Lee Elias’ art for iconic Pre-Comics Code cover, 1953’s “Chamber of Chills” No. 19, heads to auction for first time

An iconic US comic cover created in the 1950s by Manchester-born comic artist Lee Elias goes under the hammer at Heritage Auctions next month in Dallas.

The published Chamber of Chills No.19 cover by Lee Elias

16 years ago, Heritage Auctions sold a highly graded copy of Chamber of Chills No. 19 for $126.50 – in retrospect, an outright steal. In July this year, the very same title, bearing a far lesser grade, realised $6,070.80 during Heritage’s summer Comics & Comics Art event. And in 2018, a far better copy of the 1953 book sold for almost twice that amount.

As prices escalated over the years, and with Chamber of Chills No. 19 threatening to overtake far more famous and familiar horror titles, collectors and prospectors flocked to the message boards. They debated, often at great length, what accounts for the marked increase in price and interest in this once-obscure issue published by US publisher Harvey, best known for its children’s comics such as Richie Rich and Little Dot.

And time and again, the answer has remained the same. That issue is so highly sought-after because of its cover by British artist Lee Elias, a creator revered for his long-running work on Harvey’s Black Cat title and for co-creating the villain Eclipso during his stint at DC Comics in the 1960s.

Lee Elias (right) with Harvey Comics publisher Alfred Harvey in 1947. Image: Wikipedia

A skeletal arm, clad in a tuxedo, raises a full snifter to toast a smiling blond-haired woman festooned in blood-red – bustier, necklace, lipstick. The cover’s text reveals the reason for the celebration: “Here’s looking at you darling on our … HAPPY ANNIVERSARY!” The woman holds a smoldering cigarette in her left hand. She smiles. And through the glass, it’s revealed that she, too, is dead. If not now, then soon…

The cover art, which punk-rocker-turned-heavy-metal-man Glenn Danzig famously used as the artwork adorning the Misfits 1984 single “Die, Die My Darling,” has remained for decades tucked in a private collection.

Chamber of Chills No. 19 by Lee Elias

Only now is it finally coming to market for the first time – and Elias’ original cover art for Chamber of Chills No. 19 is only one of the top offerings found in Heritage Auctions’ Comics & Comic Art event taking place 10th – 13th September 2029 at Heritage’s world headquarters in Dallas and online at HA.com.

The auction also features art by Frank Frazetta, as previously noted here on downthetubes, Gene Colan, Daniel Clowes, Gil Kane, Jack Kirby, Barry Windsor-Smith and many more.

“Believe it or not, the same company that introduced Richie Rich in September 1953 published this the same month, and other horror comics, too,” says Heritage Auctions’ Vice President Barry Sandoval. “Some other horror covers are pretty brutal. But this one seemed to really speak to the time, to 1950s America.

“Everything was ‘perfect,’ and here’s this seedy image, this evil lurking just beneath the surface.”

Yet soon enough, covers like this one – terrifying, tantalizing, titillating – would vanish from the racks and newsstands thanks to Fredric Wertham, whose book Seduction of the Innocent, published only a year later, warned that comics were rotting the minds and morality of American youth.

Senate hearings on the subject, and some cities’ bans on horror and crime comics, spooked the comics industry into self-censoring itself; thus, the creation of the Comics Code Authority, whose seal of approval meant the neutering of comics for decades to come.

Chamber of Chills No. 19 would stand among the last of its kind.

Its origin story actually pre-dated Elias’ involvement. The preliminary and concept sketches for Chamber of Chills No. 19’s cover were actually done in pencil by Harvey’s chief artist (and Richie Rich co-creator!) Warren Kremer. He turned over to Elias, who brought life – and death – to the final work.

A decade ago, Heritage Auctions sold Kremer’s sketches for $2,151.

With weeks to go before the September Comics & Comic Art event, Elias’ fully fleshed out original has already seen bids race past the $50,000 mark.

So, yes. To answer that question about what makes this comic so coveted: it’s the cover!

Elias’ Chamber of Chills cover was used as the artwork adorning the cover of the Misfits 1984 single “Die, Die My Darling”
In 2015, metal band Monarch released an EP with a cover offering a different take on Elias’ Chamber of Chills original

Heritage Auctions is the largest fine art and collectibles auction house founded in the United States, and the world’s largest collectibles auctioneer. Heritage maintains offices in New York, Dallas, Beverly Hills, San Francisco, Chicago, Palm Beach, London, Paris, Geneva, Amsterdam and Hong Kong.

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Horror comic collections featuring the work of Lee Elias on AmazonUK (Affiliate Link)

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The founder of downthetubes, John works as a comics editor, writer, as Creative Consultant on the Dan Dare audio adventures for B7 Media, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. Working in British comics publishing for over 30 years, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Star Trek Magazine and Babylon 5 Magazine. He also edited the comics anthology STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War and “Dan Dare”. He’s the writer of “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz, published on Tapastic; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood for digital comic 100% Biodegradable.



Categories: Art and Illustration, Auction News, Comic Art, Cover Art, downthetubes Comics News, downthetubes News, Horror Comics, Other Worlds, US Comics

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1 reply

  1. I have all the reprint collections of the Harvey horror comics and they feature some great artwork. Stories were never on a par with EC’s but artists such as Lee Elias certainly gave EC a run for their money.

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