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Peter Normanton p6

Peter Normanton talks about what grabs him about horror comics.

READERSVOICE.COM: What sort of people published comics from the 1950s to the 1970s? Apart from the big companies like EC, did publishers of horror comics have other jobs, and what sort of print runs and distribution did they have?

PETER NORMANTON: Many of the publishers of these comic books would have been publishing paperback books, for example Avon and Ace who had already built a considerable reputation in this field. In addition there would have been those who were also been involved with general magazines and pulps. Amongst them were Atlas (later Marvel Comics) and Charlton Comics who produced song lyric magazines and puzzle books.
Comic books were but one line in a publisher’s inventory. Fawcett were involved in newsstand distribution as well as magazines and paperbacks. Harvey Comics however did specialise solely in comic books, but they opted for a very young market that was to prove highly lucrative form any years, publishing childhood favourites Casper the Friendly Ghost, Sad Sack and Richie Rich.
Comic book giants Dell was another company with a line in the popular puzzle magazines of the day along with pulps. Up until the Senate Subcommittee Hearings Fiction House published twice as many pulp magazines as they did comics. Several of their comics were based upon their pulp characters. These people were first and foremost businessmen; they saw an easy way to make a quick buck. Of course it was a trash culture, but a culture that has survived the test of time.

RV: What about the writers and artists? Could they make a living out of it, or did they work in advertising or journalism or what sort of other jobs?

PN: There were many artists who made successful careers in comics such as Wally Wood, Jack Kirby and Gil Kane, but there were also a whole plethora of names who would have also worked in advertising, animation and illustration. They had to take work where they could get it, particularly when the comic book industry imploded in 1954.
Those comic book artists who weren’t lucky enough to work for Atlas, DC, Fawcett or EC weren’t always particularly well paid. Artists such as Bernie Krigstein and Alvin Hollingsworth had even more to offer eventually moving on to develop careers in fine art.
It should be remembered comic books were not the medium to which every artist aspired, the crème de la crème desired a syndicated newspaper strip. Wally Wood worked on Terry and the Pirates and The Spirit. Another EC stalwart George Evans worked on Terry and the Pirates and Secret Agent Corrigan and Jack Kirby was drawing Sky Masters of the Space Force.

RV: What is it that grabs you the most about horror comics, especially the older ones from the 1940s to the 1970s?

PN: I was brought up with the horror comics of the 1970s, so there’s a lot of nostalgia there for me. The art was also very impressive with the talents of Mike Ploog, Bernie Wrightson, Val Mayerick, Mike Kaluta, Maelo Cintron and Frank Brunner. These comic books were so exciting to my young eyes at a time when mainstream superhero comics were beginning to appear bland.
The comics from the 1950s remain the classics, offering quite bizarre tales and an unbelievable selection of artists. Atlas had Russ Heath, Bill Everett and Matt Fox, EC had Wally Wood, Al Feldstein, John Craig and Graham Ingels, Harvey had Bob Powell and Lee Elias and Ace could boast Lou Cameron.
These comics went straight for the jugular, there were very few dull moments. In there quest to out do the competition and maintain their place on the newsstand these comics went to unbelievable lengths.

-The Mammoth Book of Best Horror Comics, edited by Peter Normanton.
-copyright Simon Sandall.