Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Horror Host In Comics, Part 1

Over the next few months, I will be examining the history and role of the horror host in comics. We must begin with the Big 3, the ghoulunatics, The Crypt-Keeper, The Old Witch, and The Vault-Keeper. The first popular iteration of the horror host in comics, these three had simple roles:

1. They branded the title. The Crypt-Keeper opened 'Tales From The Crypt', The Vault-Keeper had the lead in 'The Vault of Horror' and The Old Witch served first course in 'The Haunt of Fear'. A 10-year old could easily identify an EC Horror comic simply by the host (if not the artist).

2. They opened the story with the title, usually flavoring the plot with alliteration.

3. They closed the story with groan-inducing puns.

It's interesting that all three are quite similar in appearance (old with robes) but distinct as well. Almost as if they were part of a ghoulish family of story-tellers. Let's open our examination of the horror host with a little ditty called...

Monday, February 20, 2012

Horror Hosts In Comics

The Early Years...

The role of 'horror host' was not an invention of comics...

Many ghost stories and tales of the supernatural are told from the point of view of the mournful protagonist, who acts as narrator (e.g. Victor Frankenstein's narrative from Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein"). Was this a 'Horror Host'? Not really.

Where horror hosts really made their debut were the old radio mysteries such as "radio's outstanding theater of thrills" Suspense! and "Radio's Top Mystery" The Whistler.

"I am the Whistler, and I know many things, for I walk by night. I know many strange tales, hidden in the hearts of men and women who have stepped into the shadows. Yes... I know the nameless terrors of which they dare not speak."

Radio shows need narration. Why not a spooky one to match the tone? These hosts set up the ghastly stories every week with their own unique 'hook'.

And I believe that William Gaines and Al Feldstein realized something else...
These hosts created a BRAND.

And thus, in Crime Patrol #15 appeared The Crypt Keeper.

In the fifties, there were a dearth of weird/mystery/crime comics. Check this out. Having a spooky narrator present your stories was genius. The average 11-year old might not know 'Mysterious Adventures' from 'Mystery Tales' but by golly they knew 'Tales From The Crypt'.

That was the one with The Crypt Keeper. The old guy who kept cracking nasty puns, injecting humor into a scary story to diffuse the tension... Why, just like you and your friends did. Make fun of it and it's not so scary. Right?

And if one horror host worked, why not more? ...
And thus 'The Vault Keeper' (The Vault of Horror) and 'The Old Witch' (The Haunt of Fear).

These narrators were the brand of their own series. While each series employed different artists, from Ingels to Craig to Davis to Kamen, you had no doubt whose title it really was...
It was the Crypt Keeper's, Vault Keeper's or Old Witch's. The artists and writers worked for them to present their tale of the macabre.

Oh sure, Al Feldstein, Harvey Kurtzman and Johnny Craig were given occasional credit...

Friday, February 17, 2012

Great Covers

One of my favorite 'House of Mystery' covers of all time, issue 267 by Michael Kaluta.
As with many great comic covers, the story behind it is a let-down, but hey, still a great cover!

It's the menagerie of grotesque heads forming the border that really makes it.