Monday, November 29, 2010

Book Review: 'Four Color Fear: Forgotten Horror Comics of the 1950s' edited by Greg Sadowski

5 / 5 Stars

If there is one book that's a sure-fire gift for horror and pop culture enthusiasts for Christmas 2010, then it's 'Four Color Fear'. This is a thick chunk of a book (Fantagraphics Books, September 2010, 320 pp.) with great production values and it's available from for $19.79 (not including shipping).

As editor Sadowski makes clear in his introduction, EC's books made up only around 7 % of the horror comics produced during the early 50s. Many titles of equal, or even superior, quality have tended to be overlooked amidst all the fawning devoted to the EC library. Thus, 'Four Color Fear' is a timely overview of strips from other publishers such as Comic Media, Avon, Fawcett, and Harvey (I had no idea Harvey, who published 'Casper the Friendly Ghost' and other 'kiddie' comics when I was a child in the 60s, had churned out lots of grisly horror books in the 50s).

The book contains 36 stories culled from the best efforts of the abovementioned publishers, as well as a back-of-the-book Notes section with interesting details on the writers, artists, and publishers of each story. The center section of the book contains a cover gallery printed on high-quality, slick paper.

These stories are reprinted on good-quality paper stock, and the color reproductions are very well done. I can't scan full pages without breaking the book's spine, but here are some excerpts of some pages to give an idea of the book's contents.

Here's a striking panel by Jack Cole of 'Plastic Man' fame:

The strip titled ' The Maze Master' by Lou Cameron prefigures Steve Ditko's work a decade later for 'Dr Strange':

'Corpses Coast to Coast', by the Iger Studio, has a novel take on the zombie theme:

 Some well-known comics artists are featured, including of course Basil Wolverton:

In the era well before computerized color, when comics were printed on less than stellar quality paper and considered a product for juveniles, the artwork in many of these stories is quite novel and inventive. 'Nightmare', by Harry Lazarus, demonstrates that printing comics with black borders was something done well before Marvel and DC started doing it frequently back in the 1980s:

And here's an attention-grabbing opening page from 'Amnesia' by Warren Kremer:

In summary, comic book fans will definitely want to have this book on their shelves. It's a great value for the money and editor Sadowski hints that another volume, devoted entirely to the horror comics produced by Atlas (forerunner of Marvel Comics) may be in the wings.

1 comment:

Will Errickson said...

Wow! Yep, when I think of horror comics of the 1950s, I only think of EC. Good to know otherwise.