Michael H. Price's Forgotten Horrors
No. 2: Fantasia on Jerry Iger's "Jury of the Undead"

Forgotten Horrors seldom come more, uhm, forgotten than in the realm of pulp-magazine fiction and its comic-book offshoots. When we started excavating the ruins of Old Hollywood's Poverty Row district during the 1970s, George E. Turner and I turned up a finite - but seemingly innumerable - range of chump-change motion pictures that, in turn, pointed toward a range vaster yet of pop-literary inspirations and kindred yarns.

For example, two then-obscure cliffhanger serials from Columbia Pictures, 1938's The Spider's Web and 1941's The Spider Returns, could boast not only their own low-rent studio pedigree, but also an origin in a self-contained series of Spider magazines (and the occasional spinoff-title) from Harry Steeger's New York-based Popular Publications, Inc., most prolific of the pulpwood-paper publishing companies. George Turner's and my reappraisal of the Spider serials and pulps in a comic-book revival of the 1990s - Eclipse Comics' The Spider, that is - marked an early instance of our applying the Forgotten Horrors formula to areas beyond the movies.

Horror as a literary form has taken manifold shapes over the long term, to say nothing of the short term of recent history. You could look it up: H.P. Lovecrafts famous novella-length essay of 1927, Supernatural Horror in Literature, argues a case for prehistoric beginnings. Such a span can only assure obscurity for most such stories, whether in folklore, highfalutin' or shirtsleeves prose and poetry, or in movies or radio or music. (Music? Yep - itself an outpost of horrific storytelling: Edvard Grieg's 1983 composition "March of the Dwarves," as a melodic foundation of the first Disneyfied Silly Symphony, 1929's "The Skeleton Dance," has a great deal in common with John Zacherley's shock-rock hit recording of 1957, "Dinner with Drac.")

But better not to attempt to cover such a range all at once, bearing in mind the old cautionary truism about biting off more than one is prepared to gnaw on. George Turner and I confined our rediscovery efforts to the arena of horror films for the first 20-year stretch of the Forgotten Horrors books, and since his death in 1999 I've pursued that tack almost exclusively. I broke the pattern, after a fashion, in 1991 by developing a comic-book version of Herk Harvey's long-obscure film Carnival of Souls (1962); a revised edition of that graphic novella was issued in 2005 by Baltimore-based Midnight Marquee Press - under the Forgotten Horrors brand-name.

While the Forgotten Horrors movie-book series continues apace (we're up to FH4-and-counting, with a fifth volume in preparation), the temptations of the comic-book racket persist. Probably the most thoroughly forgotten of funnybook horrors is a spread of titles produced during the early 1950s by the New York-based studio of S.M. "Jerry" Iger (1903-1990), an entrepreneurial cheapskate whose piecework assembly-line sweatshop generated stories for such engagingly shabby titles as Journey into Fear and Strange Mysteries (Superior Publishing) and Voodoo and Fantastic Fears (the Ajax-Farrell line). (More about Jerry Iger in the prior installment of this series of rambles.)

The Iger-shop stuff, including scattered original-artwork packages, has shown up extensively at Heritage Auctions, and reprints have graced such vaguely recent anthologies as Eclipse Comics' Seduction of the Innocent, New England Comics' Tales Too Terrible To Tell, and The Mammoth Book of Best Horror Comics. A wealth of Iger-shop material, as faithfully scanned from original printings, can be found at an essential Webzine called The Horrors of It All, a.k.a. www.thehorrorsofitall.blogspot.com.

The Forgotten Horrors take on Iger, however, differs. I've always found the studio's anonymous artwork fascinating, however rough-hewn. (The style of one artist in particular, Robert Hayward "Bob" Webb, predominates.) The writing, such as it is, of the Iger yarns is another matter - trite and overobvious dialogue, at the service of malnourished plot-sense and a whiplash style of denouement that often results in a crash-and-burn everybody-gets-killed resolution. What makes the stories more interesting is their prevailing air of cynical nihilism, in paranoid defiance of the traditional role of horror fiction as a moral-lesson medium.

I had mentioned in the prior installment a project to reconcile the Iger Studio art with rewritten scripts that derive more from such influences as the Theatre of the Absurd and improvisational comedy than from any conventional comic-book style.

While this overall Iger-alteration effort is in the works, Jan Alan Henderson has suggested the deployment of an occasional single-story revamp. The present selection, "Jury of the Undead," originated in the No. 14 issue of Journey into Fear (Superior; 1953) and has appeared in a crisp black-and-white reproduction in the No. 6 issue of Tales Too Terrible To Tell. The story's appearance here, or herewith, represents something quite the same but altogether different.

Michael H. Price's Forgotten Horrors books, in collaboration with the late George E. Turner and such additional contributors as John Wooley and Jan Alan Henderson, are available from Midnight Marquee Press of Baltimore - www.midmar.com.

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