‘From The Tomb’ was a British fanzine from about the 1950s comics created by Peter Normanton, a long time fan of the genre. It had reached the staggering total of 64 readers with its third issue and Normanton’s ambitions were almost achieved. He expected to max at a hundred. Some success in the United States and a good printing deal meant that it carried on for a while longer but, though much loved, it was finished off by the recession. However, TwoMorrows Publishing has put together this collection of material that would otherwise be hard to get. Good for them!
This book is very visual, stuffed full of art, much of it cover art, from the pre-code comics it celebrates. It’s really a coffee table book, to pick up and browse through when the adverts come on the telly. However, it’s not the kind of book to leave on the coffee table if your elderly maiden aunt is coming round for tea. She might be distressed. There are thirty-two articles, mostly by Peter Normanton and Frank Motler but others, too. Subjects range from ‘The Covers That Made Them Fry’ to ‘Bad American Comics Presents: Unreformed’. The former is about the electric chair and how it featured heavily in 1950s crime comics. The latter is about the femme fatale, gang moll and other naughty girls. Ghosts and gore feature prominently but the book also has articles on other kinds of comics to which horror was a contributory factor. These include crime and Science Fiction, with scary aliens. Scantily clad women in transparent tops feature heavily on many Science Fiction covers, even though this is not really a practical outfit in a vacuum. ‘Invasion Of The Love Robots’ is the title of one story. The cover shows a Love Robot kissing a voluptuous lady.
This is all good fun and even clean fun by today‘s standards. There’s a wonderful primitive gusto to the whole business of early comics. The pictures are often crude, with huge bulging eyes depicting terror and huge bulging bosoms to indicate lust. Art by many great names is featured: Steve Ditko, Simon and Kirby, Wally Wood, John Craig and others. Much of the book is in black and white, which is a shame because the few pages in gaudy colour give a better impression of the genre.
Best of all, there are several good articles on the creators and their careers. ‘The Archie Goodwin Years’ by Peter Normanton surveys that great editor’s time in charge of ‘Creepy’. The same contributor does ‘The Joe Sinnott Interview’ in which Joltin’ Joe tells about his early career and has a word or two about inking Jack Kirby. Jerry Grandenetti is interviewed by Richard Andt and there are features about Frank Frazetta, Rudolph ‘Rudy’ Palais and Johny Craig, as well as a Steve Ditko gallery. It’s unfortunate, I think, that the interview with Al Feldstein consists almost entirely of complaints about how Bill Gaines has tried to write him out of history and taken all the credit for his work. He is understandably irate but it might have been better to focus on what he did achieve at EC Comics and ‘Mad’ magazine rather than who took the credit. Alas, comic book history is full of such tales. The people with power frequently screwed the creative talent.
Never mind. There’s the article ‘Comic Book Killer!’ by Carl Alessi, which tells all about how Dr. Frederic Wertham put an end to this kind of thing, at least for a decade or so. He went a bit over the top, implying that Superman is a Nazi. On the other hand, he did have a point. The comic creators went a bit over the top, too. Were pictures of men dying in agony in an electric chair suitable for children? Probably not. However, censorship is a tricky issue. As a small boy, I was perfectly content with the sixties stuff ‘approved by the comics code authority’ but it’s interesting, now that I’m safely grown-up, to see what I missed. This book makes an important contribution to the field of comicbook history.
(pub: TwoMorrows Publishing. 192 page illustrated softcover. Price: $27.95 (US). ISBN: 978-1-60549-043-4)
check out website: www.TwoMorrows.com