Tuesday, April 23, 2024

HORRORS FOUND LURKING IN AN ATTIC! A Groovy Guest Post by Jasper Bark

Greetings, Groove-ophiles! How about this: my pal and amazing author Jasper Bark decided to share an unbelievable Groovy Age comicbook find exclusively with the Diversions! (Well, okay, he shared some other stuff from his fab and fortunate find with Down the Tubes and Tripwire, but the treasure below is exclusive to DotGK, okay?) Anyway, we hope you really, really dig Jasper's excellent essay and awesome intro to a very unique tale. Maybe one of you Groove-ophiles out there can help him answer the burning question, "Who is R. L. Carver?"

When I helped the family of a deceased friend sell the comic collection he stashed in his huge four room attic, I was reminded of what a great time The Groovy Age was for horror comics. 

It’s fair to say that horror comics were going through a renaissance in the Groovy Age. Which was a relief for horror comics fans, because things had looked bleak for the decade and half before. By the mid 50s, the Kefauver hearing, which looked into the connection between comics and juvenile delinquency, had made horror comics public enemy number one. While books like Seduction of the Innocent and the formation of the Comics Code Authority drove a stake through their heart. From 1955 onwards, horror comics were chased from the newsstands likes ghosts exorcised from a haunted house.

But one thing horror comics teach us is that the monster always comes back. There’s often a loyal acolyte willing to gather fresh blood for his unholy master. Or a gang of thrill-seeking teens who’ll fire up a Ouija board for cheap kicks. In the Groovy Age, it was a maverick magazine publisher who brought horror comics back from the dead.

James Warren published the first monster mag, Famous Monsters of Filmland and helped to create the ‘Monster Kids’ craze of the 60s and 70s. He thought there might still be a market for horror comics, and he realized he could get around the Comics Code Authority’s ban on horror by producing a black and white magazine. Thus were born Creepy and Eerie, two of the most successful and influential publications of the Groovy Age.

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but James Warren saw the wave of imitators who followed in Creepy’s wake as carpetbaggers trying to muscle in on his market. Initially his biggest competitor was Israel Waldman who, with Marvel’s former production manager Sol Brodsky, formed Skywald Publications. At first, Skywald’s magazines, Psycho and Nightmare were straight copies of Warren’s magazines. However, when editor Al Hewestson took over and instigated what he called the Horror Mood, Skywald published some of the most exciting and innovative horror comics of the Groovy Age.

Not everyone who tried to cash in on the black and white horror market was as good as Warren though. Myron Fass was a former comic artist turned publisher who made a fortune putting out cheap magazines to cash in on whatever trend was popular at the time. He wanted to release a black and white horror comic magazine called Eerie at the same time as Warren did. As they shared a distributor this caused problems.

Warren’s solution was to trick the distributor into thinking he had already released a comic called Eerie. A few days before his meeting with Fass and the Distributor, to hash out who could have the name, he had 100 copies of Eerie #1 mocked up, using reprints from Creepy. He bribed newsstands all around his office to display them. When the distributor arrived, Warren was able to point to the copies as proof he’d already published a comic called Eerie and so he won the name, much to Fass’s chagrin. This is why Warren’s run of Eerie starts with issue #2.

Fass subsequently named his company Eerie Publications to spite Warren. To hide the evidence of his deception, Warren destroyed all but 10 of these ashcan copies of Eerie #1. Ironically, shortly before Al Hewetson became the editor of his biggest rival, Warren gave one of these 10 copies to him, in return for an original Charles Schultz drawing.

Eerie Publications reprinted old horror comics from the 1950s that were in the public domain. They produced them in black and white in a magazine format and, to appeal to the lowest common denominator, they added extra gore to many of the panels. When he ran out of inventory to print and reprint, Fass hired cheaper, Latin American artists to redraw the same stories with even more gore and 70s fashions. Eerie Publications may have their detractors, but there is also a certain pulpy satisfaction to be gained from their gleeful excesses.

Fass did, very occasionally, include original stories, and so did his former business partner, Stanley Harris, who split with Fass to set up his own publishing company. I found this out recently, when I chanced upon a couple of old engraver’s proofs in the attic of the friend I mentioned who had just passed.

I helped my friend’s family catalogue and sell his huge collection and, in return for my help, they let me keep a few things. I wrote about the full story for the British comics website Down The Tubes. Engraver’s proofs are uncut and unbound pages that a printer runs off for a publisher before a full print run.

These proofs appeared to be for Weird Chills #4 by Key Publications from 1954 and Chilling #6 by the aforementioned Stanley Publications. When I did a bit of digging I was excited to find that neither title had been published and I might have the only copies that still existed. This excitement died down when I found they were both full of reprints. All except for three stories which appear to be written and drawn by a mysterious artist and writer called R. L. Carver.

I’ve been able to find very little information on this artist. However, about 10 years ago, I wrote an article about an equally obscure artist called Bill Alexander for the This Is Horror website, and his widow reached out to me on social media. So I thought I’d try the same thing for R. L. Carver.

I’m casting my net wide so, in addition to the article for Down The Tubes I mentioned above, I also shared one of the pre-code stories with the website Tripwire which you can read here. As the last story came from the Groovy Age, I felt it was natural to reach out to my good friend Lloyd Smith, who we all know and love as Groove, renowned blogger and talented creator of the Blue Moon Comics line.

Below is the last known story to be attributed to artist who signs themselves as R. L. Carver. It’s called Tipping The Scales and it has a very dark sense of humor, no more than you’d expect from a horror comic. If anyone has any information on them and their work, could you please contact me at jasperbark@gmail.com

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Special thanks to Mike's Amazing World of Comics and Grand Comics Database for being such fantastic resources for covers, dates, creator info, etc. Thou art treasures true!

Note to "The Man": All images are presumed copyright by the respective copyright holders and are presented here as fair use under applicable laws, man! If you hold the copyright to a work I've posted and would like me to remove it, just drop me an e-mail and it's gone, baby, gone.

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