” Can we still look to you for emotional advice?
The only way that that relationship will change is that now I am being 100% authentic with my Minions. I’m free to tackle certain subjects in a more direct way, which is a huge relief.
The Minions have my permission to pummel me with Tribbles the moment I start resembling an old school professor who has no idea who Gerard Way is. I will always be there for my Minions, and I will always give the best emotional advice that I can.
In other words, I’m still me. You still be you.
What kind of new dialogue will being an “out” transgender author invite with your minions?
I’ve always been openly supportive of the LGBT+ community, but being out as gay and trans is making my connection with all of my Minions even more deep. Whether they are LGBT+ or not, they all know someone who is, and they all are so open-minded about making the world a more inclusive place. My being out simply makes it easier to have certain conversations, I think.
Zac, thank you for your time, and best of luck! Try to stay out of the daylight!
Years ago when my kids were younger I yearned for a book that would introduce my kids to the fantastic world in the corners of which lurk the Cthulhu Mythos, but without all the blood and madness. Finally the current generation has answered the call!
Where’s my Shoggoth
by Ian Thomas
Art by Adam Bolton
This book rates as truly awesome. A game board of “Stairs and Tentacles” comprises the flyleaf: “See Azathoth! You are driven mad!” and glow in the dark ink has been used on the cover!
The words parody recent children’s board books like That’s Not My Dinosaur!, and at first it seems it may actually belong to that very genre style, but if you are not a fan of rhyme,
hang in there. Each page is an introduction to a new creature, presented with more flair than an RPG Fiend Folio.
It says it wants to fly me off
to look behind the moon.
I bet the dark side’s lovely,
but it’s time for supper soon.
The art is amazing, truly worth the price of admission. Add to that the underlying humor of a Deep One that wants to date the narrator’s sister! Imaginative depictions, true to the original description from Lovecraft’s fiction, especially the rendition of Cthulhu, which uses subtlety to convey size, and Azathoth, who is portrayed simply with a celestial landscape.
Warning: the boy protagonist’s cat gets snatched into the air by a Byakhee and a Mi-Go plays with its brains, but like a cartoon coyote is always OK by the next page. The afterward does note that “no cats were harmed during the production of this book.”
Is it really for kids?
Well, I’d rate this at an age 9 and up, unless your tyke is sensitive. The insect from Shaggai is pretty darn creepy, and the concept of a thing taking out your cat’s brain would be kind of disturbing for many 8-year-olds. Check out the website for a preview: Where’s My Shoggoth?
C is for Cthulhu
by Jason Ciaramella
Art by Greg Murphy
The monsters, especially the Deep Ones are adorable in this 26-page board book by ComixTribe. An alphabet book with bite, each page depicts a letter symbolized not as in “A is for Apple,” but rather “F is for Fear!”
There is an ingrained sense of humor for the adults as well. “H is for Hastur… Oh no, you said it!” reads the caption for Hastur (Hastur, The Unspeakable, of course, is wholly implied for those well read in the works of Lovecraft and Chambers, and yes, he’s in yellow robes for you purists).
Is it really for kids?
Yes. The illustrations are of cute, pudgy little monsters. If young readers are OK with the concept of a zombie, there will be no problem.
Imagine a book written by both the guy who brought us Pacific Rim and the guy who wrote Rotters and Scowler, two of the most spine-chilling books I’ve ever experienced. This book is a blockbuster. I was at part two before I realized how long I had been reading. These guys know how to tell a story. Its not gut-wrenchingly terrifying like Scowler was, but it’s got its moments.
Back in the 70s, (The prehistoric era, right? When all your dad’s comic books came from?) two brothers, Jim and Jack, are caught in the middle of an epidemic of child disappearances. Sure enough, the older brother gets snagged by something horrible. This affects his small companion greatly for the rest of his life, and when Jim has grown and has his own kids, and has lost his wife from his extreme paranoia about things that go bump in the night, his own son meets something horrible that lives in the sewers.
Jim Sturges (Jr.) finds himself torn from his crappy world of school bullies, landing in a Troll Market (exceedingly similar to the Goblin Market that appeared in the movie Hellboy II –ahem–,) pursued by the largest troll of all, whose name is: Arrgh!!! (and who reminds me of the gorilla kaiju Leatherback just a little, as well).
I haven’t had such a fun romp in troll-land since Bruce Coville’s Always October. I indulged in the weird overlap of bloodbath and sophomoric humor.
In this world, trolls are descended from Ymir the frost giant… and they eat children. To combat this, a bloodline of Trollhunters was born into the human race. But alas, like the Jedi, they are almost extinct as we face one of the greatest challenges of our time.
When Jim encounters his Uncle Jack, still the age he was when he disappeared, he is invited (more like shanghaied,) to become a Trollhunter himself. He has the blood.
“How lucky you are,” Blinky said. ”You are about to witness possibly the most vile ritual in all of trolldom.”
The nullhullers’ squat bodies began to hitch and jiggle. Thick drool poured from their agape mouths, followed by a brown lard. A symphony of choking sound emitted from their bodies as a plump, translucent sac began to emerge from each gaping throat…
Jim and his best friend Tobias Dershowitz (yes, “Tubbs”, and awfully reminiscent of the neighbor kid from Monster House,) discover a new exhibit at the museum when they cut through on the way home from school. Funny, it’s the same bridge that was depicted in a mural down in the Troll world.
Infatuated with Claire Fontaine, a girl with a british accent and combat boots, Jim tries out for a part in the school’s play called Shakespeare on the 50-Yard Line, and (conveniently for the climax of the book,) which will present Romeo and Juliet on the football field during half-time. He aces tryouts and she becomes his Juliet… until bully and sports-star extraordinaire Steve Jorgensen-Warner needs to boost his grades through extra-curricular participation.
Jack and his two troll companions take Jim and Tubbs to the underworld to fight Gunmar the Black. Jack defeated Gunmar once before during the original Milk Carton Epidemic, (a trend of disappearances now starting again,) but now Gunmar’s back and more powerful than ever, with the number of living Trollhunters down to… well, only the two of them. And that bridge that is by now one stone from completion? It is The Killaheed Bridge, the ancestral source of Gunmar and the Gumm-gumm trolls’ power. (Gunmar is the leader of the Gumm-gumms, savage human-eating trolls from Scotland who have no interest in living underground and have set their sights on conquering the world of men.)
They train the new kid to fight, to cut out the trolls’ “softies” and gallbladder (or else they come back). We learn more about Johanna Arrgh!!! and how she got a stone embedded in her skull during battle, and about Blinky, Troll Historian, (who reminds me of Pleakly from Lilo & Stitch).
Our first conquest that evening was with a quartet of wormbeards: Hulking, bulbous creatures whose objectives were to whisper demoralizing insults to children while they slept so that the children would be compelled to run away from home, sad little sojourns that always ended while passing beneath a bridge.
Arrgh!!! had torn out Gunmar’s eye during the first battle, but it soon became a cursed object known as The Eye of Malevolence. It helps them see where Gunmar is. …But The Drift is two-directional…
One night, while Jim and his paramour are studying for a math test (yeah, right,) Claire is kidnapped from right under his nose. That night, Jim Sr., who has buried himself in a world of security systems, door locks, lawn mowing & pocket protectors, finally crosses paths with his long-lost brother Jack and has a melt-down, as would be expected. After all, during most of his son’s Trollhunter training he had been kept asleep with a fetus schmooffinger in his stomach.
The Battle of the Fallen Leaves
Children recently kidnapped have been buried to their knees near Gunmar’s throne. Gunmar, a giant troll now fed with a streaming trough of animal guts, is awaiting his imminent rise to power when the grinder will be filled with the meat of children once again. A bloodbath, I tell you. Oh, one of the missing kids is Claire. Be ready. Not everyone makes it out alive.
The hardcover edition has color illustration plates, a really nice inclusion of well-done artwork. I found no plot inconsistencies, and the storyline travelled along at full-speed. If you can deal with the idea of Arrgh!!! chowing down on some of Tubb’s grandma’s cats and a fairly high page count, this is a no-holds-barred adventure dealt for reluctant readers and challengers of the darkness!
Written & Illustrated by Dick Briefer
Edited by Craig Yoe & Clizia Gussoni
The Chilling Archives of Horror Comics (#1)
IDW Publishing, 2010
In this day and age, and even back in the 40s and early 1950s when this title was published, Frankenstein can be a boring fandom given our familiarity with Karloff’s rendition unless the author gives it an angle. Briefer succeeded in making the Monster fun both in comedy and in horror.
For the first three episodes of Frankenstein that appeared in Prize Comics #7-9, Briefer built upon the creature’s lust for revenge. How horrifying to have an undead thing dedicate itself, not to killing you, but to ensuring that you will be in an emotional hell, tortured for the rest of your days.
I spared you to live– to live in misery also– to watch and see the suffering and grief that I, your creation, will cause the human race. You will chase me, but never get me! I go now, always haunting and tormenting you!
Those three issues stand apart, as Frankenstein next becomes the classic, hateful monster we know and love, and the adventures are similar to that of Marvel’s Frankenstein Monster, though drawn more simply, and with far more surrealism.
This collection is far from the complete series, but provides choice, key episodes that afford the reader a taste of Briefer’s personal visions of the monster. Frankenstein was a recurring chapter in Prize Comics for years. He appeared in shorts among stories of other heroes like The Green Lama, Doctor Frost, and The Black Owl.
In Prize Comics #53, Franky becomes more cartoonish, and the stories become comedy, much in the vein of Charles Addams. The chapters are still well-written, now with the psychedelic taste of the ‘60s Harvey comics like Spooky and Hot Stuff. Briefer loved this version best, as do many fans. It is certainly a different character than the monster that traveled with us in the pages of Prize Comics #9-52, and a different feel altogether. At this point in time, the lovable monster got his own Title.
The stories are fabulous, and we see with the first issue Briefer’s take on The Bride and the “Manimals,” as well as a femme fatale siren. In the stories chosen by Yoe Books, we don’t see much here of his friends the Ghouls, Ghosts, and Vampires, but exploring that relationship properly would require an additional volume.
The Creature returns to horrifying after Frankenstein #17. Yoe gives us a story named “Tomb of the Living Dead” where the monster faces off against a race of zombies, A retake on The Bride, (this time with a more gruesome twist,) and a story showing the monster’s kinder side when it befriends two boys who, in return, save it from an angry mob of modern villagers. The story about a female monster was one of the best written, with palpable suspense and a pretty horrifying rendition of a psychopathic mate. The book finishes up with a touching tale about a cursed tree and the monster’s care for it.
The book’s introduction tells us a bit about Briefer, the myriad nom-de-plumes he wrote under, and his other works such as The Bronze Terror, a hero named Real American, (which was ground-breaking in its Native American protagonist, but still a horrible reflection of the time in which it was written.) I do wish there had been more about Briefer’s life story and what was behind each of the changes in the monster’s disposition.
Being the first of the Chilling Archives of Horror Comics series of reprint anthologies, I was impressed not only with the choice of stories, but in the quality of the binding, ink, and paper chosen for the reprints. Though the stories may be available online, it is just not as enjoyable or readable as holding pages in the hand. These editions are produced by someone with a love of the genre, and it shows.
The Monster of Frankenstein:
The Complete 1950s Horror Comic
Edited by Jacobs, Robinson & Rabins
Idea Men Productions, 2006
Billed as Complete, the IMP reprint of Briefer’s work includes the tales of the grouchy version of Frankenstein’s Monster that appeared in the Frankenstein title. It is presented in black and white. While color was essential to the cartoon rendition of the monster, this Monster plays well in black line. (Unfortunately the resolution is fuzzy because this was not reproduced in pre-colored black-line ink, but comes from its color publications now simply printed without color.) Nonetheless, I am grateful for this chance to read the entire narrative at once in paper copy.
There is another story where the monster finds female companionship beside the psychopathic “She-Monster”. Of course, a cursed being can never find happiness, and the tale brings us to the edge of tears. The Monster takes on a skeleton collector in “The Ghoul”, and he creates his own timeless tribute to beauty in “The Beautiful Dead”, a chilling tale of priceless macabre irony.
The Monster also travels through literature as he lives a rendition of Pygmalion in “The Monster & the Statue”, Moby Dick in “Battle of the Monsters”, and “Frankenstein and the Plant” reprises Little Shop of Horrors, (an interesting side note: The Man-Eating Plant itself can be traced back to a 1932 story called “Green Thoughts”, by John Collier and ultimately to the H.G. Wells story “The flowering of the Strange Orchid” (1894)… or perhaps Briefer was influenced by a contemporary version, “The Hybrid” on an episode of the old time radio show Nightmare that aired in 1954, the same year of that particular Frankenstein issue’s publication.)
I am grateful that this collection of the “scary” Monster is available to show the dichotomy between the two different approaches to the same character. Briefer clearly had talent, as he was able to create such a strong presentation for either spin.
Here is a fantastic funny Frankenstein story from Prize Comics #68 that was not included in the Yoe compilation. Enjoy!