Some comics go down in history as masterful examples of the craft and are beloved by multiple generations. Others end up at the landfill. In this series, I’ll be looking back on some forgotten series to better understand what kind of comics our ancestral nerds were reading in the days of rotary phones and record players.
Today’s subject: Weird Horrors!
In the early 1950s, the comic book industry threw itself wholeheartedly into the horror craze started by EC Comics with their titles The Vault of Horror and The Crypt of Terror. Every publisher on the block scrambled to follow suit — a move they would soon regret when Congress started asking thorny questions about why they were selling such gory comics to kids.
Most of these horror comics had fairly generic names that made liberal use of words like “terror,” “horror,” “weird,” “strange,” “crypt,” and so forth. Weird Horrors, published from 1952-53, was just one more to throw on the pile (or the bonfire, as several places organized comic book burnings).
Like with a lot of these anthology comics, each story was done by a different creator or pair of creators. In retrospect, the biggest names to work on the title were George Tuska, who contributed “Dungeon of the Doomed” (Issue 1), and Joe Kubert, who contributed stories to Issues 7, 8, and 9.
The publisher is St. John, which has quite the history. Their comics division lasted just about a decade, during which time they published the first 3-D comic, a well-regarded crime comic called Manhunt, and the first official graphic novel: It Rhymes with Lust by Arnold Drake (future Doom Patrol creator), Leslie Waller, and Matt Baker, the most famous Black artist working at the time. Though not a commercial success, It Rhymes with Lust has since earned a revered place in comics history.
Aside from that, St. John mostly did a lot of licensed comics and romance comics. In other words, horror comics were not their stock in trade. And it shows.
Despite the title, this isn’t much of a horror comic. I suspect St. John picked the name “Weird Horrors” to cash in on the horror craze, even though they didn’t have the capacity or the desire to create an actual horror comic in the style of the more famous titles, like Shock SuspenStories or Tales from the Crypt, which contained prominent supernatural elements and/or a very real and present sense of foreboding (not to mention some striking social commentary).
A lot of the stories in Weird Horrors, by comparison, are more along the lines of fantasy mysteries that feel about as scary as your average Scooby-Doo episode.
Even the few actual horror stories we have aren’t very good. In a story from Issue Two, “The Violin of Death,” a struggling musician sells his soul to find the location of a priceless, lost Stradivarius. He goes to an abandoned castle, where he does indeed find the violin, as well as the corpse of the man who built it. He plays the violin, which…brings the builder back to life? And then he commands the zombie to build him a violin? Why? You already have what you came for, dude! And it’s got zombie-making powers!
The art isn’t much better than the writing. Check out these panels, which appear within the same story a few pages apart in Issue Three. Aside from the fact that everyone in this “Middle Eastern” country is white, the artist clearly copy-pasted the running guy to save time. In their defense, they probably got paid pennies.
Issue Three starts a trend of breaking the mood entirely by including a page or two of text jokes. They’re not all bad — one features an American businessman trying to pay the pope to shill for Coca-Cola — but it’s not at all what you’d expect from an alleged horror comic, especially in later issues when they put the gag pages in the middle of a story rather than waiting till the end.
I will say that starting with Issue 6, things pick up a bit. We get two inventive covers by William Elgren, and Kubert finally shows up. Especially art-wise, Kubert’s work blows all previous stories out of the water.
Issue 9 is the best of the bunch — and also the last. Pity that St. John canceled the title just as they’d finally started to find their way.
I don’t vet the titles I review before jumping in. I just pick a title that looks interesting and then start reading. Sometimes that works, and sometimes we get Weird Horrors. I am a total coward, and yet very few of these tales raised so much as the meekest shiver down my spine. It’s all very milquetoast as far as horror comics go.
St. John shut down its comics division in 1958, but the company’s founder, Archer St. John, sadly did not last that long. After leading an extremely colorful life — in which he got beaten up on Al Capone’s orders, allegedly had an affair with one of his comics editors, and struggled with substance abuse — he died of a drug overdose in 1955. Was it suicide, an accident, or even murder? We still don’t know.
In any event, St. John’s greatest contribution to comics is not their halfhearted attempt at horror, but their ahead-of-its-time attempt to stretch the bounds of what a comic could be and the opportunities they gave to talents like Matt Baker and Joe Kubert.
Want more vintage goodness? Check out previous editions of RCR: Race for the Moon, Stamps Comics, Tippy Teen, Winnie Winkle, Hangman Comics, G.I. in Battle, Adventures in Wonderland, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (1993), and The Arrow!