Title: Ghosts and Girls of Fiction House
Author: Various authors, collected & edited by Michael Price
Rating: Highly Recommended
Genre/Category: Comic books, Horror, History
Release Date: November 10, 2015
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Blurb: The publisher Fiction House was infamous for what anti-comics crusader Dr. Fredric Wertham called “headlight comics,” i.e. comics featuring the ample female bosom. The Pre-Code publisher used their buxom heroines to star in jungle comics, science fiction tales, and scary GHOST STORIES! The Chilling Archives of Horror Comics series curates the sexiest and scariest of these poltergeist-infused Good Girl Art comics in a pulse-pounding tome, Ghosts and Girls! Your hair will stand on end and at the same time your toes will curl! Featuring faithfully reprinted original art from these 1940s and 1950s by brilliant masters Matt Baker, Maurice Whitman, and more, don’t miss this must-have, large format collection edited by comics historian and filmmaker Michael Price, with its lovingly restored comics.
** This early and honest review was made possible by Diamond Book Distributors, IDW Publishing, and NetGalley. The (somewhat lengthy) opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own. **
I’m a sucker for a good ghost story and Ghosts and Girls of Fiction House provides more than enough to satisfy me.
Collected by Michael Price, the Golden-Age tales of horror and humanity in Ghosts and Girls of Fiction House are right up my alley. The stories in this book all come from publisher Fiction House, a publisher known for their images of beautiful women in peril and blood-curdling horror. With about two-hundred pages of comic book history (including anecdotes about horror comics’ hall of famer EC Gaines), covers for comics like Ghost and Jumbo Comics, and full-color reprints of true Golden Age greats, this book is a must have for fans of horror who are fascinated by comic book culture and history.
For me, horror comics have always been a way for me to be scared but not too scared. I’ll watch horror movies, but it has to be at an opportune time and the moon has to be aligned just so (or so it feels). I have to prepare to be scared with almost any other medium. With horror comics, I can just dive right in.
Growing up with reprints and carefully protected originals, I cleaved to those old school comics. That’s probably why I made an obnoxious sound of excitement when I saw that this book was up for review.
I love these old comics because they’re a definite window into the past. One of the best ways to learn what people were like comes by looking at what they were scared of. Horror comics like the pages from a Jumbo Comics issue from 1942 that serves as our first reprint don’t just showcase monsters, they also show us what behaviors and identities that people from that era were afraid of.
Betrayal by business partners.
Losing your place in society.
Giant wolves. (Don’t judge me…)
Amidst the horror and the murders and ghosts, there’s some surprisingly heavy stuff in the pages of these old horror comics. Just because the glimpses of societal ills come hand in hand with these often gratuitous shots of swooning women trying to save themselves and bleary-eyed monsters that’d put Christopher Lee to shame, that doesn’t mean that they’re not there.
One thing that’s super interesting about the comics and covers included in Ghosts and Girls of Fiction House is that they don’t take out the racist books and covers. Obviously, we’re looking at stuff from an entirely different age so there’s going to be a fair amount of uncool stuff when it comes to racial representation. (Just listen to some of The Shadow radio plays that are available on Audible for an example of how the most well-meaning material from the 30s and 40s was still rife with racism and racial stereotypes).
I have noticed though that when companies do these reprints, they tend to leave the racist stuff out. I know, it’s weird to bring that up as a positive but for me, a historian that actively looks at racism in comics and history, it’s a plus. These comics were and will always be problematic. The sexism never gets cut out (mostly because you wouldn’t really be able to reprint any of these books if that was a criteria for you), but we’re never really allowed to look at Golden-Age comics’ racism unless we’re looking at propaganda or that one story from EC Comics about racism where at the end, the human astronaut takes off his helmet to reveal that he’s black.
While Ghosts and Girls of Fiction House focuses on reprinting several “The Ghost Gallery” features from pre-Code Jumbo Comics issues, not analyzing them, I believe that it’s really a useful resource for a comic historian of any type. After all, you can’t analyze problematic comics and look at the history behind them if you don’t have access, and this book gets you that. At just shy of two hundred pages, this book manages to give readers a healthy dose of old horror comics alongside history of the genre.
It’s also you know —
Awesome. I own a few other reprint books from IDW Publishing and aside from my inner comic historian freaking out every time I get a new one, they’re a highlight because I love how different they are from comics we read today and how wild some of these old comics could get.