Most of the horror magazines that I managed to convince my parents to purchase for me--and without too much resistance, it has to be said, as my mum and dad were thankfully tolerant people--were obtained from a small bookshop in the back of a creepy little market. The fragrance of the old, musty paper, and the sheer obscurity of many of the titles made the atmosphere seem more like that of some ancient museum, which of course pulled me in like a fly to a cowpat.
One misty autumn morning, I was out shopping with my mum. I was nine, and my mum suggested a walk down to Broad Street. I greeted this proposition with some enthusiasm, as the trip would undoubtedly include a visit to the market, and with it the distinct possibility that I would score another horror mag to add to my already gigantic collection.
Arriving outside the bookshop, I scanned the magazine racks in the hope of finding an issue of Creepy or Eerie, my usual horror mags, or Famous Monsters of Filmland, the wonderful monster mag created by Forry Ackerman, the most influential figure in monster movie fandom, and the subject of a future blog.
While perusing for possibilities, my attention was arrested by a particularly lurid cover hung on a bulldog clip slightly higher than the others. For a moment, I couldn’t quite take it in. It appeared to show some kind of vampire woman/witch carrying a bloody human heart, which she had just hacked out of a corpse with a meat cleaver. Said corpse, not being too happy with this, was climbing from his coffin and chucking his head at her. The mag was called Voodoo. There was no subtlety to it at all; in fact, I got the impression that it was trying to be as offensive as possible. I took it down with excited, trembling hands and had a look inside. It was worse. Much worse. Chopped-off limbs, eyes being gouged out, boiled skeletons, gore-spattered brains, and spilled intestines. My mum looked at it.
“Jesus Christ!” she said.
At this point, my eyes glazed over and a small dribble of saliva ran down the corner of my mouth:
“Buy it for meeeee!!!--buy it for me NOWWWWWW!!!!!!!!!!!!”
In retrospect, I can imagine my poor mother feeling like someone from The Village of the Damned, held in the hypnotic glare of one of those diabolical alien kids, because she did buy it for me, and I had been summarily introduced, at the age of nine, to a heretofore unimaginably extreme level of comic-book degeneracy, and completely mindless, bone-crunching violence.
I might have been exaggerating the above somewhat but writers are allowed to do that. In truth, my mum did indeed consider the mag to be revolting but not capable of harm as, in her words: “It’s only a comic.” My dad also thought that my new discovery was a “bit much” but promptly went out and bought me another one, this time called Weird--from the same publisher.
These mags were published under the Eerie banner, not to be confused with Eerie magazine from Warren publications, also responsible for Creepy and Vampirella. They were created by Irving and Myron Fass, who had acquired the printing rights to a group of old mystery comics from the 50s, and while these original tales were fairly innocuous from a visual point of view, the brothers Fass hired artists to re-draw much of the material, adding copious gore and bloodshed. The result was a kind of comic version of Herschel Gordon Lewis’s movies, with no restraint or conscience as to the sensibilities or psychological consequences to the unwary reader.
Needless to say, the Fass bothers were my kind of people.
Looking back, it does puzzle me somewhat that these comics aroused little or no dissention in the press or media-at-large, and I can only assume that so few parents allowed their kids to read them, or were even aware of them for that matter, that they became a kind of ‘underground’ speciality, enjoyed and appreciated by the privileged few.
The whole issue of whether violence, in comics, films or any other creative media, can influence or inspire antisocial behaviour is of course a contentious one. I can only say that I love animals and would consider myself to be compassionate and caring towards the majority of the human race, but on the basis of the kind of reading and cinematic material that I voraciously absorbed during my childhood years, I should, according to the logic of some sociology ‘experts’, make Jeffrey Dahmer look like Frank Spencer. But as I write this (5th June), the news is full of the terrible events in the Lake District, concerning a nut-job called Derrick Bird, who after blowing a fuse, embarked upon on a murderous rampage.
Before anyone accuses me of political incorrectness, in my referring to Mr Bird as a ‘nut-job', it may be expedient for me to clarify the situation somewhat. If a person suffers from emotional or psychological problems, that person is ‘unwell’. But if someone goes off the deep end, loads up their car with a shot-gun and a high-power rifle with a telescopic sight, and merrily tools around the countryside, shooting 12 people to death, and wounding 25 more, that person is consequently, a ‘nut-job’. Geddit?
The point I’m making, of course, is that I’d bet money that Bird had never seen the cover of an Eerie publication, watched Zombie Flesh-Eaters, 2,000 Maniacs or any other overtly ‘horrific’ material. The simple fact is: if, from a compassionate and empathic point-of-view, you’re wired together properly, no amount of violent sensory input will turn you into a nutter, but people like Bird are likely to blow at some point, even if they spend their entire lives watching Peppa Pig, and the Wombles.
On the basis of this, I would wholeheartedly recommend Eerie publications to all CFZ readers. I’ve put some covers, and one of the strips up here, which will hopefully inspire some interest, and a couple of links to Eerie sites.
They certainly don’t make comics like they used to….