by: Bill Burns
The scourge of humanity and the destroyer of youth. No, not horror films. Horror films were never the target of the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency, nor did horror filmmakers ever have to form a self-regulating association to prevent governmental censorship and anti-horror legislation. This cancer that threatened to infect all of 1950’s America was horror comic books. Second only to the evils of Communism, horror comics were viewed as a debasing and corrupting influence, corroding the post-World War Two national spirit of purity, wholesomeness, and prosperity. The future of the US was a gleaming science fiction dream of consumerism, leisure, and conformity brought about by a positivist fantasy of better living through technology. Horror comics were obsessed with death, cynicism, and doubt, filled with extreme violence, sadism, and nihilism. The horror film had lost its teeth, seemingly old fashioned and silly next to the real life shocks of the Holocaust and the atom bomb. Horror comics had more in common with film noir than with the neutered horror film of the late 40’s and early 50’s. Viewed as even more powerful than the films themselves, horror comics bore the misplaced Cold War fear and paranoia, a phenomenon that would not return until the UK “video nasty” witch hunt of the early 80’s (an era which also saw a correlating spike in Cold War propaganda).
Horror comics were central to proselytizing for the genre before fanzines, magazines, web sites, bulletin boards, conventions, and blogs. Acting like monthly missives from the depths of hell or the dark recesses of the psychotic mind, the accessibility of comic books for young people who might not be able to see horror films but could sneak a few comics into the house introduced generations to the genre and kept horror going during the lean years. Horror comics represent a significant contribution to not only the horror genre but to the history of the comic industry, a continuity that includes EC Comics, Warren Publishing, Skywald Publications, Eerie Publications, DC, Marvel, underground comix, and independent comics. The artwork for these comics was often outstanding with artists able to let their imaginations run rampant in a genre that encourages the irrational and fantastic, even more so than with superheroes. These artists should not be confused with the Jim Lee, Joe Quesada, Todd Mcfarland, Rob Liefield, Marc Silvestri abortions that pass for comic art. The best horror comic artists can stand shoulder to shoulder with the great illustrators of the bizarre and gruesome: Hieronymus Bosch, Gustav Dore, Hans Memling, Goya, Francis Bacon, Otto Dix, Austin Osman Spare, Basil Gogos, Frank Frazetta, Ken Kelly, Boris Vallejo, and Jeff Jones. So here are the 13 most ghastly horror comic artists ever. Seek them out and be forever tainted:
13. Pablo Marcos
Born in Peru, Pablo Marcos first gained recognition in his home country in 1965 when his realistic illustrations that accompanied a story about the execution of a convicted rapist shocked the public. His first work for US horror comics was “The Water World” in Creepy # 39 (1971), a story concerning three astronauts stuck on a raft on a planet of water. Marcos would also do work for the underappreciated Skywald Publications, drawing several stories for Nightmare and Psycho. He would really come into his own with his art for the Marvel line of black and white magazines such as Dracula Lives, Monsters Unleashed, and Vampire Tales. The pinnacle of his Marvel horror work was for Tales of the Zombie, where he drew the adventures of Simon Garth, doomed to walk the earth as a zombie. Though Tales of the Zombie only lasted 10 issues, Marcos’s Zombie was a brooding, hulk of an automaton, silent but noble, much different than the usual rotting corpse. Marcos’s expressive style resembles the haunted quality of the black and white classic Universal films but with a touch of the exotic. Tales of the Zombie #3’s "When the Gods Crave Flesh," where Simon Garth has to help a film crew attempting to film a secret voodoo cult, is the perfect example of Marcos’s take on the zombie which is far removed from Romero and embraces its tropical roots.
12. Junji Ito
Influenced by Kazuo Umezu, Hideshi Hino, and H.P. Lovecraft, horror manga artist Junji Ito has created three landmark horror series. Tomie concerns an immortal high school girl who has the supernatural power to drive anyone to fall violently and fanatically in love with her. She cruelly manipulates her admirers driving them to murder, suicide, and insanity. Tomie’s hair is sinisterly sentient, and she can regenerate and clone herself from her disembodied body parts. Tomie has inspired nine films, In Gyo, a mysterious intelligent “death stench” seems to be reanimating dead sea creatures using metal from sunken battleships to construct walking machines to propel the rotting creatures in their attacks on humans. Gyo is the subject of an anime film. Ito’s masterpiece is Uzumaki, a Lovecraftian tale of a town obsessed with spirals, adapted for film in 2000. Uzumaki brings together all of Ito’s themes: body disgust, the breakdown of the individual and the corresponding social order, inexplicable natural processes, and the fathomless horrors of the compulsive mind. Ito’s artwork is disarmingly stark yet brutally effective, illustrating a meaningless universe where his Kafkaesque characters are tortured for no discernible reason.
11. Tom Sutton
One of the most prolific horror comic artists ever, Tom Sutton produced amazing work for Marvel, DC, Warren, Skywald, and Charlton Comics. Hating “fascist superheroes,” Sutton started his career with “The Monster from One Billion BC” in Eerie #11 (1967) and was the first artist on Vampirella (1969). For Marvel, he drew for much of their horror line (Werewolf by Night, Ghost Rider, Doctor Strange, Man-Thing) and for DC worked on their anthology series House of Secrets and House of Mystery (in particular providing art for the “I … Vampire” serial). His best work was for Charlton, providing covers and interior art for Ghost Manor, Midnight Tales, Monster Hunters, and The Many Ghosts of Dr. Graves. Sutton’s style was a surrealistic pop art exaggerated Goya nightmare, perfectly suited for his Cthulhu inspired cover for Baron Weirwulf’s Haunted Library #55. What else do you expect from a guy who used the pseudonym Dementia?
10. Gene Colan
The master of Marvel horror, Gene Colan earned his stripes drawing Daredevil, Howard the Duck, and co-creating the Captain America sidekick, the Falcon. Yet it was his stellar work on the epochal Tomb of Dracula and Dr. Strange that stunned and scared comic fans in the 70’s. Along with his perfect compliments (master writer Marv Wolfman and inker Tom Palmer), Colan provided art for the entire 70 issue run of Tomb of Dracula, providing Marvel with its most enduring horror comic. Colan’s expressionistic work is all shadows and moods, dream-like yet horribly visceral at the same time. Colan brought his dark, distinctive style to DC where he began an acclaimed run on Batman and Detective Comics, as well as reteaming with his Dracula compatriot Marv Wolfman for a new series called Night Force. Night Force only lasted 14 issues, but it was a fun supernatural team book led by the mysterious Baron Winters. Gene seemed to be psychically connected to the king of the vampires: he and Wolfman created a new Tomb of Dracula series (with the great Al Williamson) entitled The Curse of Dracula. Colan even had connections to some beloved horror icons, co-creating Blade the Vampire Hunter, illustrating an adaptation of Clive Barker’s “The Harrowers” and providing artwork for Rob Zombie’s album Hellbilly Deluxe.
9. Hideshi Hino
The king of horror manga, Hideshi Hino used a terrible childhood (born in China to Japanese parents, he was nearly killed escaping Manchuria at the end of WW2) trying to survive in post war Japan to inform his ero-guro meets Walt Disney approach to art. His first published work was in 1967, and by 1971, his series “Hideshi Hino’s Shocking Theater” established him as the Edward Gorey of Japan. Hino’s cartoony child-like style only makes his subject matter (the malformed, the decaying, the unnatural) all the more disturbing. In particular, his work for Shojo manga (comic books for teenage girls) such as Dead Little Girl and Ghost School are sickeningly hideous but weirdly endearing at the same time. Not content to just repulse through the comics medium, Hino is also a filmmaker and scriptwriter. He has been extensively involved in the infamous Guinea Pig films (directing the truly demented Mermaid in a Manhole based on his own manga) and wrote the scripts for the six films based on his comics, collected under the umbrella title Hideshi Hino’s Theater of Horror. Hino is another artistic link in the chain that joins such Japanese radicals as Edogawa Rampo, Koji Wakamatsu, and Yukio Mishima.
8. Mike Ploog
Although Mike Ploog is an exceptional horror comic book artist, his best work was done for some of the most iconic fantastique films of the 80’s. Ploog’s work for Marvel on Man Thing, Monster of Frankenstein, and Werewolf by Night set the standard for the new vanguard of comic artists in the 70’s. Drawing from fine art, underground comix, and pulp illustrators, Ploog’s style combined the detailed work of Will Eisner and Wally Wood with the over the top European innovators as showcased in Heavy Metal. He was the initial artist for Ghost Rider, and there is still some question of who created the demonic biker’s distinctive flaming skull (Ploog, writer Gary Friedrich, and editor Roy Thomas have all claimed credit). Though Ploog’s art for Marvel was wonderful, his work for movies (storyboards, preproduction and post production work for Ghostbusters, Ralph Bakshi’s The Lord of the Rings, Hey Good Lookin’, Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker, Superman II, Little Shop of Horrors, Dark Crystal, and Labyrinth) has been unreal. In particular, his conceptual designs for Wizards and John Carpenter’s The Thing are a testament to an imagination feed, nurtured, and ripened in horror comics.
That's it for part 1. Be sure to look for part 2 later this week!