It's that time of the year again when tombstones begin appearing on front lawns and comic book geeks revisit the horror genre. I decided to spend some time determining what I believe to be the 13 best comic book covers drawn by Tom Sutton.
Tom Sutton was an absolute master of comic book horror - infusing the his work with a gothic creepiness that almost oozed from the pages in an organic plop. If you're put off by his style upon first glance, I urge you to take a closer look in order to appreciate the truly unique style that he brought to the table during an era when many artists were simply aping Adams or Wrightson.
13. Haunted #25Although I was certainly too young to buy any horror comics in the mid-70s, there’s no way my parent would have let this one into the house. I know that the rules had be somewhat loosened years earlier, but I’m a bit surprised this cover slipped past the Code. The warm tones established through Sutton’s color choices really accent the realism of the picture. Creepy.
12. Creepy #22Speaking of Creepy… Like many artists of his generation, Tom Sutton’s earliest work was for Warren Magazines. He was even assigned a handful of covers during the late 60s. ‘Children in Peril’ was a big theme with Neal Adams at DC, but Sutton flipped that notion on its head with this ‘Children Behaving Badly’ cover. One of his very earliest works.
11. Ghostly Haunts #33I love the sense of motion of this one. It also features a theme that Sutton will return to again and again: frightened faces in the foreground at the bottom of the cover. It’s as it they are trying to run right off the page. The horse is truly demonic looking, and the castle in the background helps to establish the setting. This ain’t Sleepy Hollow, NY folks.
10. Monster Hunters #3This cover features much of what I love about Tom Sutton’s artwork. At first glance, you’re not sure what to think. All you know is that it is a striking image and unlike anything else you’ll see on the spinner rack. You’re forced to squint your eyes to try to get a better sense of what is going on. Good horror movies often work on the same basis, with a quick flash of a darkened shape in the woods setting your imagination into overdrive.
9. Haunted #8‘Gothic’ is certainly the first word that springs to mind when I think of Tom Sutton. The second is ‘Lovecraftian’. This cover, one of Sutton’s earliest for Charlton, plays up the Cthulhu mythology. The use of black here is incredible, as our hero is almost nothing more than a silhouette set against the giant creature.
8. Werewolf By Night #10Sutton was rarely given cover assignments by either DC or Marvel, but they certainly could not have been disappointed with what he produced. Sutton pencilled a few issues of this title, and was even given a couple of covers. I like this one because it fits right into the Marvel mainstream horror vibe, but still retains some of the Sutton touch; especially in the splashing water and the pose of the female captive. I also love the placement of his signature.
7. Creepy ThingsCreepy Things was part of the ‘Charlton Mini-Explosion’ in the mid-70s, and it featured some pretty entertaining covers. I really like the claustrophobic atmosphere established here, as the trapped man looks horrified. I would be too, as these little white men are frightening. I find the absence of details in their faces and bodies to be quite eerie. The mushrooms in the background have me wondering if this is really happening, or if the guy got hungry and chose the wrong snack.
6. Haunted Love #3This gothic romance title was the perfect sandbox for Tom Sutton. This cover features a classic Victorian damsel (nearly) in distress. Bonnets were all over the place in Sutton’s horror artwork. I really love the claws emerging from the purple hued fog. If this is what love and dating were all about in Victorian times, I think I’d settle for a spinster’s life.
5. Creepy #23I truly believe that this cover can holds its own with the very best Warren covers of the period. This one just drips with atmosphere; with the lonely cabin high on the precipice, set against the full moon. We are left to imagine just what kind of man-beast is howling at that giant moon. Is it a Werewolf? Is it some sort of Pan? Is it a Were-Pan?
4. Ghost Manor #23This is probably one of Sutton’s better known covers. Like a good horror movie poster, it makes piques your curiousity. Why did this guy die in the chair? Why hasn’t anyone found him? Why does that teddy bear have such sharp teeth and claws? You can almost smell the decay. The black cover makes this one tough to find in high grade, but that’s ok because the more decay; the better.
3. Ghostly Tales #113We’re getting down to the best of the best here, folks. This very trippy cover relates to the very trippy tale Through a Glass Darkly. For my money, it is among Sutton’s very finest work and is a great example of his singular vision. I didn’t really catch on to just how cool some of this Charlton stuff was until I was in my 20s, but it is still plentiful and very cheap so get out there and try some.
2. Haunted #17This one has always creeped me out big time. There’s something about faces in a garden that has always gotten to me (probably has something to do with seeing Motel Hell when I was waaaay too young). This one also brings to mind the cover of the pulp magazine Weird Tales from September, 1952. Come on, someone out there knows what I’m talking about, right?
1. Ghostly Haunts #41Here it is – my favorite Tom Sutton horror cover of all-time. I know that Charlton got next to no respect during the 70s, but there’s no way that this one would not have caught the eye of even the most diehard Marvel zombie. It has every element you could possibly need: bondage, mutants and rats. The Mole Man would be much more menacing if his minions looked like these guys. It is a wonderfully designed cover, with superb color choices and great use of perspective, as the reader is given the ‘drowned rat’s eye view’.
If you have always loved Tom Sutton, I hope that this was a nice walk down memory lane. If you are new to his artwork – I hope it was enough to get you interested in tracking down some old books. Sutton went on to do great work on the I… Vampire series in House of Mystery but was never assigned the cover. Granted, Joe Kubert and Mike Kaluta do some pretty nice work, but it would have been great to see at least one Sutton cover on that title. Star Trek fans likely know that Sutton spent much of the 80s working on the main Star Trek title, showing that he was just as comfortable in space as he was in a sewer.
Tom Sutton died of a heart attack at age 65 in 2002. For one reason of another, I was unaware of his passing until a year or so later. It’s a shame that some of the most truly talented artists, the ones with a great personal style and unique vision, sometimes slip from our radar screen.
Happy Halloween to one and all, and thanks for all the chills and spine tingles Mr. Sutton!
For more comic book chatter – stop by my blog: Seduction of the Indifferent