August 30, 2008

The Skeleton Wore Bones!

I hate comic books. Sure Spiegelman and Herge are great and I haven't read Moore but I'm sure he's great, too, and blah blah blah. Aside from Tintin the only comic books I really read were from that one as yet unredeemed genre; war comics. The British ones can be fairly sophisticated but the American ones (Our Fighting Forces featuring the Losers I'm looking at you) are wholly without merit, wallowing in puerile violence and foolishly simplistic "manly" ethics. Attempts to salvage the lost pleasures of youth in kickball or skateboards are one thing but if Hipsters ever try to co-opt Sgt. Rock then they'll get what they deserve.

But I do LOVE comic book covers! The horror comics of the seventies, Eerie and Creepy are particular favorites but I can get lost for hours browsing any number of titles and publishers and eras. Old Captain Marvel covers are kind of astonishing kitsch artifacts on their own. Girls' Love Stories offers a grim glimpse of female life from the 40s to the 70s, all revolving around one simple theme, "You are not good enough!"

Repetition, in fact, is the prevailing mode of many titles, which I'm sure comes as no surprise, it makes sense given the low costs and high outputs involved. One especially charming example struck me the other day as I was looking over the covers of Dark Mysteries, a minor title beginning publication in 1951.

This is the fourth cover:


A theme begins to take rough shape in this one. Graveyard, re-animated skeleton, shocked acquaintances of the deceased. But something's missing, only hinted at. Revenge! Revenge most cheap and cheesy!

Here is issue 12:


Ah, good. Now it's clear we're cooking with vengeance! Apparently Mitt and Cindy are directly implicit in Ol' Jack's burial.

Issue 14:


Sure, sure, getting there. This guy's definitely up to no good. But still...

Issue 15:


Right, right, that's it. Have to make clear the Reagans are directly responsible for Harry's demise. Perfect. Run with it.

Issue 16:


What do you mean "we," white man? But it's a point well taken. I only worry if the graveyard isn't, you know, too obvious for a skeleton revenge killing. A certain percentage of unjust murders must take place away from graveyards, right?

Issue 18:


Problem solved. Those who once thought they were safe from the next world's justice now know the facts: these bones have legs.

Issue 20:


Even spooky castles aren't safe for guys who bear more than a passing resemblance to L. Ron Hubbard. According to the text a dishonest executioner. Hoist by his own engrams. Also note the exact duplication of the victim's plea, "No..No...Don't kill me! I don't want to die!"

But from this point on Dark Mysteries strayed from their skeleton revenge covers. The next four issues don't even have any skeletons on the cover at all. Little wonder those were their four last and publication ceased in 1955 after only 24 issues.

If you'd like to learn more about the hilarious antics of our sordid past look it up in your local internet. I recommend these sites (not to get too Boing-Boingy):
The Cover Browser (best cover site)
Comic Database (with pictures!)
and the rest
Comic Covers
Buffalo University Library Comics Collection

Posted by TG Gibbon


You may like this link, too. It's a collection of book covers from The War of the Worlds, going back to 1898:


You call those "covers," Deborah? Where are the skeletons???

Issue 15:

"Wait... Harry's come back from the dead!" - the "Not tonight, honey, I have a headache" of 1952.

The first cover in your list is eerily prophetic: showing John McCain standing in the very hole that "George" dug for himself (and the country) - and the stark terror that produces in any who witness it.

Deborah: Fantastic! I have a similar weakness for Sci-Fi/Horror covers. I've always liked Stewart Cowley's reusing them (they often had no relation to the books' content) to illustrate stories based on them.

JohnnyB: I think it's more the dead hand of the market dragging us into the grave we deserve for being such whiners. Wait, no I don't.

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