Holding these two sumptuous volumes in the hand prompts a variety of pleasurable feelings – and above all, has a broad smile creasing one’s face. Firstly, because editor Peter Crowther and PS Publishing are making available again some extremely hard-to-obtain items which are the desideratum of many a comics collector – and, what’s more, reissuing them in study and beautiful hardback volumes in which they are contextualised by enthusiastic introductions and bibliographic information (the latter, as is noted, has to be approximate, given the nebulous state of records concerning the creators of these comics).
But do you want to know what keeps that smile on my face? It’s the fact that these books were never conceived of as anything but here-today-gone-tomorrow items, designed to persuade GIs and youngsters to part with their ten cents for a cornucopia of brightly coloured chills, printed on the poorest quality paper. And now – ironically — we have Adventure into the Unknown (the second volume to be published by PS publishing, covering August/September 1949 to April/May 1950, issues 6 to 10 of the magazine) and Out of the Night, an inaugural volume reproducing issues 1 to 6 of the magazine from February/March 1952 to January 1953). As before, the production values are of the highest (something that would have been unthinkable to the original creators), and one is tempted to allow one’s fingertips to play over the glossy plates on the front and back covers before delving into the outrageous delights within. As purchasers of the earlier volumes of AitU will know, this was the flagship title of the ACG magazine publishing company, and it is the first consistently published horror comic before the Comics Code forced the title to covert to less macabre fare (but, despite that, equally interesting fare — those collecting the series will be pleased to discover that the introduction of censorship actually resulted in writer/editor Richard Hughes sharpening his game and producing writing of real sophistication and intelligence). If the writing and art in these earlier volumes is sometimes hit-or-miss, it should be pointed out that the hits include such stellar names as Al Williamson (just about to make his mark at ACG’s rivals EC comics with William Gaines and Al Feldstein), along with other less regarded talents such as the stylish Lou Cameron. Famously, Richard Hughes was to repeatedly disparage this horror-era material when the books moved into the Code-approved era, but whatever his feelings while writing these stories, there is no denying the fact that he approached the standard tropes of vampires, werewolves etc., with real gusto (along with that pleasing lack of logic that often distinguishes his fantasy tales). Another plus here are the loving introductions by Peter Crowther himself for Adventures into the Unknown and the legendary Roy Thomas for the shorter-lived Out of the Night.) It’s interesting to note that Thomas has been writing comics for almost as long as the redoubtable PD James has been writing crime fiction. Yes, there are more than a few duds here – but that’s true of most horror comics of the era (even the market leaders, EC). But aficionados have no cause for complaint — and will be impatient for further volumes in the series.
Adventures into the Unknown Volume 2/Out of the Night Volume 1 (Richard Hughes, editor) are published by PS Publishing