A Brief History Of Horror Comics, Part 1

By: Henry Hanks, Contributor     @hankstv / tvshenry@gmail.com

Halloween is upon us... so it’s worth looking back at the long history of horror comics. You wouldn’t know it now, but horror was once the most popular genre of comics.

In fact, the first original horror character in comics has something in common with Superman: Dr. Occult was also created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster. Not sure when you can use that factoid, but feel free to use it at party's, weddings, social gatherings, etc.

Dr. Occult – looking like a mix between Dick Tracy and future DC Comics character John Constantine – made his debut in DC’s “New Fun Comics” #6.

Horror was more at home in pulp magazines but comics had more than their share of horror stories in the early years. 

Harvey Comics had the Man in Black, and titles like “Eerie” and “Suspense Comics” were published in the 1940s.

The first long-running horror series was 1948’s “Adventures Into the Unknown” which went on for nearly 20 years.

Even though DC occasionally dealt in horror (with “House of Mystery” and “House of Secrets”), smaller publishers tended to embrace the genre, and horror really exploded in the 1950s with Atlas Comics (which would become Marvel the following decade) and EC, which many still see as the gold standard of horror comics.

Atlas had several horror titles including “Marvel Tales” (which would much later reprint old issues of “Amazing Spider-Man”).

As for EC, its most famous title was “Tales from the Crypt” which would spin off a fan favorite TV series decades later.

There was also “The Haunt of Fear” and “The Vault of Horror.” EC achieved great success with its various horror titles and other publishers took note.

However, this success would capture the attention of psychiatrist Dr. Fredric Wertham, who published “Seduction of the Innocent,” targeting EC and the comic book industry in general, accusing it of contributing to juvenile delinquency.

These allegations would be brought forth to Congress where EC publisher William Gaines was asked to defend, among other things, the cover of “Crime SuspenStories” #22 (which featured an axe-wielding killer holding a woman’s head).

This chain of events was devastating to the comic book industry's horror genre, as they agreed to police their own product, putting the genre essentially out of business. By this point, superhero comics were no longer big sellers (despite “Superman” being a TV star) and the self-censoring Comics Code Authority did nothing to help sales. Many critics believe the early books under the Comics Code were playing it too “safe,” in cutting out anything remotely hinting at violence, leaving the likes of Batman and Superman to fight space aliens.

The story doesn’t end there, however. Many years would go by and horror would make a comeback…