[GoH] From TV to comics: Elvira, Mistress of the Dark

“Gutter of Horror” is a Brazilian column from Dinamo Studio website that talks about horror comics.
This is an adapted version of the article.

Elvira is an American icon, as part of the culture of Halloween as Santa is for Christmas. Many people knows Elvira through her movie, but her story began much earlier – even before the creation of the character.

Among the thematic shows from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s were the “horror film shows” that featured horror movies, frequently monsters movies. But that were also those that featured all kinds of B movies, old movies and low budget sci-fi flick. Those shows usually had an actor playing as host dressed for the mood, commenting and introduced the movies that would be playing.

One of these shows was “The Vampira Show”, which began in 1954 and is considered the first to use this kind of format (in TV, at least). The show was presented by Vampira, played by actress Maila Nurmi, which also created the idea of the character inspired by Morticia Adams, the character from the classic Charles Adams comic strips. And then begin the TV “horror host/hostess” trope. It was a novelty in TV, although it was already common in comics, especially with E.C. Comics horror titles like The Vault of Horror, The Haunt of Fear and, of course, Tales from the Crypt.

Elvira, created by actress Cassandra Peterson (which also plays it) came about 30 years later to replace a popular show called Fright Night, cancelled due to the death of the actor that played its horror host. Elvira’s show was called “Elvira’s Movie Macabre” (sometimes just “Movie Macabre” and it had The Vampira Show as visual reference, although Movie Macabre was more comedic in tone. Elvira was a hostess with tight clothes, a hard to ignore cleavage and a body that almost didn’t fit the clothes that introduce B movies with a sarcastic humor. The over the top humor and the self-aware comments on her figure and the quality of the movies were her main characteristics.

The show lasts five seasons and ended in 1986. But the character’s popularity only grew and she ended up being a cult icon, starring in two movies (Elvira Mistress of the Dark and Elvira’s Haunted Hills) and becoming a lucrative brand. And, as you might have guessed by now, she also make the jump to comics.

Elvira’s House of Mistery (DC Comics, 1986/1987)

In the 1970s the two big publishers – Marvel and DC – decided to invested in the horror genre again, at least the horror that was possible at the time because the Comic Industry was still living by the infamous Comics Code Authority. While Marvel had Tomb of Dracula and Werewolf by Night, titles with main characters, DC had The House of Mysteries and The House of Secrets, anthology books that featured stories presented by its horror hosts, Cain and Abel (yes, the brothers from the Bible. Eve was also a Horror Host in its own DC horror title - I will do an article about the horror hosts from the comics).

In 1986-87, DC decided to shake up The House of Mystery a bit and brought Elvira to “invade” the House and become a makeshift hostess. The first issue is almost a sequel to “Movie Macabre” – which were just being cancelled – and shows Elvira having to shelter in and old house to escape a furious crowd who wanted to burn her alive (because of her familiarity with the dark arts and this kind of thing – it was never clear if Elvira were a Witch/supernatural character or just an actress with the taste for the gothic that always ended up getting into trouble. But the old house, it turns out, was the House of Mystery and Elvira ended up becoming the unintentional hostess since the original host, Cain, was missing. The House itself gives Elvira the mission to search for Cain and, meanwhile, she do what she knows best, to show her attributes, I mean, to show, each issue, several horror tales. This run had Dick Giordano as the main editor and the stories were written by Joey Cavalieri, Tom Bierbaum and Mary Bierbaum. The issues featured several artists, such as Ron Wagner, Bob Oksner, Stan Woch, Sal Amendola, Mark Beachum and Dick Giordano, among others. Colors were done mostly by Liz Berube. The covers usually referenced one of the stories featured in the issue or pay homage to several common themes in fiction and were made by "new" artists like Brian Bolland, Kyle Baker, Bill Sienkiewicz and José Luis García-López, as well as veterans like Joe Orlando.

Elvira’s House of Myrstery was an interesting experiment. It was basically and adaptation of the TV show, taking advantage of an already well known and popular DC title. Between the stories featured in each issue, Elvira tries to find Cain doing the things he does best: making fun of the house and the mission itself. Elvira’s House of Mystery lasted 11 issues plus a Christmas Special and ended up, of course, bringing back the original host – with some special appearances by Abel, host of the House of Secrets. And, more importantly, this is cannon, which makes Elvira officially a DC Character (I mean, at least in some pre-reboot DC Universe).

Elvira, Mistress of The Dark (Marvel Comics, 1988)

Marvel also had its chance to publish some Elvira in 1988 with a one-shot that adapted her first movie Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. The issue was adapted by Sid Jacobson with pencils by Ernie Colón and Romeo Tanghal. Dwayne Mcduffie, who 2 decades later would be one of the guys responsible for the Justice League animated series, worked as an Assistant Editor for the comics. The cover art was made by Colón and Joe Jusko, iconic artist that become known for magazines like Heavy Metal.

Elvira, Mistress of the Dark (Claypool Comics/Eclipse Comics 1993-2006)

A more lasting title came through Claypool Comics in the 1990s. Taking advantage of the 1988 movie and the fact that the publisher had just acquired the rights to the character, Claypool published a regular comic called Elvira, Mistress of the Dark in 1993.

Unlike Elvira’s House of Mystery, this comic series explored Elvira’s daily life trying to make some bucks as a Horror Host while also trying to make a life as an actress. But her otherwise ordinary life would always be interrupted by crazy incidents with all kinds of creatures, from supernatural creatures to killer clowns - or Hollywood executives. The title was initially written by Paul Dini – another one that later would make fame with DC animated Series – with several artists like Kurt Busiek and Steve Leialoha. The covers were photoshoots featured the very own Cassandra Peterson as Elvira.

Elvira, Mistress of the Dark was almost a sequel to the movie and had a more comedic tom than Elvira’s House of Mystery, making parodies of common fictional tropes – especially elements and characters from classic horror comics) and lasting impressive 166 issues from 1993 to 2006.

Elvira Mistress of the Dark and beyond (Dynamite Enternainment 2018-present)

In 2018, Dynamite Entertainment started to publish new Elvira comics. The main title was – you guess it – Elvira Mistress of the Dark and had David Avallone as writer and Dave Acosta as the artist and it featured several alternative covers by artists like Francesco Francavilla, Brittany Pezzillo, Robert Hack and Greg Smallwood, among others. Colors were done mostly by Andrew Covalt, Brittany Pezzillo and Ellie Wright. The title ran for 12 issues from 2018 to 2020 and is faithful to the spirit of the TV show and the movies, with the sassy, the self-awareness and acid comments from the protagonist. It’s arguably the best comic featuring Elvira, were we see her – unwillingly – travelling through time and meeting several classic horror authors such as Edgar Allan Poe and Mary Shelley, going to the literal hell and fighting a weird cult with the help of a masked vigilante.

Dynamite also published a Halloween Special written by Scott Bryan Wilson with art by Fernando Ruiz and a 4-issue miniseries The Shape of Elvira, written by David Avallone with art from Fran Strukan that also featured several alternative coversColors were done by Maxim Šimić, Brian Level, Walter Pereyra and Kim Mohan .

That's it, at least for now, but Dynamite sure looks like it won't stop publishing Elvira anytime soon, so if you are a fan of the character, don't worry, there's many more stories to come. Unpleasent Dreams!
Rafael Algures is a Bachelor of Philosophy specialized in Neurosciences of Language. He is also a copywriter, content and science writer, and a comic book creator. His latest work, “Gutter of Horror: Transition”, is available at Amazon – digital and paperback.

Further reading: ELVIRA: Mistress of the Dark Vol. 1: Timescream, by David Avallone and Dave Acosta
                           Elvira MistressOf The Dark Photo Biography