In the cavernous crypt of comic book history, we often find forgotten treasures and hidden gems buried in the detritus of time and change. Today, we’re going to dust off one such gem: Skywald Publishing, a company that dared to challenge industry giants and, for a brief, frenetic period, became a beacon for daring, boundary-pushing horror comics.
The Dawn of Skywald Publishing
Skywald Publishing burst onto the horror comics scene like a revenant from a grave, full of vigor and chills. The brainchild of Israel Waldman and Sol Brodsky (Skywald being a blend of their surnames), the company emerged from the crypt in 1970. Waldman was an industry veteran, having been involved in publishing since the 1950s, while Brodsky was a respected Marvel alumnus, bringing with him a considerable amount of experience and credibility.
Skywald’s aim? To produce a unique blend of gothic tradition and contemporary sensibility – what they proudly referred to as the “Horror-Mood.”
Scream, Nightmare, Psycho: The Trilogy of Terror
The core of Skywald’s horror line was the triumvirate of ‘Scream,’ ‘Nightmare,’ and ‘Psycho’ – a triad of terrifying tomes that would become the company’s mainstay. These black-and-white magazines embraced an experimental approach to storytelling that set them apart from their competitors, most notably Warren Publishing, the industry titan behind successful magazines such as ‘Creepy,’ ‘Eerie,’ and ‘Vampirella’.
‘Scream,’ ‘Nightmare,’ and ‘Psycho’ offered a smorgasbord of self-contained tales, a departure from the serial nature of many other horror comics at the time. Whether it was a story about a sentient compost heap (‘The Heap’ series in ‘Psycho’) or narratives of other supernatural oddities, Skywald magazines presented a fresh, dynamic take on horror.
Ink-Slingers and Word-Weavers: The Creative Maestros
Skywald’s “Horror-Mood” was brought to life by a talented array of creators. Writers such as Al Hewetson, Gardner Fox, and Doug Moench cut their teeth on these magazines, weaving stories that were as complex as they were chilling. Their tales were rendered in spine-tingling detail by artists like Pablo Marcos, Mike Ploog, and Rich Buckler.
The talent behind these magazines was as diverse as the stories they told. Each brought their unique flair to the medium, whether it was the psychedelic, kinetic lines of Buckler, the brooding, atmospheric inks of Marcos, or the vivid, almost cinematic storytelling of Moench. Together, these artists and writers created a universe that was as terrifying as it was tantalizing, where anything was possible and no narrative turn was too outlandish.
While Skywald’s print run was relatively brief, they left behind a significant collection of unique and intriguing stories that have since become notable for their blend of horror and creativity. Here are a few that stand out:
- “The Heap”: One of the most renowned features from Skywald was the reimagining of “The Heap,” a character first introduced by Hillman Periodicals. The Heap is essentially a sentient compost pile or swamp creature and can be considered a predecessor to characters like Marvel’s Man-Thing and DC’s Swamp Thing. Skywald brought a fresh interpretation to the character in ‘Psycho’ magazine, adding an element of intrigue and horror to the series.
- “Frankenstein Part II”: Another standout from the Skywald catalog, featured in the ‘Nightmare’ and ‘Scream’ magazines, was “Frankenstein Part II.” The series was an interesting sequel to Mary Shelly’s famous novel and took the Frankenstein Monster to strange places in his quest to resurrect his frozen father Victor Frankenstein.
- “Lady Satan”: This told the tale of the Witch Queen Black Anne and her unwilling betrothal to Lucifer. Rejecting the King of Hell, she is resurrected as a vampire spirit possessing the body of a young black girl. The story follows her ongoing battle against Lucifer, who seeks to father the antichrist with her.
- Gothic Fiction Adaptations: These tales showed that the publisher wasn’t afraid to try their hands at adapting the likes of Edgar Allan Poe, though the tales were often more gory and gruesome than the source material hinted at.
- “The Fiend of Changsha”: This was a vampire tale from ‘Psycho’ magazine, featuring one of Dracula’s Chinese victims during his brief stopover in the Orient. It showed off Skywald’s unique ability to blend horror, history, mystery, and (bizarrely) martial arts into one cohesive narrative. This fusion of genres was a hallmark of Skywald’s storytelling style.
These stories, among others, contributed to Skywald’s reputation as a purveyor of experimental, boundary-pushing narratives, and they remain a vital part of the publisher’s enduring legacy.
The Twisting Path to Oblivion: Skywald’s Downfall
Alas, all good things must come to an end, and in the case of Skywald Publishing, the end was swift and unexpected. Despite the company’s experimental approach and the talent it harbored, it faced severe financial and distribution difficulties. Brodsky’s departure in 1974 dealt a further blow to the struggling publisher. By 1975, Skywald was no more. The Horror-Mood had slipped into the darkness, a flickering flame extinguished all too soon.
Despite its untimely demise, Skywald Publishing left an indelible mark on the horror genre. Its bold, experimental ethos opened new paths in storytelling, showcasing the rich potential of the horror comics medium. Although Skywald magazines are now collector’s items, the spirit of the “Horror-Mood” lives on, a testament to a time when a small publishing company dared to dream big, challenging the status quo and pushing the boundaries of what horror could be.
In the grand narrative of comic book history, Skywald Publishing may be a footnote, but it’s a footnote worth remembering. It serves as a reminder that sometimes, it’s the smallest stones that cause the biggest ripples, and in the vast lake of horror comics, Skywald certainly made a splash. Its legacy remains as a beacon for aspiring comic book creators, a testament to the power of imagination, daring, and a little bit of moodiness.
Note: Skywald Magazines are being reprinted in stunning collections by Gwandanaland Comics. Alternatively, you can have a look at our affiliate links The Skywald Archives or Skywald’s Horror Anthology, which offers lots of stories in two affordable collections.
And that’s it for today! Thanks for reading, horror lovers. See you in the creepy pages!