The fifties were a strange time in the history of comics. WWII was several years removed and without the threat of the evil axis powers a lot of superheroes began to feel irrelevant. So as the popularity of costumed do-gooders was waning comic companies scrambled to come up with concepts that would appeal to this new generation of comic readers. Along came westerns, sci-fi, horror, humor and romance trampling over the once sacred superhero.
Sure, DC kept plugging along with its main core of heroes but this era brought a whole different vibe and it was reflected in the covers. The quality of the art was making leaps and bounds, thanks mainly to Bill Gaines’ EC line, and illustrative pizazz and photo covers seemed to be replacing superhero dynamics to a large degree. That is something you will probably notice in my top 10 covers from this era.
But first the notable omissions. Showcase #4: The most important comic of the decade and the start of the sliver age of comics….well drawn but boring cover. Ghost Rider #1: Fantastic design but the horse and foreground Indians don’t do it for me. Mad #2: Great Jack Davis cover that would have made a top 15 list. Bullseye #1: Absolutely great Jack Kirby cover but both of my kids hate it. What am I missing here? Every Frank Frazetta cover that I didn’t pick. Okay, okay….on with the list.
Holy mature readers, Batman! Any kid who bought this off the news stand must have thought he was getting away with something. I have never seen the inside of this book but I can only imagine the debauchery depicted inside! If memory serves this photo was lifted off a paperback digest from 1941 entitled “House of Fury” and it may be the most famous photo cover in the history of comics. It’s lewd, enticing, a little bit scary and completely inappropriate. And you’re wondering why the comics code authority came about? Exploitation at its pinnacle. Reform School Girl #1.
Wally Wood was just hitting his stride when this came out. Not only is this a great drawing but the design with the huge Fu Manchu head really makes this stand out. I actually own this comic and it is one that I sought after for years because I was so taken with art on the cover after seeing it in one of Overstreet’s early price guides. The great bonus is that Wood did the inside art as well! The Mask of Dr. Fu Manchu #1.
This may be the most horrifying cover in the history of comics. It’s amazing this actually got approved and published. Obviously, Bill Gaines published this before he had children. But still the design and execution (pardon the pun) by Johnny Craig is ghoulishly superb. Crime Suspense #22.
This was originally slated to be one of Frazetta’s Buck Rogers covers. It never got used for that so a quick fix changing the guy with the club from Buck Rogers to..well, a guy with a club and viola! Instant classic. The draftsmanship and detail in this piece is just silly it’s so good. Not to mention the great composition and design. It’s really more of a great illustration than a comic cover. Weird Science Fantasy #29.
I have to put Will Eisner on one of these lists and here he is! This comic barely made it as it came out in 1950. Well drawn, simple and dramatic with just enough sex appeal to get a young lad in trouble. One of Eisner’s most effective covers. The Spirit #22
I didn’t really want to put this one on this list because it is just such a “who cares?” comic but the underrated George Evans would not let me walk away from this. So dark and dramatic and so well drawn. And there’s a big shark in it! I almost stole this one off the wall at CrossGen comics! Piracy #7.
Al Williamson and Frank Frazetta. Wow, what a lethal combination. Although the design of the monster could be better the design of the cover could not. Fantastic figure work and great inking. I’m not sure how much Williamson was helped out by Frazetta on this but who cares? The finished product is awesome! Weird Fantasy #21
The eight Buck Rogers covers that Frank Frazetta did for Famous Funnies could all be on this list but that would make a boring list. I know taking all eight and giving them just one spot is kind of cheating and is like giving someone an academy award for a body of work instead of for one great performance. So I am going to go with this one, knowing full well that it represents the greatness of all of them. This has cool machinery, great figure work and a great use of shadow to hide the ominous and threatening creature. Famous Funnies #213.
Two menacing monster hands ripping up through the pavement to stop an oncoming car? It’s either a B movie poster or an EC comic. Score another one for Bill Gaines and company. This is startling and instantly iconic. Vault of Horror #26.
This classic Jack Kirby cover really freaked me out when I saw it showcased in an Overstreet price guide when I was a kid. It immediately takes the romanticism out of war. A strong powerful image that contrasts so nicely with the soldier’s hand written letter. Great impact. Foxhole #1.
This decade was really hard to choose just 10 covers because there was so much quality non-superhero art being created. So I am sure there are more than a few covers that should have made this list but didn’t. Oh well, sue me.