Sunday, February 27, 2011
As the 1960s neared a close, the comics companies found themselves under increasing pressure. As I have noted in the past, demographic changes caused by the birth control pill meant that their target market, kids from about 7-12 years old, was going to shrink dramatically during the 1970s, from a high of 25.6 million in 1968 to 21.7 million in 1976.
In addition, inflation was rearing its ugly head. While the effects of inflation on the elderly were well-reported, it caused similar (if less tragic) consequences to the young, who also survived on a fixed income (called an allowance). This forced the comics companies to prune their lines of their lower-selling titles. I noticed this a couple of weeks ago; when looking at the comics canceled in any one year, there was always a bulge just prior to a price increase. For example, DC shuttered nine titles between 1960 and 1961 (the price increase to 12 cents came in late 1961), but only seven titles from 1962-1967. In 1968 and 1969, DC canceled a whopping 17 titles.
The obvious solution was to cultivate a slightly larger slice of the demographic pie. But that was not without its difficulties. Going after older boys meant a combination of sex, horror and violence, but that would require substantial changes to the Comics Code Authority. In addition, the companies would find themselves facing competitors that had only recently staked out that territory for themselves.
One of those competitors was Warren Publishing. Warren had started out with Famous Monsters of Filmland, which mostly featured text and black and white photographs. In 1964, Warren introduced Creepy, and in 1966, Eerie. Both mags were obviously inspired by the EC horror comics of the 1950s, but they had several crucial differences. They were black and white, cost 35 cents, and (most important) they were magazine-sized, to get around the restrictions of the CCA.
They followed EC's format of having hosts who introduced and provided ending commentary on each story, usually with awful puns addressed to the "boys and ghouls" reading the magazine. Comics fans may not know that EC did not pioneer that concept; in fact it originated with Raymond, the host of Inner Sanctum radio show:
In 1969, Warren began publishing Vampirella, which followed the same format, with an interesting difference: the stories were introduced by beautiful, if somewhat threatening, females. Warren apparently paid well, as his magazines attracted some terrific talent.
The opening story features Evily as shown on the cover and here:
By today's standards, that's tame but in 1969 it was pretty risque. The story itself (like Evily) is silly and padded. She's having a party and her evil guests are all required to bring her the souls of the damned. But her cousin Vampirella shows up and in a magic duel turns her into her opposite: Good!
The second story concerns a trio of tomb raiders, threatened by the curse of Quetzalcoatl for stealing his treasures. Quetzalcoatl can turn himself into any winged creature, from birds:
To insects, and even (in the finale):
The third story features Vampirella herself. She comes down to New York City and auditions for the part of "Monsterella", which (not surprising) she wins, and is put on a flight to Hollywood. In this one, the writer (Forrest Ackerman) goes for the gross-out ending:
The fourth story concerns a movie producer whose last several films have flopped. He turns to his assistant who contacts a writer named Gorry Hackerman, who suggests combining horror and sex with attractive female monsters (sounds quite a bit like this magazine). The assistant discovers an actress who seems perfect for the role, and the producer and his new starlet go on to create several huge hits. But when he confesses that he loves her, she has a secret to reveal:
The next story very much fits the old EC style. A man has discovered a well filled with monsters and wants to explore the area to see where the monsters come from. Perhaps his brother, who has an inheritance (and two young children) could finance things. The kids are frightened of the well and Uncle Carl, but Dad promises them he will always protect them. On a dive to explore the area around the well, Uncle Carl eliminates Dad:
But when he tries to kill the kiddies, he slips in the well himself and is killed by a giant octopus. But somehow his spirit takes over the monster, which goes after the children. But Dad arrives and saves them:
The next story is something of a rip-off of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, which was later made into the movie Blade Runner. An android whose purpose is to destroy renegade androids falls in love with one. They are judged by a panel of robots who reach a split decision. They are set free in a deserted area. But it turns out to be ground zero for a nuclear test and the two androids are found fused together.
The finale is called Rhapsody in Red, and it's a reworking of the biggest cliche in horror: couple out for a drive during a storm, flat tire, was that a castle we passed back there, oh, did I scare you by mentioning the vampires in the vicinity...
But if the story's a trifle stale, the art (credited to Billy Graham?) is transcendent:
Overall I'd rate the stories as just okay. They're done in the EC style, but just don't quite have the bite of those stories; the twist ending is never quite twisted enough. The art is gorgeous, and I'd suspect that the teens this magazine was aimed at loved the product.