Horror once ruled the roost when it came to comics. Back in the ’40s and ’50s EC Comics dominated the market with books like Tales From The Crypt and The Vault Of Horror, but after the hysteria whipped up by Freric Wertham lead to the Comics Code, rules were specifically written to kill horror comics. That didn’t stop Warren Publishing from coming along in the mid ’60s and resurrecting the genre with anthology magazines like Creepy and Eerie.
Creepy combined many elements found in its predecessor’s works, like a pun-loving host in Uncle Creepy and fantastic artists, but avoided EC’s near obsession with endings that were sometimes too clever for their own good. The stories were drawn in moody black and white by legends like Reed Crandall, Al Williamson, Frank Frazetta, Jack Davis, Angelo Torres, Joe Orlando, Gray Morrow and Alex Toth and mostly written by legendary editor and writer Archie Goodwin with a few other folks along for the ride.
Several years ago, Dark Horse started an ambitious reprint project, presenting hardcover collections of Creepy in five issue chunks. Here’s a look at the legendary horror comic’s first five issues from 1964 and the ten best, scariest, weirdest and most innovative stories that still give us the willies five decades after they were originally published, presented in chronological order.
10. “Voodoo” (Creepy #1)
Creepy kicked off with a stellar tale called “Voodoo” written by Russ Jones and Bill Pearson with art by Joe Orlando that features a drunk husband and a bored wife living in Haiti, dark and atmospheric looks at voodoo and not one but two shrunken heads.
Frank’s inattentiveness leads Sylvia into the arms of the mystic religion of the island nation to the point where she brings home shrunken heads. When Frank hears his wife calling for him in the middle of the night after a big fight, he goes in search of her, only to lose his recently shrunken head in the process. We don’t know about you, but that seems like a really long way to go to get a little head, Sylvia.
9. “Werewolf” (Creepy #1)
Frank Frazetta also got in on the action for the first issue of Creepy. “Werewolf,” which was penned by Larry Ivie, doesn’t necessarily break new ground when it comes to storytelling, but it sure gave Frazetta a lot of great visuals to work with. Demmon, a great white hunter in Africa and a grade-A asshat, is tasked with hunting down the seemingly mythical werewolf. Of course, when Demmon finally fells his furry opponent, he gets turned into a werewolf himself!
Sure, you’ve probably heard or seen a story like this before – it’s the origin of Marvel’s Gorilla Man, for one – but the real beauty of this piece is seeing Frazetta get to do his craggy, ugly, horrific thing. He made Demmon just as ugly on the outside as he is on the inside, but even he can’t hold a candle to some of the werewolf images conveyed in ths six-page story. We might not have seen them directly on display, but Frazetta’s wolfman had more nards than most other versions seen before and after it.
8. “Bewitched” (Creepy #1)
One of the great things about these old school horror anthology collections is seeing all these great artists back-to-back. Frank Frazetta’s “Werewolf” is immediately followed in the first issue of Creepy by another Larry Ivie story, this one drawn by Gray Morrow, who co-created Man-Thing. “Bewitched” mixes a bonkers story about a guy messing around with witches with Morrow’s insanely good pencils – which drafted witches, specters, a ridiculously trippy dream sequence and, as you’d expect, a dinosaur.
The story’s lead finds a book in his house about witches. While reading, he discovers that burning holly leaves on a certain hill will kill a witch. Instead of just chuckling at this like a normal person, he goes to a florist, grabs a bundle of holly sticks and treks to the hill. After lighting one, he hears a disembodied howl that sends him running. Back at his house, he has a crazy dream where he tries to find a bomb and face off against a dinosaur.
After waking up he discovers that the witches gave his daughter and every other girl in town a voodoo doll of him along with a batch of gigantic pins. It’s as crazy and awesome and beautiful as it sounds, but clearly, the moral of the story is to set all of your holly on fire at the same time to take care of these vindictive witches once and for all.
7. “Fun & Games” (Creepy #2)
The second issue of Creepy starts much the same as the first with a story depicting a husband and wife who hate each other (a running theme in these books, really). In the case of “Fun & Games,” though, Harry and Phyllis live in your average city. You know, the kind of city with a Penny Arcade run by a top hat-wearing hunchback, with a secret shooting game where the target looks like whoever you’re mad at.
A real mind-bender from writer Archie Goodwin and artist Joe Orlando, this story goes where you might expect: Harry goes all Scarface on what he thinks is a dummy of his wife only to return home and find her bullet-riddled body on the living room floor. But that’s not the end. Harry returns to the arcade where the hunchback sends him through a doorway that leads him onto the shooting gallery…where Phyllis stands ready to blow him away. It’s the kind of ending that would make David Lynch scratch his head, but that’s what makes it rad!
6. “Wardrobe Of Monsters” (Creepy #2)
“Wardrobe of Monsters” – from Creepy #2 – starts off a little dubiously with a group of museum workers checking out sarcophagi from Pharaoh Ank-Ummem’s tomb that housed strange, lifeless synthetic creatures resembling a winged vampire, a wolfman, a devilment and a Frankenstein’s monster. Which is crazy considering they were buried thousands of years before most of those characters were thought up.
Anyway, eventually Arnold Baxter figures out what they really were: bodies ready for a consciousness to jump into. Using each one of the monster forms, Baxter bumps off his fellow discoverers in an attempt to retain all the power for himself. It’s a pretty unique idea from Captain Marvel chronicler Otto Binder and artist Gray Morrow, featuring a different monster attack on each page. But the real kicker comes at the end when Ank-Ummem takes over Baxter’s body, leaving him the Wardrobe of Monsters to wear for eternity! That might not seem so bad at first, except that from the looks of things, they’re about as anatomically correct as a Ken doll.
5. “Tell-Tale Heart” (Creepy #3)
Adaptations are pretty expected when dealing with a book like Creepy. You’re talking about a 50 page comic packed with six to eight page stories, many of which were written by one man: Archie Goodwin. So, taking a look at the ol’ bookshelf for inspiration wasn’t beyond reason. As a result, the third issue of the magazine features Edgar Allan Poe’s “Tell-Tale Heart” adapted by Goodwin and Reed Crandall. It’s a sped-up version of the tale, certainly – Goodwin and Crandall told the tale of murder and the ensuing madness in eight pages – but still captured much of the intensity and building paranoia included in the original short story.
After killing his boss because of his creepy eye (really), butler Robert chops the body up and hides it under the floorboards. Driven mad by a thumping only he can hear, Robert eventually reveals his crime and goes to an asylum where he defenestrates himself with extreme prejudice. Crandall did a killer job of showing Robert’s growing madness throughout the pages, throwing in more line-work than all of Image circa 1992 and (we assume) got it in completely on time.
4. “Haunted” (Creepy #3)
What’s a guy to do when he’s willed a potentially haunted hotel from his uncle? If you’re Mr. George from “Haunted” by Archie Goodwin and Gray Morrow, you call in your cousin, your lawyer and a ghost hunter named Trask to check it out. As these things tend to go, Mr. George comes across a number of spooky things like a blood soaked gun, an equally bloody bed with a hatchet lodged into it and a floating female ghost. Luckily for George, Trask figures out that the lawyer and cousin are trying to scare George off so they can buy the place on the cheap.
As far as haunted house stories go, this one’s pretty standard, though it’s definitely elevated by Marrow’s detailed and creepy artwork. But it’s got a last-page reveal that leaves the writer scratching their head and wanting more: Trask taking his skin off to reveal that he’s a ghoul himself! It’s such a cool unveiling that you wish it actually happened in the beginning of the story because you’re left wanting so much. It’s the equivalent of spending all of A Nightmare on Elm Street with an odd janitor only find out he’s a dream-hopping murderer right before the credits roll.
3. “Return Trip!” (Creepy #3)
Short story writer Arthur Porges got in on the Creepy action in the third issue when he wrote a story called “Return Trip!” illustrated by Joe Orlando. Giving the reader plenty to think about, this yarn features murdered scientist Arthur Forrest not only returning from the dead, but taking three years to get out of his grave. Considering his wife Gloria and his best friend Fred Mason killed him, you’d think Arthur would have one thing on his mind: double homicide. And sure, he takes Fred out with his bare, bone-revealing hands, but when it comes to Gloria, he wants one simple thing: to spend the rest of his afterlife with her. The story ends with zombie Arthur landing a huge kiss on Gloria.
“Return Trip” is a little more cerebral than some of the other Creepy stories, but it gives you plenty of room to imagine all the terrible things Arthur had to go through and the less than comfortable life he intends to make for his wife. Can you imagine waking up next to that worm-eaten mug every day? It’d be like constantly looking at a scab with scabies that wants to plant a wet one on you all the time?
2. “Untimely Tomb” (Creepy #5)
One of the best stories in the first collection of Creepy offerings happens to be one that contains no supernatural elements. “Untimely Tomb” was written by Archie Goodwin with artwork by Angelo Torres and features a man named Stanford convinced that his pronounced-dead sister is still alive in the castle’s basement. When Doctor Beamish finally gets there to check it out with him, they discover that his sister really was alive, but died of fright down in the family crypt!
Intent on destroying the doctor’s reputation, Stanford tells the townspeople what happened, but also harasses Beamish in person. One such outburst leads to retaliation from the good doctor, who accidentally kills the man with his cane. Beamish later realizes that Stanford wants to be interred in the mausoleum next to his house.
Convinced he can hear Stanford in the crypt, Beamish investigates in the dark where he winds up dying of fright. At the very end the audience comes to find that Stanford wasn’t even in the tomb – meaning Beamish basically killed himself with fright. “Untimely Tomb” came across as a really good Hammer horror film told in seven pages that’s better than 90% of the horror films released in theaters.
1. “Sand Doom” (Creepy #5)
The first five issues of Creepy are packed with stories set in mostly gothic and modern settings, but “Sand Doom” went a completely different route by taking place in a desert. Archie Goodwin and EC mainstay Al Williamson joined forces to tell the tale of Whitey, an arms-dealer who sells faulty weapons to the locals and abandons his friend in the hot, sandy wasteland to save his own hide. While wandering the desert, Whitey spies a mysterious woman who leads him to a hidden underground vault filled with treasure.
Driven by greed, Whitey fills the woman with lead and even avoids the snakes who guard the treasure. Or so he thought. Just as it seems like the bad guy is going to win again, he got back into the open air and immediately turns into a snake himself thanks to the cursed treasure. The panel Williamson drafted of Whitey turning into a snake not only looks perfectly creepy to this day, but should also accompany the definition of “politician” in every dictionary going forward.
Happy Halloween, Roboteers!
Previously by TJ Diestch