Few publishers influenced the 1960s horror comics genre quite like James Warren. For almost 25 years, he published all things horror, fantasy, and scifi - smartly utilising the magazine format to avoid censorship imposed on US comic books by the Comics Code Autority. Even today Creepy, Vampirella, and Eerie are legendary. Warren knew how to attract high-profile authors and comic book illustrators. They produced fantastic art and helped him to get his magazines up-and-running.
Before young James Warren founded Warren Publishing in the 1950s, he had the chance to gather quite some practical knowledge in the publishing biz. As a former Army recruit and commercial artis, he made his first steps as editor of After Hours in the early 50s - a "Men´s Magazine" following in the footsteps of Hugh Hefner's Playboy. Unsurprisingly, After Hours only needed four issues to collide with the prudish attitudes dominating the US maket in the late 50s. The Magazine was put to a halt, after a photograph of "Betty Page topless" had caused trouble and provided the editor with a rather unwanted smashy headline: "Porn Merchant Arrested with Million-Dollar Business" the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote, after Warren had been arrested on "charges of obscenity and pornography" in Pennsylvania's largest city. Funnily enough, Warren himself stated in a later interview that he only had around 45 US$ on his bank account at that specific time. Even though the justice saw no display of pornography in the photo in question, and dismissed the case with a shake of the head, the damage was done: The trial left James Warren broke, without a job and labeled "pornographer". This was to be the end of his career in the sex publishing business.
James Warren decided to take on a new genre: horror. Yet this turned out a tricky terrain as well. US moralists were already waiting in the wings in the form of the Comics Code Autority. Since 1954 these gentlemen had been declaring war on a most hateful phenomenon in comic books. They especially disliked the idea that mostly young readers were thrilled by the spooky and creepy stories and blamed the explicit depicition of violence and "sublime sexual allusions" to be the main trigger for "juvenile delinquency". The CCA executed strict rules for censorship for comic books bringing about the downfall of a number of popular series. Soon after this development had started, magazines began to pop up as substitutes. With their pro forma audience being grown-ups, magazines could easily avoid The Code. Still they were mostly read by kids of course, who still constituted a major target group of the fantasy publishing industry.
Warren Publishing's huge success proved that horror was in high demand in the 1950s and 60s entertainment section: During its 25 years of publishing the company produced a total of 39 different magazine titles. Altogether its output amounted to 784 magazine issues, among which Famous Monsters of Filmland and the comic magazines Creepy, Eerie, and Vampirella were the most popular ones. No surprise there: Horror, fantasy, and science fiction were rare goods on the 1960s US market.
Famous Monsters of Filmland - Horror Film Magazine With a European Touch
During his work with After Hours, James Warren had met with "Forry" Forrest J Ackerman, who introduced him to a French film magazine Cinema 57. Cinema 57 exclusively dealt with horror films - and Warren was hooked, reminded of his childhood. Soon he realized the potential of monsters and creepy characters displayed in horror film classics, and the success they might have with American kids. Many young readers were fascinated and admired the creepy guys as sort of "antiheroes". Monsters and bad guys were the coolest. In a cooperation with Ackermann, Warren developed a magazine to present his pesonal selection of monsters of film history and published it as a one shot called Famous Monsters of Filmland. As the printers requested payment in advance, the aspirig publisher had to apply for a loan of 9.000 US$ to cover the costs - not an easy thing to do if you lack collateral. But he obviously had credibility, and the effort payed: The first print run of 200,000 issues of Famous Monsters sold out within days. Warren Publishing was born and - due to a number of delays in payment - the second issue followed nine months later. Many more were to come.
Other Warren magazines produced in a similar fashion proved less persistent, though: Favourite Westerns of Filmland, Spacemen and Help!, a satirical magazine published with MAD author and editor Harvey Kurtzman, only triggered mediocre feedback. Horror obviously was the thing to do.
Oooh - It's Creepy!
Therefor Creepy was to become James Warren's second big success. Starting in 1964, the new horror comic magazine delivered spooky, all black and white short stories presented by the "Host", Uncle Creepy - a character that had been exclusively drafted for the series. As Creepy was also published in magazine format, Warren was able to put it on the newsstands right next to the already established Mad Magazin and completely avoid restrictions issued by the Comics Code Authority. Over the years, Creepy hosted a number of high-profile authors and artists, and flourished under different editors-in-chief. Creepy #145 became the publishers last issue, with James Warren declaring bankruptcy in Februar 1983.
More Success Stories Straight From The 1960s Horror Box
As Creepy had sold amazingly well during its first years of publishing, James Warren decided to try other magazines to tie in with the commercial development in 1966: Blazing Combat, another black and white publication, presented war stories and involved top-class 60s illustrators like Gene Cola, John Severin, and Alex Toth. But as the stories were less focused on adventure and more on human tragedy caused by the war, Blazing Combat did not meet with a lot of approval. Main distribution companies started a boycott, due to the magazines strong anti-war sentiment. Blazing Combat ceased after only four issues. Eerie, on the other hand, blossomed right from the start. It ran until 1983, with Archie Goodwin being the editor for the first 11 issues.
Immortal Lady Vampire of The 60s: Vampirella
Vampirella, however, may still be known as Warren Publishing's most famous creation. In 1969 Forest J Ackermann (aka "Forry") and underground comic artist Trina Robbins drafted the sexy lady as a host for a corresponding magazine. When the first issue hit the newsstands in September 1969, the magazine still showed many visual and conceptual similarities to Eerie and Creepy. But Vampirella soon evolved, becoming the protagonist of each respective lead story. Over the years she presented a creative challenge for many notable international artists, José "Pepe" González being the most celebrated and defining one.
In the 1970s, James Warren kept trying his luck with with more magazine titles, to push the sucess of his page-turners Eerie, Creepy, and Vampirella. He reprinted Will Eisner's classic 1940s and 50s detective stories in The Spirit (1974) and published Comix International (1974), a magazine that collected reprints of older Warren Magazines. He even sympathised with the world of science fiction, publishing the anthology 1984/1994 (1978) and The Rook (1979) - an adventure about a time traveller. While his sci-fi experiments soon faded, The Spirit lasted for 16 issues before Kitchen Sink Press took on the project and kept publishing it from 1977 to 1983.
End of an Era: Warren's Decline
The 80s decline of Warren Publishing basically translates as an unspectacular event that reads: "bankruptcy - gone". Fans and the press took little notice of what was going on at the time. Common speculations are that Warren's fading health and "turmoil" among his editing staff were the most likely reasons for the decline of the formerly successful publishing house. As it seems, a number of editors - among them Bill DuBay - had left the company before its financial crash. Comics Journal reported: "Two Warren Editors Quit Within Two Weeks" in their #67 issue, in October 1981 (The Comics Journal #67. 1981. p. 12/28).
A 2010 Forrest J Ackermann Retrospective by author Deborah Painter offers more insight on the topic from an insider's perspective. During her conversations with "Forry" he had let slip a few hints, indicating that established Warren magazines were starting to sell slow in the early 80s. Supposedly, readers' interests had shifted, and Ackermann refused to go along with Warrens new marketing strategy to improve sales, by taking on grosser and more violent topics. As editor-in-chief, Forry considered "Friday the 13th" too gory for kids - whom he still saw as the most important target group. After a confrontation with his boss and former friend, the co-creator of Vampirella and long-term editor of Famous Monsters of Filmland left the company in early 1983. Although many more issues had been announced, his successor, Randy Palmer, only had the chance to produce one more issue. In the summer of 1983, Warren Publishing's story ended as abrupt and unspectacular as could be. James Warren declared bankruptcy and for many years disappeared from the scene. Established characters and series were sold, mostly to Harris Comics. Quite a snip.
How things went for James Warren after that, is even more obscure. As a fact, he reappeared in 1998 and sued Harris Comics, reclaiming the rights for Vampirella, Creepy and Eerie. Rumour has it that he had spent previous years fighting a massive depression - a period, during which at one time he even destroyed his house with the help of a chainsaw - so told by the Comics Journal in their issue #253.
But while re-securing the rights to Creepy and Eerie turned out a success, Warren was unable get back Vampirella - despite a 80 Million Dollar lawsuit. Harris Comics was allowed to keep all publishing rights to the character and series, and proceeded to publish more Vampi-series between 1988 and 2007, until the franchise went to Dynamite Entertainment in 2010. After the legal disputes were settled for Creepy and Eerie, the series found a new home at "Dark Horse Archives". If James Warren still felt a grudge for not being able to reclaim Vampirella, it wouldn't come as a surprise, of course. The blood-sucking superheroine is still a hit - and probably a little gold-mine, considering the booming world of licensing. Warren still insists that the respective rights to license, publish and distribute the character had not been settled sufficiently during the 80s bakruptcy sale. Yet neither he himself, nor Stanley Harris, are keen to talk about the subject much.