Monday, March 09, 2009

Review - Creepy Archives vol. 1

Creepy Archives vol. 1
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Hardcover, US $49.99

This is the first installment of an extended reprint project collecting the late 50s Warren horror magazines, Creepy and Eerie. Both were extensions of the EC horror format, particularly Tales From the Crypt, but there were a few notable differences. The most significant was that the Warren magazines were published in black and white, allowing many of the artists' stunning linework to take center stage. These books were also among the first post-Comics Code horror titles on the stands. This volume collects the first five issues of the magazine.

So what do I look for in a comics archive project?

First, is the quality of the art reproduction. I don't know whether the pages in this collection were shot from original artwork or scanned, but the line detail is sharp, and, to my eye, there are no signs of distortion or murkiness. The covers, four of which are by fantasy master Frank Frazetta, are also reproduced in full color, and look sharp and clear.

Second is completeness. The format of this book is similar to Gemstone's EC Archives collections. Not only are all 50 pages of story from each of the first five issues reprinted, but the letters pages and original house ads are also included. These might be the kind of details most people skip over, but for my dollar, I appreciate having the inside cover introductions, tables of contents and old ads for monster masks and Boris Karloff readings. The only thing missing are the magazine's original back covers, which are hardly essential.

Third are the bonus features. Here, the collection is a little lacking. The only special feature the archive includes is a single, three-page introduction by Comic Artist magazine’s Jon Cooke. Cooke’s overview is respectful, and provides decent background and context, but avoids delving deeper into the individual artists or stories. Other than this introduction, there are no additional materials, and that’s too bad. It would have been nice to see some of the artists commenting on their work (as was done in the EC Archives books), or the late Archie Goodwin, who wrote most of the stories (and who, Mr. Cooke goes to painstaking efforts to convey, was the nicest man who ever walked the planet), or some background on Mr. Warren himself, or the magazine’s impact, being the first significant revival of the EC formula following the establishment of the comics code authority. Of course, to be fair, there are future Creepy and Eerie Archives planned, so the opportunity for these kinds of materials still exists.

Fourth, and most importantly, is the quality of the material itself. Are these stories worth archiving, or is this just another attempt to repackage mediocre comics, as we have seen from Marvel and DC time and time again? Well, first of all, unlike many of the trade paperbacks that flood the shelves each week, these stories are not readily available in other formats. In fact, the original five issues of Creepy typically go for anywhere from $25 to $200 each on Ebay, and it’s highly unlikely that most people would spend that much money to read the issues (especially in the current economic recession). But as with most anthologies, the quality of the stories themselves are mixed. Some are fairly formulaic or too predictable, while others feature fascinating character snapshots or clever twist endings. Some highlights include Otto Binder’s "Adam Link" stories, Goodwin and Crandall’s Edgar Allen Poe adaptations and Frank Frazetta’s "Werewolf."

But, unlike most anthologies, the quality of the artwork is incredibly consistent throughout. These are some of the industry’s masters of horror storytelling at the top of their game. Al Williamson. Joe Orlando. Gray Morrow. Jack Davis. Frank Frazetta. Angelo Torres. Reed Crandall. If these names aren’t familiar to you, then you’re missing out on some of the most skilled draftsman in comics.

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