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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Review: The Horror! The Horror!

Just before heading off to vacation, I read The Horror! The Horror!: Comic Books the Government Didn't Want You to Read! by Jim Trombetta

This is a great book for anyone interested in the evolution of comic books and/or the horror genre during the 20th Century.  The book is extremely well laid out too.

The book is constructed of a series of essays in chronological order with examples of over 100 covers and pages of example comics.  He chronicles the witch hunt that Congress started by having hearings on comics which ultimately forced the comics industry to censor itself.

His main argument is that while these stories were shocking, they still captivated millions of readers.  Trombetta uses his research to show us the range of horror comics that were available, assesses their themes and appeal to readers, and then gives us the wonderful reproductions of examples.  I was particularly intrigued by the chapters on the earliest appearances of werewolves and zombies in these comics.

I loved the covers he included.  They are all the more striking after you read the essay with which they are paired, but this book shines when Trombetta includes entire stories.  I really felt like I was reading these comics in their proper historical context for the first time. While The Horror! The Horror! may not be as comprehensive a text on the comics hearings as David Hajdu's The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America, this book is worth a perusal for its unique blending of history with excellent visual examples.

One complaint is that he does not have enough images from industry leader EC, but I can imagine that has something to do with reproduction rights.  The examples Trombetta did include shine because he obviously thought very hard about which images and stories worked best to support his arguments.  That attention to detail makes the book stronger.

The Horror! The Horror! is a book for fans of comics and those who love old fashioned horror.  I was pleasantly surprised by the sophistication in the drawings and how they manipulated the readers emotions.  Some of these "old fashioned" comics were satisfyingly scary, even to someone like me who has "been there, done that."  I found myself going back to reexamine some of the covers.

Thankfully, many libraries bought this book after it got a good review in Booklist, so see if you can borrow a copy.  Mine came with a DVD with more images, but not every library loans those out.

Three Words That Describe This Book:  Horror Comics, Historical Analysis, Visually Satisfying

Readalikes:  Besides the aforementioned The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America, I would also suggest Four Color Fear: Forgotten Horror Comics of the 1950s by Greg Sadowski, The Weird World of Eerie Publications: Comic Gore That Warped Millions of Young Minds by Mike Howlett and The Mammoth Book of Best Horror Comics edited by Peter Normanton.

In terms of the best modern horror graphic novels, here is a preview from Chapter 13 of my upcoming book in which I list 10 Graphic Novel Picks for Horror Readers.  I will give you 5 for now:

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