The first thing you encounter when reading Gore Shriek is the GORE. You have to capitalize the word “gore” (whoops GORE). The cover’s got it. Each page has got some kind of rotting, bleeding, dripping, oozing, thing on it albeit in black and white. It’s one big bloody beautiful show that goo’s you up page after page to the degradation of impressionable minds and the inspiration of the clearly insane. What may strike the first time reader as odd, is that each comic may contain more than panels telling a juicy story.
Gore Shriek may have been a comic book filled with gore (GORE!),but it was also a magazine for the thinking hound. One might think of it as the splat man’s Playboy. You only buy it for the articles right? Well, in this case you actually could do just that, and we might believe you. In between the anthology stories were reprinted and new essays by folks who were thinking about the history of Horror comics as literature. We’re not talking about side bars here. Full articles that would take up a real section of the book. At first I thought they were filler to get the page count up, but then I read each and every one. A younger fiend would have skipped these lengthy examinations of the genre, but I couldn’t help but dig in.
Beginning with Volume 1 Issue #4 you flip page after page of the Horror comics that were unparalleled for the time period in terms of extreme content until you finish the story “Borders”. From there you are introduced to an historical retrospective written by none other than Horror comic artist legend, Stephen Bissette entitled “The Premature Burial: Monster Magazines and the Rebirth of Horror Comics”. This is a game changer for new Horror fans and Horror comic fans because it provides a detailed history of the fall of Horror comics in American and the return of books that would inspire an entire new generation of bloodsuckers to draw the grue, create stories beyond the scope of grand daddy E.C. and would create the model for the modern Horror magazines. Bissette starts at the Comics Code Authority and digs the grave all the way through magazine like Weird and Eerie and Creepy. He touches on the phenomenon of Mars Attacks, Famous Monsters and even some of the movie spin off mags, some of which were prized possessions of my father as a kid which ultimately led me into the world of Horror magazine collecting. Nearly a quarter of the book was dedicated to educating the fiends on the history of Horror print. It was a bold move and one that was continued in other issues.
Before we continue, I want to share my personal experience with Gore Shriek and how it yields a smarter fan boy (not that I’m a smartie or anything). I remember picking up back issues of Fango in the late 80’s. I was a bit young for the guts inside, but my parents didn’t distinguish between magazines like Famous Monsters that were lighthearted and focused on the movies of their childhood and the slash and splat of the practical effect driven 1980’s. I benefited from this ignorance. Hell, they’d even buy the damn issues for me, excited that I was reading so much. The advertisements inside Fangoria were quite clear. Gore Shriek was a comic book put out by Fantaco. They had the best damn covers I had ever seen in my short time in the Horror paper world. To that point I had only scene reprints of Tales from the Crypt, Vault of Horror and the comic adaptation of Creepshow. Not that these were anything to scoff at. Each one is a work of art, but each was NOT a work of pure GORE! The covers were drippy and gooey and exciting. These are the kind of books that mommy and daddy would clearly turn away in true 1950’s pre-code burn pile fashion. I had to obtain one, and wouldn’t for many years. I wouldn’t get to issue #4 until recently, the first issue with the essays that make up the subject of this article, but I learned what it meant to read an adult comic book written explicitly to send parents into shock. These were the 80’s Horror comic equivalent of trying to stare at scrambled cable channels to see tits; the forbidden. And it is with this that you build a better Horror fan. You go from magazine rack with a well put together Horror mag focused on a more superficial Horror experience, force art into the fresh, young mind of the fiend and then, after reeling them in over several issues, you introduce a pivotal essay that showed how you can’t keep good writers and artists down. The monster does not go to his grave; he lives again. Horror magazines and comics in print form outlasted codes and parents and censors and periodical cycles in the market.
Back to the Gore Shriek now that the Horror fans and their publications can live forever (be one of us).
Issue #5, Volume 1 would feature Archie Goodwin’s take on Warren Publishing in his piece, “The Warren Empire, a personal view”. Goodwin walks down memory lane and provides a history lesson into the creation of comics in black and white during a time where color was king. These were books like Eerie, Creepy, Vampirella, Monster World to name a few. Warren constantly created new books with magazine format size, black and white pages but with eye popping covers that were true works of art. You’d almost want to hang them on your wall rather than curl them in your back pocket to run to meet up with your friends. Marvel and DC were the big boys on the block during the 60’s and 70’s, but the niche market for the Warren books was rather successful for a period of time that produced some of the best stories in all of Horror literature. These chiefly focused on the same model as EC Comics in terms of anthology storytelling only occasionally straying to books with single characters. That’s not to say that the Warren books didn’t have their own set of cast members. You remember Dear Cousin Eerie or maybe Uncle Creepy? The son of EC lived on in Warren Publishing’s methods. Goodwin takes a personal approach to providing a concise, abridged history of the publishing company enticing with reprinted famous images from the run and covering the highlights. This issue would also begin the “Intruders at the Gates of the Mind: Horror in the Undergrounds 1968-1975” by Tom Veitch. More on that as we dig into issue 6. We also see the first appearance of Stanley Wiater writing a review of the magazine Ghoul entitled “The Lost Ghoul”. As Wiater was a contributing editor to Fangoria this is a great read about a lesser known magazine that seems to take a zine approach to coverage.
The next time we see an essay will be in issue #6 of the first volume. This issue actually features three separate editorials. “Warren Publishing in the 70’s: The Run for the EC Roses” by Jack Butterworth, “Prehistoric Monster (Magazines)” by Stanley Wiater and “Intruders at the Gates of the Mind: Horror in the Undergrounds 1968-1975” by Tom Veitch. Each essay had a different focus. Butterworth continued the discussion laid out in Issue #4’s discussion by Goodwin concerning the history and importance of Warren Publishing, and its role as the child of EC. Wiater’s piece discusses early monster magazines from the 1950’s. While most of us realize that Horror comics really popped during this period, magazines actually had a small introductory run that would lead to the great mags of the 60’s. The article focuses in on the importance of the Creature from the Black Lagoon and it’s role in bringing non-Horror magazines into the dark fantasy fray. Veitch’s piece was focused on the general underground comic movement during the 70’s and how the most well respected and talented artists, often non-Horror focused artists, gave way to some inspired images that were terrifying. Names like Robert Crumb, Rick Griffin, Greg Irons, Basil Wolverton and S. Clay Wilson come up in this intriguing look at the Horror anthology of the great underground artists of the period, the Necronomicon if you will.
It’s worth noting that Issue #6 featured advertisements for intellectual Horror content, a mail bag/letter to the editor section and even a back issue and t-shirt order form! This Horror comic had legs and a pulse after six editions. This comic was originally filled with nothing but splatter and became some of a more professional book with all the trimmings. It took three years to get this far.
While Issue #1 of Volume 2 would skip the editorial or essay related content, Issue 2 came in with a look at the Horror world from none other than the great Anthony Timpone. He had been the Editor of Fangoria for about four years at that point, but he recounts his history in the world of Horror periodicals. That includes his work prior to Fangoria but also his road to the top of Fango that led straight through the dreaded “gofer” role. Timpone even details some of the changes he made to the magazine and how they came about in effort to revitalize the mag during a period of pure Horror ecstasy in the boom of ’86. A personal landmark moment during his tenure at Fango was the creation of Gorezone and Fangoria’s Guide to the Best and Bloodiest. Gorezone was my favorite Horror mag growing up even with its relatively short run. It truly captured my imagination and helped greatly in making not only the gore-fiend I am today but practical effect lover that must see all the guts on screen.
Issue 3 of Volume 2 kept the non-comic space to a minimum focusing only on the mail bag and some advertising for FantaCo product. This would be the last regular run issue of Gore Shriek and would be followed by the annual for Volume 2 which did include a short story by Rick Hautala called “Crying Wolf”. This would be the only non-comic article in the rather loaded, oversized edition, much of that space taken up by advertising for back issues, upcoming new magazines. It’s as if Gore Shriek was about to flat line and then annual was writing the volumes pre-mortem obituary.