Sunday, July 22, 2012

ESSAYS INTO THE SUPERNATURAL


Even Archie's All-American town of Riverdale had a dark side -- albeit in a lighter shade of gray. MLJ/Archie Comics publisher John Goldwater was one of the masterminds behind the Comics Code Authority which effectively spayed and neutered the industry of its best-selling horror and crime titles. In this pop culture microcosm was an analogy that perfectly shows how overreaching regulation can kill out private industry. The proof of this is the many comic book companies employing hundreds, if not thousands of employees, that were forced out of business by the new draconic rules. Even the popular EC comics line was gutted, forcing publisher William Gaines to adapt to other, more "acceptable" forms.

By the 1970s, the Comics Code began to lighten up its restrictions a bit, thanks mainly to James Warren who flipped the bird at the establishment and began publishing full-size magazines that were the black and white, spitting image version of the EC horror line. Warren even went so far as to hire as many of the old EC guard that would work for him. The result was the epitome of horror comics Neo-Classicism.

Like any other institution, time eroded the facade of the Almighty Code, and comics began to get more in step with the times. The boldest move was from Marvel Comics, who published a Spider-Man comic that dealt with drug abuse without the ubiquitous Comics Code Authority "Stamp of Approval" on the cover. The Big Bad Stan Lee huffed and puffed and blew a raspberry right at the Code and the walls began to crumble.

The folks at Archie Comics seemed to conveniently forget that their company was the benchmark of comics conservatism and introduced a couple of titles that were obviously intended to compete in the newly-hot horror comics market.

MADHOUSE was a horror comics anthology title under the "Red Circle" imprint that was fairly tame, but nevertheless was a serious attempt at gaining market share. Contributing pros like artist Gray Morrow allow these comics to be viewed with a little more appreciation than they would have otherwise. The final irony is that the same company that destroyed hundreds of comics titles in the mid-1950s, would 20 years later publish their own horror comic and with the same anthology format as many of their targeted enemies.

Included in the series were one-page Essays Into the Supernatural, which were patterned after the short features used in many of the pre-Code horror comics and resurrected by the Warren publications, CREEPY and EERIE.

The following examples are from MADHOUSE #'s 96 and 97 from 1974.



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