TFMSR 013: Tales from the Tomb #1 …

Tales from the Tomb #1, October 1962. Cover painting by John Schoenherr. © Respective Copyright Holders.

Click on the images in this post to see them larger on your screen!

In 1962, the parents divorced and one of them took just about all the kids—especially the good ones—and moved on.

That in a nutshell is what happened to Dell Comics that year. Dell had been publishing and distributing the comics that a company called Western Printing and Lithography produced and printed. And a lot of those comics were the industry’s best-sellers, books like Walt Disney Comics & Stories and Uncle Scrooge. Western held the licenses for some of the most popular properties in comics (and assorted other media), including the Disney line, Tarzan, Walter Lantz (Woody Woodpecker, etc.), Warner Bros. (Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig), and many others. They also did numerous movie and TV adaptations, some as one-shots (folded into an ongoing series called Dell Four-Color, which published over 1,000 separate comics from 1938 through 1962; sometimes this series was the launching pad for new ongoing books) and some as ongoing series. Dell financed all the comics Western produced; Western created and did all the editorial functions (editing, writing, drawing, coloring, lettering), plus the printing (hence the “Lithography” in their company name), and Dell then distributed the books to the newsstands and grocery stores and wherever all across the country. It was a “marriage” that worked for almost 25 years (1938-1962) … until it didn’t. A disagreement over money made Dell and Western part company in 1962, and that disagreement was most likely over Dell raising the price of their comics to 15 cents, when every other comics publisher had only gone to 12 cents. Western needed to pay their licensees more money out of that 5-cent increase and it might have been too big a burden to bear.

Gold Key was the name of the new company that Western formed when it left Dell, but it was made essentially from all the comics previously distributed by Dell. And for a bit, Gold Key’s comics certainly looked different than every other comic book published at that time. Gold Key’s adventure comics had painted covers, usually with a “pin-up” on the back cover featuring the art from the front cover minus any type (title, blurbs, logos, etc.). Western also had taken with them a lot of the best writers and artists at Dell, people like Russ Manning, Dan Spiegle, and, of course, “The Good Duck Artist,” Carl Barks.

The early Gold Key comics eschewed back cover ads and instead presented the cover as a pin-up, sans any type or logos, like this issue of Magnus Robot Fighter 4000 A.D. #3. © Respective Copyright-holders.

Dell and Gold Key versions of Walt Disney Comics & Stories and Tarzan. © Disney and Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc.

But the real new company was Dell; they had no infrastructure to create comic books, so they had to go out and hire editors, writers, artists, etc., and come up with a whole new line of comics. And one of the first books they published was a horror title, Tales from the Tomb #1, cover-dated October 1962, a little early Halloween present (it was probably on sale at the end of June, to take advantage of the long school-free summer, during a time when kids still passed the time by reading comics). This comic book scared me shitless when I was seven years old.

Dell had weathered the comics crisis of the 1950s by publishing some of the best-known and beloved characters in comics history: Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Uncle Scrooge, Bugs Bunny, Woody Woodpecker, and Tarzan all exuded a kind of wholesome feeling that made them almost bulletproof. Dell never submitted any books to the Comics Code Authority; that little stamp of approval never appeared on a Dell cover. Instead, Dell had its own statement of principle: “Dell Comics Are Good Comics.” (For the record, Gold Key never submitted their books to the Code either.)

Dell’s “Pledge to Parents” pretty much went out the window with their Tales from the Tomb #1.

But Dell needed to have a new comics line in 1962 to stay in the game, and one thing the Code definitely didn’t allow was horror comics. Bill Gaines had lost his entire company, EC Comics—except for MAD—to the 1950s hysteria around comic books and there hadn’t been a horror comic since. Words like “horror” and “terror” were not allowed by the Code, nor were vampires, zombies, and werewolves. And while Dell’s Tales from the Tomb didn’t have any of those hoary old horror tropes, it did have some truly horrific tales—and images—in this one-shot comic book published in their Giant format (84 pages plus covers, with no ads, except for the back cover, although on some issues, there is an actual one-page color story on the back cover). The cover painting–by artist John Schoenherr didn’t help either … it’s pretty scary. And that cover tagline: “Nightmare stories of ghosts, ghouls, and other grisly … ‘things,’” would certainly give someone at the Comics Code Authority a stroke. “Nightmare stories,” indeed.

My mom tolerated our comics-buying habit (obsession is probably a much better word), but when I was young, she drew the line on magazines like Famous Monsters of Filmland. We had a copy of issue #2, which supposedly caused me to have nightmares, so it was thrown out.

The first issue I bought on my own was #31, published in 1964 (with Boris Karloff as the Mummy on the cover by—maybe—Basil Gogos) and from there the floodgates opened. I’m not sure how Tales from the Tomb entered our house, but it sure had an impact on me.

The first 12-page story in particular, “Mr. Green Must Be Fed,” really terrified me. It fed (pun intended) into ever child’s fear of a monster under the bed, except this time the monster was right next to the bed, living in that throw rug that kept your little tootsies warm and toasty when you got up on a cold winter morning and the floor was like ice. I think this book has lapsed into the public domain by now (hopefully), so here’s the full 12-page story for your reading pleasure (click on the images to see them larger on your screen and hit your right keyboard arrow to go through it, page by page). The art is by Frank Springer, who did some work for Marvel (notably trying to fill Steranko’s shoes on Nick Fury Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.) and National Lampoon.

The story that inspired my deep fear of bedside throw rugs, “Mr. Green Must Be Fed.”

The whole thing with the bedside throw rug in “Mr. Green …” is what terrified me the most. I had a light-blue, shaggy, little throw rug by my bed and I avoided stepping on it for months after reading that story. It was a book that I hid at the bottom of the stacks of comics we had in what we called “The Playroom,” a tiny front room in our house that held a desk and some shelves for comics (and eventually an old console radio—that was taller then me—that my brother would listen to late at night, beaming in stations from as far away as Buffalo, NY). And it wasn’t just the “Mr. Green …” story in Tales from the Tomb #1; there were other terrifying stories and drawings in that book. Here’s just a few of them:

This kind of imagery didn’t really exist in early 1960s comics, thanks (?) to the Comics Code Authority, but Dell didn’t submit their books to that august organization; “Dell Comics Were Good Comics.”

The bulk of these stories are believed to have been written by one of comics’ most beloved creators, John Stanley, but here’s the thing: Stanley was so beloved because of his art and stories on Marge’s Little Lulu comics, an immensely popular kids series published by—you guessed it—Dell Comics and eventually Gold Key. Even today, Little Lulu is regarded as a classic comics series, even more so than Marge’s original one-panel cartoons, which appeared in the Saturday Evening Post magazine; Drawn & Quarterly has been publishing a series of high-end, beautifully designed and printed hardcover books reprinting the classic Stanley stories (there are three volumes available). Stanley also created, wrote and drew Melvin Monster, another fondly remembered comic book in the era when The Munsters and The Addams Family were on TV, in the wake of the Universal Monsters mania that swept the nation’s male youth in the late 1950s/early 1960s.

John Stanley was as beloved a comics creator as Carl Barks, and his Little Lulu work is regarded as classic.

In addition to “Mr. Green …”, there are nine other stories in this book, including “Still Life” (8 pages), Turnabout (4 pages), “Oh, How We Danced” (10 pages), “R.I.P. and L.M.A” (2 pages), “Two for the Price of One” (13 pages), “Crazy Quilt” (5 pages), “The Cat That Was Part of the Night …” (10 pages), “The Long Wait” (6 pages), “Goblin’s Ball” (1 page), “The Mudman”—the second most terrifying story, in my humble estimation (9 pages)—and two black and white strips on the inside front (“Know Thyself …”) and back (“Asphalt Test”) covers. As I mentioned, there is also evidently a printing of Tales from the Tomb #1 that includes a back cover one-pager, “The Interview.” Most of the art is uniformly good; some of it reminds me of EC art by artists like Jack Kamen, and supposedly George Evans did at least one story (“The Mudman,” although the Grand Comics Database seems to have a lot of question marks as to who drew these stories; even the John Stanley writer’s credit for all ten stories is kind of up in the air). There are a couple of stories by Tony Tallarico, who would do many bad comics jobs over the years for companies like Dell and Charlton, but the ones in TFTT #1 are actually pretty okay.

There is a reprint of this available that you can purchase at that website that shall not be named, but it also exists online as a complete book with some pretty dark scans. Click here to go through the complete book page-by-page.

The Dell Comics line of Universal Monster one-shots published in 1962-63.

Dell tried to capitalize on the lack of horror comics on the stands and published a series of one-shots based on the classic Universal Monsters whose old movies were still captivating the country on local television stations in the early 1960s. They published five issues, cover-dated November 1962 through August 1963 (immediately following the October 1962 release of Tales from the Tomb #1), featuring The Mummy, Dracula, The Creature (from the Black Lagoon), Frankenstein, and The Wolf Man. While some of them had evocative covers, the interiors were mediocre. And a few years later, in 1966 when the superhero craze took over comics in the wake of the Batman TV show, Dell brought back Dracula and Frankenstein and the more generic Werewolf as costumed action heroes. Frankenstein and Dracula started with issue #2; Werewolf was a new series and started with #1. They were drawn by the Charlton team of Bill Fracchio and Tony Tallarico. All three series lasted three issues each (with a reprint in the early 1970s of all three Dracula issues); they were pretty much gone faster than a vampire at sunrise. I am sometimes fascinated by these comics and I seek them out at stores or conventions, and then I open them up and see how awfully drawn they are and decide I really don’t need a complete run for my collection.

Dell tried to make the Universal Monsters—at least partially in name—into superheroes in the mid-1960s.

Years ago, when I was publishing my own comic book series, Innocent Bystander, I did two pages in issue #6 that I called “Comics That Haunt Me.” Tales from the Tomb #1 was featured in one of them, and here’s a scan of that long-winded story, with my own pen-and-ink recreation of the cover and the charming “Mr. Green.” I guess in a way “Comics That Haunt Me” is the grandfather of “Tales from My Spinner Rack;” an interim Instagram account I created during the pandemic lockdown, called “60s Comics Am Weird” is definitely the father, no Maury Povich paternity test needed. (“60s Comics Am Weird” has been repurposed into the official “Tales from My Spinner Rack” Instagram account. Accept no substitutes.)

I’m not sure what dark, hidden side John Stanley had to conjure up to write the kind of stories that appeared in Tales from the Tomb #1; maybe it was all just always bubbling under the surface. He did write some spooky Halloween Little Lulu stories and his Melvin Monster comics had a macabre sense of humor. Even looking at this book now—the copy of Tales from the Tomb I have is pretty beat up, with the front cover hanging by a thread—the stories still seem pretty terrifying to me. I’m not a horror fan; I don’t watch horror movies, nor have I bought into what seems to be the recent spate of James Tynion IV horror comics, like The Nice House on the Lake and Something Is Killing the Children, and the haunted cottage industry that has risen up, trying to ape his success. I don’t like to be scared, never did and never will, but this one lone comic—Dell never published another issue—scared the bejesus out of me in 1962, and I’m still fond enough of it to hold onto that beat-up copy that I found at Comic-Con 25 years ago … even if I still hide it at the bottom of a small stack of other comics on my spinner rack, so it doesn’t jump out and scare me shitless yet again.

Next time: Dick Tracy vs. the son of Flattop, but I just really want his car with a TV, record player, fridge, hot plate, and safe loaded with ill-gotten gains. It’s the Harvey Comics edition of Dick Tracy Comics Monthly #130 published in 1959.

To read all the “Tales from My Spinner Rack” posts, click here!

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