Graphic Novel Fridays: Letters from Uncle Creepy
My love for comics is due in large part to a bunk-bed in my family’s summer cabin. When my uncles were kids, they stashed 1960s Mad magazines between the bed frame and wall, and I fumbled upon them one night as I kicked off the covers in the summer heat. The gags and parodies were great, if not a bit over my head, but I remember reading the letter columns in every issue. Not only did the readers have a sense of humor, but so did the editors of Mad in their responses.
EC Comics published Mad Magazine as well as classic Horror and Suspense titles like Tales from the Crypt and Two-Fisted Tales, but in the 1950s, EC was nearly run out of business by the Comics Authority Code [for more details, see David Hajdu’s The Ten-Cent Plague. –ed.] and forced to halt production on all publications save Mad.
Yet, horror comics would not bump gently into the night, and in the 1960s, Creepy magazine crept from the grave of EC Comics. Given that they published in black & white and in an oversized format, Creepy did not have to conform to the Comics Authority Code. The publication gave artists like Al Williamson, Alex Toth, Neal Adams, Steve Ditko, and fantasy art legend Frank Frazetta an outlet for their fang-toothed imaginations. By skirting the rules, Creepy could pick up where Tales from the Crypt left off, employing a mascot named Uncle Creepy as their substitute Crypt Keeper. Stories usually involved werewolves, vampires, and zombies and typically relied on twist endings, revealing the monster to be the very character the reader least expected (i.e. the narrator or narrator’s wife/boss/best friend/butler, etc.).
Just in time for Halloween, Dark Horse Comics has collected the first five issues in Creepy Archives Vol. 1, and the storytelling is still infectious. As I flipped through the huge pages, there were reprints of not only classic ads from the magazine (“Human skeleton…$1 [plus twenty-five cents shipping]”) but also letter columns for each issue. Sample exchange between fans and Uncle Creepy:
“No offense, but didn’t you kind of goof up in issue #4…? Doctor Habeas said that monsters have eternal life. Well, the way I hear it, the werewolf can be killed with a silver bullet and the vampire with a stake….” --Mike Terry, Aurora, MS
“Face it—He was a lousy doctor!” --Uncle Creepy
“[In issue #4]…When the townspeople burned up the mad doctor’s castle, how come the werewolf died when he can only be killed by something made of silver?” --Kerry Hotchkiss, St. Ann, MS
“Face it—he was a lousy werewolf!” --Uncle Creepy
Creepy Volume 1 also contains an adoring letter from one “Bernie A. Wrightson,” who would later go on to be the celebrated Horror comics illustrator (see his pen and ink artwork in the recently reprinted Frankenstein) and Stephen King’s artistic choice for The Dark Tower V .
Creepy Volumes 2 and 3 are forthcoming and will hopefully continue their faithful reproductions of the magazine in its entirety, because, thanks to shrinking page counts and the advent of email, exchanges like this are a rarity in today's comics. Luckily, I know the perfect bunk-bed where I can stash my copies of Creepy.