Michael H. Price's Forgotten Horrors
No. 4: Iger's Evil Twins

Plugging along, here, all apace with the Iger-shop Comix Reclamation Project - an attempt to give the Jerry Iger Studio's sleazier-than-thou horror yarns of the early 1950s all the curatorial dignity they deserve and then pitch them headlong into Theatre of the Absurd Territory. Or as Archie Bunker declared at his own birthday party, one should be able to have one's cake and Edith, too. Say what?

Been sidetracked lately with a tendency to compare the pre-censorship Iger yarns (from such titles as Voodoo and Fantastic Fears) with some sanitized revamps of a few years later. Ghastly business, as usual, but ghastlier than usual. These Comics Code-approved retoolings reflect not so much on Jerry Iger and his hired-hand artists, as they lend insight into the dealings of Iger's most steadfast client, an opportunistic cheapskate publisher named Robert Farrell.

Conventional Wisdom notwithstanding, hardly all the signature horror-comics publishers of the post-WWII years just vanished following the introduction (in 1954) of the Comics Code Authority and its Thou-Shalt-Not oppressions. Although Bill Gaines' more prominent EC Comics shop made a conspicuous show of axing its line of Tales from the Crypt, &c., in response to the censors' power-grab, EC remained in the funnybook racket, though not for much longer, with such Code-compliant titles as Impact! and Psychoanalysis. Gaines' more farsighted strategy of dodging the Code by shifting to newsstand magazines - as opposed to ten-cent comic-book products - proved workable only in the case of MAD.

Some of EC's lesser fellow-publishers - Harvey Comics, for example - made drastic changes to achieve Code compliance and prevailed in an economic sense. And yes, the horror-mongering censor-bait Harvey line and the safe-as-rancid-milk Casper the Friendly Ghost Harvey line are the same company, whipped into shape by the Purification Police. (Casper and its companion properties, including a demon who appears to have been rendered hellbound while in kindergarten, are sicker by far than any straightforward horror-comix titles of the pre-censorship years.)

The greater concern here is with S.M. "Jerry" Iger, whose piecework studio was something of a hillbilly cousin to EC Comics' classier and higher-minded operation. Iger had ditched the comics biznis altogether before the close of the 1950s. He retained a few strategic trademarks but allowed his sweatshop's horror-yarn catalogue to follow Bob Farrell into the Bozo Borderlands of third-string off-brand comics and lapsed copyright maintenance.

And Farrell attempted briefly a half-baked approach to Comics Code compliance - not by commissioning new material, but by rewriting some of his nastier pre-Code stories to appear "nice," and by having the art retouched accordingly. A key change lay in an altered cover-design style, from the garish sideshow-flash of Voodoo and its kindred titles to an outward appearance (on the Code-approved Midnight, for example) modeled after DC Comics' much tamer mystery titles.

But the interiors represent the queasier element, as the following pair of sample-pages will attest with their comparison of censor-bait ("The Frozen Bride") vs. censor-sop ("Forever and Ever"). One might even suggest that the "nice" revamps are sicker than the unapologetically sick originals, whether by deliberate subversion or by innate perversity. Fancy a G-rated Underground Comic - not far off the mark. And more about all that as things develop.

Michael H. Price's new book of postmodern pulp-fiction horrors, What You See May Shock You! (with Mark Evan Walker), is available from Midnight Marquee Press at www.midmar.com. Coming up presently are a new edition of Price's Carnival of Souls graphic novel, and a seasonable anthology called MHP's Great Big Crock of Christmas! For the longer term, Price is preparing a fifth volume of the Forgotten Horrors movie-book series, in collaboration Jan Alan Henderson and John Wooley.

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