Printing Terror places horror comics of the mid-twentieth century in dialogue with the anxieties of their age. It rejects the narrative of horror comics as inherently and necessarily subversive and explores, instead, the ways in which these texts manifest white male fears over America’s changing sociological landscape. It examines two eras: the pre-CCA period of the 1940s and 1950s, and the post-CCA era to 1975. The authors examine each of these periods through the lenses of war, gender, and race, demonstrating that horror comics are centred upon white male victimhood and the monstrosity of the gendered and/or racialised other. It is of interest to scholars of horror, comics studies, and American history. It is suitably accessible to be used in undergraduate classes.
This introductory chapter outlines the key concerns of the book. It offers a brief history of the horror genre and the American comics industry. It considers the effects and social function of horror and presents the core thesis of the book. It closes with an overview of each chapter.
This chapter argues that horror comics present a counter-narrative to dominant forward-looking narratives of economic and scientific progress. They present, instead, a world in which the white male hegemony is under threat from both social change and the horrors of war.
This chapter examines the representation of women in horror comics of the 1940s and 1950s. Female characters, we argue, are presented as a source of horror, wielding, as they do, various forms of supernatural or criminal power. The genre then robs women of this power by representing them as objects to be acted on, or by subjecting them to violence.
This chapter concerns the representation of race in horror comics of the 1940s and 1950s. We argue that while horror comics reject overt racism, they reinforce racist assumptions, particularly by depicting people of colour reverting to savagery under stress, and presenting the social movement of people of colour as a threat to ‘white’ spaces.
This chapter seeks to bridge the two periods covered by the book, namely the pre-CCA and post-CCA horror eras. It documents the changing economics and demographics of the comic book industry after the Code and charts comics against trends in horror cinema.
This chapter returns to the theme of war, arguing that the rise of the monster kid and the televised violence of the Vietnam War created a shift in the genre – while 1950s horror generally revolves around white male victim and Othered monster, in the 1970s horror increasingly occurs at the hands of white male perpetrators. At the same time, however, the genre shifted to ongoing storylines featuring evolving and somewhat emotionally complex characters, inviting sympathy for the monster.
While white men had become available as a source of horror in comics of the 1970s there was no corresponding access to victimhood for women or people of colour. As this chapter demonstrates, despite absorbing some of the rhetoric of the feminist movement, the majority of horror comics continued to present women as sources of horror and titillation. The comic Vampirella, with a scantily clad horror hostess who flirts with readers and featured a series of misogynistic storylines, exemplifies the genre at the time.
This chapter shows that while people of colour were given limited access to heroic roles in horror comics of the 1970s, they were not given access to fear. Victimhood remained the province of white men and monstrosity continued to be linked to race. Empowered black characters such as Blade and Brother Voodoo were presented as, at best, allies and protectors of white characters, or as deriving their power from ‘white society’ in some way, and, at worst, as immune to pain and likely to revert to savagery.
Our conclusion seeks to draw together the major themes of the book, demonstrating that neither horror nor comics are intrinsically suited to the exploration of white male anxieties. The stylistics and genre-markers of the comics we have discussed can be appropriated by those they Other. Comics audiences have often been (erroneously) constructed as a space dominated by white men. This book shows that even this form of ownership is tenuous, and subject to challenges from multiple angles. The property through which fears of access are dramatized becomes in itself a space of conflict over access and reading strategies.