This week’s Cool Comic is actually a book about comics…really bad comics, but it’s a really good book. Let me explain: “The Weird World of Eerie Publications” by Mike Howlett, with a very funny introduction by horror comics master, Stephen Bissette, is a detailed history, complete with many colorful anecdotes, of a publishing empire headed by Myron Fass, a man who embodied everything schlocky and sleazy about the world of publishing.
The comic books that are the center of this book, including Fass’s flagship title, “Weird” were cheesy knockoffs of Warren Publishing’s “Creepy” and “Eerie.” Working with a much lower budget, Fass simply reprinted or re-drew old horror comics from the days before the Comics Code Authority forced publishers to water down the gore. Since the magazines Fass published, like the Warren books he was aping, were magazine-sized, they were not subject to the Comics Code, and could get away with anything that the newsstands would allow.
To give you an idea of the quality of comics were talking about, let’s say that the cinematic equivalent of Warren Publishing was Rod Serling. Warren employed top artists and writers like Frank Frazetta, Archie Goodwin, Reed Crandall, Don McGregor, Rich Corben and other masters of the form, who loved working with the creative freedom offered by getting out from under the comics code.
Eerie Publications, Fass’s company, was more like Ed Wood. Their top name was Carl Burgos, who had created The Human Torch for Marvel (then Timely Comics) back in 1939, and had pretty much seen his career spiral downward since. In the mid-1960s, Burgos had collaborated with Fass on what is widely considered one of the worst color comics ever published anywhere in the world, “Captain Marvel” (not the classic Fawcett Captain Marvel, nor the later Marvel Comics version, but an android who could send his body parts flying off in different directions by yelling his magic word, “Split.”).
By the time he’d teamed up with Fass, Burgos had completely mastered the art style of cranking out whatever was asked of him in a very short time and in as lurid a manner as possible. His early covers for “Weird” set the tone for the “Eerie Publications” line.
To be fair, “Eerie Publications” was just a small part of a publishing empire that Fass had started with backing from William Harris. They’d cranked out several quickie books that cashed in on popular fads and movies–everything from fan magazines devoted to The Beatles and other bands to girlie mags, humor, crime, martial arts, guns and in the late 1970s, Elvis and UFOs.
Howlett has done an incredible job of unraveling the labyrinthine history of the Fass publishing empire, and he treats us to a portrait of a man for whom, “colorful character” is just too much of an understatement. Myron Fass, it seems, was a gun-toting lunatic, with ties to the mob and odd friendships with celebrities like Jayne Mansfield. He was a sleazy businessman, and proud of it. He would recycle material dozens of times to fill up his cheap exploitation mags, and he didn’t pay his writers or artists very much for it.
Fass had begun his career as a cartoonist, working in the comics industry late in the golden age, but he’d made the jump to publishing in the 1950s, and knew how to maximize his profits while cranking out loads of magazines. Howlett paints a detailed portrait of a psychotronic paranoid sociopath. Recently on Facebook, Howlett mentioned that, even years after Myron Fass passed away, some of his old writers and artists were afraid to talk about him.
The history of a successful independent magazine publisher is worth the price of the book alone, but Howlett also exhaustively researches the comics of Eerie Publications. Let me tell you something about these comics…THEY’RE AWFUL! I mean, among the hundreds of comic books stories published by Eerie Pubs during their run there are a few “gems” that stand out, but even those are pretty bad. These are Ed Woodian horror comics. And that’s their charm.
Left without much in the way of good writing or art, Eerie Pubs ratcheted up the gore. At times the gore is so over-the-top that it can only evoke laughter. Heads are chopped off with one deft stroke, eyes popping out of its sockets. Female corpses have their limbs removed, always very neatly, with just the right about of bone and tissue hanging out. Nubile young women with ripped clothes are menaced by Vampires, Zombies, Wolfmen, sometimes all three, with the Frankenstein monster looking on.
One chapter of the book is devoted to the way Fass would recycle cover art, having it touched up with more gore or less, depending on the prevailing standards of the newsstands at the time. Stories were recycled too, occasionally with the same pre-code story being assigned to different artists to re-draw at the same time.
There were some good artists working for the Eerie Pubs line. Journeymen like Chic Stone and Dick Ayers brought a higher-level of craft to their stories and covers, and a few of the army of South American artists that Fass employed turned in some very good work. There were also a few beautifully-painted covers that Fass purchased at a cut-rate from a European clip-art service. But for the most part, the ineptitude and hackwork seen in these stories are the selling point. If Mystery Science Theater had covered comic nooks, these are the comics they would have used.
“The Weird World of Eerie Publications” tells the story of all of this, and follows the fortunes of Fass after he split with Harris (who went on to greater success, purchasing Warren Publishing and releasing magazines like KING).
Howlett relates all this in a very entertaining manner. Even though it’s loaded with detail and an incredible amount of information, ranging from the publishing histories of all the Fass comic titles to biographies of the largely-unknown artists, this is a fun read. There’s even a new story, done in the Eerie Pubs style, with art by 86-year-old Dick Ayers.
It’s easy to trace the history of the mainstream comics publishers like DC or Marvel, but to have such an exhaustive history of what would otherwise be forgotten roadkill on the comic book highway is rare indeed. Plus it’s filled with color reprints of the most gory and lurid of the Eerie Pubs covers. That alone makes it a wonderful holiday gift!
“The Weird World Of Eerie Publications” by Mike Howlett, with an introduction by Stephen R. Bissette, can be found at Amazon, or ordered locally from Taylor Books. ISBN: 978-1-932595-87-1