The Mammoth Book of Best Horror Comics

I recently purchased The Mammoth Book of Best Horror Comics, a collection of horror comics spanning the era before and after the Comics Code Authority was instated in 1954. Though I enjoy comics (as a kid I had a pretty good collection), I’ve kind of fallen out of sync with the comics world. I have friends and family who occasionally direct something fantastic my way, and I’m really interested in the medium, but this collection was the first comic material that I’ve purchased in about ten years (although I recently enjoyed and can highly recommend Jason Shiga’s online stuff, particularly Meanwhile, Fleep, and Bookhunter). I decided to pick up the Mammoth Book because I also just bought The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America and I wanted to do some brushing up on the works that caused the Comics Code Authority to be created in the first place. I think that the fear and uncomfortableness that the older generation sometimes feels about video games today very much mirrors the way that horror comics were viewed in the 1950s, so in the interest in understanding the present better, this stuff seems like pertinent knowledge.

I guess some people on Amazon were disappointed that The Mammoth Book of Best Horror Comics isn’t a full-color reproduction, but for $12 I can’t complain. The collection is filled with mostly obscure horror comics–48 in all–published between 1944 and 2004. About half of the comics are from the ’40s and ’50s, which is good because frankly, many of the later works are pretty dull. Nothing in the Mammoth Book is famous; there are no prints of well-known EC comics like Tales from the Crypt. I think that the book is a collection of whatever random works that the publishers were able to obtain the rights to for little or no cost; those looking for a collection of the most famous (and most controversial) horror comics from the last half-century will be disappointed. Each comic is introduced by the book’s editor, Peter Normanton, and describes the authors of the comic and the era in which it was published. Though Normanton clearly knows his stuff, his command of the English language is tenuous at best; after a couple of really annoyingly bad introductions, I skipped the rest and just stuck to the comics.

Despite its faults, the Mammoth Book does contain some really good comics. It’s fascinating to see the dramatic change in style and approach before and after the Comics Code; in some cases, the censorship seems to have actually improved the writing because authors were forced to use suggestion rather than all-out gore. The Monster of Dead End, which was published in 1962, is an excellent example of effective comic horror that doesn’t rely on melting faces or decapitations to get its point across. I also found it interesting that the tone of the earlier comics is much more depressing; though evil-doers often get what is coming to them, the endings of many of the 1950s era works are not uplifting or satisfying. The later books tend to play up the “you will reap what you have sown” approach to storytelling, where everything works itself out because all of the bad people have died and all of the good people have triumphed, but before the Comics Code Authority things didn’t always end quite so neatly. Though more recent tales like Over His Head (1983) began to experiment again with rather unpredictable stories, the dramatic difference between the 1950s and 1960s comics is really interesting.

So, while this is hardly a collection of the “best” horror comics, or even the most well-known horror comics, I enjoyed most of The Mammoth Book of Best Horror Comics. If you skip the introductions and stick to the comics and I think that collection is a really interesting example of how the medium progressed in terms of story telling technique and art style in the face of cultural fear and censorship. It’s hardly a definitive work, but as a (rather random) sampling of horror comics from the last fifty years, it’s not half-bad.

9 thoughts on “The Mammoth Book of Best Horror Comics

  1. Sounds great. Might actually pic it up, I like seeing how art forms and storytelling changed, and personally its good its not full of the most well known ones, mainly becouse its nice to see more unknown titles (personaly) in books, movies games and music. but great none the less.

    P.S. Chris, for some reason I cant register on the forums, the email never comes in, on any of my emails.

  2. > Red

    Be careful on the registration dialog; I’ve changed a few things to keep out the spam bots. If you still have trouble, e-mail me your user name and I can activate your account manually.

  3. > varjabot

    I have The Walking Dead! My brother hooked me up with it last year. It’s not bad!

  4. I’d second The Walking Dead. Excellent series. The paperback collections are pretty inexpensive too and actually filled with content rather than ads and previews like some other series*

    *30 Days of Night :/

  5. personally, I realy liked the Creep show comics.

    what realy got me hooked was the Movie adaptation a while back when I was a kid, scarred the heck out of me with the giant ape thing under the stairs, gave me nightmares, lol.

    Though it may not be scarry, or the scarriest, it is meant to be scary. And there just a good read.

  6. I grew up reading Tales from the crypt and the vault of horror comics. I loved those things so much (wish I still had them around). This was before I even saw the HBO show (which was both cheesy and fun at the same time). It had excellent and creepy artwork and some decent stories. I’d love to take a look at a collection of those sometime.

    The volume you found looks pretty good. If I run into it, I’ll take a look myself. Btw, did you buy it on Amazon or in a bookstore?

    Also, I third the Walking Dead comics, they are absolutely great! I lost my volumes of them, but I remember how good the artwork and storytelling is. Do they even make more or did they stop it?

  7. Some of these stories were adapted into multi-story movies. I know there’s one about a psycho dressed as Santa Claus. Joan Collins plays a woman who murders her husband to get his life insurance, while their daughter is suppost to be sleeping upstairs. But she later lets Santa in, and he proceeds to kill her. In the mean time, several other people are trapped in catacombs, and a druid tells them what they did that lead to their deaths. I believe there are a few other tales based on the comics that appeared in that film, including “Blind Alleys” which has to be seen to believed, lol.

  8. Walking dead is great. Also check out the EC Archives. They are reprinting all of the old EC comics in big hardback books. I have three of them and they are really something else. They have intros by John Carpenter, Steven Spielburg and George Lucas, as well as articles on how they were written and general history of the series. They run for about 49.99 though, but I suggest you check them out.

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