Here's how Eerie #1 ushered in the age of horror comics 70 years ago

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Jan 29, 2017, 12:00 PM EST

With horror and supernatural comics crowding the shelves in most comic book emporiums these days, it's almost hard to imagine a time when they weren't omnipresent.  But prior to 1947, Golden Age funny books were mostly packed with heroic tales of costumed crimefighters like Batman, Superman, Aquaman and Captain Marvel or the cartoon antics of Walt Disney's Donald Duck, Goofy and Mickey Mouse.

This all changed in one January jolt 70 years ago with the release of Eerie #1, the world's first true fright title injected with original content. Published by Avon Publications, this unsettling anthology was the spark that ignited the bonfire of interest in horror comics that continued throughout the mid-1950s. At 52 pages long, it contained six separate stories delivering a tempered range of sensational supernatural shocks.

Eerie #1 is often recognized as the first out-and-out horror comic book, and its then-frightening full-color cover depicted a crimson-eyed demon clutching a dagger and creeping toward a scantily clad woman whose hands were tied, kneeling inside a crumbling mansion. Inside, the terrifying tales celebrated the nefarious actions of ghosts, vampires and zombies.  

The roster of scary stories were: "Dead Man's Tale," "Proof," "Mystery of Murder Manor," "The Man-Eating Lizard," "The Strange Case of Henpecked Harry," a "Goofy Ghost" strip and "The Eyes of the Tiger." Most of the creator names have been lost to history, but the nine-page gem, "The Man-Eating Lizard," showcased the works of writer Edward Bellin and art by rising stars George Roussos, Fred Kida and Joe Kubert.

This historic issue sold out by the end of January and was not seen again until Avon resurrected the title in 1951 for a 17-issue run, finishing in 1954.

In 1954, Congressional hearings on comic books and their alleged links to juevenile violence and corruption put a swift halt to lurid pre-code horror titles spawned mainly by William Gaines' EC Comics like Tales From The Crypt, The Vault of Horror and The Haunt of Fear. One fact that often gets misinterpreted is that the Comics Code Authority was a self-imposed solution, initiated by the titans of the industry to appease the backlash and was not demanded of them by the government. Still, this heavy censorship and negative public sentiment had already nuked the horror comics biz as wholesomeness and sterility reigned throughout post-war America.

It wasn't until the Comics Code was revised by the industry in 1970 that the horror comic enjoyed its second renaissance, seeing both Marvel and DC leaping boldly into the marketplace with memorable titles like House of Secrets, Ghosts, House of Mystery, Witching Hour, Tomb of Dracula, Tower of Shadows and Man-Thing, all featuring some of the finest linework ever seen from legendary names like Bernie Wrightson and Neal Adams.  

This resurgence of interest led to the mounting swarm of black-and-white horror comic magazines in the '70s that fell vaguely outside the code, including Warren's Vampirella, Eerie and Creepy and Skywald's Nightmare, Scream and Psycho.

Today's huge horror marketplace is rich and diversified, pumping out hundreds of titles celebrating the mania of mutant monsters, vengeful ghosts, shambling zombies and the psychological phantoms of the human mind.

So it all started with a tiny little horror comic with the title of Eerie, an oft-forgotten book that hit the shelves 70 years ago this month. Light a birthday candle and check out some of the interior pages in the gallery below and let us know your favorite classic horror titles.