Top 20 Pre-Code Horror Covers

I’ve spent a lot of time talking about how important covers are as demand drivers and drivers of value. Today I’m going to roll out the first of a series of Top 20 Covers from multiple genres and eras. This is my list and I am by no means an expert in any of the genres and eras so I’m sure my biases and preferences will come through.

I tried not to lean too heavily on a single theme or motif so for example there may be more great skull covers but I did’t want the whole thing to be just skull covers. I tried to approach it as a “Must Have” list for collectors, the cover should have one or more of the following things going for it, being iconic, nasty factor, shock value and wow eye appeal among other things. I’ll note that there were a few Crime Comics that I was thinking of adding because of their covers but I decided to leave those for the Crime Comics Covers post, I may have snuck one in here.

Personally I think most of the 11-20 books could be interchanged with others just as good, the top 10 was the hard part. So lets begin shall we;

20: Chamber of Chills #23, this guys leaving a really bad first impression.

19: Worlds of Fear #10, there were several really good eyeball covers but I picked this one because it looked back at me.

18: Beware #10, Frank Frazetta was himself a demon I believe, great cover.

17: Out of the Shadows #8 is nasty, being bald might be a good strategy against this guy.

16: Law Breakers Suspense Stories #11, the premise of this cover, damn.

15: Ghostly Weird Stories #122, L.B. Cole is a favorite of mine as you’ll find out. I had one of these a few years back, wish I still had it!!

14: Weird Mysteries #4, fantastic skull cover, the color scheme works and that ant monster, nice.

13: Mister Mystery #11, at least they’re not in his pants.

12: Blue Bolt Weird Tales #114, L.B Cole again but how can you argue against this cover!

11:Mister Mystery #18, this might be the nastiest of all the covers, gulp.

10: Punch Comics #10, I was thinking this might belong in the Crime Covers post but look at it, the absolute classic skull cover.

9: Mister Mystery #12, that Mister Mystery title produced a lot of memorable covers and none better than this one.

8: Tomb of Terror #15 is ridiculous, should be on everyone’s want list.

7: Haunt of Fear #17, for me this is the finest of the horror covers from E.C. Comics.

6: Chamber of Chills #19, such a great cover and one that the newer generation of collectors has really took a liking to.

5: Witches Tales #25 is just nuts, the pieces of meat flying off seals the deal.

4: Startling Terror Tales #11, L.B. Cole created one for the ages here, a truly iconic cover.

3: Crime Suspenstories #22, beyond nasty but near the top of every collectors want list.

2: Weird Mysteries #5, beyond words! I had one of these back in the 90s and like an idiot I sold it for mere money.

1: Black Cat Mystery #50 is perhaps the most iconic horror cover of all, just rhyming off the title and issue number is enough to send this image flashing though comic collectors heads.


Walter Durajlija
Walter Durajlija

Walter Durajlija is an Overstreet Advisor and Shuster Award winner. He owns Big B Comics in Hamilton Ontario.

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  1. Wow…nice set of horror covers! I have quite a number of 50’s horror comics myself and all of these I have wanted! Its only the Worlds of Fear with that great Saunders cover that I managed to acquire from this group! While a couple of those Harvey’s are gruesomely attractive… its the Lawbreakers I would most like to have!

  2. The biggest surprise for me is Out of the Shadows #8, I didn’t even recognize it. And I have a low grade, GD+ copy. I had to check. Looks like Jack Katz art.

    Those L.B. Cole covers, you could do just them as a top 10 or 20 and it would still be great stuff.

    I am glad I was looking for most of these before the cover craze, when most still considered were just run-of-mill covers. Such as the Graham Ingels EC cover, to me that is still pretty typical. I appreciate Ingles, but…I like more some others, like the one where the girl is on the basement stairs while below is giant pile of living ooze. Of course, back then, sixties to the eighties, I was happy to have a copy in most ANY condition, none of this high-grade business.

    The Lawbreakers Always Lose, now that has always been scarce, and I think it became notorious very early. The Mister Mystery and Weird Mysteries, like Lawbreakers, also probably had low circulation, those titles have always been scarce now matter what was on the cover.

    Frazetta’s Beware #10 is a toughie too, I still only have a GVG copies I first found in the sixties, wish I had upgraded THAT one long ago. That’s one of the most offbeat Frazetta covers, but I always liked it, i think he drew the girl separately and pasted her in, her body language just doesn’t fit right. But each element is superbly rendered.

    The reverse is true of the Harveys, they were pretty common always, and made more so by Geppi’s Harvey warehouse find. When I sold my distribtuon business to Steve/Diamond in 1988, I went to Baltimore for a visit. I spent most a one day going through long whites of Harvey titles and also their ‘research” books they had bought off the stands, from other publisher’s titles. Most of these had a small 2”x8” printed slip stapled to the cover, with a receipt date stamped on it, and a list list of “genres.” Supposed to be checked off, but rarely done.

    I kept all these intact, and when I upgraded copies, passed them along. My impression was, when I would explain that these low-grade books were Harvey File Copies, was that few if any of the collectors buying them cared Much, butbI thought it was kinda cool. So much for history!

    But condition on these was mostly terrible, water damage, some brittle, occasionally a nice one though. Most were not stored carefully, no bag or boards of course, just raw copies. I was cash poor at the time (before the sale was consumated, I believe, or maybe this was when I signed the papers). So I only picked mostly low grade books, but including a couple of the ones pictured above. Some also had 3 binder holes, but were nice otherwise. I knew I was in for trouble when Steve Geppi started telling me that even with binder holes, the value should be, well, a lot. I filled a long white with books, Steve said he’d come up with a price. And then they sat in a corner of his office. And sat….

    We make our deal, long and complex (they took my inventory on consignment for a year or two, would not buy it out. Turned out it did well, fanzines and books, and I made more than if they had just bought it all outright.) This was before the Star system, when Diamond kept NO inventory of trade paperbacks, etc. They sold through most everything, one and done. There was also no Previews. They took my catalog staff to Baltimore and that’s where Previews came from. Marty Grosser, the editor of Previews to this day, worked in my Comics & Comics stores pre-1988, and then was working in my Grass Valley warehouse when they bought me out. 32 years and counting!

    But the point is, yes, there is a point here…..after the enormous deal we made, and the year…maybe even 18 months that I waited for these comics to show up with a bill…Steve was kind enought to give me the lot for free. I think he knew he got a damn good deal. He jumped from being the second largest distributor, after Capital City, to being #1 with the acquisition. I had been the 3rd largest distributor, amongst 13 or 14 of us back then. I had seven warehouses in four states, and was a partner in seven Comics & Comix stores.

    In that long white box were high grade file copies of Stuntman #1 and/or 2–one of my all-time favorite Jack Kirby books. Harvey’s Thrills of Tomorrow reprinted these.. One of THOSE was the very first Golden Age book I ever bought. For $1, in 1965, and led to me learning about the RBCC, fanzines and fandom. They were in there, amongst the chaff, upgrading my old copies… six degrees of separation?

  3. Why are King Arthur and two cloaked goons, hiding in the lower right corner, watching the action?

  4. Ed, I am pretty sure that is Lee Elias on that cover. He did a majority of those horror covers after doing Black Cat for Harvey prior to their horror line.

  5. Klaus, they were the Watcher prototypes.

    Gerald, next to impossible to pick just one, if you forced me to pick today I’m going with Startling Terror Tales #11, tomorrow may be different though.

    Bud, nice rundown, amazing to read that your crew were the ones that helped create Previews, please give my compliments to Marty Grosser next time you are in touch. You have a good memory remembering your 1st GA book, wish I could.

  6. Walt! Great picks here. When I was younger, I never understood the appeal to the Chamber of Chills. I think it was a customer about 20 years ago in one of your stores that really had me take a close look at that book.
    The Lawbreakers is a great find. A lot of these books are so iconic now that they have become grails for a lot of collectors. But a few are nice surprises for me. Included in those are the Out of the Shadows, Blue Bolt and Ghostly Weird.
    Bud, great story. Always love hearing about buying, selling and of course the industry.
    Klaus, great eye for detail.
    Gerald, if I had to choose one now, it would be the Lawbreakers as well. However the Chamber of Chills is still a big one for me.
    See… Now the problem with this list is that it just increases the number of books I have on my want list. Thanks Walt!

  7. Incidentally, that LB Cole Ghostly Weird is very reminiscent of Tomb of Terror 19 I believe with its space themed horror. I am assuming the Cole came before the Elias Harvey cover.

  8. Here are the definitive classic covers missing from your list that belong here:

    Horrific 3 “Classic Bullet in Head Cover”
    Heck yeah!

    Astonishing 30 “Classic Eyeball Cover”
    No Maneely?

    Adventures into the Unknown 1 “Classic Haunted House Cover” (you don’t have a Haunted House cover in your top 20?

    Weird Tales of the Future 7 “Classic Devil Cover” No Devil Cover in your top 20? Best Devil cover ever and Bailey’s best.

    The Thing 15 “Classic Giant Worm Cover” No Ditko?

    Web of Mystery 17 “Classic Witch Cover” No Lou Cameron?

    Weird Chills 2 “Classic Injury to Eye Cover” More disturbing Bailey injury to eye cover than his Mister Mystery 11

    Crime Suspenstories 20 “Classic Hanging Cover” Is there a better one out there?

    Strange Stories from Another World 4
    Saunders at his best

    Black Cat Mystery 45 “Classic Colorama Cover”

  9. I’ll admit, I genuinely expected to see Shock SuspenStories 6 (the Klan cover) on there, but perhaps it’s not considered a “horror” cover?

  10. When a guy named Johnny Horror comments on your horror cover picks you better take note.

    I had that Astonishing #30 but I didn’t want too many eyeball covers and yes that could have easily been the eyeball cover more worthy because its a great cover.

    Horrific #3 I pondered on for a while but decided it didn’t do much for me, same with Thing #15, Thing #15 is kind of like that Marvel Tales #95 with the big green monster, the monsters on both are not scary enough.

    The others Johnny picked are all great and worthy covers.

    Ben I never liked the way her dress is all frilled up on Shock Susp #6.

  11. Wow, what an amazing selection of horror covers. I quite enjoyed it. However ,it does make me rethink Fredric Wertham and the comic code authority. Perhaps he isn’t the villain we have made him out to be. This collective of covers, supports a need for censorship, especially in a medium that in its prime time, was a child’s medium. ?
    I grew up with the comic authority, and never realized the pre code horror comics until I was an adult collector. They are quite amazing from an adult point of view. But was Mr Wertham correct to try to protect young impressionable minds? I guess Im of two minds of this. I love the books and the stories myself, but I can understand Mr Wertham’s concern and eventual argument. Today ,it matters less, as comics seem to be a young adult to adult medium.

  12. Great list Walter! Everyone’s list would differ somewhat. There are so many great covers in this era you could have listed 100 covers and still missed a whole bunch.
    I also would not include Horrific 3 as it is a swipe / homage / copy of War Fury 1 which came out 4 months previous.
    As a suggestion how about great innuendo covers. I nominate Teen-Age Romances 9.

  13. Alex, great idea…there so many cover THEMES Walter could play with.

    A very observant buddy of mine, Warren Bernard, just got a Marvel Mystery #39, for the specific reason that the Torch and Toro are fighting WITH Russian planes and tanks against the Nazis. Even GCD has it wrong, saying thIs was US military, nut its the Russian army on our side!

    Apparently another cover has our flaming team defending The Kremlin! Uncle Joe McCarthy would have labeled our lads, and Timely, commie sympathizers for this! Just helping out our then-allies in the war. I bet there are more Ruskies-on-our-side covers out there. This is from Fall, 1942 (December cover date). We’d been in the war less than a year, but not so Russia and England.

    Walter, you mentioned Above not remembering your first Golden Age book. Here’s why I do.

    In 1965 I was 12 or 13. I only knew of new comics off off the spinner racks, I was buying just the Marvel titles, and bacj Issues (mostly recent, and a few coverless 1950s Atlas titles) for 5 cents at a used book store downtown. I also could find recent (early sixties, mostly) comics at the local flea market, also for a nickel, the going price for a used comic then.

    So another kid a guy comes into that downtown bookstore while I am going thru the stack of nickel comics, and he asks to see the “dollar comics“ under the counter!. I go “whaaatt the?” He doesn’t buy one. So I ask, very meekly, can I see those? At that point, there was only Jules Feiffer’s The Great Comic Book Heroes, which was excerpted in Playboy, that would have introduced even the concept of the Golden Age to a kid like me. Nothing else. I had never seen an “old” comic except in that eye-opening book and the Playboy Article (my Dad had a subscription, and I sneaked looks at them).

    So I pick out a beat copy pf Simon & Kirby”s Thrills of Tomorrow #20 (reprinting earlier Stuntman stories). This looks like that stuff Feiffer was writing about, Kirby in the old days! Then I walk outside, the kid grabs me and says, hey, you interested in comics? He lives way across town, but My Mom drives me over, and he introduces me to his buddies, and fandom…to the Rocket’s Blast, fanzines.. His buddies include John Barrett, Jim Buser and others who became My comic buddies. They are doing a ditto fanzine, Eccentric. We meet Friday nites at John’ parents house. Three years later, along with Michelle Nolan, we open our first store less than a block away from that same used book store…The Seven Sons Comic Shop. John and I went on to open Comics & Comix in 1972 and Jim came on board soon after. All because of a dollar comic by Jack Kirby.

    So, I remember it not only as my first Golden Age book, but my introduction to fandom, collecting, my career, and friends I still have today.

  14. It’s all Kirby’s fault Bud. Amazing how that chance meeting ended up being such an important moment for you. My wife mane me read the Celestine Prophecy years ago, the part of the book that stuck with me was its insistence that no meetings are by chance, there is something there for you if you have the time, will and energy to explore it.

    Speaking of crazy, I do like your crazy innuendo idea Alex, the early Pep and Archie covers alone would fill a post.

  15. Walter, I will check out Celestine. I used to be deep into Alan Watts, the sixties writer and philosopher.

    When Stan died, I wrote a short piece for Alter Ego. I wrote that I owe my love of comics and quite literally, my 50+ year comics-career to Stan, Jack, Ditko and the world they created in ‘61, beginning with the FF. I fell into it in ‘64 and what a profound effect it had on my life. And by extension, It rippled out to other fans who became friends, others who turned onto undergrounds, zines, books, and artists Introduced in my catalogs, at shows where I set up, in my comic stores, etc. it all starts with Marvel’s handful of titles In the mid-sixties.

  16. Thanks for the great information Bud. Innuendo covers are known but not generally in great depth. Archie’s definitely have many innuendos Walter. Keep up the great work.

  17. I remember how enthusiastic Bud was when he showed me that Thrills of Tomorrow #20 and he instantly recognized Kirby’s art, since Kirby was even better known in the mid-1960s than he was in the Golden Age, when he did the original Stuntman stories in 1946. Except we did not know these were reprints! We were stunned when we discovered they were Golden Age reprints! Bud and Jim Vadeboncoeur, Jr., became by far the best art experts on the West Coast by the early 1970s. Here Bud was 18 in 1970 and I’m asking him who drew something before we were born!
    I recall when I was 10 in 1958 — when Bud was 6 — I spotted about 100 DC’s from 1948-1952 in great shape at the San Jose Bookshop, one block down the street from Woodruff and Thush. I began checking for old comics when I was 8 and by the time I was 10 I knew a little about the Golden Age. But this amazing DC lot … Superboy #1, All-Star #57, Green Lantern #35, Batman #62 (with my first exposure to the Catwoman!) and a whole lot more. A nickel apiece, or you could trade any two comics for any one comic .. I hopped on the bus right back home and begged and borrowed a combination of comics and nickels and dimes from all the fellow Baby Boomers for three blocks around and rode the bus back downtown. I walked in at 20 minutes until closing time and the grumpy old guy in charge (he looked like the character actor Byron Foulger) told me to “come back later, kid,” — and I immediately burst into tears! A kindly old lady with a heart of gold gave the grump “what-for” and I zipped over to the stacks while the grump counted my comics and money … Fifteen minutes later, I had every one of those DCs! My Mom almost had a heart attack when I walked in the door with this bag of comics! As usual, she went through them, but with nothing but super heroes they all passed muster and thus began my beginnings as a comic historian!
    Seven years later, I met Bud and the rest is, well, history!

  18. Michelle !

    nice to see you here again , I’ve always loved your writing . I miss your columns in CBM , CBG , etc . I even have your book , Love on the Rocks !

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