Horror comics were a popular category in the early 1950s, and DC decided to try it with this title launched with a December 1951/January 1952 cover date. DC’s horror books (which they preferred to call mystery comics) were always a lot tamer than similar offerings from other publishers, but they did include stories about ghosts and traditional monsters like the werewolf on this first cover that attempted to be frightening. The editor of record in 1950s issues was Whitney Ellsworth, like all DC titles, but it was probably edited by Jack Schiff with his team of George Kashdan and Murray Boltinoff, and it must have sold well, as it went monthly with issue #5 and remained a monthly until 1963, about 130 issues. Later issues were edited by Kashdan alone, and in 1968 editing was taken over by Joe Orlando, but after Ira Schnapp’s participation ended, so I won’t cover that here.
Ira Schnapp designed the cover logo. It’s rather bland and has nothing scary about it, an interesting choice. That may have been Ira’s choice, or the editor’s, but I find Ira’s scary lettering about the least effective thing he did, so perhaps it’s just as well. Certainly the logo is easy to read and in the DC house style of other Ira Schnapp logos, setting it apart from the horror comics of competitors. Ira also lettered this and most of the series covers until 1967. Again, he rarely attempted to be scary, but his work was easy to read, and perhaps the familiar style made it an easier sell. Most of Schnapp’s lettering on this title was on covers, though he did do occasional stories until 1964.
Issue #7 from 1952 shows the groove the cover lettering fell into for many issues: a scary scene, a word balloon or two, and a list of story titles, often at the bottom.
Issue #30 from 1954 shows Ira making an extra effort in the Asian style of the cover story title.
Issue #73 from 1958 has another special treatment on the word ICICLE. This sort of thing became common later, but was less so in the 1950s. By now the list of story titles had been dropped.
DC had several layers of proofreading before anything went to the printer, including the editor, an official proofreader, and printer proofs, but things still slipped by occasionally. Can you find the error in this balloon?
After the Comics Code took effect in 1954 (as evidenced by the code seal at upper right of each cover), the story emphasis moved away from traditional horror themes to more science fictional monsters and aliens, which I guess were considered okay by the Code.
By issue #143 in 1964, superheroes were all the rage and sales must have been flagging on HOUSE OF MYSTERY. J’onn J’onzz, Manhunter from Mars, who had first appeared in DETECTIVE COMICS in 1955, began a series of lead stories in this book with his alien sidekick Zook.
With issue #156 in 1966, a new lead feature began, pushing the Ira Schnapp logo to the side. I don’t know who lettered the Dial H for Hero logo or the rest of the lettering on this cover. It’s not Ira and doesn’t look like Gaspar Saladino either, the next most likely candidate. It’s probably by some other DC production artist like Joe Letterese. The Dial H logo is poorly done in my opinion.
Issue #163 from later in 1966 is firmly in the worst period of DC cover design, with too much lettering and trade dress, and those awful “Go-Go Checks” at the top. This cover’s lettering has several creators. Ira did the balloon, fly paper signs and caption at the lower right as well as the HOM logo, Gaspar Saladino lettered the copy in the horizontal yellow band, and an unknown person did the Dial H logo and blurb. It’s almost as if someone thought piling on more lettering was going to save this sad cover.
Schnapp’s final cover lettering was on issue #172 dated Jan/Feb 1968. At least this cover has an interesting image and much less copy.
Here are the covers I think are lettered by Ira Schnapp: 1, 3-32, 34-45, 47-70, 72-81, 84-134, 136-143, 145-159, 161-167, 169-172. That’s 162 in all, a fine run.
Ira did not letter many stories for this series. Here’s the first page of the first one from issue #2. I like his scroll caption.
There’s not a lot to say about the stories in this series. There were no continuing characters until issue #143 in 1964, that’s a lot of short stories that had to introduce characters and plot and resolve it in a few pages while giving readers a chill. Not an easy task.
This story from issue #100 in 1960 is a typical weird monster tale. Even coming up with so many different monsters must have been a challenge.
Issue #147 of 1964 has the last story lettered by Ira, though there was at least one reprint after that. Here are the stories lettered by Ira Schnapp:
#2 Feb/March 1952: The Tree of Doom 8pp
#3 April/May 1952: I Was a Victim of Black Magic 4pp
#6 Sept 1952: I Was a Ghost For Hire 6pp
#9 Dec 1952: Secret of the Little Black Bag 8pp, Ghost Writer 4pp
#13 April 1953: The Tell-Tale Mirror 6pp
#14 May 1953: I Hired a Ghost 6pp
#15 June 1953: The Winged Demon 6pp
#16 July 1953: His Name On A Bullet 6pp
#38 May 1955: The Gloves of Fate 6pp
#45 Dec 1955: The Four Forbidden Secrets 6pp
#47 Feb 1956: They Call Me the Prince of Liars 6pp
#75 June 1958: The Fatal Masquerade 6pp
#81 Dec 1958: Menace of the Alien Test Tubes 8pp
#83 Feb 1959: Mystery of the Martian Eye 9pp
#84 March 1959: The 100 Century Doom 6pp
#100 July 1960: Curse of the Ghost Caravan 8pp, The Beast Beneath the Earth 9pp
#102 Sept 1960: Cellmate to a Monster 8pp
#104 Nov 1960: The Seeing-Eye Man 9pp
#108 March 1961: The Weird Weapons of Zabadu 8pp
#110 May 1961: The Costume of 100 Powers 8pp
#111 June 1961: The Return of the Sorcerer’s Satellite 8pp
#115 Oct 1961: Case of the Perilous Pet 8pp
#119 Feb 1962: The Man Who Tuned In the Unknown 9pp
#123 June 1962: Lure of the Decoy Creature 9pp
#128 Nov 1962: Captives of the Robot Brain 8pp
#129 Dec 1962: The Ride to Disaster 8pp
#147 Dec 1964: Riddle of the Weird Warrior 8pp
That’s a total of 209 pages. More articles in this series are on the Comics Creation page of my blog.
House of Mystery on Wikipedia.