• PrintMag

Skull Art: When Death Covered the Newsstand

Zombie Haiku is the touching (albeit cold and clammy) story of a zombie’s gradual decay—and here’s the unique twist—it’s told through the intimate poetry of haiku. Get yours here.

Forget The Walking Dead; they’re so… buried. It’s now the day of the Dead Dead! Vintage skull art and images—covers of cheap, lurid horror, mystery, and thriller fiction that once haunted newsstands, drug stores, and cigar shops—have begun to rear their cadaverous crania. It should be duly noted that this trend-spotting is solely based on the release of a portable little novelty publication with the pun-ishing title Popular Skullture: The Skull Motif in Pulps, Paperbacks, and Comics.

H. Lawrence Hoffman, 1947

Skullture‘s content analysis is pretty bare-bones: Beauchamp provides a bit of background history, and Print’s own Steven Heller runs a little riff on death symbolism. But really, how substantively can you speak about the aesthetics of packaging for Murder in the House with the Blue Eyes, Hot Bullets for Love, and, from Hangman’s House Press, Lady Thats [sic non-punctuation] My Skull?

The real flesh and blood of the book is found in its copious reproductions of skull art. Paperback and pulp illustrations by pros like Peter Driben, Gerald Gregg, and Paul Stahr are well represented, along with impressive early comics art by Bob Powell, Jack Kamen, and L.B. Cole. As a whole, the book offers a wide and weird range, from stunningly stimulating creativity to ghastly, schlocky hackwork… which, I suppose, makes it a true picture of the era.

Related reading:

  1. Cover Your Eyes: the Graphic Horrors of 1950s Comics

  2. The Winter Brothers v. DC Comics: Parody and Monsters

  3. 100 Baddest Mother F*#!ers in Comics

Still, every turn of the page can be an adventure in skull art. Thrill as you begin to spot recurring visual themes! Spider webs! Dali landscapes! Helpless women! Gasp as you stumble upon a black silhouetted falling man that evokes – and predates by a half-century – Mad Men’s opening credits. Scream and cringe as you’re confronted with all manner of tacky type treatments.

These days mere “picture books” – especially ones that are light on text – can be so… pre-digital. After all, anyone can freely download these sorts of covers – and even the entire contents! – at sites like digitalcomicmuseum.com and pulpcovers.com. But who wouldn’t also want to always have within reach a tactile, contemplative reminder of life’s fragility and inevitable decay?

And – thanks to its sturdy hard cover and quality grade paper – Popular Skullture also makes for excellent re-gifting at your next Hallowe’en party.

Jack Kamen, 1949

unknown, 1938

Lee Elias, 1954

George Rozen, 1933

Bob Powell, 1949

George Rozen, 1942

unknown, 1945

Gerald Gregg, 1943

L.B. Cole, 1945

Gloria Stoll, 1944

H.J. Ward, 1936

unknown, 1947

L.B. Cole, 1952

Margaret Brundage, 1938

unknown, 1953

unknown, 1946

Calling all zombie-philes, video game addicts, grind house nostalgists, and horror movie fanatics—have we got a hard-to-put-down book for you! Zombie Haiku will keep you up late into the night (mostly from the inability to forget that bulging eye staring out at you from page six). It’s the touching (albeit cold and clammy) story of a zombie’s gradual decay—and here’s the unique twist—it’s told through the intimate poetry of haiku. From infection to demise, you’ll trod along the journey through deserted streets and barricaded doors for every eye-popping, gut-wrenching, flesh-eating moment right up until the inevitable bullet to the brain. For extra impact, the book is illustrated with over fifty photos and designed with extra blood, guts and gore!

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