Harvey Horrors Collected Works Chamber of Chills (Vol 1)
Featuring Issues 21-24 and then 5-7
In the early 1960s a fan asked Stan Lee a question he offered a No Prize for: “When the Hulk turns back to Bruce Banner and his pants have been stretched, what holds them up?” I replied, “The Comics Code.”
Censorship is a dangerous thing. And I experienced censorship in comics and on TV. We are told that censorship is to protect children from things they shouldn’t see: sex, bad language, and violence. And we say we live in a country of free speech. However, to this day, the FCC censors TV by threatening to remove the licenses of broadcasters if they don’t do what they are told. It’s better now, you may not remember things like the “fairness doctrine” and “equal time” that regulated news programs or Lucy not being able to use the pregnant on TV. You see, censors use the “bad words” as a cover, they just wanted to preserve the white, male dominated small town America that they imagined in the 1950s.
Comic books were also indirectly threatened with such things as the loss of the mailing rights (important then) . When Mad’s sister comic, Panic, published a silly (but violent) “Night Before Christmas” went to arrest the publisher and arrested their representative.
So in the 1960s I wanted to read the comics that caused this problem. But they were really hard to find. At least for me. Now I found a lot of pre code comics, but generally they were super-hero stuff, that still would be censored. I first found the EC comics and during he 1970s and 80s I collected at 65 or so volumes of Russ Cochran’s reprints.
So while I was told they banned horror comics, I quickly saw in EC’s war comics they were banning ideas. I thoroughly enjoyed EC’s crime, Western, Sci-Fi and humor mags. All destroyed by the code. But Gaines often said that the “other” comics were worse than his.
Well, now it is my chance to check that out. Marvel is printing the Atlas “horror,” “war, ” and “crime” magazines. Many other reprints have come out like “Gleason’s Crime Does Nopt Pay” and now PSARTOOKS is reprinting the Harvey Horrors: Chamber of Chills. These books are now in the public domain, at least in England.
The book is “archive” size, which is a bit too small for the easiest reading. The artwork is apparently scanned in from comics and the colors adjusted. (The publisher claims copyright on the coloring). The images are good, but not great, they are bit too dark and not quite sharp enough. Sadly, while they try to give credits for all stories, they use the GCD which I have little faith in. Many stories are unaccredited.
The introduction to the book by Joe Hill is almost worthless to me. I have read intros by Roy Thomas and Doc V (and now Nick Caputo) that gives so much more information. Also, Hill takes shots that he doesn’t clearly explain such as “Marvel at crude, often ridiculous art.”
But now, let’s get to the good stuff! First they begin the book with a wonderful feature on Al Avison, with pictures of original art that I have never seen. The stories are fun, and I would say on the same quality as Atlas at that era, which means that the EC stories and are were noticeably better. They were not married to a particular length of stories, so the pacing is often very different. There are several grotesque looking creatures in stories like, “The Shrunken Skull” but really very little over the top violence or gore. Yes, some stories are better than others and many do seem to have a similar theme, “Crawling Death”, “Jelly Death”, “Darker Than Death”, “Chieftain of the Dead”, “The Vault of Living Death” and so on. Bob Powell and Vic Donahue did a lot of stories and Lee Elias did a few.
I enjoyed and didn’t expect: The ads. First, while we might think that this was a book for teen age boys, there were ads for baby dolls, bras, “gorgeous dresses”, sexy women’s underwear, Skylark clothes for women, and treatment to get long hair.
There were also bodybuilding ads and ads for bargains like a Gun lighter for $1.98, a Chronograph for $6.95 and wedding rings for $2.50!
My grade: B
Who should buy this book: Comic book readers who have enjoyed both the EC and Atlas reprints and for those who want to get a better perspective of the Horror comics of the 1950s.
The book cost $50 and I could not find an on line store that was selling it at a discount. Amazon is now sold out and it’s marketplace has it for $100. (EDITOR’S NOTE: There appear to be two different listings with different availability on Amazon.) Check the publisher at http://www.psartbooks.com/