Growing up I was, like most comic book collectors, utterly fascinated and enthralled by comic book cover art. There were countless comics on the spinner racks that I had to resist buying because of budget constraints, but I always drank in their covers so that I could speculate on the stories contained within, and often made up my own based on the four-color images burned into my memory. The horror line over at Marvel sported beautifully illustrated covers by noteworthies like Gil Kane on the comics and Bob Larkin on the magazine titles, while DC Comics had theirs done by such Hall-Of-Famers as Nicky Cardy, Joe Kubert, and Bernie Wrightson. Looking back on it all, we were extremely lucky to have gotten so much for so little. Masterful art for 25 cents? Hell yeah.
Having recently re-cataloged my old back issues, I discovered that one cover artist dominated my childhood favorites – the great Mike Kaluta. You might be familiar with Mike through his work with Denny O’Neil on DC’s The Shadow, which ran from 1973-74. I could not recall where I first ran into his art, but it’s almost certainly through his covers, though I did own a few of those Shadow issues as a youngster. Shortly after sorting through a score of horror issues, I blacked out, and half an hour later found myself firing up my tablet and writing a blog post about the Kaluta covers that had somehow hijacked my brain. I had been in a fugue state, of sorts, I guess. Looking at so much brilliant but disturbing pieces of gorgeous horror art can do that to any horror fan, especially one with my fragile constitution. Blogging is a natural consequence of this phenomenon; the material takes control of your brain and forces you to disseminate it across the interwebs in its blind desire to propagate itself. I, of course, gladly complied.
Known for his ominous scenery, surreal anatomy, and ability to evoke terrifying ambiance, Kaluta was a cover artist of the highest caliber. His first cover for DC appeared in THE HOUSE OF MYSTERY’s celebrated 200th issue (March 1972), one of the best of the title’s run. It depicts animals baying, screeching, bleating, neighing, and howling up at the face of a full moon covered with demonic shadows while a lone figure stands in the window of a nearby house, gazing out at the sinister spectacle. What a way to make your debut as an artist. Back then, while still a neophyte, Mike was already kicking things into high gear. Have a gander at the cover in question below, horror fans:
Throughout the 1970’s and early 1980s, Kaluta continued to provide cover art for several titles. Never comfortable with superheroes, he preferred depicting realistic scenes juxtaposed with images of horror. This often resulted in fearful imagery that arrested the eyeballs and assaulted the mind with promises of nightmares to come. My particular favorites were his HOM covers featuring Andrew Bennet, better known as I, VAMPIRE… Below are a few to tantalize your taste buds:
So here’s to the spectacular cover art of Mike Kaluta, and all the frights he gave me as a little kid sequestered in my room during those dark nights with only horror comics as my companions. May you be remembered as one of the greats, Mr. Kaluta. I, like all your fans, continue to hold your twisted imagination and marvelous drawing hand in high esteem.