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“The Simon and Kirby Library: Horror!” Book Review

The scary, the terrifying, the downright frightening. What’s your favourite scary story?

Chances are there’s something like in the scintillatingly scary anthology of the work of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, two of the 21st century’s finest comic book artists and auteurs behind strips of stories of true crime, horror, romance and science fiction that thrilled huge audiences in the 1940s and 1950s during the Golden Age of Comic Books. The anthology, it has to be said, is crisp and beautiful, each panel lovingly restored to vibrant, pulpy brightness – the colours leaping off the page and providing plenty of visually entertaining fare before you even consider the stories.

For someone like myself who is a comics (in the serialised format) newcomer, the anthology not only allows me an easy jumping-off point into the genre, it also ensures that the reader is enthralled from the start. The stories – collected from Simon & Kirby’s lauded ‘Black Magic’ series – are surprisingly elegant and elegaic in nature, allowing the reader a chance to explore creepy concepts and tales of terror without lengthy introductions or deep backstories, as is the nature of the comic.

Several of the best stories deal with terrifying scenarios that could rival some of the best thrillers and horror films out in recent years; the sinister ‘Voodoo on Tenth Avenue’ is an exploration of poetic justice, cruelty and black magic, while the brilliantly scary ‘The Cloak’ tells the story of a Satanic garment and the way it affects innocent people. The stories feel almost Hitchcockian in a way; in similar vignette-style tone to his ‘Alfred Hitchcock Presents…’ series, a slow and growing dread sweeps over the reader as the twists and turns are unravelled and shocking, supernatural events and figures besiege our protagonists one way or another. The stories feel like a precursor to ‘ The Twilight Zone’ and maintain a sense of unease and shock throughout.

Fortunately not every story is a bloodless horror – some stories in the collection investigate the realm of dreams, while others are historical stories used for terrifying tales. One notable story is the stellar ‘Visions of Nostradamus’ which is part-prophecy, part-propaganda, and part-crackpot theorising last seen during an ‘Ancient Aliens’ marathon. Not every story is a winner, admittedly, with a lot of the same tropes being used throughout, but with a context such as this, it makes sense that Simon and Kirby were playing to what American readers wanted – action, terror, suspense, horror, but without gore or the brutality of war that many had known all-too-well a few years before.

This anthology does an admirable job of celebrating the genre and bringing the stories back for a whole new generation – myself included – to thoroughly enjoy, with the attention to detail paid throughout the restoration, transference and resurrection of the art is commendable.

If you’re in the mood for some short, dark, and scary material, you can’t get much better than Horror! – although it might be best to read it in the daytime. After all, who knows what’s lurking in the shadows…