In late 1949 EC started publishing horror comics such as ‘Crypt of Terror’ and ‘Vault of Horror’. The extreme, graphic violence of these quickly made them best sellers, and other publishers began producing their own gruesomeness. The early fifties horror boom was on, lasting until 1954 when the comics industry came up against a Senate investigation and the subsequent Comics Code Authority. While they lasted, the terror titles unleashed a horde of walking, rotting corpses not seen again until the present day. Much of the material was crude, with mediocre artwork and poor writing. One of the exceptions is Harvey Publications (who later released “Casper the Friendly Ghost’ and ‘Wendy the Good Little Witch’, perhaps to atone for all the unfriendly ghosts and evil witches). Their output, though not up to EC standards, is still an axe cut above the rest. Their best horror title is ‘The Witches Tales’, distinguished by the work of four artists.
Born in England Lee was brought to the US while still a child. He studied at the Cooper Union and the Art Students League in New York, where he developed a style reminiscent of Milton Caniff of ‘Terry and the Pirates’ fame. In 1943 he began work for Fiction House, and, in 1946 moved over to Harvey where he drew Black Cat, a female crime fighter in the Phantom Lady mold. One of his best Witches Tales issues is #8 where he did a great skeleton cover (above), and a truly creepy story called ‘Toys of Terror’.
You just can’t get good eyes anymore.
A witch finds three abandoned toys – a monkey, a dwarf clown and a female doll with missing eyes. She brings them to life, with the monkey becoming an ape and the doll an eyeless young girl. The witch wants vision for the girl, so she sends them all out to obtain the necessary organs, with their search having the expected gruesome results. An EC-style twist ending (which would become the norm) rounds out the tale.
From issue 3 Powell illustrates a story set in Tibet. Which explains why they didn’t get to Atlanta until 2010.
After attending the Pratt Institute in New York City Powell went to work for the Eisner/Iger Studio in the late Thirties. While there he did work for a number of publishers including Fiction House (Sheena, the Jungle Queen). Powell served in the Air Force during World War II, and opened his own studio on his return, contributing to Marvel and Harvey, among others. He has two good stories in Issue #6: ‘Green Horror’, about an ill-fated Amazon expedition, and ‘Servants of the Tomb’.
The Servants find themselves with a tall order.
Set in Western Asia, ‘Servants’ concerns a group of convicts condemned to live beneath a tomb and prepare corpses for burial.The body of a serial killer is delivered to them and one remembers a legend of how the murderer can be reanimated. The legend turns out to be true,and the convicts send the awakened corpse on a rampage. The Deus Ex Machina ending (the populace prayers calls down their God of Peace, who beats the monster to a pulp) is a letdown, but the art is great, especially the eerie scenes in the tomb.
A more than thirty year veteran of the comics field Palais started at the Howard A. Chesler shop in 1941, then went on to work for several publishers. Some of his best work was done for Quality, where he drew ‘Blackhawk’ and ‘Phantom Lady’. For twenty years he contributed to Gilberton’s Classics Illustrated series. His style is well suited to the stories he did for Witches Tales. Issue #5 contains a good example in the creepy “Curse of the Caterpillar” (see above). Even better is the gruesome “The Man With the Iron Face” in #12.
Just another day at the lab.
A doctor is experimenting on a way to make the human body invulnerable. The arrogant scientist works with noxious chemicals without a face mask and the fumes turn his body hard as iron. He discovers his power when he’s accidentally shot in the head; unfortunately. the bullets impact derange him and he kills his assistant. He also gets delusions of Superman like grandeur when he finds he can “… dent steel my bare hands”. He further tests his ability by allowing a subway car to run into him. The end comes when the fumes effects wear off and the self-abuse kicks in. Palais artwork actually gives EC’s ‘Ghastly’ Graham Ingels a run for his money.
It tolls for thee.
Nostrand started in comics later than the other artists. After briefly attending the New York Art Career School he became an assistant to Bob Powell in 1948 (he inked ‘Servants of the Tomb’). In 1952 he left Powell to work for Harvey. As you can see from the examples, Nostrand’s art has a strong resemblance to that of Jack Davis.
Without a doubt his most famous (infamous?) work is the cover to issue #15 (see above), which rivals anything produced by EC. His best story is ‘Walpurgis’ in issue #18.
Be careful what you wish for.
The tale concerns a clockmaker’s assistant, Carl, who, urged on by demons, finds the courage to kill his hated master on Walpurgis night. Before he dies the clockmaker curses him by stopping all the clocks and saying they’ll never start again until Carl’s dead. At first, an eternal Witches’ Night seems like a good deal, but an endless rainstorm puts a damper on the party, and the demons fulfill the curse to keep from drowning.