Friday, September 20, 2013

Remember the Monsters?

Four Color Fear - Forgotten Horror Comics of the 1950's: edited by John Benson and Greg Sadowski; written and drawn by Wally Wood, Bob Powell, Joe Kubert, Jack Cole, George Evans, Al Williamson, Basil Wolverton, and others (Collected 2010): The early 1950's were the heyday of the American horror comic book, at least those specializing in five-to-eleven-page stories. EC Comics was the gold standard.

But there were many, many more during this period when the American comic book strove to become mainstream entertainment for adults and children alike, just prior to governmental scrutiny in the U.S. and Canada motivated by the juvenile delinquency scare of the time lobotomized comic books for decades.

This Fantagraphics Books anthology collects non-EC stories from the post-WWII, pre-Comics Code era, that time that was too short a season. The stories range from good to great, and a fair number are extraordinarily disturbing. Basil Wolverton's art could make anything freaky -- he was a true American original of the comic-book grotesque. So, too, was Bob Powell. And many others collected here, ranging in art style from primitive to baroque.

So if you want to sample this lost and truncated time when comic books in the U.S. and Canada almost made the transition into being mass-cultural entertainment as they still are in Japan, buy this book. The historical essays and cover gallery are swell, too.

With stories ranging from the deeply disturbing (Wolverton's "Swamp Monster") to the bizarre and surreal (Powell's "Colorama") to the WTF (a beautifully cartooned entry from Nostrand about an anthropomorphized germ (!)), the range is terrific, the material is terrific, the total package is handsome and scrupulously produced. Highly recommended.

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