Matt Baker Lagoon Creatures on Amazing Ghost Stories, Up for Auction

One suspects that St. John kept changing the title of its Weird Horrors series in an attempt to keep a step ahead of local self-appointed censors, who often made lists of titles they considered objectionable and attempted to pressure local authorities to push them off the newsstands.  While Weird Horrors wasn't particularly extreme by horror comic standards, it showed up on objectionable lists from Oklahoma City to El Paso and beyond, likely based on little more than the title alone.  Weird Horrors was renamed to Nightmare after nine issues (one of the titles St. John acquired from Ziff-Davis, St. John had also previously tried to continue Nightmare from the Ziff-Davis numbering as well), but this title too was short-lived.  St. John had seemingly decided to lean into the more graphic elements not uncommon in mid-1950s comic book horror, and it's likely that the Joe Kubert skinned face cover (which is of course wonderfully drawn, and likely exactly what they asked him to do) did them in with local censors from the outset there.  This was the peak of the moral panic era that soon lead to the Comics Code, and judging by what happened next, it appears that St. John realized they needed a different tactic.  With the final issue of Nightmare, they went in a more classic horror-suspense direction with the title and its covers: Matt Baker to the rescue.  The final issue of Nightmare looks more like a 1950s horror movie still than it does a comic book cover of the same era, and this continued when the title was renamed once again as Amazing Ghost Stories.  The final hammer price of $18,000 for a copy of Amazing Ghost Stories #14 CGC 6.5 was one of the biggest surprises of the recent Matt Baker Showcase auction, but there's another chance at a copy with an Amazing Ghost Stories #14 (St. John, 1954) CGC VG 4.0 Light tan to off-white pages plus another classic Baker cover which is a companion of sorts to that, Nightmare #13 (St. John, 1954) CGC VG- 3.5 Cream to off-white pages  and up for auction in the 2022 October 27 – 28 Halloween Pre-Code Horror and Crime Comics Showcase Auction #40207 at Heritage Auctions.

Nightmare #13, Amazing Ghost Stories #14 (St. John 1954)
Nightmare #13, Amazing Ghost Stories #14 (St. John 1954)

Amazing Ghost Stories #14, which hit newsstands in late August 1954, is a particularly striking example of the film-style approach that makes these covers stand out, as it is obviously inspired by Creature from the Black Lagoon, which had rolled out in theaters nationwide early that year.  Universal was extremely proud of their Gill-Man design, and the creature was cover-featured in magazines ranging from Mechanix Illustrated to The Skin Diver throughout the year.  It would have been absolutely unavoidable, and natural inspiration for a horror cover by Baker.  The previous cover from Nightmare #13 is an interesting companion to Amazing Ghost Stories #14, as it turns that cover concept on its head. The hero dives into the deep on the counterattack against swampy (and somehow still sexy) sea creature women.

Despite this change in tone, Amazing Ghost Stories didn't last.  Amazing Ghost Stories #14 was attacked not for its cover, but for an interior story.  The Memphis, Tennessee "Committee of 13 on Comic Books" complained of the interior story that issue called The Devil of the Deep, that the evil mermaid of the tale "starts to devour Bob, which last act of cannibalism proves her undoing. The poison Bob has ingested gets her, too, and as the curtain rings down she is found floating tummy up in the pool."  Perhaps unsurprisingly, all of the violence described in that scene by the Committee of 13 is implied in the comic, rather than shown.

St. John's attempts to thread the Pre-Code Horror needle to the publisher's and the would-be censors' satisfaction did not last, and the series ended with issue #16 — and Amazing Ghost Stories #15 and #16 also have Baker covers.  Nevertheless, it lasted just long enough to provide us with these rare examples of a very different kind of comic book horror by Baker.  There are some stand-out examples of this with an Amazing Ghost Stories #14 (St. John, 1954) CGC VG 4.0 Light tan to off-white pages plus  Nightmare #13 (St. John, 1954) CGC VG- 3.5 Cream to off-white pages up for auction in the 2022 October 27 – 28 Halloween Pre-Code Horror and Crime Comics Showcase Auction #40207 at Heritage Auctions.

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Mark SeifertAbout Mark Seifert

Co-founder and Creative director of Bleeding Cool parent company Avatar Press. Bleeding Cool Managing Editor, tech and data wrangler. Machine Learning hobbyist. Vintage paper addict.
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