Those of us who grew up in the 70s rather than the 50s missed out on those great and gory EC comics that are so hot nowadays on the collectors’ market. Instead of EC we had Skywald comics… an even more graphic and idiosyncratic breed of horror comics.
Skywald published three hardcore horror anthologies since 1970: Nightmare, Psycho and Scream. They started out as pretty standard horror fare for the time: lousy art, predictable stories but always with an eye-popping cover. When the editorship eventually passed on to Al Hewetson, one of the best Skywald writers, the magazines’ popularity saw a sharp increase. The stories became even more graphic in their bloodletting, depicting decapitations, disemboweling and dismemberment of every sort. The stories also became a bit more downbeat… heroes, villains, they ALL seemed to come to bad ends in these stories. Virtue was no guarantee of survival in the end… nor was there a certainty that evil would be vanquished at a story’s conclusion. In each tale it was a toss-up as to who would perish in the most excruciating manner. This uncertainty made the comics more fun than the competing horror magazines with their predictable outcomes.
Hewetson did all he could to embrace the magazines’ fan base, adopting the successful formulas he had picked up from the EC comics of the 50s and the Marvel comics of the 60s. He wrote chatty little editorials for his magazines… initiating readers into a sort of fraternity. He and his chief writers and artists were given bizarre nicknames: Archaic Al Hewetson, Homicidal Herschel Waldman, Paranoiac Pablo Marcos, etc. All of this served to give the books more of a communal feeling… which is why the books are so revered by those who remember them. They were more than just some random collections of monster stories. This new era of the Skywald titles was dubbed by Hewetson as the “Horror-Mood” and this new phrase was added in bold type to all of Skywald’s subsequent covers.
In its early days, before they found their footing with Archaic Al’s leadership, Skywald tried their hands at other types of magazines: crime (Crime Machine) and superheroes (Hell-Rider). None of them were particularly successful. Nor was their line of color comics, which featured such characters as The Heap, The Bravados, Zangar (a Tarzan clone) Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (it was figured ,wrongly, that the movie’s success would translate into big comic book sales). Because of the uninspired stories and art and the fact that they didn’t engender any sort of camaraderie with the readership the color comics line died out fairly quickly. Perhaps if Hewetson had worked on these and imbued them with his odd sort of showmanship they might have had a modicum of success, too.
The Skywald books played host to an excellencamaraderiecamaraderiecamaraderiet stable of artists and writers over the years. They featured such talented comics people as: Doug Moench, Pablo Marcos, Gene Day, Augustine Funnell, Berni Wrightson, Dennis Fujitake, Ricardo Villamonte, Boris Vallejo, Michael Kaluta, Ken Kelly, Ed Fedory and, in the final issue of “Psycho” a short story written by a young Dave Sim of “Cerebus” fame.
Another Hewetson innovation was to have a bunch of serialized stories running from issue to issue: The Human Gargoyles, Nosferatu, The Heap, Monster Monster, Lady Satan and The Saga of the Victims. Each character had its loyal fans and the continuing storylines gave readers more incentive to keep buying future issues.
Recently Al Hewetson spearheaded the creation and release of The Complete Illustrated History of the Skywald Horror-Mood. Sadly, he died before the book could be published but his legacy lives on within its pages. Casual readers may find the cost of crumbling back issues a little too dear but they can pick up this weighty paperback tome and be whisked back to a less politically-correct time when horror comics still had teeth. Big…sharp… nasty… teeth…