Before discussing Fantasy and Horror comics, it is important first to recognize what comics are. Various definitions have been offered over the years. Maurice Horn in The World Encyclopedia of Comics (1976) offered: "A narrative form containing text and pictures arranged in sequential order (usually chronological)." Scott McCloud in Understanding Comics (1994) offered "juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or to produce an aesthetic response in the viewer" – which he subsequently shortened to "sequential art". In its simplest definition, any series of pictures that can convey information or a story if followed in a preset order can be considered a comic. A number of comic-strip historians have considered the origins of sequential art, back through the Bayeux Tapestry, the exploits of Hercules as shown on Greek artefacts, and the earliest cave drawings. The Egyptians provided their dead with a detailed scroll depicting what dangers they might face in the Afterlife. One could not sensibly describe any of these as comics.
Although comic strips in the USA and UK have become increasingly more sophisticated, sprawling fantasy Landscapes and Secondary Worlds are normally avoided, since a full fantasy environment would require too much explanation and exposition in a medium that relies on weekly or monthly bursts of action. Heroes are defined by their deeds, and characterization is kept to a minimum to allow new readers easy access to a series that might already have been in publication for years. Comics are intended, in general, for a juvenile or adolescent readership; on average serious "comic collectors" in the USA retain their interest in the medium for a mere four years. In mainland Europe, by contrast, comic strips are more often aimed at an intelligent adult reader. Sequences of comics albums – called bandes dessinées ["strip drawings"] in France – containing sometimes self-contained successive episodes of long and often complex stories are kept in print for many years, a luxury not conceived in the USA until a few years ago.
While the comic strip draws on several different traditions, these began to coalesce in the mid-19th century. One could take as the starting-point Gustave Doré's Histoire Pittoresque, Dramatique et Caricaturale de la Sainte Russie (graph 1854; trans as The Rare and Extraordinary History of Holy Russia 1972 UK), a humorous pictorial history with narrative text under each frame. Wilhelm Busch (1832-1908) produced his Max und Moritz (graph 1865; trans as Max and Moritz – A Story in Seven Tricks 1874 UK), the illustrated misadventures of a pair of young boys, told by means of a sequence of captioned panels which differ from those in modern comics only by the absence of speech balloons.
The speech balloon was, however, already a well established convention. One of its first incidences was in the Protat Woodcut (1347), in which virtuous words, black-lettered on a scroll, are shown issuing from the mouth of a nobleman. In the 16th century Queen Elizabeth I decreed that all churches should display a copy of Fox's Book of Martyrs illustrated by woodcuts showing gory death scenes in which the last utterances of the saints were lettered in balloons. Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827) and James Gillray (1757-1815) brought the convention into common use in cartoons in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and periodicals like McLean's Monthly (published in the 1830s), but in comic strips it was not until the very end of the century that speech balloons were used.
In 1867, in the UK, Charles Henry Ross drew the first adventures of Alley Sloper – Alexander Sloper, F.O.M. (Friend of Man) – in the weekly humour magazine Judy. Although owing more to the illustration tradition of Punch (weekly from 1841), these stories were republished as Alley Sloper: A Moral Lesson (graph 1872), a precursor of the modern comic book, and Alley Sloper was extensively published well into the 20th century in the UK. Nevertheless, the real origins of the comic strip lie in the USA.
By the mid-1890s US newspapers had begun to experiment with gag panels and illustrations. The 5 May 1895 edition of the New York World featured two such gag panels by R F Outcoult (1863-1928) called Hogan's Alley, depicting a group of slum kids; the star was a bald, jug-eared child wearing a nightshirt – the Yellow Kid – and he quickly became enormously popular. In 1896 Outcoult moved to the New York Journal, whose proprietor, William Randolph Hearst (1863-1951), suggested adopting a sequential approach to the feature. The artist agreed and The Yellow Kid (as it was renamed) effectively became a comic strip a year later. Again at Hearst's instigation, Rudolph Dirks (1863-1928) created The Katzenjammer Kids, inspired by Max und Moritz, for the New York Journal, and the modern form of the popular newspaper comic strip was born.
Others quickly followed, and by the turn of the century there were several strips; most featured slapstick humour in a contemporary setting. There were, however, some changes on the horizon. The Upside-Downs of Little Lady Lovekins and Old Man Muffaroo (1903-1904; graph coll under same title 1905) by Gustave Verbeek (1867-1937) can lay some claim to being the world's first fantasy comic strip: its two protagonists adventured in a world of bizarre creatures and strange landscapes. (Verbeek here also innovated the idea of creating a strip that could also be read upside-down – rotating the page gave the conclusion of the same six-panel story, each title character becoming the other when inverted – but no other artist has yet had the courage to pick up this particular gauntlet.) Verbeek followed this with the rather more nightmarish Terrors of the Tiny Tads (1905-1916), which appeared along with another new strip, Winsor McCay's Little Nemo in Slumberland (1905-1927). McCay's strips' mixture of architectural detail, bizarre characters and almost Freudian situations spawned a number of imitators; among the more important were Nimsby the Newsboy (1905-1906) by George McManus (1884-1954), Danny Dreamer (1907-1912) by Clare Briggs (1875-1930), The Explorigator (1908) by Harry Grant Dart (1869-1938) and Bobby Make Believe by Frank King (1883-1969). King later found enormous success as the creator of Gasoline Alley which, though very much based in reality – to the extent that its characters actually aged (a first for comics) – still had moments of Surrealism on its Sunday pages. Similarly Cliff Sterrett (1883-1964) transformed the domestic humour strip Polly and her Pals (1912-1958) into something quite different. By the 1920s Sterrett had largely abandoned conventional narrative and graphics in favour of a wildly imaginative abstract approach that blended Cubism, Dada and Surrealism to create a quite disorienting effect. Although they were short-lived, the Lionel Feininger (1871-1956) strips The Kin-der Kids (1906) and Wee Willie Winkie's World (1906) also eschewed a literal approach, opting instead for an abstract, lyrical direction.
Like Feininger, George Herriman had less interest in narrative than in the formal possibilities of the comic medium. His masterpiece, Krazy Kat (1916-1944), uses its funny-animal milieu as a device with which to explore his interests in composition, abstraction and landscape. Typical of the early strip artists, Herriman was aware that he was drawing for a largely adult audience who, hopefully, would appreciate the more playful poetic elements of his strip rather than simply the eternal triangle of its main characters. There were also surreal elements – e.g., characters cutting through the cartoon frame and hiding outside, and a shifting Arizona landscape where hand-like rock formations could clap and cause winds.
As the 1920s came to an end the playful Surrealism of the early strips was gradually replaced by humour and soap opera. Then a new genre emerged that appealed to a younger audience: the adventure strip. 1929 saw the initial episodes of both Edgar Rice Burroughs's Tarzan, drawn by Harold Foster, and the first sf strip, Buck Rogers (1929-1967), created by Phil Nowlan (1888-1940) and Dick Calkins (1895-1962). The new adventure strips drew on the more figurative tradition of Magazine illustrators, and were much more realistically drawn.
These inspired other fantasy-based adventure strips: Brick Bradford (1933-current) by Clarence Grey (1902-1957) and William Ritt (1902-1972); Mandrake the Magician (1934-current) by Lee Falk (1905-1999) and Phil Davis, and The Phantom (1936-current) by Falk and artist Ray Moore. Foremost was Flash Gordon (1934-current) by Alex Raymond who, along with Foster and Milton Caniff (1907-1988), inspired several generations of artists with the technical brilliance of his art. One last throwback to the earlier tradition of cartooning was Alley Oop (1933-current) by V T Hamilin (1900-1993), which started as a Prehistoric Fantasy but later, with the addition of a time machine, travelled into other fantastic territory.
Whereas the US strip had taken root in newspapers, in the UK the medium flourished in weekly comic papers. The publication in 1890 of Alfred Harmsworth's Comic Cuts and Chips set the pattern of humour comics for several decades. By the 1920s UK titles had emerged from the Victorian single-panel tradition to the point where they had become comic strips as we would understand that term today (although they were still largely without speech balloons, favouring captions). Their audience was mostly juvenile, but there was enough variety that they frequently included fantasy elements.
For many years UK fantasy comic strips were confined to mischievous Talking Animals, and any features that might veer towards Horror – like Captain Phantom (Knockout 1952) – were in fact more likely to involve adventurous aircraft pilots. The longest-running of the former were the adventures of Tiger Tim and his chums, The Bruin Boys and Mrs Hippo's Kindergarten, which ran for over 80 years in titles such as Playbox and Rainbow. Other popular talking-animal strips included Pip, Squeak and Wilfred (Daily Mirror 1919-1940, 1947-1955) drawn by Austin B Payne (1876-1959), which also appeared in various annuals (1923-1939 and 1953-1955) and a series of short Animated Movies (1922); and Teddy Tail, a mouse with a knot in his tail, visited various fantasy lands (Daily Mail 1915-1940, 1946-1960) – he too appeared in a series of books plus annuals and reprints. Teddy, a creation of Charles Folkard (1878-1963), was later drawn by Folkard's brother Harry and various others over the years. Further characters were stars of their own comics. The talking-animal tradition continues to this day.
While a succession of gnomes, pixies and Elves have been stars in UK nursery comics, other fantasy aspects were relegated to the humorous panels of children's strips. Examples are Sham Poo and His Magic Wand (The Butterfly 1908) by Ernest Webb and Uncle Dan the Magic Man (The Magic Comic 1939). More substantial elements could be found in Pansy Potter the Strongman's Daughter (Beano 1947-1953), who found a set of steps in a wishing well which led her to a wonderful land full of nursery-rhyme characters; this was drawn by James Clark (1895-1977). Little Nemo-style daydreams were the basis for the feature Our Ernie (1939-1960), most notably drawn by Hugh McNeil (1910-1979), and Buster's Dreamworld (Buster 1968-1974) by Angel Nadal.
Fairytales and traditional tales were perhaps the area most plundered by UK nursery comics, dating back at least as early as the 1920s: Aladdin was a favourite theme (> Arabian Fantasy), appearing at various times, although as regular were the stories of Hans Christian Andersen. The most important strip of the period was the more original newspaper strip Rupert the Bear, created for the Daily Express in 1920 by Mary Tourtel (1874-1940). Rupert was in fact originally a single panel with verse running beneath (though the number of panels later varied, often being four); it became effectively a comic strip when the panels were collected into books or annuals. Under Tourtel – and, more particularly, her successor from 1935, Alfred Bestall (1892-1986) – Rupert's adventures took on a fairytale air, with Rupert being transported to distant fantastic lands. The strip became populated by Dragons, imps and sorcerers.
The first Disney comic strip, syndicated by King Features, appeared in 1930, with Mickey Mouse starring in daily strips. The Disney comics are, however, a bit of a law unto themselves, having little effect on and being little affected by the mainstream; they form no further part of this discussion (> Disney; Carl Barks; Scrooge McDuck).
The comic book established itself early in the UK, but the USA – though Denis Gifford lists about 300 separate comic-book publications before 1933 in his The American Comic Book Catalogue: The Evolutionary Era 1884-1939 (1990) – really had to wait until 1933 for its first true comic book: Funnies on Parade. The early US comic books were dominated by newspaper-strip reprints and it was only in 1935 with New Fun Comics that much new material was specially produced for the format. Three years later the company responsible for this, National (later DC Comics), transformed the industry with Action Comics #1, starring Superman by Jerry Siegel (1914-1996) and Joe Shuster (1914-1992), comics's first Superhero; this strip inspired an army of imitators. Throughout WWII superheroes dominated the comic-book scene, and a host sprang up to cash in on Superman's success. DC hit paydirt again with Batman, The Flash, Wonder Woman and many others, while Timely Comics (later Marvel Comics) had Captain America, The Human Torch and The Submariner.
Among the throngs of heroes, several had particularly fantasy-based backgrounds. Foremost were two DC heroes: the avenging Ghost The Spectre (1940-1945) by Bernard Baily (1916-1996), and the Egyptian-flavoured sorcerer Dr Fate (1940-1944) by Howard Shetman and Gardner Fox; both ran in More Fun Comics. Magicians of all sorts were commonplace, from Zatara (Action Comics #1) by Fred Guardineer (1913-2002) to Supermagician (Street & Smith 1941-1947) and Ibis the Invincible (Fawcett's Whiz Comics 1940-1950 and his own title 1943-1948). Ibis's stablemate Captain Marvel, created by Bill Parker and Charles Clarence ("C.C.") Beck (1910-1989), rivalled if not surpassed Superman in popularity at the time. Where Superman's powers were (supposedly) science-based, Captain Marvel gained his abilities from a sorcerer, and the strip in general was more whimsical than its rivals. One of Captain Marvel's main scripters was the Pulp author Otto Binder (1911-1975); other writers included Alfred Bester (1913-1987), Edmond Hamilton (1904-1977), Henry Kuttner and Manly Wade Wellman. Further characters of note were: Kid Eternity (in Quality's Hit Comics 1942-1949) by Sheldon Moldoff (1920-2012), a ghost who could summon any hero in antiquity for the cause of good; The Heap (in Hillman's Air Fighters and Airboy 1942-1953) by Harry Stein and Mort Leav (1916-2005), an early example of the swamp-creature subgenre; and the humorous Frankenstein (published by Prize 1945-1954) by Dick Briefer (1915-1980) (> Frankenstein).
As the war years waned, so too did the superheroes (temporarily), being supplanted by genres like romance, crime and funny animals; works in this last field contained the occasional fantasy element. Of particular interest were the creations of Walt Kelly (1911-1973) in the comic book Fairy Tale Parade (Dell 1942-1946), Otto Messmer (1892-1983) in Felix the Cat (Dell 1943-1961) and George Carlson (1887-1962) in Jingle Jangle Comics (Eastern 1942-1949).
By the end of the decade a new genre appeared, and it would dominate the 1950s: Horror. In fact the first horror comic had appeared as early as 1947 (Avon's Eerie), but it was not until late 1948 that a regularly published horror monthly hit the stands, ACG's Adventures into the Unknown. Throughout the early 1950s most publishers produced horror comics of some description – even Timely entered the field with the superhero/horror hybrid Captain America's Weird Tales (1949). But one name dominated the arena: EC Comics, which during 1950-1955 published three titles – The Vault of Fear, The Vault of Horror and Tales from the Crypt – that set the standard for intelligently written, superbly illustrated mystery tales, invariably with a horror twist. Borrowing the idea of regular hosts from "The Witch's Tale" segment of the radio show Now Lights Out, writer/editor Al Feldstein (1925-2014) brought the comic-book field to new heights of sophistication with the aid of an impressive list of artists. Foremost were Johnny Craig (1926-2001), Wallace Wood, Graham Ingels (1915-1991), Jack Davis (1924-2016), Reed Crandall, George Evans (1920-2001) and Bernard Krigstein (1919-1990). An early EC artist was Harry Harrison (1925-2012). EC's tales may well have been gory and bloodthirsty but there was invariably a moral element. Other companies were less fastidious: Harvey's Black Cat Mystery (1951-1954) and Tomb of Terror (1952-1954), for example, featured some of the most frightening comics material ever published. By 1955 horror was the biggest single genre, commanding 16% of the US market and boasting a diverse number of themes and approaches.
Timely (now called Atlas) was the most prolific publisher: by 1956 it was bringing out 16 regular mystery or fantasy titles, usually featuring sensationalist covers and rather tamer interiors. The company boasted an artist roster every bit as impressive as EC's, with Russ Heath (1926- ), Joe Maneely (1926-1958), Basil Wolverton (1909-1978) and Bill Everett (1917-1973); the latter's finest hour was Venus (1948-1952), which started life as a romance book but later embraced sf and finally horror – albeit with a softer edge than most.
Similarly restrained mystery tales were found in DC's products, initially in the ex-superhero titles Sensation and Star Spangled (both switched genres in 1952) and then in the new House of Mystery comic (1952-1982). Other comics followed – My Greatest Adventure (1955-1963), House of Secrets (1956-1976) and Tales of the Unexpected (1956-1982) – all drawing on the same talent pool: Mort Meskin (1916-1995), Ruben Moreira (1922-1984), Billy Eby and others. One exception to the rather anonymous stories favoured by DC was the short-lived Phantom Stranger (6 issues 1952-1953), which starred the eponymous mysterious host, a device that reappeared a number of years later in Harvey's The Man in Black (1957-1958) and Charlton's Tales of the Mysterious Traveler (1956-1959) (> The Mysterious Traveler), the latter featuring artwork by Steve Ditko.
Ditko's work had also appeared in an earlier Charlton comic, The Tying (1952-1954), which carried precisely the sort of material Frederick Wertham (1895-1981) had protested about in his Seduction of the Innocent (1954). In response to the mounting public outcry, in 1955 the companies set up the Comics Code, which ended the horror boom and sent the industry into recession. It certainly put paid to EC's line: while their Mad Magazine took off, Shock Illustrated (3 issues 1955-1956) and Tales of Terror Illustrated (2 issues 1955-1956) emphatically did not, although these magazines sowed the seeds for the genre's rejuvenation a decade later.
The 1950s spawned other genres, notably Prehistoric Fantasy. M.E's Thun'da (1952-1953) led the pack, principally because of the fine Frank Frazetta artwork in #1. More impressive thematically was Tor (1953-1954) by Joe Kubert (1926-2012), who later went on to the Prince Valiant-flavoured Viking Prince (DC's Brave and Bold 1955-1959), written by Robert Kanigher (1915-2002); but it was Dell's Turok, Son of Stone (> Alberto Giolitti), pitting Native Americans against Dinosaurs, that was to prove the most enduring (130 issues 1954-1982), created primarily by Paul S Newman (writer) and Giolitti (artist).
Truly horrific tales were not an important feature of UK comics until the late 1940s, when some independent companies tried to emulate the style developing in the USA. The most notable artist working with horror was the imaginative William A Ward, a one-time animator whose wartime strips for the Gerald G Swan Magazines included the grisly "angel of death" Krakos the Egyptian (New Funnies 1941 and Thrill Comics 1941-1944) and the vengeful The Bat (Thrill Comics 1940 and Extra Fun 1940). Also working for Swan at the time was William McCail (1902-1974), whose Back from the Dead (Topical Funnies 1941) signed "Ron", was the story of Robert Lovett, who died in 1827 and returned in 1949 to wreak Vengeance on criminals. McCail's brother John (circa 1896- ) created Dane Vernon, The Ghost Investigator (Thrill Comics 1940-1946).
These comics caused a similar public outcry in the UK as there had been in the USA. The Horror Comics Bill (1955) effectively banned their publication. More influential was the home-grown and altogether more clean-cut boys' comic Eagle (1950-1969), published initially by Hulton Press. With its tabloid format and photogravure colour printing, Eagle set the standard for a decade. Eagle's star attraction was the sf strip Dan Dare, created by Frank Hampson (1918-1985). Following a dispute in 1960, artist Frank Bellamy proved a worthy successor to Hampson, but worked on Dare for only one year before moving on to other features, including the more fantasy-oriented Heros the Spartan. Artwork on Dare was continued by Keith Watson (1935-1994) until 1967, when Eagle decided to run only reprints of old stories; the comic died soon after.
Among Eagle's imitators, fantasy strips featured more frequently. Express Weekly had Wulf the Briton (1957-1960) by Jenny Butterworth and Ron Embleton. An even more impressive Embleton strip was the first of the Wrath of the Gods stories (Boys' World 1963-1964, briefly thereafter in Eagle), a Greek Mythology-based series of tales written by Michael Moorcock. Subsequent stories in this series were well drawn by John M Burns (1939- ), who also drew Ken Mennelli's charming Kelpie, The Boy Wizard, a Sorcerer's-Apprentice-style yarn set in Arthurian Britain (Wham 1964-1965). Another excellent artist in the same painterly tradition, Don Lawrence (1928-2003) worked on a succession of fantasy strips from the pseudohistorical Orlac the Gladiator (Tiger 1959-1964), written by Brian Leigh, and Carl the Viking (Lion 1960-1964), written by Kenneth Bulmer, to the more overtly fantastic Maroc the Mighty (Lion 1964-1966), written by Moorcock, and the dynastic Science Fantasy The Trigan Empire (Ranger and Look and Learn 1965-1982), written by Michael Butterworth (1947- ). This last strip proved immensely popular in both the UK and Europe but, following a dispute with publishers IPC, Lawrence decamped in 1977 to the Dutch comic Eppo. His new creation for them was the even more widely acclaimed Storm (1977-current), written mostly by Martin Lodewijk, which has been collected in a series of albums and published throughout Europe – although only three volumes have appeared in the UK: Storm (graph 1985), Storm: The Last Fighter (graph 1988) and Storm: The Pirates of Pandarve (graph 1988).
In 1965 City Publishing started adapting Gerry Anderson's (1929-2012) tv puppet shows into strip form in the weekly TV Century 21, and over the succeeding five years utilized the talents of most of the top UK artists, including Embleton, Lawrence, Bellamy, Burns and Mike Noble. This magazine's high-quality colour presentation attracted a large readership and spawned spinoff comics like Joe 90 (with which it merged in 1969) and Lady Penelope (1966-1969). By the end of the 1960s, however, the popularity of Anderson's material had begun to wane, and City (now called Polystyle) introduced a new weekly comic, Countdown (later TV Action) in 1971, which featured a brightly coloured strip, also named Countdown, by Dennis Hooper and John Burns (using spaceship designs from Kubrick's 2001 – A Space Odyssey ); alongside were strip versions of Anderson's later live-action productions and other tv shows like Dr Who and Mission Impossible. More generally, the penchant for strip versions of tv shows was a feature of many UK comics in the 1960s and 1970s.
Much of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s UK comics scene was dominated by the vast Amalgamated Press (subsequently renamed Fleetway, then IPC), and their stable of children's weeklies produced many interesting fantasy strips. Lion (1952-1974) featured the light-hearted adventures of Robot Archie by Ted Kearon and Adam Eterno by F Solano-Lopez. This latter, a Time-Travel strip, had first appeared in Thunder (1970-1971); it continued in Lion until 1974 and then Valiant (1974-1976) – which also ran Kelly's Eye (1963-1974) (another Lopez strip), the monstrous Mytek the Mighty (1964-1975) and, probably, Valiant's most memorable series, the stylish fantasy adventure The Steel Claw (1962-1970, 1971-1976) by Kenneth Bulmer and Jesus Blasco. Also worthy of mention from this period are The Legend Testers by Graham Balser and José Bernet and the sinister Cursiter Doom by Ken Menell and Ray Bradbury, both of which ran in Smash (1966-1971).
The late 1970s saw something of a horror boom in UK comics, with Dez Skinn's (1951- ) House of Hammer (1976-1984), which featured adaptations of Hammer movies, and the notorious Action (February-October 1976). Action – with strips like the bloodthirsty Hookjaw (by Ken Armstrong and Ramon Sola), about a maneating shark, and Kids Rule (by Chris Lowder [1945-], Ron Tiner and Mike White), which took its basic premise of unruly kids stranded on a desert island from William Golding's The Lord of the Flies (1954) and wallowed salaciously in the resulting vicious behaviour – managed to be both enormously popular among its child readers and universally condemned in the adult media; the brevity of its life was unsurprising. Even the girls' comics were not unaffected by the horror craze, and certainly all had their fair share of fantasies. Alliteratively styled Mermaids – e.g., Myrtle the Mermaid (Bunty 1958) and Milly the Mermaid (Princess Tina 1967) – appeared alongside stories of inanimate objects coming to life – e.g., Lucy's Living Doll (School Friend 1963-1964 and June 1964-1974), drawn by Robert McGillivray. Timeslip stories abounded beside adaptations (from Charles Dickens novels to tv shows like Bewitched) and a particular vein of Gothic horror not present in boys' comics: tales of cruel step-parents, blindness – in series like Blind Ballerina (Judy 1963) and Becky Never Saw the Ball (Tammy 1974), the latter about a blind tennis player – and slavery. Far more significant as fantasy were DC Thompson's Spellbound (1976-1977) and Fleetway's Misty (1978-1980), which offered quite potent, often beautifully drawn, schoolgirl-oriented Gothic horror in the style of the early US Warren Publishing books.
Generally, however, the horror genre was served mostly by the humour titles, which regularly used ghosts and spooks as gag generators. Fleetway humour titles discovered and tapped this rich vein in titles such as Cor!! (1970-1974) – which featured strips like Hire a Horror, Freddy Fang and Fiends and Neighbours – Shiver and Shake (1973-1974), which was hosted by two ghosts, and Monster Fun (1975-1976). The most successful artist in the horror/humour genre was Ken Reid, especially with Frankie Stein (Wham! 1964-1968, Shiver and Shake 1973-1974, Whoopee 1974-1975, Monster Fun 1975-1976, Buster 1976-1986), latterly drawn by Robert Nixon.
The late-1950s USA had little time for horror – Gothic or otherwise – but most publishers had at least one mystery title. Harvey's most important offering was the short-lived Alarming Tales (6 issues 1957-1958), which featured Jack Kirby's first fantasy art since leaving Black Magic Comic (created by Kirby with Joe Simon for Crestwood in 1950). The same year, 1957, also saw Kirby at DC creating Challengers of the Unknown for their try-out book Showcase. The Challengers subsequently went on to their own title, Challengers of the Unknown (sporadically 1970-1978, another short series 1991), and other Showcase strips did likewise: Space Ranger (1958), Adam Strange (1958), Rip Hunter, Time Master (1959) and The Flash (1956), whose revival in Showcase #4 is widely credited as having started the second wave of Superheroes, a wave that dominated the market in the 1960s.
Marvel (as Atlas had become) spent the immediate post-Comics Code years churning out a succession of bizarrely titled monster strips by editor Stan Lee and artists Kirby, Don Heck (1929-1995) and Steve Ditko. Ditko was also working for Charlton on adaptations of Monster Movies – Konga (1960-1965) and Gorgo (1961-1965) – though he was unable to draw their third title, Reptilicus (1961-1963). When DC brought out the team book Justice League of America (1960-1987), Marvel responded with The Fantastic Four (1961-current) and followed this with a plethora of highly successful superhero tales, mostly written by Lee and drawn by Kirby. One of the earliest of these characters was Thor, who debuted in the previously monster-dominated Journey into Mystery (#83 1963). That sense of the immensely fantastic reached its apotheosis with The Silver Surfer – introduced in Fantastic Four (#48 1966) and gaining his own book, Silver Surfer (1968-1972, with later incarnations) – which strip, under Lee and artist John Buscema (1927-2002), had pronounced religious and philosophical undercurrents to match its superheroics, and became something of a counterculture Icon, as did Doctor Strange by Lee and Ditko (initiated in Strange Tales #110 1963). Having already created the immensely popular, archetypal "urban hero with a problem", Spiderman, the previous year, Lee and Ditko immersed Strange, the "sorcerer supreme", in a milieu of alien dimensions and incredible creatures; the character is still current (>>> Spider-Man [1977 tvm]).
A somewhat different Marvel character – Kazar – is testament to the enduring appeal of the lone savage popularized by Edgar Rice Burroughs with Tarzan. The 1960s brought other savages including Sam Glanzman's Kona, Monarch of Monster Isle (Charlton 1967-1969) and Otto Binder's and Frank Thorne's post-Holocaust Mighty Sampson (Gold Key 1964-1969). Gold Key anticipated a horror revival with its tv tie-ins Twilight Zone (1961-1962) (> The Twilight Zone) and Boris Karloff's Tales of Mystery (1963-1980).
Previously a publisher of Famous Monsters of Filmland, Warren effectively revived the EC style of horror tales in Creepy (1964-1983) and Eerie (1965-1983). Under editor/writer Archie Goodwin (1937-1998), the Warren Publishing line featured almost all the original EC artists along with others including Ditko, Gene Colan (1926-2011) and Neal Adams. In 1969 Warren added a third title, Vampirella (1969-1983; revived in the 1990s); Ron Goulart produced some tied novels. Vampirella, a sexy female Vampire from a distant planet, was modelled on Barbarella, created in 1962 by French artist Jean-Claude Forest (1930-1998) for V. Magazine. Barbarella's moral and sexual ambiguities were indicative of the more aware adult readership that European comics had cultivated. Another Forest strip, Les Naufrages du Temps (premiered in Chou Chou 1964), drawn by Paul Gillon, proved to be even longer-lasting, being still (1995) current. Written from its fifth volume by Gillon himself, its mixture of hard sf, wild fantasy and frank sexuality has proven extremely successful. Gillon has gone on to write and draw another even more graphically erotic post-apocalyptic strip, La Survivante ["The Survivor"].
The European fantasy-comics tradition stretches back to the work of the French artist Rene Pellos (1900-1998) in Futuropolis (1937-1938) and Electropolis (1939), and to the Italian Saturno Contro la Terra ["Saturn Against Earth"] (I Tre Pocellani and Il Topolino 1937-1946) by F Pedrocchi and G Scottari. Another key early European fantasy strip was the long-running Les Pionniers de L'Espérance ["The Pioneers of The Hope"] by artist Raymond Poivet (1910-1999) and writer Roger Lecureux, which followed the crew of the spaceship Espérance. Similarly hard-sf-based was the excellent French Valerian (1967-current) by writer Pierre Christin (1938- ) and artist Jean-Claude Mézières (1938- ). Mort Cinder (1962-1964) by the South Americans Alberto Breccia and Hector Oesterheld, also published widely in Europe, was a masterful blend of Time Travel, Dreams and Horror, first appearing in the Argentinian comic Misterix. Breccia went on (in 1968) to apply himself to Oesterheld's remarkable El Eternauta ["The Eternaut"], a long-running series about an extraterrestrial 21st-century philosopher who travels through time and "navigates eternity"; earlier this strip had been, since 1957, more conventionally drawn by Francisco Solano Lopez in the periodical Hora Cera, culminating in the Animated Movie El Eternauta (1968). Breccia has had a profound influence on the development of the comic strip in the West.
By the late 1960s, horror had once again begun to take hold in the USA. DC revived The Spectre (1967-1969) and The Phantom Stranger (in Showcase #80 1969), but it was the transformation by new editor Joe Orlando (1927-1998) of House of Mystery into an EC-style horror anthology that opened the floodgates. Orlando, an EC alumnus himself, created the horror host Cain for the previously superhero-oriented comic book and started running horror shorts with a shock ending. With this and the already existing Unexpected and House of Secrets, plus the new title The Witching Hour, Orlando and fellow editors Murray Boltinoff (1911-1994) and Dick Giordano (1932-2010) built a highly influential line of horror books, drawing upon the talents of veterans like writers Carl Wessler and Jack Oleck and artists Alex Toth (1928-2006) and Wally Wood (1927-1981) and Neal Adams, plus new US and Filipino creators. By 1974 DC were publishing 16 regular titles – matching Atlas's output two decades earlier – and spanning a wide range of genre hybrids. Alongside Weird War and Weird Western one could find weird romance (Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love 1971-1972), weird Humour (Plop 1973-1976) and the supposedly true tales featured in Ghosts (1971-1982).
The horror explosion was so pervasive it transformed DC's oldest title, Adventure Comics, into Weird Adventure, which in its short life featured both Sheldon Mayer's and Tony DeZuniga's (1932-2012) mysterious heroine Black Orchid (1973; >>> Neil Gaiman) and Michael Fleischer's and Jim Aparo's seminal revival of The Spectre (1974-1975). Perhaps DC's most important title of the period was Swamp Thing (1972-1976), with writers Len Wein (1948- ) and David Michelinie and artists Bernie Wrightson and Nestor Redondo (1928-1995). An early development of Marvel's similarly burgeoning horror line, the likewise swamp-oriented Man-Thing (1974-1975, 1979-1981), by coincidence hit the stands at the same time. Written primarily by Steve Gerber (1947-2008) and drawn by Mike Ploog and Jim Mooney among others, this enjoyed a lengthy run (Fear 1972-1974, Man-Thing 1974-1975 and 1979-1981). A spinoff from the book, Howard the Duck (1976-1979 and 1986), again by Gerber and artists Frank Brunner and Gene Colan (1926-2011), proved popular enough to spawn the disastrous Howard the Duck (1986).
Marvel's horror line was largely character-based, as opposed to the portmanteau approach favoured by DC. Following the successful Tomb of Dracula (1972-1976) by Colan and Marv Wolfman, Marvel brought out Werewolf by Night (1972-1977), Ghost Rider (1972-1983), Frankenstein (1973-1975), Morbius (1974-1975) and Son of Satan (1977). Running in parallel, the same characters could frequently be found in Marvel's b/w magazine line, which also featured a lengthy series of adaptations of the popular Planet of the Apes movies (1974-1977), done by Doug Moench, Mike Ploog and Alfredo Alcala, and of the adventures of possibly the decade's most influential character, Conan. Robert E Howard's archetypal barbarian first appeared in comic form in 1970, done by Roy Thomas and artist Barry Windsor-Smith, and went on to win a number of awards and spawn a legion of spinoffs and imitators. Other Howard characters received the Marvel treatment: Solomon Kane and Bran Mak Morn could be found in the monthly Savage Sword of Conan magazine (1974-current), while King Kull starred in Kull the Conqueror (1971-1978; vt Kull the Destroyer), initially by the team of Thomas with Marie and John Severin. By far the most popular Conan spinoff was Red Sonja (tagged "the she-devil with a sword"), previously only a very minor Howard character; the movie Red Sonja (1985) was the eventual consequence. Red Sonja's artist, Frank Thorne (1930- ), went on to draw the very similar but sexually uninhibited Ghita of Alizarr for the Warren b/w sf comics magazine 1984/1994 (1978-1982). Ghita's Rabelaisian adventures (in which she was every bit as likely to be depicted cavorting in various states of undress as fighting trolls or monsters) may have been shocking to a US audience, but not in Europe, where the Sword-and-Sorcery strip had gained a more substantial foothold and sexually uninhibited strips were commonplace. Some of the best of these, including the Italian Il Gioco ["The Plaything"] (graph colls 1983, 1990; trans US as Click! 1987, 1993) by Milo Manara (1945- ), the Druuna series of sexy sf/horror, and Morbus Gravis (graph coll 1985-1995 5 vols; trans Heavy Metal 1986-1995) by Paolo Eleuteri Serpieri (1944- ) have begun to see publication in the USA. Zetari (1985-1987) by Martin Lodewijk and John M Burns featured much the same sort of material as Ghita, as did Lorna y su Robot ["Lorna and Her Robot"] (graph colls 1985, 1992) by Alfonso Azpiri (1947- ). The French Pelisse (graph 1983-1987 4 vols; trans as Roxanna 1987-1989 US) by Serge LeTendre and Regis Loisel, featuring the adventures of a plump-breasted nymphet in a charming and inspired fantasy world, was equally uninhibited but owed more to J R R Tolkien, as did Le Grand Pouvoir du Chninkel ["The Great Power of the Chninkel"] (graph 1988; trans in Cheval Noir #13-#18 1990-1991) by Jean Van Hamme (1939- ) and Grzegorz Rosinski (1941- ). By contrast, the French Rosinski and Van Hamme's Thorgal (1974-1978 12 vols) and the Spanish Vincente Segrelles's beautifully painted Mercenary series (1980-current; trans sporadically in Heavy Metal during the 1980s) had more in common with Conan. The prolific Spanish artist Victor de la Fuente (1927-2010) produced several intelligent and highly original S&S epics including the thoughtful Haxtur (1973; trans in Eerie 1979), the epic Haggarth (1975-1976; trans in Eerie 1980-1982) and Mathai-Dor (1979).
DC's early entries into the barbarian field also included adaptations: Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser in Sword of Sorcery (1973) and Burroughs's John Carter and Pellucidar in Weird Worlds (1972-1974). Marvel later picked up the John Carter series and also adapted John Jakes's Brak the Barbarian in Savage Tales (#5-#8 1974), Edwin Lester Arnold's Lt Gullivar Jones (Creatures on the Loose 1972-1974) and Lin Carter's Thongor (Creatures on the Loose 1972-1974).
The enormous popularity achieved by the work of Tolkien in the 1970s led inevitably to a rash of comics featuring the adventures of "Little People" – Elves, etc. Strip adaptations of the original novels have been surprisingly meagre, however, with, aside from a photonovel version of Ralph Bakshi's The Lord of the Rings (1978), only Charles Dixon's version of The Hobbit (graph 1989 3 vols US), drawn by David Wenzel (1950- ), having been published in the English language. A creditable Spanish version of LOTR, adapted by Nicola Cuti and drawn by Luis Bermejo – El Senor del Anelo (graph 1979 6 vols) – retained the spirit of the original while avoiding the pitfall into which all the rest of the comics in this genre stumbled: that of making the characters too cute to be taken seriously by an adult reader. The Dixon-Wenzel series fell into this trap, as did Mike Ploog and John Buscema in creating Marvel's Weirdworld (seen at its best in Warriors of the Shadow Realm [graph 1979 3 vols]). The most successful series in this genre has been Elfquest (1978-current) by Wendy and Richard Pini.
The end of the 1970s saw a number of adaptations in book form of the work of leading fantasy and sf writers, usually under the editorship of Byron Preiss: The Illustrated Roger Zelazny (graph coll 1978) by Gray Morrow, The Illustrated Harlan Ellison (graph coll 1978) and a trio of titles drawn by Howard Chaykin: Samuel R Delany's Empire (graph 1978), Alfred Bester's The Stars My Destination (graph 1979) and Michael Moorcock's The Swords of Heaven, The Flowers of Hell (graph 1979).
These adaptations sold to a more discerning readership, which owed much to the acceptance of the strip medium during the boundary-breaking US underground movement of a decade earlier. Freed from the censorship of the mainstream publishing houses, the late-1960s underground comics dealt initially with the sex'n'drugs lifestyle presumed of its readers, but soon horizons were broadened. Probably the first horror underground was Bogeyman (1969-1970) by Rory Hayes. It was followed by the more overtly EC-influenced Insect Fear (1970-1973), Death Rattle (1972-1973) and Richard Corben's Fantagor (1970-1972) and Rowlf (1971). Corben also featured prominently in two outstanding anthology titles: the horror book Skull (1970-1972) and Slow Death (1970-1979). Other prominent Slow Death creators were the noted historical artist Jack Jackson (1941- ) and the writer-artist team Tom Veitch (1941- ) and Greg Irons (1947-1984), whose wonderfully titled Legion of Charlies (1971) and Deviant Slice (1972-1973) set new standards in stomach-churning gore – beautifully rendered! Another notable underground artist, Vaughn Bodé (1941-1975) peopled his strips with bizarre lizards and talking hats, but retained the movement's trademark cynicism, albeit tinged with an almost poetic Romanticism.
Mainstream creators generally ignored the underground scene, the main exception being Wallace Wood, whose Witzend (1966-1981) featured work by Bodé and future Pulitzer Prize-winner Art Spiegelman (1948- ) alongside that of more established fantasy artists like Reed Crandall and Frank Frazetta. Wood's own contribution was the sprawling Wizard King epic, typical of the Tolkien-inspired strips he would frequently create for Marvel and Warren; this one spawned a sequel, The King of the World (1978). The alternative anthology magazines Hot Stuff (1974-1978) and Star * Reach (1974-1979) built on Witzend's success, but probably the most significant non-mainstream publication of the period was Heavy Metal, which was initially conceived as merely an English-language version of the French Métal Hurlant. Since 1977 Heavy Metal has presented the work of such important artists as Moebius, Philippe Druillet (> Moebius), François Schuiten (1956- ) and Philippe Caza, all of whose work has been substantially collected and published in album form. A shorter-lived rival, Epic (1980-1986), published some fine fantasy strips, notably the S&S saga Marada the She Wolf by Chris Claremont (1950- ) and John Bolton, which subsequently met with much success in Europe, and a stylish adaptation of Michael Moorcock's Elric by Roy Thomas and P Craig Russell.
A rash of independent companies (companies whose publications sell solely through the specialist market the undergrounds inspired) has widened the range of US comics genres throughout the 1980s and 1990s, starting at the same time as many of the major companies were retreating to a core line of superhero titles. Both Pacific and First continued Epic's Moorcock adaptations: Elric (1984-1989), Hawkmoon (1986-1989) and Corum (1987-1989). Anne Rice's Lestat novels were successfully adapted by Innovation in The Vampire Lestat (1990-1991). By far the greatest success was enjoyed by Dark Horse with their licensed titles Aliens (1988-current), Terminator (1988-current) and Predator (1989-current). The quirkier side of Dark Horse has been represented by the charming Concrete (1987-current), the kind of eccentric project that inspired the early self-publishers.
One of these was Dave Sim (1958- ). His Cerebus the Aardvark started life as a funny-animal Parody of Barry Windsor-Smith's Conan, but matured into a fascinating discourse on religion, society and power. Elfquest was another successful self-publishing project. The later Bone (1992-current) by Jeff Smith (1960- ) presents a surprisingly uncloying alternative to the usual Tolkienesque Quest epic.
Groo (1982-current) by Mark Evanier (1952- ) and Sergio Aragonés (1937- ) has been published by several companies (most recently Image Comics), and its longevity is proof of the enduring appeal of its S&S spoofing. Darker fare was offered by Pacific's Twisted Tales (1982-1984) – yet another EC-inspired project – SpiderBaby's Taboo (1988-1995) and James O'Barr's Crow (1989-1990), the basis of The Crow (1994). Occult Detectives were the protagonists of Michael T Gilbert's Mister Monster (1985-1991) and Mike Mignola's intriguingly drawn Hellboy (1994-current).
Among the many less easily categorizable strips, one of the most praised has been Mark Schultz's Xenozoic Tales (1987-current), set in a post-Holocaust world where Dinosaurs and humans coexist – just. Schultz's art shows the influence of Frank Frazetta and Alex Raymond; the strip has inspired a cartoon and an arcade game. Equally popular was the ridiculously apocalyptic Hard Boiled (1990-1992) by Frank Miller and Geoff Darrow, whose later Big Guy and Rusty the Robot (1995), a homage to Japanese Monster Movies, made equally fine use of Darrow's astonishingly detailed artwork.
To get a share of the independent publishers' success the big companies set up their own "mature" imprints: Marvel with Epic and DC with Vertigo. Epic was largely sf-orientated, with Starstruck (1985-1986) by Elaine Lee and Mike Kaluta and Timespirits (1985-1986) by Steve Percy and Tom Yeates being perhaps their best titles. Vertigo, by contrast, was primarily a horror or mystery imprint, growing out of the success of Alan Moore's Swamp Thing revival. Popular Vertigo titles have been the Swamp Thing spinoff Hellblazer (1988), again in the occult-detective vein, Animal Man (1988) and Shade The Changing Man (1990), both of which were radical revamps of existing characters. The bestselling Vertigo title has been Neil Gaiman's Sandman (1989).
Gaiman is one of the few UK émigrés not to have worked for 2,000 A.D. From 1977 this sf-oriented comic has used a wide range of influential creators and characters. Initially something of an Action-inspired attention grabber – with the two gorefests Flesh (1977) and Shako (1977) very much in the Hookjaw mode – it gradually matured into a broader-based vehicle for more interesting projects. Alongside routine if well crafted future-war stories one found the humorous Robo Hunter (1978-current) and the fantasy epic Nemesis the Warlock (1980-current); such stories played a part in developing a readership of potential Manga fans, ready for the first importation and translation of Japanese comics in the early 1990s. 2,000 A.D.'s first issue was dominated by a competently drawn (by Dave Gibbons) revival of Dan Dare, but it was to be Judge Dredd, debuting in #2, that caught the public's imagination. Dredd's main rival for popularity in the comic is Slaine, Pat Mills's Celtic barbarian; this has benefited from a number of talented artists, notably Mike McMahon (also perhaps the definitive Dredd artist), Simon Bisley and Glenn Fabry. 2,000 A.D.'s success inspired spinoff titles: Starlord (1978), Tornado (1979) and Crisis (1987-1991), plus a solo Dredd vehicle Judge Dredd – The Megazine (1990-current) and a solo monthly reprinting material from 2,000 A.D.
Of more fantasy significance was a rival publication, Quality Comics's Warrior (1982-1985). This mixed supermen, sf and fantasy strips to great critical acclaim, and several series were sold to European and US markets. Just as Alan Moore's Ballad of Halo Jones (1984-1986) was a high point of 2,000 A.D., so were his Marvelman and V for Vendetta strips at Warrior. Of Moore's three ongoing multi-volume projects, only one is of fantasy interest: Lost Girls, an exploratory experiment with erotica. Its vehicle magazine, Taboo (#5-#7 1990-1994), is now defunct and the project has yet (1995) to find another home.
The reluctance of publishers to involve themselves in experimental comics-related projects is a peculiar feature of the 1990s. Although the medium has attracted a great number of original creative minds, most have found difficulty in getting their work into print unless it is related to concepts and characters that are already well established. UK publishers Victor Gollancz released a series of Graphic Novels in 1991-1992 which broke new ground in graphic narrative with creators such as Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean, Ian Miller and others, but it was not a commercial success and others have been reluctant to dip a toe into these virtually uncharted waters. Experimentation occurs infrequently, and is likely to virtually cease with the demise (1995) of the 95-year old UK Net Book Agreement – though perhaps not all is gloom: HarperCollins has since released a graphic novel by Doris Lessing (1919-2013), Playing the Game (graph 1995) illustrated by Charlie Adlard.
It is the visual component of the comic strip that is at once its most profoundly expressive aspect and its greatest disadvantage. While no subject matter is denied the text-only book, comic books are easily misrepresented as children's reading matter, and as such can be made the object of the artificial outrage of the tabloid press. Comics publishers fear such diatribes and consequently adopt a play-safe policy. Moore's impressive (albeit clumsily drawn) epic graphic novel about the Jack the Ripper crimes, From Hell (16 vols 1991-current), has suffered considerably, as did Peter Milligan's and Brendan McCarthy's Skin (1992), about a violent Thalidomide victim, and The Tale of One Bad Rat (1994) by Bryan Talbot (1952- ), which combined a tale of a lost Beatrix Potter manuscript with a story about a sexually abused child. These were serious, intelligent attempts to present important social and philosophical issues, but almost foundered because some found them uncomfortable. [DR/SH/RT]