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Tuesday, 24 March 2009

THESE COMIC BOOKS ARE A THREAT TO ALL THAT IS GOOD IN SOCIETY - THE EC COMICS STORY

You want to feel your bones shake, eh? Something to give you nightmares? To keep you awake at night?

Well let me offer you this putrid story from beyond the grave, a tainted, twisted story of bloodcurdling horror and gruesome murder, of vampires and werewolves and human monsters driven by insanity - The Tainted Archive looks at the history of EC comics.

EC, or Educational Comics, was originally run by the conservative Max Gaines. He had been there at the birth of comics when he had the idea of folding the newspaper funnies into a booklet and selling them to the comic hungry masses. When he set up EC Comics the line was made up of patriotic American history stories and Biblical legends. The company was initially hugely successful but by the late 40's children were turning away from these wholesome comics and looking for their thrills in the new superhero titles that were appearing on stands.


When Max was killed in a bizarre speedboat accident his son, William Gaines took charge of an ailing comic book company. His answer to the company's problems was to totally change the direction of the comic books published.

He found a kindred spirit in artist, Al Feldsten and together the two men set about creating a series of macabre comic books that would appeal to the masses. But first they dropped the word Educational from the comic book line and EC became to mean Entertaining Comics.

In early 1950, EC released two new titles - Crypt of Terror (which was later renamed Tales from the Crypt) and Vault of Horror. So successful were these new books that they followed these up with Weird Fantasy and Weird Science and then these were boosted by several more titles - Crime Suspense Stories and The Haunt of Fear.


The horror comics were the most successful - each story was introduced by grisly characters; the white haired crypt keeper, the old witch and the maniacal vault keeper. Each character would introduce their respective stories with a series of ghoulish, and often terrible, puns.

The lurid cover artwork often featuring severed heads, axes dripping blood and ghoulish creatures would certainly stick out on the stands next to the likes of Classics Illustrated and Archie. The comics were outselling their nearest rivals three to one and for awhile everything looked on the up and up for the revitalised EC Comics.

Trouble however was just around the corner.

In 1954, the US Senate Sub-committee held hearings to decide whether comics inspired juvenile delinquency. This campaign was led by Senator Estes Kefauver. A lead witness, Dr. Fredrick Wertham testified that comics created a mental readiness for temptation and that Hitler had only been a mild threat compared to the comic books the children of America were reading.

The Dr also suggested that Batman was promoting homosexuality because Robin was always drawn with his legs apart and naked and that he was totally smitten with Batman.

Although no definite connection could be found between the comic books and America's then problems with youth crime, the Senate decided on a course of self regulation. This though was basically censorship under a different name and was not that different to today's political correctness movement.

In 1955 the Comics Code Authority came into being and it published a set of guidelines to control the content of comic books and the rules laid down were particularly harmful to crime and horror comics. Each title had to be submitted to the Comics Code Authority for their seal of approval and most US distributors refused to carry titles that didn't hold the seal of approval.

EC comics were refused the seal of approval without first making massive changes to their story lines. Gaines initially refused and he found he had no distributor for his titles. And then in 1956 Gaines was told by the authority to tone down a story it considered racist because a picture in the story showed a black man perspiring.

Gaines decided there was little point in publishing comics in such an environment and gradually the EC line ceased to exist.

However EC lives on today in graphic novel reprints and the countless TV shows and movies that were inspired by the comics.

7 comments:

Paul Brazill said...

Wouldn't you love to write for EC?

pattinase (abbott) said...

These titles are just what I needed to fill in a blank in a story. Thanks much. Me, I read Archie and Veronica.

ARCHAVIST said...

Paul - it was a true golden age

ARCHAVIST said...

Pattie - that's quite a cryptic comment

G said...

I remember reading a few issues of MAD that would spoof some of the early EC comics (especially Tales from the Crypt).

Charles Gramlich said...

I often wonder what I'd be like today if I'd been able to read these old books when I was young. Alas, they didn't make it into the Bible Belt.

Craig Clarke said...

I didn't have these comics either. Luckily, horror movies had just arrived on video during my formative years, so I was able to have my mind warped in a different but equally effective way. :)