Michael H. Price's Forgotten Horrors
No. 3: The Iger Studio's 'Room 1313'

I've just received an initial author-copy shipment of my first book of prose fiction, What You See May Shock You!, in collaboration with writer-illustrator Mark Evan Walker. The publisher is Midnight Marquee Press of Baltimore, which has issued my Forgotten Horrors movie-history books since 1999.

A key influence upon the crime-and-horror stories in What You See May Shock You! is that of August W. Derleth, whose Wisconsin-based publishing company, Arkham House, has been over the long term the principal force in keeping the tales of H.P. Lovecraft prominent, well beyond the author's brief lifetime.

This new book of Mark Walker's and mine also brings full-circle an interest in the rip-snorting horror tales of the Jerry Iger Studio - which had no literary or artistic pretensions but made do with a ferocious attitude of punk nihilism, foreshadowing the underground-comics movement of the 1960s and 1970s. The Iger-shop pieces originated in the cheaper-than-cheap comic-book sector, of course, as opposed to the prose-fiction pulp magazines that had provided a springboard for Lovecraft and Derleth and their higher-minded literary circle. But one takes one's influences where one finds them.

One story in What You See May Shock You!

, a study of a deteriorating mind called "Pawn of the Platinum Predator," owes a particular inspiration to the Iger Studio. Another, "Staked Plains," is more in the debt of Lovecraft and Derleth. All such influences blur together in the process of developing a personal style from a broad range of influences. For my part, the Iger materials command the greater interest nowadays, primarily in the question of how such shabbily executed stories can exert a fascination more than half a century after their first appearances.

Any understanding of the fragmented history of the Jerry Iger Studio's horror-comics work of the pre-censorship 1950s must begin with the knowledge that these stories originated as anonymous hackwork - intended as grist for prolific and undiscriminating publishers who sought fast-buck returns on chump-change investments.

Lasting value was hardly the objective, nor was any sense of artistic ambition. Despite the subject-matter in common, the Igers seemed a breed apart from, say, Bill aines' EC Comics line - which radiated camaraderie and playfulness among a personality-driven ensemble of more accomplished and ambitious artists. And apart from their routine appearances on the magazine-racks for three intense years, the Iger-produced books seemed to arrive out of nowhere, from a creative stable that exhibited no interest in any reciprocal communion with its paying customers.

And there lies much of the fascination: The Iger-shop products, particularly as seen in such titles as Ajax-Farrell Comics' Voodoo and Superior Comics'Journey into Fear, amount to the fly-by-night traveling carnival of post-WWII horror comics. And yet they have proved lasting - not so much in popular appeal or scholarly interest, as in a refusal to fade into obscurity.

Quite a few such Iger stories resurfaced later during the 1950s in heavily censored versions as publisher Robert Farrell struggled to retain a foothold in an industry weakened by the Comics Code Authority. Here, the pre-censorship yarns looked more perverse than ever when altered to conform to the restrictions of the Code. Then during the 1960s and '70s, various of the Ajax-Farrell Iger pieces resurfaced in black-and-white versions at Eerie Publications. Which brings us to the present story, originally known as "Horror Comes to Room 1313."

This piece first appeared in issue No. 11 of Ajax-Farrell's Voodoo (1953). A B&W recycling occurred in the issue Vol. 2, No. 3, of Eerie's Horror Tales (1970). The resurrection here replicates the 1953 appearance, with conspicuous alterations. I have added a Theatre of the Absurd rewrite in the dialogue department, along with a PhotoShop exaggeration of both the original grotesque color scheme and, of course, the original cheapskate printing on the cheapest of pulpwood paper. The unsigned lead-artist is Robert Hayward "Bob" Webb, an Iger-shop mainstay who had done more prominent work during the 1940s on such titles as the Classics Illustrated version of Frankenstein.

Michael H. Price and Mark Evan Walker's new book of pulp-fiction, What You See May Shock You!, issues from Midnight Marquee Press at www.midmar.com. Price's Forgotten Horrors books, in collaboration with the late George E. Turner and such additional contributors as John Wooley and Jan Alan Henderson, also are available from Midnight Marquee.

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