FOR THE LOVE OF WARREN: HOW I DISCOVERED REALLY GOOD HORROR COMICS, AND SOME FERVENT RECOMMENDATIONS FOR BEGINNERS

Was there ever a greater friend to the young horror fan than Warren Publications?

Livingston, Alabama, 1974. Imagine the plight of a nine-year-old boy, dragged along to yet another family gathering in the middle of Alabamian nowhere with nothing whatsoever to do except be doted over by oddball relatives who were about two minutes away from taking the dirt-nap. Let me set the mood: a television with questionable reception which, if memory serves, got only three channels (this was before cable, for all you young whippersnappers reading this) and ran nothing but soap operas or what seemed like an endless loop of “The Price is Right.” The ominous four-foot cattle prod suspended in the gun rack of my uncle’s pickup truck. The vicious mother hen, a bundle of pissed-off poultry that ran around the yard and would descend upon you like a crazed harpy if you looked at her chicks the wrong way. Being told with absolute certainty by a scary old lady with skin that looked like a dried-up river bed that “toads will give you warts, so you better not be handlin’ ’em, boy!” My “touched” older cousin who wanted nothing more than to show me his “jockey strap.” In short, a Tennessee Williams-esque hell of killing boredom and inescapable strangeness.

Begging for any sort of diversion, I asked my parents if I could buy some comic books; in other words, familiar friends that would rescue me from the all-black version of DELIVERANCE crossed with the family from THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE. We made it to the local dry goods store and I surveyed the periodicals rack with an eye like a hawk on the hunt. By Crom, if I were going to get some comics I’d get some good stuff that I could read over and over during my week-long sentence!

Some favorites were readily snagged, such as Fantastic Four, The Incredible Hulk, and the now mostly-forgotten Jack Kirby epic of the post-apocalypse Kamandi-The Last Boy On Earth (which is in sore need of color collected editions). Then there was a magazine-sized comic roughly squeezed into a rack slot that was too small to accommodate it. I picked it up with the intention of putting it back where it presumably belonged, but then I noticed the rather lurid cover. It featured a painting of a buxom woman on an obviously alien world, held in the slimy tentacles of a multi-eyed Cthuhluoid wiggly. And what was most intriguing to me was that she had a sort of dreamily relaxed look on her face like she was kind of digging the attentions of her molester. The magazine in question was EERIE # 60, from Warren Publications (a company I knew for giving the world one of the greatest monster movie mags ever, namely FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND) and I blame it for forever changing how I looked at not only horror comics, but also horror in general.

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