The story of EC Comics really is one of the most intriguing in the lore of comic history. EC's founder, Max Gaines is really the father of the modern comic, having been the first one to devise the idea of printing newspaper comic strip re-prints into a magazine format. Gaines was also co-publisher of All-American Comics, the sister company to National Periodical Publications, AKA DC Comics, which published titles such as All Star Comics, Green Lantern, and The Flash. Gaines was bought out by his partner and eventually formed EC Comics, which then stood for Educational Comics but later would change to Entertaining Comics.
Gaines was killed in a boating accident, leaving his son William Gaines to reluctantly take over the company. Gaines soon changed the focus of the company and began to concentrate on publishing titles with horror, Sci-Fi, war, and suspense themes. Thus, Gaines created a legend. EC had perhaps the finest stable of artists ever assembled in one company that included Al Feldstein and Harvey Kurtzman who also wrote and edited most of the titles, along with other greats such as Johnny Craig, Graham Ingels, Wally Wood, Jack Davis, Al Williamson, Bernie Krigstein, George & Marie Severin, Reed Crandall, Basil Wolverton, Joe Orlando, and Frank Frazetta.
EC's horror comics were well ahead of their time and were really the pre-cursor of magazines like Creepy & Eerie. The stories in Tales from the Crypt, Haunt of Fear, and Vault of Horror were often quite gruesome and gory. Because of this, EC became the prime target of Psychiatrist Dr. Fredric Wertham who, in 1954 published Seduction of the Innocent, a book that blamed the violence and horror in comic books for juvenile crime and delinquency. A Congressional investigation resulted in the formation of the Comics Code Authority to censor comic books. Books had to be submitted and receive the stamp of approval and subjects like zombies & vampires were prohibited. While the CCA had no legal authority, most magazine distributors would not carry a comic if it did not have the code stamp. EC was forced to cancel their horror titles and shift it's focus to dramatic titles like "MD" and "Extra!", as well as the humor title Mad which was later changed to magazine format.
Much like it's Crypt Keeper, EC would not stay dead, thanks in large part to zealous fans and the efforts of Russ Cochran and Gemstone publishing that began re-printing the EC Comics in various formats in the 70's with the Complete EC Library, and then actual comics in the 80's and 90's. Among the latest projects are the EC Archives which collects several issues of the original EC comics into gorgeous hardcover editions.
Tales from the Crypt may seem tame by today's standards where blood and gore oozes off the pages, but when these stories were originally published back in the early 1950's, they were well ahead of their time in terms of their subject matter and artwork. While most comic art of the 50's was bland, mass produced house art, EC gave its artists unrivaled creative freedom. It's the reason why those issues are so highly sought after by collectors today.
The stories in Tales From the Crypt rarely deviated from the formula...they almost always ended with a shocking, ironic twist with a character getting their just desserts. Even when following this pattern, the gifted talent always kept things fresh and innovative. Inside these 212 pages you'll find stories featuring werewolves, mad scientists, zombies, animated limbs, ghosts, raving madmen (and women) and a host of other terrors. One of the most ghoulish tales is Johnny Craig's "Midnight Snack" in which a sleep walking man discovers he's been digging up bodies and eating them. This was pretty intense stuff for 1951. This book features the talents of legends Wally Wood, Graham Ingels, Johnny Craig, Jack Davis, Joe Orlando, and colorist Marie Severin.
These editions feature re-mastered color and also include special features such as an interview with Nancy Gaines, the widow of EC Comics founder Bill Gaines. The book lists for $50 but you can definitely find it online much cheaper making it well worth the price. If you've never read EC Comics before it's an experience you must have!
REVIEWED BY TIM JANSON