Monday, 30 October 2006

The Warren Horror Comic Magazines

With Halloween tomorrow I thought I would once more write about a suitable subject. Those of you my age and slightly older or younger may remember the large magazines (at least large compared to comic books) published by Warren Publishing and featuring black and white comic stories, generally horror although they also published sci-fi and, even, briefly war stories as well. For nearly twenty years Warren's magazines were among the most successful in the comics field.

Warren Publishing was founded by James Warren in the late Fifties. His first magazine was a girlie magazine, a Playboy knockoff called After Hours. Sadly for Warren, the city of Philadelphia was cracking down on pornography at the time. And even though the raciest thing After Hours ever ran was a topless photo of Bettie Page, the magazine was targeted. The judge threw the case out of court, but it was enough to kill After Hours after only four issues. Fortunately, Warren's next magazine would be a smash hit. Warren teamed up with legendary sci-fi and horror fan Forrest Ackerman to create Famous Monsters of Filmland. The magazine was a success with pre-teen males and influenced such diverse artists as Steven Spielberg and Alice Cooper.

With the success of Famous Monsters, Warren published other sorts of magazines: Help! (the adult equivalent of Mad), Screen Thrills Illustrated, and Favorite Westerns of Filmland. None of them were as successful as Famous Monsters. It was in 1964 that Warren decided to revive horror comics of the type EC once published. To avoid the overly restrictive Comics Code of the time (which even forbade the use of the word "horror"), Warren decided his horror magazine would be the size of most magazines and would feature black and white art. Because of its size, it would not be considered a comic book and would not be subject to the Comics Code. The first issue of Creepy appeared on newstands in January 1965.

Creepy was a horror anthology of the sort once published by EC Comics. It even had its own host, Uncle Creepy. It featured art by such big names as Frank Frazetta, Neal Adams, Jack Davis, and many others. The magazine was advertised in Famous Monsters before its debut and proved to be a hit with the same audience. In fact, it was so successful that Warren launched another black and white comics magazine. Blazing Combat published the sort of war stories that EC once did. Sadly, it only lasted five issues.

Undaunted, Warren would launch another black and white horror comic. Eerie was the companion of Creepy, featuring its own host and similar stories. Warren almost lost the right to call his new magazine Eerie. In the Forties Avon had briefly published a comic book called Eerie and had the intention of reviving it in the Sixties. To secure rights to the name, Warren and Forrest Ackerman had to rush together a digest sized version of the magazine and publish 200 copies, getting it out to newsstands in New York City just in time. Like Creepy, Eerie would prove to be a hit. Unlike Creepy, it would feature continuing characters from time to time. Such characters as The Rook (who later got his own magazine), Dax the Warrior, The Hunter, and The Mummy all appeared in Eerie.

Sadly, after a few years of success, Warren Publishing fell on hard times. From 1967 to 1969, both Creepy and Eerie largely consisted of reprints. It would take a brand new character to save the company. In 1969 Warren Publishing introduced Vampirella. Vampirella was an alien from the planet Drakulon whose inhabitants had taken to drinking blood. Initially, Vampirella was simply a host in her magazine, introducing stories just as Creepy and Eerie did. It was not long, however, before Vampirella would appear in stories of her own. Vampirella was perhaps the biggest hit Warren ever had. And the magazine effectively revived the entire line. Creepy and Eerie started publishing all new material on a regular basis again.

With the success of Warren's magazines, they naturally inspired imitators. Inferior magazines with titles such as Psycho, Weird, and Horror Tales would soon fill the shelves. None of them had the success that Warren did. Warren's success would also provide an impetus for DC and Marvel to revive their own horror lines. Indeed, the Comics Code would be revised so that vampires and werewolves were once more permitted in comic books. Marvel would follow Warren's lead in publishing its own black and white magazines. What set Marvel apart from Warren was a greater array of genres published. While they had their share of horror magazines (Vampire Tales), they also published such titles as Planet of the Apes, Deadly Hands of Kung Fu, and, perhaps the most successful black and white comics magazine of them all, Savage Sword of Conan.

Sadly, Warren Publishing would not last. In the late Seventies James Warren developed health problems. Worse yet, due to bad investments, his finances were pretty much in ruin. Warren was in the office less and less, and as a result the company suffered. It was in 1983 that Warren Communications filed for bankruptcy. Many of its assets would be picked up by Harris Publishing, who would revive Vampirella. This would later result in a lawsuit by Warren against Harris Publishing.

Warren Publishing lasted 19 years in publishing black and white horror comics titles. Their magazines were highly successful and would be a lasting influence on many. They created a whole niche of black and white comics magazines that existed for a time and even spurred DC and Marvel to re-enter the field of horror. It can be argued that they paved the way for other adult comics magazines, such as Heavy Metal. Although no longer around as a publishing entity, they left such an impact that they won't soon be forgotten.

1 comment:

Dirk Devlin said...

Just wanted to let everyone know that they can view dozens of Warren magazine covers here: