EC’s Writers, Artists Set Four-Color Stage for Golden Age of Horror Comics

by Thomas Tuna

When true fans think of the best of horror comics, the group that is mentioned most (and usually first) in EC Comics. Entertaining Comics (EC) was the brainchild of Max Gaines that, starting in the early 1940s, specialized in illustrated tales of horror, crime, satire, military, dark fantasy and science-fiction.

After Max Gaines’ death in 1947, his son William took over the company and started printing more mature stories, breaking new ground with stories of horror, war, fantasy, science-fiction and adventure. Noted for their high quality and shock endings, these comics were also unique in their socially conscious themes.

Moving forward to 1949, Gaines began a new line of horror and suspense titles that would change the face of comics forever: Tales from the Crypt, The Vault of Horror, and The Haunt of Fear. Not only were the stories in these books revolutionary for their time, EC formed real relationships with its readers through letters to the editor and its fan organization, the National EC Fan-Addict Club (yes, these were precursors to Stan Lee and Marvel’s efforts with letters of comment and The Merry Marvel Marching Society).

EC also was the first group to make their staffers and contributors real to its rabid readers (also something that Stan built on in the ’60s with his personal Soapbox columns). Gaines promoted EC’s writers and illustrators, allowing each to sign his art and develop unique art styles. He also printed one-page biographies of them in the books.

Many of these contributors went on to become household names in the industry. The stunning work of such 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 graced the pages of EC Comics.

Craig brought a naturalistic approach to EC’s “Big 3” horror books, plus Crime SuspenStories and Two-Fisted Tales. His first EC horror work came with the cover art for The Crypt of Terror 17 (May 1950), also handling both the art and script for that issue’s seven-page story “Curse of the Full Moon”.

Crandall, who contributed dozens of stories to EC’s best books and was inducted into the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame in 2009, made his EC debut with a six-page story “Bloody Sure,” written by Al Feldstein, in The Haunt of Fear 20 (August 1953).

Wood began to attract attention in 1950 with his science-fiction artwork for EC, some in collaboration with Joe Orlando. During this period, he seemingly drew everything: adventure, romance, war and horror for EC’s Shock SuspenStories). He also was instrumental in convincing Gaines to start a line of s-f comics: Weird Science and Weird Fantasy (later combined as Weird Science-Fantasy). Wood also had frequent entries in Two-Fisted Tales, Tales from the Crypt, Valor, Piracy and Aces High.

Davis started at EC in 1950, and became noted for his depiction of the Crypt-Keeper, revamping the character’s appearance from the more simplistic Al Feldstein version to a craggier man with hairy warts, drooling mouth and oversized hands and feet. Among the classic horror tales he illustrated were “Foul Play,” “Tain’t the Meat, It’s the Humanity” and “Death of Some Salesman”, which were Crypt-Keeper classics. He also illustrated the covers for every Tales from the Crypt comic from issue 29 to 46.

Overseeing the scripting chores, editors Al Feldstein and Harvey Kurtzman guided such writers as Robert Bernstein, Daniel Keyes, Carl Wessler, Jack Oleck and Otto Binder, and published the first work by Harlan Ellison. Arriving at EC in 1948, Feldstein began as an artist, but soon wound up behind the editor’s desk, while still contributing at least one story per comic. From late 1950 through 1953, he edited and wrote for seven EC titles, and introduced powerful graphic stories that highlighted such topics as racial prejudice, rape, domestic violence, police brutality, drug addiction and child abuse.

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