Aside from spending my whole life being interested in all and everything weird I’ve also spent as much, or even more, time with comic books. As a nine-year-old “trouble-maker” my parents once took away and burned my stack of comic books believing they were giving me nightmares. My mother can recall to you, in unending detail, how she actually found me hiding under blankets with a flashlight reading comics like a scene which has become a tired trope in many Hollywood films.
Although I was a DC comics kid, with a love of Superman, I also found myself drawn to horror comics. On our family trips up into northern Michigan the only comics I could usually find were produced by companies like Gold Key and Charlton. Lucky for me both of those publishers had a wealth of horror and supernatural titles. Gold Key had Grimm’s Ghost Stories, The Occult Files of Dr. Spektor, UFO Flying Saucers while Charlton had Ghost Manor, Ghostly Haunts, Ghostly Tales and Tales of the Mysterious Traveler just to name a few.
Those Gold Key and Charlton comics were kept at our cabin up-north for reading during summer vacations. At home, the floor of my room was littered with the “big” titles like DC’s House of Mystery, House of Secrets, The Unexpected and The Witching Hour. There were even a good number of large format horror/supernatural magazines like Creepy, Eerie and The Tomb of Dracula, but once my mother saw that these magazines sometimes showed a woman’s exposed breast they were promptly removed from my possession. We won’t even go into the EC Comic reprints which fed the fire on cold Michigan winter nights.
I loved them all and yet there were some that I seemed to be drawn to more than others. In some of these comics there would be repeating characters, not just narrators explaining and introducing each weird tale but someone engaged in the process of uncovering the weirdness within the story. I wanted to be that person. I wanted to chase ghosts, track down werewolves and investigate long forgotten tombs of mystery. Who would have thought that my dream would someday come true?
There is no way for me to talk about all of the “paranormal” characters in comic books since these types of characters and comics are still being created – Frank and Sadie Doyle from The Thrilling Adventure Hour, Hellboy’s BPRD, even Charles Fort got his own comic book.
So, in no order whatsoever here are my four favorite comic book “heroes” of the paranormal
Terrance Thirteen or Dr. Thirteen
The skeptic of the group Dr. Thirteen first appeared in comics in 1951. A parapsychologist, (known originally as The Ghost Breaker), who over the years he has tried and succeeded in “breaking” quite a number of ghosts. Re-purposed and revamped numerous times Dr. Thirteen is usually the voice of reason in a world gone mad unless he has gone mad and the world is reasonably weird.
Probably the first in the trench coat, supernatural detective category. Dr. Occult first appeared in 1935 but was most talked about when Neil Gaiman brought him back to life in 1991 for The Books of Magic. Dr. Occult’s history has been written and rewritten over the years but two things are for sure about Dr. Occult, he can find the supernatural and he can fight it!
Doctor Graves is on this list because of my love of Charlton Comics. He was the host of the comic book The Many Ghosts of Doctor Graves but often would interact with the characters in the story. I’m sure many would argue with me placing Dr. Graves on this list of “heavy-hitters” but the reality is he was part of my formative childhood…plus he smoked a pipe and wore a kickass ascot.
I would be vilified by all and every comic/paranormal fan if I didn’t mention John Constantine. Inarguably the most famous of comic book paranormal characters Constantine showed up in 1985 in an issue of The Saga of The Swamp Thing, (to which I had a subscription), penned by the occult loving madman of comics Alan Moore. John smoked cigarettes, wore a trench coat, was a former member of a punk band, and was pretty much everything I was about to become. I often feel like Alan Moore jumped ahead in time saw my website then returned to the past and created John Constantine. My trench coat is a tribute to Robert Stack.
Of course these are just comic book characters. Over the decades I have found real-life “heroes” of the paranormal world. Eleanor Sidgwick, Edmund Gurney, T.C. Lethbridge, etc. these true life paranormal/supernatural personalities had experiences sometimes stranger than the adventures of their comic book-inspired offspring but I did not know about them when I was a child.
Looking back I find that a very deep part of my path was not constructed by TV, although the TV show In Search of… helped, but by the comic books which were so often torn from my hands and thrown into the family fireplace. The good, weird, sometimes skeptical men, and women, of comic books provided a solid base for the good, weird, skeptical man I have become and who now investigates this strange world.
Don’t think I forgot about Zatanna, Satana and Marie Thirteen. I like girls too.
The Trenchcoat Brigade: Four book mini-series published by DC Comics Vertigo 1999
Vertigo Visions: Doctor 13 – Do AIs Dream of Electric Sheep? One-shot published by DC Comics Vertigo 1998
Hellblazer: Published by DC Comics Vertigo (1988–2013)