Horror is one of the oldest genres for comic books and along with super-heroes and science fiction, still exists as one of the medium's core concepts. Horror does go in and out of fashion and can run the gamut from light frivolous scares to sophisticated psychological horror and hardcore gore. It is currently enjoying an upswing in popularity, possibly as a direct result of the disappearance of the Comics Code Authority.
While there are other precursors to the American horror comic, it's widely accepted that the first with original content was Avon Publications' Eerie Comics anthology published in 1947. Horror Comics were refined to the heights of mainstream popularity during a period from 1949-1955 by William M. Gaines' EC Publications. With their "murderer's row" of horror titles, anchored by The Haunt of Fear, The Vault of Horror, and the hugely popular Tales From the Crypt, they dominated the market until they were shut down by a growing public backlash against horror and crime comics. Fueled by Dr. Fredrick Wertham and the Senate subcommittee hearings on juvenile delinquency, the major comics publishers of the time banded together and created a self censorship body that all but ended horror comics in the United States. The Comics Code Authority would hold a hammer-lock on American comics publishing for the next several decades.
Horror comics didn't altogether disappear, however and in 1957 James Warren filled the void left by the implosion of EC by publishing Famous Monsters of Filmland, edited by Forrest J. Ackerman. Printed as a black and white magazine Famous Monsters was not subject to the CCA oversight, and the format would persist with Warren adding more horror titles like Vampirella, Creepy and Eerie.
In 1969 Joe Orlando took over the editorial reigns of DC's long running House of Mystery anthology series that had survived the Comics Code Authority by changing its format to more acceptable light mysteries and science fiction stories. Orlando took the series back to its horror roots with the full support of DC and the CCA relaxed its censorship standards. Two years later, using the CCA's relaxed standards to full advantage, Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson debuted The Swamp Thing in House of Secrets #92. The character proved popular enough to warrant his own series, and The Swamp Thing #1 debuted in 1972. Swamp Thing was rebooted in 1982 to capitalize on the Wes Craven film released that same year, and it has continued publication in one form or another to this day. In 1984 writer Alan Moore brought out Saga of the Swamp Thing #29 which had the distinction of being the first mainstream comic book published in decades without the CCA seal of approval. This trend continued with DC eventually tying most of their non code approved books into their Vertigo imprint.
Traditionally, The Comics Code Authority had governed the medium for decades with its own strict set of standards of taste and content. Comics that did not achieve the required standard would not be allowed to display the CCA badge on the cover and non-compliance often meant that retailers wouldn't stock those titles. As time progressed, more and more creators railed against the censorship imposed by the CCA, and during the 1990's upstart publisher Chaos! Comics openly mocked the CCA badge with their own skull faced "Chaos Approved" symbol to show that their output was deliberately not seeking to meet CCA approval. By 1999 most mainstream companies were publishing routinely without submitting to the CCA board and in 2011 DC, the last holdout finally dropped CCA submissions altogether, officially rendering the CCA defunct. Horror comics were free at last.
Key Writers and Artists
Many of the best creators in comics have worked within the horror genre, included here are some of the key writers and artists and their respective series.