(Comic) Book Review: Ghosts and Gals of Fiction House by Matt Baker

Risqué? Maybe a little; but not by today’s standards.

But are they sexist?

It’s interesting that in so many of these sexy girl comics, the heroine is the strong character. She’s not waiting for a man to save her. She’s not here simply for men. Do they pass the Bechdel test? I don’t know. More on that later.

Famed indie comic author Trina Robbins noted “most of [Fiction House’s] stories either starred or featured strong, beautiful, competent heroines. They were war nurses, aviatrixes, girl detectives, counterspies, and animal-skin-clad jungle queens, and they were in command.”

Ghosts and Girls gives the interesting history of Fiction House comics. It even has a pulpy vibe to the writing. It describes how Fiction House set the pace for horror comics but newer publishing houses like EC seemed to be the ones that started the genre.

It’s interesting how many big comic names contributed to these before creating the superheroes they were known for – like Jack Kirby or Bob Kane.

But then, for me, the confusion started. About 10% of this book is essay – describing some of the interesting history noted above. In this section, it would have been good if the covers shown could have related to the text. For example, when he talks about Bob Hebberd’s googley eyes, it would have been good to see an example rather than Jumbo Comics #164, which isn’t even mentioned in the text.

But then, the hardest thing to figure out about this book is the structure. It appears to be a couple of essays on Fiction House followed by examples of some of the comics. (And I’m assuming that the covers following the section on Maurice Whitman, though it should be more explicit, at least in the captions.) The next 10% is these example covers.

And then, more than 75% of this almost-200-page-book is actual comics.

I’ve never really read any of these old horror books. They’re pulpy and fun.

Ye gods! Bullets won’t stop the thing! It’s a ghost beast!

Though sometimes a bit confusing; the grammar isn’t the best and there’s often a lot going on – who killed whom and when?

And to be honest, after reading several of these stories they get a bit tedious. Why? Because, they’re all about Drew Murdoch, Ghost Hunter. Maybe this book should have been called “Ghosts and Drew Murdoch of Fiction House.”

Are the several comics shown here the best examples of Fiction House fare? A random sampling? An intro to each one might have been good. And maybe a closing the book ends with the last page of the last comic.

Unfortunately, none of the comics were good examples of what the essays were talking about. The closest we get to strong women is the Cleopatra story where she curses those that have defiled her grave. Other than that, it’s just a bunch of ghost stories being investigated by our intrepid ghost expert Drew Murdoch.

This book would have been much, much more interesting if the essays had tied to the comics somehow – and if the text was more explicit about it.

Thanks to NetGalley, Diamond Distributors, and IDW Publishing for providing a copy for an honest review.

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