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Oh, the Horror! The Jim Trombetta Interview

Life before and after the Comics Code Authority was very different, as Jim Trombetta shows in The Horror! The Horror! Comic Books the Government Didn’t Want You to Read. His collection of impressive scary tales runs the gamut of creepy to cleverly obscured political commentary, all done in old comics horror series, particularly by the famous EC Comics. Here’s what Trombetta had to say about the book.

What made you compile this book?

A fascination with the material and having been alive in the period without being old enough to understand much, if anything, about it.

How controversial were the stories included here? How much trouble did they cause their creators and publishers?

If anything, they probably generated profit. They didn't cause the creators any real trouble until they were publicized by Frederic Wertham and examined by the Senate.

 
THE BEYOND
no. 25, March 1954
Artist unknown, Ace/Unity Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.

How do you feel the stories stack up by today's standards?

Outside of EC, which had great craft, the stories don't stack up too well in terms of well-turned narratives. But the EC craftiness can get in the way of the real subconscious power the story might contain. Stories from other companies are composed so hastily and sensationalistically, nothing is censored at all. Here the creators just unzip their skulls and let their subconscious minds drop onto the page while simultaneously reaching for the check, less skillful but more revealing.

You provide very detailed information about each of the stories here. How much time did you spend working on this book?

It really started as a hobby and was always fun. But I did work on it for several years. My editors at Abrams ComicArts were very helpful at pointing me toward sources for detailed credits. 

 
“The Living-Dead”
DARK MYSTERIES
no. 20, October 1954
Writer unknown; art by John D’Agostino, Master Comics, Inc. All rights reserved.

Which of the stories inside is your personal favorite?

"Corpses…from Coast to Coast" has definitely got something special.

Some of the stories in here were censored not so much for their horror but for their social commentary. Which of the stories inside was most surprising to you in terms of how and why it was banned?

That EC was still subject to censorship even after the Code for having the Galactic Republic emissary turn out to be a black guy is pretty chilling. It was like the mask had really dropped and the censor said, "Yes, I'm a censor and I'm arbitrary and what are you going to do about it?" No excuse was made in terms of the story being prurient or cruel, unless you could say that for him, an emissary being black made it a horror story.

The 1950s were a terrible time for comics. What do you think the industry would have been like if there hadn't been a congressional hearing and a Comics Code?

It would have had a different configuration because of television, because many comic books would have gone under as many magazines did over the whole period. Graphic novels—comics specifically for adults—would have evolved much earlier. This genre in turn would have merged with adult science fiction.

Can you see something like that happening again for the industry?

Not this. No corporation would ever allow the First Amendment to be compromised now. Comics make them money. The First Amendment makes them persons. Right?

     
VENUS no. 19, April 1952 Art by Bill Everett, Leading Magazine Corp. All rights reserved.

 
What was your favorite aspect about putting together this book?

Collecting the comics and seeing how they fit together, which wasn't always obvious. 

What are you working on next?

A novel, a graphic novel, and a TV series.

-- John Hogan