Little Book of Vintage Terror
By Tim Pilcher
In this compact book, easily slipped into an inside pocket, there are myriad comic book images from the 1950s, rude and rough-hewn depictions of the wonders of the world and the wayward wickedness it holds.
There are images of carnivorous flowers, giant insects, baying banshees, mad scientists, sinister skeletons, screaming maidens, ghosts and ghouls, vampires and zombies… and much else. Not any angels, mind. Marcus Gheerhaerts the Elder’s great etching, Allegory of Iconoclasm, meets its comic art equivalent in the frontispiece of the book.
Although cover images predominate (the titles themselves being suitably suggestive: Out of the Night, Weird Terror, Forbidden Worlds, The Hand of Fate, Haunted…) there are some complete stories as well, together with a selection of stand-alone panels. They are kitsch verging on creepy. He looks in the bathroom mirror, this one fellow, intending simply to shave, and sees a skull staring back.
The moral panic concerning comics as it played itself out in America is well known, due in large part to David Hajdu’s excellent book The Ten Cent Plague; and Max Allan Collins’ current novel, The Seduction of the Innocent, takes this foofarah as its background. By contrast, the similar moral campaign in Britain has not been widely covered, even though it culminated in the Children and Young Persons’ (Harmful Publications) Act of 1955, an Act that’s apparently still in force today. Therefore Tim Pilcher, a renowned historian when it comes to these matters, devotes some salubrious space to this campaign in his introduction.
But who could ever have believed that these bold, gaudy pictures, accompanying as they do such twisted, mendacious stories and fantasies, could ever do permanent harm to impressionable young minds? On the contrary they have a certain cute (now kitsch) charm and add spice to life!