I have been following Russ Cochran's efforts to reprint the E.C.'s since the late seventies or early eighties. It's hard to remember, because I was pretty young when I came across an ad for the "Complete Tales From the Crypt" and put it on my Christmas list. I was rather naive and actually expected a box full of the original comics to arrive, so when I opened the package and found the oversized, b&w E.C. Library editions, I was a bit taken aback at first. However, being young and flexible I quickly adapted and showed great enthusiasm for the gift, which is the only polite thing to do. But I had no need to feign the enthusiasm any longer once I had a chance to really peruse the books. Anyone who owns any of the library sets or is attempting to find them second hand knows what I mean.
So memory lane has led me to the first edition of the E.C. Archives. Now that I am older and wiser (and a bit wealthier I suppose), and now that the rest of the world (including some pretty famous names) has gotten on board with Mr. Cochran, we can finally get a pristine full-color version of these historic comics. And I must say it doesn't disappoint. There are many ways the publisher could have gone with this. We've seen photographic reproductions of some of the original stories done, and they have great character. But the original color printing is often way off (though those great color pixels, lost on many moderns not named Lichtenstein, are a true mark of authenticity). We've had actual comic book format reprints, some of which collected stories from here and there, and the complete run, which was slightly undersized (compared to the original) in order to match current comic dimensions, and so, much of the detail (so gloriously preserved in the oversized b&w reproductions of the library) was lost.
But here we have the books reproduced in original (golden age) size on slick, bright white paper. This admittedly doesn't have the character of the tea-patina the originals take on over the years. (I believe this comes from the tannic acid in pulp and is actually a sign of its slow self-destruction. I don't think the new paper is actually "archival" in the acid free sense, but it is surely more resistant than pulp.) The covers are included, of course, and are unchanged from those that appear in the library sets(unlike the comic reproductions that required necessary changes from the original to sell on newsstands) . I do not say that they are unchanged from the originals because afficionadoes will already know that the EC Library covers were re-colored by the original colorist, Marie Severin. They are close to the originals, but not exactly the same (Ingel's "Haunt of Fear" covers are closest).
As for the color of the stories in the "Archives," this is probably the most controversial of all the changes that have been made to the originals. I'll be interested in reading what those reviewers who have the opportunity to closely compare these to the present printing have to say. I own only a few originals and some photographic reproductions of stories not yet printed in the "Archives" series . The stories have been re-colored by a company in Missouri (West Plains, Cochran's home town) called Jamison Services, and they do a fine job. The coloring in the comic book reprints was rather sloppy. However, it was more in the spirit of the expressionistic color schemes of the originals. The color schemes of the originals are pretty arbitrary and sometimes even irrational. This, combined with the frequent off-printing made for some pretty bizzare visuals, but that is part of the dream-like charm of the originals. The present coloring seems to be informed by more recent esthetics and technology, and is more rational (skies are always blue) and consistent (skin is usually flesh colored instead of inexplicably red, green or blue with yellow and orange highlights, for example). Overall, the colors are toned down and the effect cleaner and more "realistic." But, as good as it looks, something is lost. It seems that most efforts at reproduction of old classics always end up changing things. One can understand this with Volkswagens and Mustangs, perhaps, but why can't the look be reproduced exactly if that's what people love about the thing in the first place? Why must it always be "updated" in some way? The re-coloring was probably necessary, and, perhaps the colorists had to start from scratch. Taken on its own, the result is quite deep and rich, though, colorwise, the stories take on the look of the present rather than preserving the past look of the fifties. There is no off-printing of course and the detail lost in the undersized runs (and the originals, frankly) is not lost here. The blacks are strong and the images eye-poppingly precise. There are also some effects used (like the glow of a moon, for instance, reflected light, quite naturalistic, on faces and a more subtle gradation of hues) that were impossible in the originals.
The original one-pagers, letters, and in house E.C. ads are reproduced. One wishes the outside ads could have been reproduced (Charles Atlas: Before and After!), but that is probably not possible, so we have photos and articles concerning the well-worn E.C. history in their place. The cover is a glossy reproduction of the dust-cover (a cloth cover would be tops, but then I would probably complain about the price). The end papers are an oversized monochrome (maroon in this one)reproduction of a detail of one of the covers overlaid with the E.C. logo in black. The binding is sewn, which is very nice.
As I say, this is a fine edition, but one wonders if it is the last? You see, one format remains to be explored. The b&w E.C. Library is a standard of the industry now. Frank Miller's "Sin City" Library is based on it. The original of Miller's series was in black and white mostly, so the format makes sense. But the few color scenes from "Sin City" were reproduced in the oversized format as well. And now we have the oversized "Sandman" Library editions coming out which are totally in color. So it can be done, and with the E.C.'s, it probably will (and should) be done -- eventually. Can you imagine oversized "E.C. Library" collections just like the b&w versions in every way, but in color? I suppose the market will decide.