Written by Mike Howlett (with an introduction by Stephen R. Bissette)
Published by: Feral House
Released on: 11/30/2010
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Hey kids, like comics? Of course you do. Remember Eerie Publications? No? That’s okay. No one would blame you if you didn’t, not even Mike Howlett, who wrote a three hundred and fifty page full color hardcover book on the shadiest of the shady publishers. Not a collection of reprinted stories from Eerie’s heyday (which were, in turn, pilfered from the pre-code horror comics of the fifties for the most part) but an insightful and frequently fascinating examination of the publisher’s bizarre history and main man, Myron Fass, The Weird World of Eerie Publications starts out by laying the groundwork for what would come with a quick but efficient opening bit about how EC, Ajax and loads of other comic book publishers pushed the envelope in the fifties before getting slapped hard and dirty with the formation of the CCA (Comics Code Authority), whose seal was required to get a book on the newsstands of the day. Keep in mind this all happened before direct sales outlets and comic book stores existed and newsstands were the primary form of distribution of the day.
Cut to the sixties where a New York based entrepreneur named Myron Fass decides to cash in on the success of Warren Publishing’s magazine sized horror comics (which were not susceptible to CCA standards) and forms Eerie Publications. While Warren brought out fantastic new art every month with contributions from the likes of legends such as Frank Frazetta, Bernie Wrightson, and a load of the former EC artists, Fass went the fast and easy route and just reprinted a lot of the old fifties gore stories, sometimes with added blood and cleavage in select panels to up the titillation factor. Throw in a garish and gory color cover over top of the cheap quality newsprint contents, and boom, you’ve got the Eerie formula for success.
There’s more to the Eerie story than just where Fass and company ripped off their content from or who wound up painting their covers, and Howlett’s book stays interesting because it goes there. We learn about Fass’ penchant for carrying a loaded pistol with him in the office and we learn about the mysterious South American artists whose work appeared in beautiful black and white between the color covers. Mysterious numbering tactics are explored and pontificated upon while as much background information as possible is given on the eccentric Fass and his crew.
How does it shape up? It makes for a truly fascinating read. You don’t have to be a comic fan to appreciate this (though it does definitely help) - any fan of gory imagery and horror in general will appreciate the MASSIVE selection of cover and panel art reproduced within the confines of the book – because this isn’t just a book about comics. By giving equal focus to Fass’ story as to the comics themselves, Howlett’s book turns out to be part history lesson, part biography lesson and part ‘what the fuck?’ lesson in how the comic book publishing world used to operate.
Written with a style that has enough self awareness that you know the writer is well aware of his subject’s standards of quality, Howlett makes no false pretenses about Eerie, but at the same time lets you into his head enough that you can understand what he likes about it and why. It’s infectious to a certain extent, and don’t be surprised if after you finish the book you start looking around online or at your local back issue dealer for a cheap Eerie book or two, though the collector market is starting to catch on. While it’s highly doubtful Fass’ stuff will ever fetch the sort of prices that Gaines’ EC books do, the cult of Eerie is starting to grow and Howlett’s book, the first published on the subject, will probably go a long way towards expediting that growth.
When asked about unleashing this horror upon an unsuspecting public, author Howlett had this to say:
Ian Jane - The obvious question is why Eerie? I get the appeal having read them in my younger days as well, but what was it that made you want to write a massive book on such a universally maligned publisher?
Mike Howlett - I am very interested in the history of comics and learning about the creators. Every time I grabbed an Eerie Pub, I realized that I knew nothing about them at all! So, I pretty much started this thing just trying to find out who would put out such bizarre and sometimes crappy magazines. The deeper I dug, the more interesting it became. I have satisfied MOST of my own curiosity about the company, but there's still much more to uncover... some day!
IJ - You probably could have taken the easy way out and just tried to publish an artbook, what with all the awesome Eerie covers you feature inside your book. Did this ever cross your mind or was it always meant to be a history of the publisher?
MH - I actually started this as a potential article for Peter Normanton's UK fanzine FROM THE TOMB. After a few months of research, I started to think that it would be too huge for an article and, with much more that I'd planned to try to uncover, a book was going to be a real possibility.
I love story and art collections, but I'd never be the one to put it together. I'm more interested in comic history (i.e. a real geek) than picking stories, so it was never a consideration.
IJ - You managed to track down a couple of people involved with Eerie for the book - how tough was it to find people willing to talk about their work?
MH - Well, Dick Ayers was no problem! The man is such a sweetheart a LOVES to talk! Some of the people that I found, however, didn't want to talk at all, saying that they were still trying to forget about the time! One guy said that, even knowing that Fass was dead, he was reluctant to talk about him!
The Argentine artists were very easy to talk to, once I found them. Oswal, Torre Repiso and Martha Barnes have become very good friends over the years and they are thrilled to have their work more or less introduced to a US audience.
Dick Ayers put it best about ripping off old 50s comics for storylines... he says that he didn't mind doing them... "that was Myron's problem... not mine"!
IJ - Are all those cover images from your own collection? Do you really own everything? How long did it take you?
MH - Yes, unless otherwise noted, every image is from my collection. Over the 6 years that the book was being compiled, I was buying magazines and comics from all over the world, trying to get the best selection of covers and panels. To complete my Eerie Pub collection (I THINK it's complete!), it took roughly a decade... unless you count the ones that I have left over from my youth, in which case it took about 35 years!
IJ - As an Eerie collector, what's the most you've ever paid for one of their books?
MH - For an Eerie mag, the most I ever paid was about $20. People often complain about the scarcity of the mags and the high cost when they can be found, but I've never had that problem. Then again, many of my comics are in extremely low grade.
MH - For images for the book, I went a bit more... the Cirilo Muñoz painting was about $400 and the copy of SUSPENSE was $150. Anything for the book! (Don't even ask about the new Dick Ayers strip!)
For more information on Mike Howlett’s The Weird World of Eerie Publications: Comic Gore That Warped Millions of Young Minds check out the Feral House website by clicking here!