The Warren Magazines

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Last updated 22 September 2008. The latest version of this document can always be found at See last page for legal & © information.

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The Warren Magazines
The Warren magazines were the big cheese in the black & white horror magazine boom for the 1960s-1970s, if only because they were there first and they lasted the longest. James Warren, the publisher of several different movie magazines, most notably ‘Famous Monsters Of Filmland’, was a long time lover of comics, particularly the EC comics of the early 1950s. He made a few tentative stabs at comics in 1964, producing a trio of stories adapting movies from the 1930s for ‘Monster World’, a sister magazine of ‘Famous Monsters Of Filmland’. In late 1964 he decided to take the plunge, producing a full-length comic anthology. It should be noted that the magazines he published were not comic books but magazines. They had to be.

The Comics Code Authority, established in 1955 to ‘clean up’ comics, had demolished the EC empire of quality horror comics as well as most of the lesser publishers of horror comics and forced those publishers who survived to water down the content to near pablum. You couldn’t use vampires, zombies, skeletons, ghouls, etc as characters in a comic book. You couldn’t show blood or horrific details. Nor could you use such words as horror, crime or terror in titles. As the comic industry existed in 1964, a revival of EC-type comics wouldn’t have been possible.

Besides, Warren published magazines, designed to sit on stands alongside Look, Life, Sports Illustrated or Playboy. Well, maybe a few shelves over from those magazines but still in the general vicinity. Nowhere near those tawdry comic spinner racks.

Plus, the Comics Code Authority had no authority over magazines, since nobody had ever published a comic book in magazine form. EC had, in its dying days, published what they called Picto-Fiction. Prose stories dealing with crime and horror with a heavy amount of art in comic book style. However, this experiment was a failure. They also changed their humor comic, Mad, into a magazine. They promptly stopped calling it a comic, however. It was now a humor magazine.

So Warren decided to publish his comic stories in a format he was comfortable with, for a distribution system he understood and in a style that allowed him a great deal of freedom. Then he aimed those stories at the exact same audience that the regular four-color comics had targeted—12-14 year old boys. It was a smart and, as it turned out, profitable end run around the Comics Code.

The Warren run can be split up into five distinct eras. The first was The Goodwin Era, which ran from 1965-1967. Obviously this era was marked by the work of Archie Goodwin, who edited the line and wrote most of the stories for this period. It’s hard to overemphasize how important Goodwin’s work here is. He not only provided a foundation for Warren Publications to grow and succeed, but he also provided a template for other comic writers and for many future writers of horror prose.

The success of Warren, a major portion of which can be laid at Goodwin’s door, gave Marvel, DC & Charlton the desire to reenter the horror field, which helped spark the changing of the comics code and directly lead to the horror boom that comics went through from 1971-1975. Warren artist Joe Orlando became an editor at DC and, for at least the years 1968-1973, provided a truly good horror line. Charlton revitalized its own horror line and provided a home base for Steve Ditko, Pat Boyette, Rocco Mastroserio and other Warren artists. Marvel blantantly copied Warren when it began its color horror line in 1969. Its horror hosts for both Tower Of Shadows & Chamber Of Darkness looked and sounded a great deal like Uncle Creepy and the style of story was modeled much more after the Warren stories than EC’s sardonic brand of horror. Later, Warren artists such as Mike Ploog, Gray Morrow and Tom Sutton became major forces in creating and refining Marvel characters such as Frankenstein’s Monster, Werewolf By Night, Man-Thing, Morbius, and Ghost Rider.

Recently, while reading a collection of Al Sarrantonio’s stories (a strong writer and probably the major editor in the horror field today), I was pleasantly shocked to recognize that his major influence appeared to be the Archie Goodwin Warren stories. In fact, there wasn’t a story in that collection that would not have fit handsomely in a Warren magazine circa 1965-1967. I suspect that Stephen King read Warren comics during this period. I know he read the Skywald books in the early 1970s.

But even beyond the solid foundation and literary influence that Goodwin built were his rock solid stories month after month. This, along with the respect, care and extra effort that every artist seemed to strive for when working on them, coupled with the obvious joy Goodwin took in tailoring stories for their particular skills, created an extremely high quality of magazine. Re-reading this three-year stretch of stories was just a joy.

By the end of 1967 however, Goodwin and almost all of the artists he had worked with left, victims of a money crunch that forced Warren Publishing to drastically cut page rates and launching Warren into its dark age. For the next two and a half years 50% or more of every issue would be reprints. Most of the new stories were so-so at best and were greatly hampered by inferior art, with only Tom Sutton (the only Goodwin era artist to regularly contribute during this time) and Ernie Colon providing any steady quality work.

The end of the dark age was highlighted by the launch of Vampirella, a new comic magazine with a sexy vampiress hosting it. From 1969-1973, Warren rebuilt its position as the leading black & white horror publisher. In doing so, Warren launched an astonishing number of artists & writers’ careers into mainstream comics, including (although not limited to) Dave Cockrum, Mike Ploog, Doug Moench, Nicola Cuti, Rich Buckler, Don McGregor, Al Hewetson, Ed Fedory, Bill Black, Rich Corben, Boris Vallejo, Ken Kelly, Paul Neary, Budd Lewis and many more.

In 1973, two events occurred that completely changed the look of a Warren comic. First, was the ‘invasion’ of Spanish artists from the S.I. Studio. Many of these artists came from the European romance field and their ability to draw startling beautiful women as well as a different brand of horror than American readers were used to was certainly a major draw. The second was a complete graphic re-design of the magazines themself by new editor Bill DuBay. During his first stint as editor (he would hold the title three different times) from 1973-1976, he was very much a hands on boss and the quality of the magazines’ stories and art greatly improved. Warren introduced color sections with coloring that was better than any of the comic companies except possibly Playboy’s “Little Annie Fannie”. They reintroduced Will Eisner’s The Spirit to readers who probably weren’t ever born when the original run ended. In addition, DuBay’s reign also seem to feature a uniform approach to the style and mood of the horror in the magazines. An approach that was as strong as, but completely different from, the approach that Goodwin used. It was certainly something that had not been reflected in the scatter-shot years from 1968-1972.

Beginning in 1976, Louise Jones, former wife of artist Jeff Jones and future wife of artist Walt Simonson, headed the editorial staff, maintaining much of the best of the innovations that DuBay introduced while pulling back into the Warren fold some of the artists that had vanished from the pages of the Warren magazines back in 1967.

After Jones left in 1980, the magazines entered a slow decline under a series of different editors. Bill DuBay came back twice, once using the non-de-plume of Will Richardson, but the quality of the magazines took a sharp nosedive both times. The Spanish artists largely left and were replaced by artists from the Phillipines. Mind you, these were not bad artists, but, with the notable excepations of Alex Nino, Alfredo Alcala and Vic Catan, stylistically they tended to be rather dull. By 1983, when the line collapsed, Creepy seemed to be just plodding along, while Eerie had abandoned horror completely and was a tottering shell of the fine magazine it had used to be. Only Vampirella was showing signs of life. Under the editorship of Timothy Moriarty, it was staging a comeback when the axe fell.

What caused the collapse? There were a number of different reasons. A major one being that publisher James Warren had fallen ill some years earlier and had little to do with the day to day operations of the company any longer. The independent comic shop boom had just begun with new comic companies seemingly springing up overnight. The fresh books and the look of those books left Warren’s magazines looking somewhat obsolete. Many of Warren’s best writers and artists were gone, either working for the big two comic companies or for the new independents. The remaining writers, many of whom had delivered fine work over the years, seemed burnt out. The editorial revolving door insured that no strong hand was at the helm. The horror boom of the early 1970s was over. Distribution was changing with the old markets of newsstands, drug stores and supermarkets dropping comic books and magazines from their inventories. The new comic shops which replaced those markets were none too interested in the Warren books, which appeared old fashioned and tired (and didn’t fit into spinner racks!). After 18 years the line ended, not with a whimper or bang, but largely with a yawn.

For much of the 20 years since, there seemed to be few who cared. Harris Publications bought up the assets of Warren and relaunched Vampirella with some success in the 1990s. Still Vampi was never that strong of a character to begin with and the Harris version doesn’t seem to have improved her. However, in recent years there’s been a rebirth of interest in the original Warren line, with probably the most important example being The Warren Companion, complied by David A. Roach & Jon B. Cooke, which is an excellent book length expansion of the 4th issue of the comic history magazine, Comic Book Artist. Another decent source is Stephen Sennitt’s Ghastly Terror, although there are some irritating technical art/text screwups {covers & art pages mentioned don’t appear on the appropriate page of text} and, at times, Sennitt’s opinions and bias are not supported by his own observations. Nonetheless, there’s a great deal of useful information in the book. In 2003, Spooky, a fine fanzine dedicated to the history of Warren Publications, debuted. At this writing it has published six issues and has improved its content with every new outing.

It’s my hope that this checklist is also a worthy addition to those fans and readers interested in that history. For your added pleasure, there are a number of interviews with Warrren writers, artists & editors located at the Warren Interviews page. Have fun!

The Goodwin Era

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