The cover of Shock SuspenStories No. 6 is among the most famous images in the history of American comics, because of its subject matter, and the terrifying story inside… And because of the man who made it. A perfect storm of creator and content: Wally Wood takes on the Ku Klux Klan!
Next month, for the first time in four decades, this 1952 masterpiece heads to auction as one of the centrepieces of Heritage Auctions’ 17th – 19th June Comics & Comic Art Signature Auction. Its estimate is $300,000 and up.
The cover was produced by Wood at the most fertile period of his career, as he ascended from journeyman to legend, moving from comic-strip assistant to an illustrator of romance comics to a MAD man for Harvey Kurtzman to a creator of titles for Bill Gaines at EC in the 1950s.
All the titles in which Wood had a hand left their mark, but Shock SuspenStories No. 6 hit hardest. As proof, the book itself is one of the most valuable and sought-after titles of the Golden Age, endlessly reproduced in hardback and soft-cover copies and cited whenever one needs proof American comics were always about more than just strongmen in tights.
In The Life and Legend of Wallace Wood, Thommy Burns writes that this final issue of the comic’s first year is “frankly breathtaking” as it “depicts a sheer-nightied pin-up girl kneeling before a whip-wielding, robed man.” This wasn’t typical fare for EC, then specialising in sci-fi and horror. This was something brand-new. Something downright revolutionary.
Shock SuspenStories, after all, was where EC’s creators were allowed to tell stories that mattered – stories that “do a lot of good for the American public,” as one reader put it in the letters to the editor in that very issue. “Under Cover,” written by Albert B. Feldstein, about the Black Vigilante Society’s murder of a young woman for “consorting with that trash element” and the do-gooding reporter who witnessed the killing, was one such tale – a not-so-thinly veiled condemnation of the Klan.
Wood’s exterior work for this comic was far more than just another pre-Code bondage cover. This was part of a much larger tale that asked the readers, by story’s end, “How long can we stay ‘cool’ and indifferent to this threat to our democratic way of life?” It was entertainment, yes, but also a potent statement by an artist ascending the mountaintop.
“EC was far ahead of their time in terms of addressing such real-world themes, to the point that their comics were widely influential and liberating for the first generation of 1960s underground cartoonists, as well as the subject of an incredible amount of scholarship over the last 50 years,” says Heritage Vice President and Comic Art Specialist Todd Hignite. “This amazing piece of history stands as one of EC’s most potent images by their very top artist.”
In coming years, of course, Wood would work for DC and Marvel, illustrating, most famously, Daredevil and Challengers of the Unknown. For Topps, too, he created the Ugly Stickers; in 1965, he co-created T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents for Tower Comics.
But the cover to Shock SuspenStories was among his first masterpieces. And the original art has been in the same collection for the last 40 years, ever since it was acquired in Russ Cochran’s original EC auctions by one of the most discerning EC collectors. Ever since it has been a hidden treasure, its existence, over time, almost mythological.
And now it comes to auction on 17th June for the first time in decades and, just maybe, for the last time. Like the man says: frankly breathtaking.