Friday, February 22, 2008

An overview of Haunted Tales

Haunted Tales (45 issues c.1972-1981) followed closely on the heels of Weird Mystery Tales and Doomsday as the third of K.G. Murray's primary non-magazine sized horror series. The series had two distinct phases – the pre-Code/ACG issues (#’s 1-12), and the DC/Charlton phase (#’s 13-45).

The pre-Code ACG phaseThe first phase predominantly featured reprints from ACG horror titles circa 1951-54 (with a few earlier exceptions). Most of the material I have identified from these issues originally appeared in Adventures into the Unknown, Forbidden Worlds, Out of the Night, Skeleton Hand and The Clutching Hand.

There is also a smattering of material from various pre-Code Stanley Morse publications. Morse published a number of black and white magazines in the late 1960’s/early 1970’s such as Stark Terror, Chilling Tales etc. These were comprised of reprints of pre-Code inventory from not only Morse’s Gillmor and Key publications but also from ACG. Given this coincidence of material, it suggests these latter Stanley Publications provided the supply for the first dozen Haunted Tales. There were also Australian and UK editions of the Stanley Publications titles a few years later (from Page and Portman respectively).

Note also that the reprint of Basil Wolverton’s “Swamp Monster” in Haunted Tales #8 (cover reproduced above) is missing the last page, which I understand is also the case for the reprint in Stanley Publications’ Shock Vol. 1, No. 2, July 1969. That can’t be a coincidence! (For a complete black and white reprint see Tales Too Terrible To Tell #9, July-August 1993; for a complete recoloured reprint see Doc Stearn...Mr. Monster #3, March 1985).

Another interesting fact about the first dozen Haunted Tales is that the covers are original Australian illustrations. These appear to have been solicited for each individual issue as they each reflect the opening story of each issue – indeed they are usually adaptations of the splash panel.

The artists for the first 6 issues are unidentified. Certainly issue #’s 2 and 3 look to me to be by the same artist; issue #4 appears to be in a similar style; and there are discernible traces of the style even on issue #1, so the first 4 issues could possibly be by the same hand. However issue #’s 5 and 6 have distinctive styles, so by my reckoning there are at least three different artists involved in the first 6 issues. If anyone can enlighten me further on the artist’s identities…

The covers for issue #’s 7-12 are possibly of even greater interest as they are not only in a distinctly different style to the first 6 issues, but they appear to be the unsigned work of Phil Belbin. Belbin was a prominent and popular Australian artist who produced artwork for a variety of publishers (including other K.G. Murray publications). He was also Art Director for Gredown, and a number of unsigned Gredown covers are believed to be by Belbin (I hope to cover these in a future blog).

I’m confident that Haunted Tales #’s 8, 9 and 12 are the work of Belbin. There is a good chance that the other three issues (#’s 7, 10 and 11) form a set from Belbin, but I will await confirmation from those more familiar with Belbin’s style before I assert it more firmly.

The DC/Charlton phaseAfter the first 12 issues the profile of the series changed. For one thing, the covers were no longer original Australian pieces – they were reprints of US comics, with altered text and mastheads.

For another thing, the material was no longer exclusively pre-Code horror – rather, it mainly consisted of contemporary material from DC titles such as Unexpected, Ghosts, The Witching Hour, Secrets of Sinister House, House of Mystery, House of Secrets, Weird Mystery Tales, Forbidden Tales of Dark Mansion – even the occasional Strange Sports Stories or Black Magic feature could be spotted.

There was also a fair representation of Charlton material, particularly in the early part of the post-ACG phase. Indeed the first three issues of this next phase sported Charlton covers - a couple from Tom Sutton and a painted cover by Pat Boyette. Following these exceptions, DC covers became the default option (most if not all from Unexpected and House of Mystery) just as the series itself came to be comprised exclusively of DC material.

Which is not to say there was no longer any vintage material appearing in the series as there were plenty of reprints sourced from DC’s archives via their 100-Page Giants, thus the likes of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, John Prentice, Ruben Moreira and Curt Swan rubbed shoulders with contemporary artists such as Jerry Grandenetti , Jack Oleck, Tony deZuniga, "Rubeny", Frank Redondo and Alex Nino. And there were also some unexpected surprises popping up now and then, such as a Phantom Stranger or Johnny Peril feature, and even the odd Marvel story too.

Haunted Tales maintained the M rating until the final issue, but this was no longer mandated by the contents (if it ever truly was). By this time the title had long been a DC-centric horror book with nothing scarier than a graveyard or a skeleton or a devilish beast on every second cover. It was Code Approved material in a book which could sit rather comfortably alongside the other Code Approved superhero titles in Murray’s stable. Indeed #35 sported the 1979 Murray Publishers logo for the first time, and #’s 37 and 38 brandished the Murray the Cat logo, making them look unambigously like regular DC/superhero kid’s books.

The last 7 issues witnessed a page count increase to 96 pages (100 pages including the covers) with a 90c price tag (95c for the final issue). I think of these as the Haunted Tales Album issues (Murray titles typically converted to Album with a substantial page increase eg. Doomsday).

My thanks to Kevin Patrick for his help in preparing this article.

UpdateA few points to add following some offline correspondence.
1. It is possible there is a higher numbered issue than #45, but I have not see one.
2. My notes said Haunted Tales #1 was published in late 1972 with a 30c cover price. Having reviewed the data to hand I now believe it was published c. February 1973.


mcannon said...

A very nice overview of a very interesting KGM title, Spiros, with some fine detective work on the sources of some of the reprints.

"Haunted Tales" certainly went through a lot of changes in its life. Personally, I find the first dozen issues, with it's heavy emphasis of pre-Code material from ACG and others, to be the most interesting. I'd love to know why they dropped it - perhaps sales were not great.

As for the covers, I've no idea of the artist(s) on those early issues, but they're cetainly quite good. For some reason, a couple of the covers remind me of the style of former EC artist George Evans - there's something about the figure-work on some of them. I have a couple of painted dustjackets by Evans, so he worked in paint at times. However, I'm not putting that forward as a serious suggestion, and I suspect it's sheer coincidence. It's hard to believe that someone like George Evans would have been doing covers for 1970s Aussie horror reprints!


spiros xenos said...

Mark, you raise a good point about the first 6 covers, they may not be by an Australian artist, that's just my working assumption. I'm hoping someone can identify the artists.

I remember you mentioning "the first 12 Haunted Tales" issues to me ages and ages ago, and I agree all of the first 12 are must-have issues, so consider this a belated thanks and acknowledgement.