What Satanic purveyor of horror do you think is responsible for this image, dear reader? This gaping demonic maw before which the flower of womanhood bows, her firm round buttocks clearly visible beneath her diaphanous gown as she offers herself up for the unspeakable depravity of… The Demon Kiss? Could this have come from those salacious reprobates at Warren magazines, perhaps? The vile corruption that was the EC Comics line? The deceptively-wholesome DC Comics, whose horror line blighted newsstands for over a decade? Or perhaps Charlton Comics, whose bargain-basement thrills sent many a young soul screaming into the depths of Hell?
Nope! It’s Archie!
This is one of those great ironies of the funnybook business, I think. In the 1950s, Archie publisher John Goldwater crafted the original rules of the Comics Code Authority to specifically prevent the publication of horror comics. He even went so far as to ban the use of words like terror, fear, and horror in the titles of funnybook series. Of course, those words were the titles of the most successful series from EC Comics, Goldwater’s number one publishing rival, and it’s been intimated that the Comics Code by-laws were as much an opportunity for him to rid himself of a competitor as they were an attempt to clean up the funnybook business.
Social standards changed, of course, and the Comics Code along with them, but still. I’ve gotta laugh when I see Archie publishing comics with imagery that even EC wouldn’t have attempted. Here, for instance, is the cover to the comic containing “Demon Kiss”:
So you’ve got a topless hippy chick with conveniently-placed hair, who is herself conveniently placed to hide the no-doubt-engorged private parts of the giant purple demon standing leering and splay-legged behind her.
To be fair, that seems to be about as sexy as Archie’s horror line got. Mostly, they offered standard horror comics fare, with vampires, murder, and various assorted ghouls.
As you can see, they put the material out as part of their “Red Circle” line, which was devoted to material for slightly older readers than the Riverdale gang. There were two series: the short-lived Madhouse and Sorcery, an odd book featuring both horror and dark fantasy stories, as perhaps best-exemplified by this cover:
Artist Gray Morrow provided a lot of nice-looking covers for the series, and served as Archie’s horror editor, bringing in some pretty impressive talent to work on these books. He provided most of the covers himself…
…with interiors by luminaries like master cartoonist (and Space Ghost designer) Alex Toth…
…and Jonny Quest creator Doug WIldey:
If these books had been less well-done, or less macabre, they wouldn’t be noteworty. Morrow ensured good work, though, and so made Archie Comics’ brief flirtation with the genre they once destroyed something worth remembering.