Golden Age Pre-Code Horror Comics

Dylan Schwartz

Dylan Schwartz

July 20, 2024

Golden Age Pre-Code Horror Comics

There is an interesting time period in the history of comic books that any good collector should be aware of:
Pre-Code Horror Comics.

What is Pre-Code and the Comic Code of Authority?

First of all, what does “pre-code” mean? In 1954 the comics industry was forced to self-regulate its content to protect impressionable young readers and prevent anything too scandalous from reaching the shelves. This resulted in the formation of the Comics Code Authority and any book found on store shelves proudly bore a “Approved By The Comics Code Authority” emblem.

History of these Gruesome, Graphic and Gory Stories:

Prior to this time, the comics industry was a bit more of a free-for-all with authors dabbling in all kinds of genres beyond the adventure stories and eventual superhero stories that would come to dominate the industry. One of the most interesting and sought  after of these are the horror comics that came out starting in the late 1940s.  These were terrible, gruesome tales of zombies, werewolves, murderers, robots and more.  The themes were decidedly very adult and represented a time when before the comics industry started primarily targeting kids.

EC Comics

Some of the coolest scary stories are featured in EC comics, whose most popular comic eventually got adapted into an iconic television show: Tales from the Crypt.  EC did much more than just introduce the world to the Crypt-Keeper, though. Other popular titles included the Vault of Horror, Haunt of Fear, Weird Science and more. Many regard EC’s work during this period as the gold standard for Pre-Code Horror comics, but they are far from the only examples.

One of the most interesting quirks of this time period was the artists. Due to the graphic and macabre nature of the comics that were coming out, many illustrators went uncredited. That’s not because they didn’t necessarily want to take credit for their work, but being associated with some of the more graphic publications could have serious consequences for an illustrator back in the 1940s and 1950’s.  While we do know some of the names of the artists that worked on these books, inevitably many will remain anonymous forever.

We call this period the Golden Age of comics because it was a time of unfettered creativity. There were few rules. Artists and writers collaborated on a myriad of different subjects in all kinds of different styles. Experimentation was encouraged and as a result comic-readers were treated to all kinds of weird and wonderful stories. While it certainly went beyond horror, comics were essentially the only place readers could find stories to scratch their itch for the grotesque, which because something of a national fascination around this time.

Why were some comics banned?

So what happened? The increasingly bizarre and horrific nature of some of the industry more outlandish stories had attracted national attention. Conservatives were worried that these “morally reprehensible” stories were corrupting America and thus had to be stopped. The Senate met and established a set of guidelines that any publicly sold comic had to abide by: Romance had to occur within the confined of marriage, politicians and authority figures had to be shown in a positive light and there was absolutely no violence, gore, or sexually suggestive material.

While some publishers blossomed under these new restrictions, many others had to cancel or adapt existing comics to get them Code-Approved. Interestingly, EC Comics nearly went out of business because of the Code and was forced to cancel all of its titles except for Mad. Mad only survived because the publisher converted it to a magazine, which the Code didn’t apply to.

If you happen to come across some of these Pre-Code Horror Comics, we pay top dollar for those comics. We travel far and wide buying old comic book collections. We love EC’s, Mad’s, and all of those gruesome comics with scary covers and stories. Give us a call or shoot us an email or click here. Until next time…Mwahahahaha