A Look at the “Lost” Golden Age Horror, Crime & Weird Titles of Zeus Comics! by Mort Todd
The Controversial “Grade Z” Titles That Helped Inspire the Dreaded Comics Code Authority!
Let’s look at a few of their covers from the late 1940s. The actual title is VIOLENT CRIME CAN’T WIN!, but on the cover the “can’t win!” is in the fine print. The cover of issue #48 (like most Zeus Comics) shows a half-nude woman, with bra and nylons exposed. It is littered with a pile of dead, bloody cops. Other articles include “100% True!” tales of killing, drugs and other crimes, with luxurious details on the techniques and rewards of crime… with the police only showing up in the last panel in a bloody climax to prove “violent crime can’t win!” It also promises to teach the reader “How to Commit the Perfect Murder!”
Wertham also wrote of “headlight” comics, where young readers told him about comics featuring large breasts and double entendres for “those that know how to look.” Zeus certainly exploited this on every cover they printed and even made it a focal point of their teen comics, upping the ante with triple entendres!(Right) Dr. Frederic Wertham ponders a toy balloon with his likeness. They were manufactured by Zeus publisher Zig Zoosman and distributed to fellow comics publishers to blow up and vent their anger!
Examples overflow in the title STIFFIE. Stiffie started out as a sidekick to the Fuzzy comic in VIM COMICS and proved popular enough to get his own title. His name referred to his crew cut and not necessarily as a euphemism for a male’s state of excitement. Much like Hooterville on TV’s Petticoat Junction, it might have been a word that evolved into a more lecherous definition. What can not be denied is their use of “titillation.” The Zeus logo offers “Another Stimulating Zeus Comic,” and STIFFIE is no different.
As seen on the cover in this article, STIFFIE was not shy to advertise their “headlight” status. Even the banner promising “Tops in Teen Titters” would make a dirty old man take a second look. Background signs subliminally inspire thoughts about “body parts.”
(Right)Los Angeles Councilman Ed. J. Donovan displays supposed “nudie comics,” including STIFFIE. The truth is that the ‘nudies’ weren’t comics, and the comics weren’t ‘nudies.’
Even licensed titles feature very suspect content. Zeus released at least three comics based on popular bandleader, radio and movie star SPIKE JONES. As seen on the cover reproduced here, large-breasted women (aliens) are prominent and the cover gag suggests the taboos of mixed-race sex (the chicks are green!) and cannibalism!
With all their hyper-hetero, over-sexualized content in crime, horror and humor books, what would be their take on romance comics? Look no further than title named GRAPHIC FORBIDDEN FANTASY, which is very, very strange. However, unlike any comic title ever, this seemed to be geared to a Sapphic audience! All the stories appear to lean towards many sensitive moments between women, and after experimentation and heartache, much like the crime comics where justice is served in time for the last panel, the female protagonists find a man that is right for them. Who this comic was geared for is a question… lesbians or fans of lesbians? Regardless, it is an early example of fairly mainstream homoerotic literature.
(Above right) Was this the target demographic for GRAPHIC FORBIDDEN FANTASY STORIES… Women who wear slacks?
Though little is known about the Zeus Comics line, even less is known about the creators. There are no credits, by-lines for the most part, and if there are, they’re most likely pseudonyms. Most do not appear to have worked for other comics publishers besides Zeus, though some found work in advertising and porn. The most well-known is Carl Koenig (the publisher’s nephew), who signed as Vance Steele. He did many of the Zeus covers and later was the art director for New York City’s local Dumont TV station affiliate. If other, more well-known cartoonists got their start at Zeus, they sure are quiet about it.
(Left) 8000 wonderful comics burnt at one Vancouver event. Canada still has anti-crime & horror comic laws on the books, as this author learned the hard way as editor of the comic magazine Monsters Attack!
(Above) Oh, the weird, criminal horror! Assemblyman James Fitzpatrick, Chairman of NY State Joint Legislative Committee to Study Publication of Comics, watches as Senator Robert Hendrickson, chairman of the Senate Juvenile Delinquency Committee points out a particularly egregious cover of WEIRD MENACE.
After the Senate debacle, Zoosman tried to regroup his line with a sure-fire seller: a comic based on a Dean Martin-Jerry Lewis motion picture… a movie about comic books! Zoosman had served as a consultant for the film Artist & Models, providing the artwork for the fake comic company Martin works at in the movie, and was evidently the inspiration for the over-the-top comics publisher played in the film by Eddie Mayehoff. Unfortunately, DC Comics had the rights to Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis in comic books, so Zeus had the rights to a Martin & Lewis film, but couldn’t use Martin & Lewis, or mention their names. Zoosman solved this by basing the title on a comic character in the flick.
(Above) The comic that killed Zeus! Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis make a Marilyn Monroe sandwich with some Bat Lady garnish. The only known existing image of the BAT LADY comic, as all copies were ordered destroyed after a lawsuit.
BAT LADY (played by Shirley MacLaine in the movie) became the star of a comic that was a weird mix-up of superhero-crime-horror and romance, but this being after the Comics Code, a lot of those words were not allowed to be used. Furthermore, even without Martin & Lewis, DC Comics, and its parent company, the powerful Independent News Service, had a major problem with a character sporting the name “BAT” in it. Worse for Zoosman, the new Comics Code is prominently plastered on the cover, yet Zeus did not have the comic reviewed by the Comics Code board nor were theye even a member. After surviving public burnings of their comics, Zeus could not survive the court-ordered round-up and destruction of every single copy Bat Lady Comics. DC soon premiered Batwoman in order to cover their legal butts in the future.
Ads in the comics herald other titles that deserve introspection, like WHIP OF THE BLACK LEATHER KID, ALL-COLORED (?!) COMICS, GYNECOLOGICAL MYSTERIES and CRIME IN SPACE! As seen by the covers reproduced here, there was a lusty, unbridled, yet crude creativity in the Zeus titles. The story behind them and their ultimate fate is still a mystery… a mystery that may be solved once I’m able to interview the publisher for the Fantacon Centennial Celebration Convention Program, released at FantaCon in September, 2013!
(Left) After being chased out of the comics industry, Zig Zoosman kept his fingers in publishing, mostly soft-core nudie mags and comic strips that were notoriously sold under the counter.
***UPDATE*** As of 04/01/13 Mort Todd has been made exclusive licensing agent for the ZEUS COMICS line and is planning to release reprints in the near future. For more info, contact email@example.com
Mort Todd is a comic creator, filmmaker, animator and music producer. He is the former Editor-in-Chief of Cracked magazine and Marvel Music. Currently he is directing TV commercials, devising some TV series and publishing comics and photo novels.