It’s the month for frights and scares! In honor of our great national obsession with things that go bump in the night, let’s take a look at the comics that were such an influential part of the horror comic boom of the 1970s, and how those same comics are now such a big part of the bronze age collecting explosion.
In 1971 the Comics Code Authority revised their stringent rules as follows: “Vampires, ghouls, and werewolves shall be permitted to be used when handled in the classic tradition such as Frankenstein, Dracula, and other high caliber literary works written by Edgar Allen Poe, Saki, Conan Doyle and other respected authors whose works are read in schools around the world.” However, zombies, or more particularly, “the walking dead,” and “torture,” were still no longer allowed.
The floodgates were opened, and this led to a boom in horror comics that would last most of the decade. DC had continued publishing horror titles by replacing words such as, “horror,” with words like “mystery”. Marvel hadn’t published any horror comics for decades. They stayed close to the letter of the new code with their big three titles – Tomb of Dracula, Werewolf By Night, and Frankenstein.
Tomb of Dracula
No comic better exemplifies the Marvel 70s horror boom better than Tomb of Dracula. The series began in 1972 and lasted 70 issues. The final issue came out at the end of the decade in 1979, as horror sales flagged. With the consistent creative team of writer Marv Wolfman, who began on the series with Tomb of Dracula #7, and Gene Colan, the penciller for all 70 issues, the series was considered one of the best of the 1970s.
For collectors, the sale of a 9.8 Tomb of Dracula #1 in a Heritage auction on September 12 for $16,800 set a high point over 400% more than a previous 9.8 sale in February for $3,305.55. This sale sets Marvel 1970s horror comics as truly worthwhile investments. If that issue alone were the whole story, it would still be a pretty big tale for collectors.
However, Wolfman and Colan created a character in Tomb of Dracula #10 who would go on to be much bigger than the Lord of Vampires himself – Blade. In that same September 12 Heritage Auction a 9.8 #10 sold for an incredible $48,000. That’s a 67% increase over a 9.8 sale just three months earlier. With these sales, we begin to see a trend – a genuine boom in 70s horror comics.
Werewolf By Night
Jack Russell, Marvel’s Werewolf, made his debut in Marvel Spotlight #2, a book that predates Tomb of Dracula #1 by two months. The character proved popular enough after three issues of Marvel Spotlight to earn his own series with Werewolf By Night #1. While neither issue has reached the height of either of the issues of Tomb of Dracula, both could see huge gains if 9.8 copies ever go up for sale.
However, that might not happen any time soon, as the CGC census shows only one 9.8 copy of Marvel Spotlight #2 and only four of Werewolf By Night #1. As with Tomb of Dracula, a character would debut in Werewolf By Night who would go on to dwarf the title character in the eyes of collectors and investors – Moon Knight. While no sales of a 9.8 Werewolf By Night #32 have taken place in 2021, sales of 9.6 copies have shown a value increase of 149% and 9.4 copies have seen a 242% increase, driving the 9.8 FMV to $92,000. Don’t be surprised if the next sale of a 9.8 crosses the six-digit threshold.
Debuting a year after Dracula and Werewolf, Marvel’s version of Frankenstein would, sadly, not reach the heights of its fellow monsters. Lasting only 18 issues, the series never fell into a consistent groove that appealed to readers. The title of the book changed mid-series, starting as The Monster of Frankenstein before shifting to The Frankenstein Monster, and the time period of the stories leapt mid-stride from the Mary Shelley era of the original novel to the then present-day 1970s.
For collectors, the key issue is Frankenstein #1. The last 9.8 sale in May 2020 for $1,250 was more than double a sale just five months prior. Still a worthwhile investment, if very much lacking when compared to its peers.
Join Us for Part Two
Hope you enjoyed this first look at the 1970s horror comic boom. Next week we’ll take a look at some more books that were part of this boom and part of the current explosion in bronze age horror comic values.