Shawna Gore - Putting together the Creepy Archives

Shawna Gore on the Creepy Archives

Comics history is riding high on the wave these days. At no point in the medium’s history have so many classic, influential and well-remembered series been available to new generations of readers – readers who are finding with increasing frequency that sometimes you really can’t improve on the masters. Archives and Masterworks have been around for years, but now Krazy Kat, Peanuts, Dick Tracy, Mad, The Spirit, the EC line, Popeye, Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon and countless other serials that ended before many readers had even been born are being assembled into high-end, appealing books for reading and rereading.

If the EC line, specifically The Vault of Horror, Tales from the Crypt and The Haunt of Fear, represents the zenith of American horror comics, then Warren Publishing’s Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella magazines marked the post-EC high point for terrorizing readers. Following Mad’s example, all three were published in magazine format to avoid the censoring of the Comics Code, and all three benefited from some of the most visionary creators in the business.

And now, Dark Horse Comics has given readers of classic comics and timeless horror another reason to celebrate. Creepy Archives – assembling the first five issues of the 1964-debuting magazine – compiles stories by beloved writer/editor Archie Goodwin, and artistic legends Frank Frazetta, Alex Toth, Al Williamson, Joe Orlando and more.

Dark Horse editor Shawna Gore took some time out to talk to us about the project.

Newsarama: First question, there are a lot of classic reprints projects underway in the comics industry right now. Why Creepy, and why now?

Shawna Gore: If anything, I think this is a collection that is long overdue. The Creepy archive is one of the projects that really define why archive collections are important. As a life-long fan of Creepy, I went through the same thing with this material that every other fan has¬—I wanted to read as much of it as possible, but since its prime was before I was even born, I would’ve had to pay collectors’ prices to simply to get my hands on stories I wanted to read. That’s always been one of my least favorite aspects of being a comics fan. It’s also great to see the work of all these incredible artists presented in really nice formats with high quality reproduction. This stuff is gorgeous.

NRAMA: How much, if at all, did the reception of the EC Archives move you to look at the market for publishing Creepy in an archive format?

SG: We wouldn’t have done it any other way. Those books are incredible too, and I’m glad so many publishers are doing the right thing and publishing deserving material in great formats. For many years, studies of the comics market suggested that retailers would not support what were considered to be “oversize” formats, and I think all of these recent archive projects have helped debunk that as an issue. I can’t imagine shrinking down material like this, and I’m glad we didn’t succumb to any pressures to do so.

NRAMA: Creepy’s sister Vampirella’s been through some messy legal entanglements over the last few years. Was there any difficulty clearing up the rights to republish these stories?

SG: The rights issues relating to Creepy and Eerie were explored and resolved by the new owners of the license before they brought it to Dark Horse, so that isn’t an issue I have had to deal with directly. However, we’re aware of the conflicts and why they came about. We’re trying to make sure everyone involved is treated as fairly as possible, which means we’re doing our best to find contributors and their families, so we can pay out royalties for their work.

NRAMA: That’s excellent. Getting into the stories themselves, how do they age? I’ve been suitably impressed that the average story in the EC Archives or in the Popeye volumes is as good as, or better than, most modern stuff. How does Creepy measure up?

SG: I admit to being incredibly biased because these are literally my very favorite comics of all time. But I do also have to read these as an editor, and most of the early material stands up incredibly well. The appeal of Creepy is deeply rooted in how good looking the material always was. There are instances in the first volume where the art is so incredibly beautiful it is staggering. I had to read these stories multiple times while I was editing—every time I look at a page by Gray Morrow, I notice something I didn’t see the first time. All of these artists are so accomplished in the effect of their art, and that effect is so incredible, it can take you a while to really take in what you’re looking at. Guys like Morrow and Wallace Wood and Reed Crandall and Neal Adams were creating incredible images at that time, and they developed really cool techniques to enhance the storytelling. We see a lot of sound effects very seamlessly worked into the art, some incredibly well drawn ‘psychedelic’ sequences, and a lot of great moments of suspense.

But that’s the visual side of things. On the storytelling side, these earliest issues of Creepy are really the very best of the best when it comes to the classic Warren aesthetic of horror that magazine was known for. But I love a lot of the later stories as well … after a few years we got slightly weirder, more out-there stories, and those also represent another important era of Creepy. Some fans of the very early stuff don’t enjoy the later volumes as much because there was a pretty distinct shift in the direction of the art at some point … and it’s hard to deny fans who wish Joe Orlando and Angelo Torres could have drawn every issue of Creepy. But I’m glad so many artists got their work shown in such a great forum for horror stories.

NRAMA: Do you have any favorite stories in the first volume?

SG: My very favorite early Creepy story, “The Thing in the Pit”, is actually the first story in the second volume. I’m usually more of an Archie Goodwin fan, but Larry Ivie wrote that one, and it simply has some of the best spooky imagery I’ve ever seen in a comic. It’s also one of the really nicely twisted stories—very unexpected and very strange.

The first volume is full of the classics—the ones most people probably think of when they think of Creepy, like Frazetta’s “Werewolf”, and “Grave Undertaking.” Of this batch, my favorite would have to be “Family Reunion”, which is one of the really good revenge-themed stories. It’s one of Archie’s really beautifully developed plots, it’s some of Joe Orlando’s best work, and it has a two-headed zombie.

NRAMA: Speaking of Archie Goodwin, he came aboard to write and edit for Creepy during 1965. His early Creepy stories do appear in the first Archive, correct?

SG: Yes, the first couple of volumes really hinge on Archie’s astute editorial direction as well as his great talent for extremely creative storytelling. His stories were always good, but some were really incredible, especially considering the strict, short form the format demanded. But of course, there were a lot of other people who contributed to these issues too—Larry Ivie, Arthur Porges, Joe Orlando, Russ Jones, and more.

NRAMA: Warren Publishing lined up some absolutely amazing artists in the early years of Creepy. Who’s in this volume?

SG: It’s very much an all-star cast: Frank Frazetta, Reed Crandall, Jack Davis, Orlando again, Alex Toth, Al Williamson, Roy Krenkel, Gray Morrow …

NRAMA: Warren’s financial difficulties forced the line to resort to running a lot reprints throughout the 60s and 70s. Will that affect how to handle future Creepy Archives?

SG: You’re right, there are a lot of reprinted stories, starting fairly early in the double digits of the issues. And some stories ran a few times. We don’t want to print unnecessary material in these collections—we know we’re going to have fans who buy every single volume of this series, and nobody liked the idea of reprinting stories once they were already collected in an earlier volume. So we’re collecting all of the original material from each issue, but when stories are reprinted, we’ll refer the reader to the earlier volume for continuity.

NRAMA: Are you including any bonus material, such as introductions, historical essays, creator biographies, to give readers a better picture of the line and the historical time?

SG: I’m still in the process of lining up editorial contributors for the later volumes, but we’ve got introductions in the first two volumes from Jon B. Cooke and Dark Horse senior editor Scott Allie, yet another strange one who grew up reading Creepy.

NRAMA: Anything else you’d like to say about these stories?

SG: Well, I almost started to say something about the understandable reverence a lot of people feel for this material. But if there were actually a larger point I could make for people who haven’t read Creepy before, I’d like them to realize these aren’t stodgy old classic comics that we “should” read … these are extremely awesome and fun horror comics. This is very much horror in the spirit of stories like An American Werewolf in London, or The Shining. Horror has really taken on some very broad definitions lately, and a lot of it is based in human-on-human violence. But there is something key and satisfying about stories that are based in supernatural strangeness, ghosts, monsters and zombies brought back from the dead driven only by the evil quest for murderous revenge.

Volume One of Creepy Archives is currently available.

Twitter activity