For horror fans growing up in the 1960s and ‘70s, there were two names that could be relied upon to serve up guaranteed nerve-rattling thrills on a regular basis. As it happened, they were family: Uncle Creepy, and Cousin Eerie, the two hosts of Warren Publishing’s iconic horror anthologies, Creepy and Eerie.
The inspiration behind both titles — which, alongside Vampirella, were the subject of many an obsessive collection — lay, obviously, in the groundbreaking EC horror anthologies of the 1950s. Not only did the two publishers’ anthologies share a fondness for stories that avoided the pat endings of other publishers’ horror output, but the format of the titles were essentially identical: a number of short stories, introduced by a fictional horror character speaking directly to the reader. For EC, the Crypt Keeper, the Vault Keeper and the Old Witch; for Warren, it’s the perpetually bickering Uncle and Cousin.
(The interactions of the two characters were intentionally comedic. Publisher Jim Warren once compared the two to Laurel and Hardy, although he admitted that they were probably more akin to Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre…)
Both series received their titles almost by accident; founding editor Russ Jones has explained that Creepy — which launched in 1964, initially as a quarterly before doubling its schedule due to its success — got its name when, close to deadline, he caught sight of the word in a dialogue balloon from one of the finished stories. Eerie, which followed two years later, has even more ridiculous roots: the entire series was created as a spoiler for another publisher’s planned competitor to Creepy, which was to be titled Eerie. Rather than wait for the competition to hit the stands, Warren rushed an ashcan of his own Eerie into production, printing 200 copies and securing ownership to the title in the process. The full series launched almost immediately afterwards.
While Uncle Creepy and Cousin Eerie have their fans — for good reason; they were fun riffs on the seemingly eternal idea of the punning, maybe a little too cruel, hosts of a horror show — they were ultimately just window dressing for the true stars of the show: the writers and artists who worked to set a new standard of spooky comics that, decades later, remains practically untouched. The line up of creators who worked on both Creepy and Eerie reads like a list of some of comics’ greatest horror cartoonists, including Alex Toth, Grey Morrow, Gene Colan, Steve Ditko, Richard Corben, Frank Frazetta, and more. Even the editors who worked on the titles — a list that also includes both Archie Goodwin and Louise Jones (now better known as Louise Simonson) — is impressive in a way that few other titles can boast.
Of course, many of these creators were also working on DC’s horror titles of the era, creating far tamer tales that didn’t have quite the same fear-inducing impact. So, what was the difference? Beyond the influence of the aforementioned editors — although, it should be noted, DC horror editor Joe Orlando did some story editing on the earliest Creepy issues — there’s also the fact that Warren’s titles had the luxury of not having to deal with the arcane expectations and rules of the Comics Code Authority, with the publisher choosing not to submit the titles to the CCA… the very organization that had, obviously, all but killed EC Comics back in the 1950s.
Freed of the purposefully restrictive nature of the Authority, Warren’s horror comics could shrug off the idea that stories had to have relatively happy — or, at least, morally uplifting — endings, or had to shy away from particular topics or even particular terms. They could also be more daring in their visual depictions of stories, which inevitably made them more appealing destinations for writers and artists feeling suffocated by the (admittedly, more lucrative) confines of mainstream companies like Marvel or DC… a fact that might explain the presence of names like Steve Skeates, Doug Moench, and E. Nelson Bridwell in the credits of multiple issues.
While Creepy maintained the anthology format throughout its entire run, Eerie had a more relaxed attitude towards its contents — perhaps fittingly, given its somewhat rushed origins. As the series continued, it gained more and more recurring features, including a number of takes on pre-existing horror characters or ideas: The Mummy Walks ran six issues as it spun out a yarn about a man using an Egyptian mummy to settle his own scores in turn of the century Boston; Curse of the Werewolf did exactly what the title suggested with no small amount of self-aware humor under the surface, including the surname of the title character, which happened to be “Lemming”; Dracula, a spin-off of a character who’d debuted in Vampirella, would appear in a three-part story before disappearing back to the comic he’d come from.
Most famously, though, there was The Rook, a series that ditched horror for a more sci-fi adventure hook as a descendent of the lead character in H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine traveled through history in a giant chess piece, dressed like a cowboy and seeking adventure. As unlikely as it seems, The Rook would appear in no less than 17 issues of Eerie, as well as his own comic book — which lasted fourteen issues by itself*, and a couple of appearances elsewhere. He was, in some strange unlikely fashion, the biggest hit of the entire run.
That fact, in a roundabout way, underscores the appeal of both Eerie and Creepy: both series were horror titles that succeeded because, by their very nature, readers were never really sure about what was about to happen — surely a prerequisite for any kind of successful horror — only that it was almost guaranteed to be good… and maybe a little bit out there, as well. Both titles folded in the early 1980s; despite periodic revivals, it’s safe to say that things have been far less lively in the graveyard ever since.