Four Color Fear: delightful horror comics from the pre-Code era

Fantagraphics' collection Four Color Fear: Forgotten Horror Comics of the 1950s, edited by Greg Sadowski, is a wonderfully creepy hurtle through the exuberant, cheerfully gross and icky horror comics that prevailed in the golden, pre-Comics-Code era. Four Color Fear focuses on the B-list comics, the non-EC titles that most of us have never seen in reprint before, and features hand-picked gems that range from outright psychedelia to gothic grossburgers full of shambling zombies, flying heads, puckered walls of human-devouring flesh, bogeys, creepies, crawlies and madness.

Most of these are morality plays of some kind, but they feature funny lessons — stories where the wronged wreak terrible, poetic vengeance on the wicked and walk away scott free; as well as plenty of tales in which the wicked get their comeuppance and everyone involved is punished alongside of them. There is exposition in plenty, and lots of the sort of surprise ending that Damon Knight called "Jar of Tang stories" ("For you see, we are all living in a jar of Tang!").

Whatever the merits or demerits of the story, the art is brilliant: indistinct piles of slimy viscera, purple-green zombies, skull-faced vampires and demons, Satan in a dozen guises, witches and occult symbols, creatures from the eleven hells of the darkest mythos of the human spirit. This is the stuff that's drawn me like a moth to a flame for as long as I can remember, the Basil Wolverton-y, Big Daddy Roth-y, Marc Davis-y, Elvira-y spookhouse stuff that makes no apologies for its exploitative nature (Fantagraphics has a great Flickr set of images from the book, and I've put some of my favorites after the jump).

And if you need some scholarship with your atavistic thrills, have no fear: the fascinating endnotes that close the book are filled with sharp analysis and great context for these forgotten treasures.

Four Color Fear: Forgotten Horror Comics of the 1950s