Harvey Horrors Collected Works: Chamber of Chills – Volume 1

Written by Mike Howlett and Edited by Sharon Wong

Bookshop Edition $47.99/£29.99 – (300) Slipcased Edition $135/£84.99 – (26 – Sold Out) Deluxe Edition $399/£249.99

When most readers think of Pre-Code Horror comics from the early 1950s, Entertaining Comics’ (better known as EC) trio of terror titles, Tales from the Crypt, The Vault of Horror and The Haunt of Fear, naturally spring to mind first.  That’s only fair as EC’s titles were arguably the best horror comics of the time…perhaps of all time.  There were, however, many other companies putting out excellent product.  One such publishing house was Harvey Comics.

Harvey Comics, which had already been in the comic book game for over a decade, jumped onto the horror bandwagon in 1951 with Witches Tales.  They soon followed with Chamber of Chills and Black Cat Mystery (a title change from their long-running superheroine series Black Cat), and Tomb of Terror in mid-1952.  Harvey’s horror comics were filled with excellent art, good solid stories and many issues featuring covers that are now considered classics.  Whereas EC’s comics have been heavily reprinted off and on since the early ’70s, nobody has attempted to tackle Harvey’s output…until now.

Enter PS Publishing, “the UK’s foremost specialist genre publisher,” and their PS Artbooks line.  They are scheduled to release all of Harvey’s horror comics under the ingeniously named Harvey Horrors Collected Works.  These books will be available in fancy slipcased editions, super fancy deluxe traycased editions and the less fancy (and more affordable) bookshop editions.  The idea sure sounds awesome, but do I really need these?  After all, I have a full run of the original comics.  Recently, I got a peek at the first installment of the Harvey Horrors line, Chamber of Chills Vol. 1, which collects #21 (June 1951- though it’s really #1) through #7 (April 1952).  Leafing through the bookshop edition, I made up my mind right then and there…I needed to have it!

The book is beautifully produced; solid binding, a handsome, colorful cover and thick, clean pages.  The comics are reprinted in their entirety, ads and all.  The reproduction is both crisp and excellent, with eye-popping color, treating the artwork with the respect it deserves.  Each issue is preceded with story and art credits (where known).  The book leads off with a forward by author Joe Hill and an excellent essay on artist Al Avison by horror scholar Peter Normanton, the man who brings us the excellent horror comic ‘zine From the Tomb.  Best of all, and the thing that first tipped the scales in favor of my needing this book, Normanton’s piece is illustrated with examples of Avison’s original art!  This will be a feature in all of the Harvey Horror books.

As for the stories here, Harvey always wrote decent stuff, so Chamber of Chills started out strong.  With artwork by the incomparable Bob Powell, the underappreciated Vic Donahue and the mind-bending Rudy Palais (among others), these tales are dripping with Pre-Code goodness.  Harvey’s stable of horror artists was top-notch, and you get a good taste of their different styles and strengths in these first seven issues.  Fans of Eerie Publications’ black-and-white comic mags from the ’70s will be interested to note that all but a small handful of the scripts in this volume were pilfered for their re-drawn horror efforts.

There are many a classic tale in this volume; Powell’s The Old Hag of the Hills and Jelly Death, Donohue’s Chieftain of the Dead and Palais’s jaw-dropping The Snake Man.  There are four full stories per issue, plus some nifty one-pagers and text stories.  It’s all here and it’s just like having the first seven issues bound together, except they’re in immaculate condition, unlike my own tattered collection.

For me, the only downside in this debut volume is Joe Hill’s forward.  I haven’t read his stuff, so I don’t know if it’s his style to use CAPS and bold for accents, but to me, it’s a bit distracting.  More annoying is his suggestion that the art is “crude, often ridiculous” and the writing “primitive, often silly.”  Sure, he’s trying to be ironic and have some fun with the subject, but I wouldn’t use an intro like this in an expensive tome being produced for fans, collectors and connoisseurs of such “rank foolishness.”  It just ruffles my feathers that he’s trying to be more hip than the comics.  Besides, even jesting, Bob Powell’s artwork could never be called crude.

These fine books are limited editions and may seem quite pricey but let me assure you, this book is super high quality, worth every penny, and will probably, like the comics being reprinted, become a sought-after collectible.  The Chamber of Chills, for instance, has 1000 books printed…total.  That includes the fancy ones with all the bells and whistles and the no-frills bookstore ones.  I say, get ‘em while the getting’s good.  The four Harvey Horror titles will be four volumes each (except Tomb of Terror, which will be three).  Also in the pipeline, PS will be reprinting ACG’s (American Comics Group) Pre-Code Horror titles, Forbidden Worlds (16 volumes) and Adventures into the Unknown (21 volumes!!).

Leave it to an excellent UK-based publisher to pick up the slack and put out some much needed American horror comic reprints!  These editions are gorgeous and I can’t recommend this project highly enough.  To see more and to pre-order upcoming titles, go to http://www.harveyhorrors.com/

Get news as it happens on their Facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Harvey-Horrors-The-Collected-Works/190590894327698

To see more about Eerie Publications’ blatant borrowing of Harvey’s stories for their own nefarious use, check out my book The Weird World of Eerie Publications from Feral House – Available Here:  http://www.miniurl.com/s/ci

Feed me at sharon@horrorhaven.com

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