Superheroes Were Not Always on Top.
There was a time before superheroes ruled comic book stands. The type of stories publishers put out was much more diverse. In fact, in their heyday Monster Magazines were among the most popular stories on the shelves and inspired entire generations of future books, TV shows and movies.
The CCA, Magazines, and more Pictures with Less Words:
To understand the appeal of monster magazines, you first have to know a little history. Back in 1954, Congress was worried that the increasingly violent, gory, and sexualized content of comic books were corrupting America’s youth. So, to combat this they got together with comic publishers to create a self-governing body called the Comics Code Authority. Every comic that wanted to be on retailer stands had to have the seal of approval from the CCA on the front cover. There were several rules these comics had to abide by to get the seal, resulting in publishers either scrapping their more mature titles or changing them to be significantly more family friendly.
The Magazine Loophole:
There was, however, another option for escaping the watchful eye of the CCA: magazines. Magazines were, by definition, not comics and therefore didn’t fall under the jurisdiction of the CCA. This loophole meant that publishers could find a new home for their more macabre content, which people were hungry for back in the 60s.
Fueling the Fire, with More Gore, and Fear:
These new monster magazines picked up right where giants like EC comics left off, with titles like Monsters Unleashed and Monster Tales. These were stories of aliens, creatures from the swamp, werewolves, vampires, and zombies. They featured violence and scantily clad women in distress. In short, they were a long way from the Archie Bunker comics that were gaining popularity at the time.
Where did these ideas come from?
The most popular monsters during this time were taken straight from classic literature. Frankenstein, The Wolfman, and Dracula all made frequent appearances in the comics. They were so popular, they inspired a huge wave of monster movies during this time. Horror classics like Creature from the Black Lagoon, Frankenstein and The Blob came out at the same time that Japan began creating Godzilla movies, making monsters the biggest cash cow in entertainment.
This widespread fame came at a cost, though. With more people than ever seeking out monster tales, publishers began seeing the opportunity to make more money with family friendly versions of their characters. As time went by, the monster magazines started becoming less scary and more comedic to capture younger audiences. Ultimately, people voted with their wallets and truly grotesque monster stories were relegated to a niche market.