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Entertaining Comics, more commonly known as EC Comics, was an American publisher of comic books specializing in horror fiction, crime fiction, satire, military fiction and science fiction from the 1940s through the mid-1950s, notably the Tales from the Crypt series. In 1954-55, censorship pressures prompted it to concentrate on the humor magazine Mad, leading to the company's greatest success. EC was privately owned by Maxwell Gaines and later, during its period of notoriety, by his son, William Gaines. It was eventually absorbed into the same corporation that later purchased DC Comics and Warner Brothers.

Educational Comics

The firm, first known as Educational Comics, was founded by Max Gaines, former editor of the comic-book company All-American Publications. When that company merged with DC Comics in 1944, Gaines retained rights to the comic book, Picture Stories from the Bible, and began his new company with a dubious plan to market comics about science, history and the Bible to schools and churches. A decade earlier, Max Gaines had been one of the pioneers of the comic book form, with Eastern Color Printing's proto-comic book Funnies on Parade, and with Dell Publishing's Famous Funnies: A Carnival of Comics,[1] considered by historians the first true American comic book.[2]

Entertaining Comics

When Max Gaines died in 1947 in a boating accident, his son William inherited the comics company. After four years (1942-46) in the Army Air Corps, Gaines had returned home to finish school at New York University, planning to work as a chemistry teacher. He never taught but instead took over the family business. In 1949 and 1950, Will Gaines began to introduce series focusing on horror, suspense, science fiction, military fiction and crime fiction. His editors, Al Feldstein and Harvey Kurtzman, gave assignments to such prominent and highly accomplished freelance artists as Johnny Craig, Reed Crandall, Jack Davis, Will Elder, George Evans, Frank Frazetta, Graham Ingels, Jack Kamen, Bernard Krigstein, Joe Orlando, John Severin, Al Williamson, Basil Wolverton, and Wally Wood. Kurtzman and Feldstein themselves also drew stories, which generally were written by them and Craig, with assistance from Gaines. Other writers including Carl Wessler, Jack Oleck and Otto Binder were later brought on board.

EC had success with its fresh approach and pioneered in forming relationships with its readers through its letters to the editor and its fan organization, the National EC Fan-Addict Club. While the stories were sensational, the art was highly regarded.

EC Comics promoted its stable of illustrators, allowing each to sign his art and encouraging them to develop idiosyncratic styles; the company additionally published one-page biographies of them in the comic books. This was in contrast to the industry's common practice, in which credits were often missing, although some artists at other companies, such as the Jack Kirby-Joe Simon team, Jack Cole and Bob Kane had been prominently promoted.

EC published distinct lines of titles under its Entertaining Comics umbrella. Most notorious were its horror books, Tales from the Crypt, The Vault of Horror and The Haunt of Fear.[3] These titles reveled in a gruesome joie de vivre, with grimly ironic fates meted out to many of the stories' protagonists. The company's war comics Frontline Combat and Two-Fisted Tales often featured weary-eyed, unheroic stories out of step with the jingoistic times. Shock SuspenStories tackled weighty issues such as racism, sex, drug use and the American way of life. EC always claimed to be "proudest of our science fiction titles",[4] with Weird Science and Weird Fantasy publishing stories unlike the space opera found in such titles as Fiction House's Planet Comics. Crime SuspenStories had many parallels with film noir. As noted by Max Allan Collins in his story annotations for Russ Cochran's 1983 hardcover reprint of Crime SuspenStories, Johnny Craig had developed a "film noir-ish bag of effects" in his visuals, while characters and themes found in the crime stories often showed the strong influence of writers associated with film noir, notably James M. Cain.

Superior illustrations of stories with surprise endings became EC's trademark. Gaines would generally stay up late and read large amounts of material while seeking "springboards" for story concepts. The next day he would present each premise until Feldstein found one that he thought he could develop into a story. [5] At EC's peak, Feldstein edited seven titles while Kurtzman handled three. Artists were assigned stories specific to their styles. Davis and Ingels often drew gruesome, supernatural-themed stories, while Kamen and Evans did tamer material.[6]

With hundreds of stories written, common themes became apparent. Some of EC's more well-known themes include:

  • An ordinary situation given an ironic and gruesome twist, often as poetic justice for a character's crimes. In "Collection Completed" a man takes up taxidermy in order to annoy his wife. When he kills and stuffs her beloved cat, the wife snaps and kills him, stuffing and mounting his body. In "Revulsion", a spaceship pilot is bothered by insects due to a past experience when he found one in his food. At the conclusion of the story, a giant alien insect screams in horror at finding the dead pilot in his salad. Dissection, the broiling of lobsters, Mexican jumping beans, fur coats and fishing are just a small sample of the kind of situations and objects used in this fashion.
  • The "Grim Fairy Tale", featuring gruesome interpretations of such fairy tales as "Hansel and Gretel", "Sleeping Beauty" and "Little Red Riding Hood".[7]
  • Siamese twins were a popular theme, primarily in EC's three horror comics. No less than nine siamese twin stories appeared in EC's horror and crime comics from 1950-1954. In an interview Feldstein speculated that he and Gaines wrote so many siamese twin stories because of the interdependence they had on each other, as if they were siamese twins themselves. [8]
  • Adaptations of Ray Bradbury science-fiction stories, which appeared in two dozen EC comics starting in 1952. It began inauspiciously, with an incident in which Feldstein and Gaines plagiarized two of Bradbury's stories and combined them into a single tale. Learning of the story, Bradbury sent a note praising them, while remarking that he had "inadvertently" not yet received his payment for their use. EC sent a check and negotiated a productive series of Bradbury adaptations.[9]
  • Stories with a political message, which became common in EC's science fiction and suspense comics. Among the many topics were lynching, anti-Semitism and police corruption.[10]

The three horror titles featured stories introduced by a trio of horror hosts. The Crypt Keeper introduced Tales from the Crypt, the Vault Keeper welcomed readers to The Vault of Horror and the Old Witch cackled over The Haunt of Fear. Besides gleefully recounting the unpleasant details of the stories, the characters squabbled with one another, unleashed an arsenal of puns and even insulted and taunted the readers: "Greetings, boils and ghouls..." This irreverent mockery of the audience also became the trademark attitude of Mad, and such glib give-and-take was later mimicked by many, including Stan Lee at Marvel Comics.

EC's most lasting legacy came with Mad, which started as a side project for Kurtzman before buoying the company's fortunes and becoming one of the country's most notable and enduring humor publications. When satire became an industry rage in 1954 and other publishers created imitations of Mad, EC introduced a sister title, Panic, edited by Al Feldstein and using the regular Mad artists, plus Joe Orlando.

Backlash

Beginning in the late 1940s, the comic book industry became the target of mounting public criticism for the content of comic books and their potentially harmful effects on children. The problem came to a head in 1948 with the publication by Dr. Fredric Wertham of two articles: "Horror in the Nursery" (in Collier's) and "The Psychopathology of Comic Books" (in the American Journal of Psychotherapy). As a result, an industry trade group, the Association of Comics Magazine Publishers, was formed in 1948, but proved ineffective. EC left the association in 1950 after Gaines had an argument with its executive director, Henry Schultz. By 1954 only three comic publishers were still members, and Schultz admitted that the ACMP seals placed on comics were meaningless. [11]

In 1954, the publication of Wertham's Seduction of the Innocent and a highly publicized Congressional hearing on juvenile delinquency cast comic books in an especially poor light. At the same time, a federal investigation led to a shakeup in the distribution companies that delivered comic books and pulp magazines across America. Sales plummeted, and several companies went out of business.

Gaines called a meeting of his fellow publishers and suggested that the comic book industry gather to fight outside censorship and help repair the industry's damaged reputation. They formed the Comics Magazine Association of America and its Comics Code Authority. The CCA code expanded on the ACMP's restrictions. Unlike its predecessor, the CCA code was rigorously enforced, with all comics requiring code approval prior to their publication. This not being what Gaines intended, he refused to join the association. [12] Among the Code's new rules were that no comic book title could use the words "horror" or "terror" or "weird" on its cover. When distributors refused to handle many of his comics, Gaines ended publication of his three horror and the two SuspenStory titles on September 14, 1954. EC shifted its focus to a line of more realistic comic book titles, including M.D. and Psychoanalysis (known as the New Direction line). It also renamed its remaining science-fiction comic. Since the initial issues did not carry the Comics Code seal, the wholesalers refused to carry them. After consulting with his staff, Gaines reluctantly started submitting his comics to the Comics Code; all the New Direction titles carried the seal starting with the second issue. This attempted revamp failed commercially and after the fifth issues, all the New Direction titles were canceled. [13]

"Judgment Day"

Gaines waged a number of battles with the Comics Code Authority in an attempt to keep his magazines free from censorship. In one particular example noted by comics historian Digby Diehl, Gaines threatened Judge Charles Murphy, the Comics Code Administrator, with a lawsuit when Murphy ordered EC to alter the science-fiction story "Judgment Day."[14] The story depicted a human astronaut visiting a planet inhabited by robots as a representative of the Galactic Republic. He finds the robots divided into functionally identical orange and blue races, one of which has fewer rights and privileges than the other. The astronaut decides that due to the robots' bigotry, the Galactic Republic should not admit the planet. In the final panel, he removes his helmet, revealing himself to be a black man. Murphy demanded, without any authority in the Code, that the black astronaut had to be removed. As Diehl recounted in Tales from the Crypt: The Official Archives:

File:EC Judgementday.jpg
This really made 'em go bananas in the Code czar's office. 'Judge Murphy was off his nut. He was really out to get us', recalls [EC editor] Feldstein. 'I went in there with this story and Murphy says, "It can't be a Black man". But ... but that's the whole point of the story!' Feldstein sputtered. When Murphy continued to insist that the Black man had to go, Feldstein put it on the line. 'Listen', he told Murphy, 'you've been riding us and making it impossible to put out anything at all because you guys just want us out of business'. [Feldstein] reported the results of his audience with the czar to Gaines, who was furious [and] immediately picked up the phone and called Murphy. 'This is ridiculous!' he bellowed. 'I'm going to call a press conference on this. You have no grounds, no basis, to do this. I'll sue you'. Murphy made what he surely thought was a gracious concession. 'All right. Just take off the beads of sweat'. At that, Gaines and Feldstein both went ballistic. 'Fuck you!' they shouted into the telephone in unison. Murphy hung up on them, but the story ran in its original form.[15]

Feldstein, interviewed for the book Tales of Terror: The EC Companion, reiterated his recollection of Murphy making the racist request:

So he said it can't be a Black [person]. So I said, 'For God's sakes, Judge Murphy, that's the whole point of the Goddamn story!' So he said, 'No, it can't be a Black'. Bill [Gaines] just called him up [later] and raised the roof, and finally they said, 'Well, you gotta take the perspiration off'. I had the stars glistening in the perspiration on his Black skin. Bill said, 'Fuck you', and he hung up.[16]

Although the story would eventually be printed uncensored in Incredible Science Fiction #33, it was the last comic book ever published by EC. [17] Gaines switched his focus to EC's Picto-Fiction titles, a line of typeset black-and-white magazines with heavily illustrated stories. Fiction was formatted to alternate illustrations with blocks of typeset text, and some of the contents were rewrites of stories previously published in EC's comic books. This experimental line lost money from the start and only lasted two issues per title. When EC's national distributor went bankrupt, Gaines dropped all of his titles except Mad. [18]

Mad and later years

Mad always sold well throughout the company's troubles, and Gaines focused exclusively on publishing Mad in magazine form. This move was done to placate its editor Harvey Kurtzman, who had received an offer to join the magazine Pageant,[19] but preferred to remain in charge of his own magazine. More crucially, the switch removed Mad from the auspices of the Comics Code.

Though Kurtzman did not last long with Mad after this point (leaving when Gaines wouldn't give him 51% control of the magazine), Gaines brought back Al Feldstein as his successor. The magazine enjoyed great success for decades afterwards. [20]

The Tales from the Crypt title was licensed for a movie in 1972. The Tales from the Crypt movie was followed by another film, The Vault of Horror, in 1973. The omnibus movies Creepshow (1982) and Creepshow 2, while using original scripts written by Stephen King and George Romero, were inspired by EC's horror comics and hosted by a Ghoulunatic inspired character. Creepshow included an animated interstitial material between vignettes, featuring a young protagonist who goes to great length to acquire and keep possession of an issue of Creepshow.

In 1989, Tales from the Crypt began airing on HBO. The series would run until 1996, after 93 episodes and 7 seasons. Tales from the Crypt spawned two animated series, Tales from the Cryptkeeper and Secrets of the Cryptkeeper's Haunted House. The TV series also spawned three movies, Demon Knight, Bordello of Blood, and Ritual.

After the success of the Tales from the Crypt TV series, HBO aired Perversions of Science in 1997. The series' format was similar to that of its predecessor, and its episodes were based on stories from EC's Weird Science. However, Perversions of Science didn't find the success that Tales from the Crypt had, and it was canceled after 10 episodes.

Reprint history

Although the last non-Mad EC publication came out in 1956, EC Comics have remained popular for half a century, due to reprints that have kept them in the public eye. Some of the many EC reprints include the following:

Ballantine Books

In 1964-66, Ballantine Books published five black-and-white paperbacks of EC stories: Tales of the Incredible showcased EC science fiction, while the paperbacks Tales from the Crypt and The Vault of Horror reprinted EC horror tales. EC's Ray Bradbury adaptations were collected in The Autumn People (horror and crime) and Tomorrow Midnight (science fiction).[21]

The EC Horror Library

The EC Horror Library, published by Nostalgia Press in 1971, featured color reprints of approximately 20 EC stories, various artist biographies and an essay by Larry Stark. Despite its title, the book also included Bernard Krigstein's famous "Master Race" story from Impact and other selections from non-horror EC titles. This book also featured the first publication of "An Eye For An Eye," originally slated for the final issue of Incredible Science Fiction but rejected by the Comics Code.[22]

EC Portfolios

The EC Portfolios consisted of a half dozen oversized issues between 1971 and 1977. Published by Russ Cochran, these featured some of EC's most famous stories and covers across various genres.[23]

East Coast Comix

East Coast Comix reprinted in comic form a number of EC's New Trend comics between 1973 and 1975. The first reprint was the final issue of Tales From the Crypt, with the title revised to state The Crypt of Terror. This issue was originally meant to be the first issue of a fourth horror comic which was changed to the final issue of Tales From the Crypt at the last minute when the horror comics were cancelled in 1954. A dozen issues ended up being reprinted. [24]

The Complete EC Library

The Complete EC Library, a project of Russ Cochran's that started in 1978, reprinted every EC comic in hardbound volumes. Unlike the original comics these were done in black and white, except for Mad, which had both a black and white and a color version. These volumes included annotations and commentary by various comics historians, including John Benson, Max Allan Collins, Marty Jukovsky, Bill Mason, Bill Spicer and Bhob Stewart. The Complete EC Library eventually reprinted every New Trend and New Direction comic and many of the Pre-Trend comics. The most recent addition, the Picto-Fiction set (Gemstone, 2006), included four issues that had never been previously published.[25]

EC Classics

This group of magazine-sized reprints from Cochran appeared between 1985 and 1989. The first six issues featured various stories for each specific comic. Starting with issue 7, each reprint featured two specific issues. A total of 12 issues were released.[26]

Additional reprints

Throughout the 1990s and into the next decade, almost EC's entire line of comics were reprinted in comic form. The first group of reprints came from Gladstone Publishing in 1990, which reprinted various issues of the three horror comics, the sci-fi comics and Crime SuspenStories in 64-page issues. A total of 18 issues were published. The second group of reprints, known as the "RCP (Russ Cochran Publisher) Reprints" appeared the next year and also reprinted various issues from the horror, sci-fi and crime comics. Starting in 1992, the comics were reprinted in chronological order in a 32-page form. This line eventually reprinted every New Trend and New Direction comic except for Mad, and many Pre-Trend comics as well.

EC Archives

Main article: EC Archives

In 2006, Cochran began a new project: a series of hardcover color reprint sets called EC Archives and published by Gemstone Publishing, overseen by art director/designer Michael Kronenberg.

EC publications

Footnotes

  1. Grand Comics Database: Famous Famous - Carnival of Comics
  2. Goulart, Ron. Comic Book Encyclopedia (Harper Entertainment, New York, 2004)
  3. Writer-artist Sheldon Moldoff, in an interview in Alter Ego, vol. 3, #4 (Spring 2000), claims to have approached William M. Gaines with two supernatural titles, signing a contract stipulating he would be paid a royalty percentage if the books were successful. Several months later, when EC's horror comics hit the newsstands, the company refused to honor the contract, and according to Moldoff, threatened to blacklist him if he took legal action. Moldoff eventually sold the title - This Magazine is Haunted - to Fawcett Publications for $100 "and all the work I wanted".
  4. This statement was frequently made in house ads for Weird Science and Weird Fantasy that ran in EC's horror comics.
  5. Diehl, Digby Tales from the Crypt: The Official Archives (St. Martin's Press, New York, NY 1996) pp. 30-32
  6. Diehl, Ibid., p. 48-9
  7. Diehl, Ibid., p. 51
  8. Diehl, Ibid., p. 50
  9. Script error
  10. Diehl, Ibid., p. 37,40
  11. Diehl, Ibid., p. 83
  12. Von Bernewitz, Fred and Geissman, Grant Tales of Terror: The EC Companion (Gemstone Publishing and Fantagraphics Books, Timonium, MD & Seattle, WA, 2000) p. 94
  13. Diehl, Ibid., pp. 94
  14. The story, written by Al Feldstein and drawn by Joe Orlando, was a reprint from Weird Fantasy #18 (March-April 1953) that had been inserted when the Code Authority had rejected an initial, original story.
  15. Diehl, Ibid., p. 95
  16. Von Bernewitz and Geissman, Ibid., p. 88
  17. Diehl, Ibid., p. 95
  18. Diehl, Ibid., pp. 148-9
  19. Diehl, Ibid., p. 147
  20. Diehl, Ibid., p. 150
  21. Von Bernewitz and Geissman, Ibid., p. 208
  22. Von Bernewitz and Geissman, Ibid., p. 209
  23. Von Bernewitz and Geissman, Ibid., p. 210
  24. Von Bernewitz and Geissman, Ibid., p. 211
  25. Von Bernewitz and Geissman, Ibid., p. 212
  26. Von Bernewitz and Geissman, Ibid., p. 213

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