The Transcendent Horror Noir of Witches Tales #25, Up for Auction

Witches Tales #25 (Harvey, 1954) is a classic among two different groups of people for two different reasons that involve the same story.  Pre-Code Horror collectors love that classic terrifying yet fascinating cover by Warren Kremer, which purports to represent the interior feature named "What's Happening at… 8:30 PM," while there's been a lot of historical interest around the interior story of that name by artist Howard Nostrand and scripter Nat Barnett.  But fascinatingly, Kremer seems to be telling a very different story from the interior Nostrand/Barnett tale that has garnered so much attention and been reprinted numerous times in classic comic book horror collections.  A highly regarded PCH comic book, there's a nice copy of Witches Tales #25 (Harvey, 1954) CGC FN- 5.5 Cream to off-white pages up for auction in the 2022 March 31 The Black Cat Collection and Pre-Code Horror Comics & Comic Art Showcase Auction #40186 at Heritage Auctions.

Witches Tales #25 (Harvey, 1954)
Witches Tales #25 (Harvey, 1954)

Kremer's cover for "What's Happening at… 8:30 PM," shows the bell of a bell tower being rung by some ghoul or madman, with the bell clapper having been replaced by a severed head, perhaps meant to signal the time in question.  But the interior story has nothing to do with that at all.  This is not all that unusual for covers of the era, and while we've recently discussed another Harvey example of a Kremer cover that very closely represents its interior story it's possible that he only had a title to work with in this case — or that he was asked for a more traditionally horrific cover in the context of that time period.  Because the story for "What Happens at 8:30 PM?" is psychological terror that doesn't actually show any human beings at all — except from the inside.  The characters we see are actually the personification of germs inside of a human body.

Much has been written about this story, and as Historian Bhob Stewart has explained:

I acquired a copy of Witches Tales #25 (June 1954) with Nostrand's astonishing Kurtzman/Eisner homage, "What's Happening at 8:30 P.M.", a comics noir laden with mood and atmospherics. Shlup-shlepping through the mud comes a sad-faced humanoid character, yet with antennae and bulbous-nosed head. He is shunned as he meanders through a near-deserted city, splashing through puddles, shlepping into the night… he experiences a moment of self-awareness only a split second before he is burned alive by a scorching stream that pours down on him from above.

The author of the seminal Pre-Code-Horror book Four Color Fear, John Benson has also written about this strange little tale:

Then he fell heavily under the influence of EC and Mad, patterning his layouts after Harvey Kurtzman, and creating pictures that looked like an uncanny amalgam of Jack Davis and Wally Wood. At times, he even did pastiches of particular EC stories. His "What's Happening at 8:30 P.M.?" (WT #25) draws heavily on Kurtzman and Wood's "V-Vampires" (Mad #3), for example. When Nostrand did this, however, he never "swiped" cold but always created completely new pic­tures.

While Nostrand himself identified Barnett as the scripter of this tale, it seems possible that Nostrand got the idea from what he said was the first story he worked on at Harvey. "The Man Germ" from Chamber of Chills #13  contains a different twist on a similar concept.  Witches Tales #25 has attracted widespread attention over the years, and there's a nice copy of Witches Tales #25 (Harvey, 1954) CGC FN- 5.5 Cream to off-white pages up for auction in the 2022 March 31 The Black Cat Collection and Pre-Code Horror Comics & Comic Art Showcase Auction #40186 at Heritage Auctions.

Witches Tales #25 (Harvey, 1954)
Witches Tales #25 (Harvey, 1954)

Witches Tales #25 (Harvey, 1954) CGC FN- 5.5 Cream to off-white pages. Decapitation cover by Lee Elias. Howard Nostrand and Bob Powell art. Overstreet 2021 FN 6.0 value = $1,296. CGC census 3/22: 4 in 5.5, 21 higher.

View the certification for CGC Certification ID 0027728009 and purchase grader's notes if available.

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About 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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