Jim Trombetta's The Horror! The Horror! Comic Books the Government Didn't Want You to Read!

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BLOT: (23 Nov 2010 - 02:16:08 PM)

Jim Trombetta's The Horror! The Horror! Comic Books the Government Didn't Want You to Read!

I am reposting reviews that I have posted elsewhere for a couple of days. This one originally showed up on Goodreads. This version is pretty close to the original.

This book is two things in one. First, it is Jim Trombetta's reminisces, anecdotes, and discussion about the horror comics from the 1950s, before "The Code" shut them down. Secondly, it is a collection of lots and lots and lots of rare covers and panels of art from those comics. As the EC trio—Tales from the Crypt, Vault of Horror, Haunt of Fear—are well known and still reproduced today, Trombetta focuses mostly on all the others that have been forgotten. He even tosses out the statistic (I have no person way of confirming right now) that E.C. only accounted for about 3% of the horror coming outpouring. However, the comics he offers up as samples of non-E.C. work are largely either an E.C. rip-off or only questionably horror. There are some excellent examples not under either of those yokes, but just saying.

Still, the majority of the artwork in this book has been practically forgotten, which is worth the cover price alone. L.B. Cole's early proto-psychedelic art, Hy Fleishman's many takes on the human skeleton, the rotted semi-mouths that the undead speak through, the dozen takes on the red dress, and don't forget the spider webs (no actual spider required, but the spider web does have to be huge. It might be surprising to see multiple covers of facial explosions (is there a technical term for this?) or rotting flesh and moderately obvious homo-eroticism (as is pointed out, one artist, Don Heck, loved to paint pictures of male monsters attacking prostrate men, often with artistic focus on the attacker's crotch) and to realize that these sat on newsstands and were designed specifically to rope in buyers. I mean, I know the idyll 1950s is a myth created, probably, in the 1960s-1980s as a contrast, but it still dials home how much garish violence sold even then..

As for the second half, the commentary, it can be hit or miss. In some sections, Trombetta nails the hypocrisy and overwrought panic of the officials that were gunning were comic censorship [see Comic Code Authority's Charles Murphy who objects to a sympathetic black character in a story about overcoming racism]. He expounds on common motifs and ideas, summing up large chunks of an era. In others, though, he breaks out the psychoanalysis stick and beats you in the face with some pop-lit critique that is never 100% off the mark, but comes across as trite. Even then, it reads like a fan talking to fan, and that is something I can always dig.

Getting to the see the comics is Great. Reading through the commentary ranges from Meh to Good, so I'll grant the book a Good overall.

BY WEEK: 2010, Week 47
BY MONTH: November 2010

Written by Doug Bolden

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