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Entertaining Comics

“Under Cover!” Shock SuspenStories #6 (Dec. 1952–Jan. 1953) Story by Al Feldstein, art by Wallace Wood.

Dan asked me to respond to Chris Mautner’s “skeptical take” on EC. I’m not sure how much I have to say specifically about Chris’s review of the first two books in our new EC series (Corpse On The Imjin And Other Stories by Kurtzman and Came The Dawn And Other Stories by Wallace Wood), but let me start with a couple of general observations about EC and its place in comics history.

Let me take a minute to set the stage. It was 1950. 1947, if you want to get technical about it, when Bill Gaines inherited Educational Comics from his father, Max Gaines — who, it’s been said, more or less invented the comic book format. Gaines neither knew nor cared about comics and took over the company unenthusiastically at the request of his mother. In 1950, he changed the company’s editorial direction, transformed it into a series of genre titles — war, science fiction, crime, horror — and recruited several new artists while retaining a few of the better ones who were already working for the company — Graham Ingels, Johnny Craig, Al Feldstein, Wally Wood. He had no grand ambitions beyond keeping the company alive. But, somehow, he got caught up in it, transformed into a discriminating enthusiast, and quickly became, for a few short years, the best comics publisher in the history of commercial comics.

Keep in mind that in 1950, the comic book was a mass entertainment targeted at adolescents, teenagers, and lowest-common-denominator adults, and stigmatized as sub-literate, which it mostly was, even before the Senate Subcommittee hearings in 1954 institutionalized the medium’s demonization.

News flash: The prospect at that time of a comic book publisher achieving high art was precisely zero. Today, there is barely a sustainable market for art- or literary-comics; in 1950, there was no market whatsoever because no one — the buying public, the publishers, the artists themselves — had even considered the idea; it was literally unthinkable. Conceptually, comic books that embodied literary values simply didn’t exist except perhaps as a private, inchoate, ontological construct on the part of a handful of practitioners. There was no artistic community to speak of; there was barely a professional community because comics was barely a profession. There was no critical establishment to argue the artistic merits of comics because adults weren’t interested enough to even read about comics (comics weren’t even movies!). There was no educated public who bought them. On the rare occasions comics were mentioned in newspapers or magazines, they were denounced as crap, which they mostly were, or vilified as socially and culturally harmful, or viewed as a bizarre and aberrant sociological phenomenon.

Neither Gaines nor Feldstein were literary mavens or theorists, they did not see comics as high art, and they were not evangelical about the artistic potential of the form. As Feldstein cheerfully admitted to John Benson, “These stories that Bill and I wrote were commercial ventures to produce a magazine that would entertain and SELL.” (Emphasis Feldstein’s.) But, they were smart, open-minded, and hip to pop culture, had a contrarian streak, and a better intuitive grasp of aesthetics than anyone else in their respective positions at other comics publishers.

They had unerringly good, if somewhat circumscribed, taste, and hired the best artists they could afford, two of whom, at least, were also restless and ambitious innovators (Kurtzman and Krigstein), and to whom they were willing to give far more creative latitude than any other publisher at the time. The artists they published were superb draftsmen, sophisticated stylists, and, in varying degrees, deeply committed to their craft and art. Gaines (and Feldstein) never aspired to create literary comics; they simply wanted to create better comics than anyone else at the time, and this drive combined with good judgment and a little luck propelled them to create some of the best commercial comics published in the first 50 or 60 years of the medium.

Gaines’s EC had an integrity lacking in every other publisher. By integrity, I mean that Gaines himself cared enough about the quality of his books to participate directly in their creative execution and took pride in the final result (most publishers couldn’t have cared less). He and editor Feldstein would spend four days out of five in story conferences hashing out the plot details for their books, based on premises and plots Gaines would bring into the office on those mornings. No other publisher was this personally involved or invested in his books.

In the impoverished cultural context of comics publishing at the time, the EC line was an astonishing achievement; Gaines’s EC came as close as a mainstream comics publisher could to being the comics equivalent of Barney Rossett’s Grove Press. What other comics publisher would even think of adapting stories from the Saturday Evening Post, use stories by Guy de Maupassant, or steal from the best — Ray Bradbury?

While I’m extolling EC’s virtues, let me enumerate a couple more before I get into the thornier questions of where EC resides in the history of comics and how to even make sense of that question.

I mentioned that Gaines and Feldstein had excellent taste when it came to choosing artists, but that’s an understatement.

First, with the exception of Orlando (who was obviously overly influenced by Wood) every one of the artists was a unique stylist, very much his own man. Gaines and Feldstein never asked their artists to imitate other artists (unlike so many publishers’ edicts to that effect) and encouraged them to establish their own distinctive visual “voice.” And within what was often a highly regimented and unified editorial vision, the artists they chose ran a spectrum — from “auteurs” like Kurtzman and Johnny Craig — who write and drew their own work and were quintessential cartoonists with a degree of abstraction and exaggeration as an integral part of their work — to the more illustrative or representational artists like Crandall, Williamson, and Evans, who, though coming from a different tradition, were still superb storytellers.

Then, you had chameleons who could be both illustrative and cartoony as the story warranted — Severin, Wood, Elder, and Davis. (Did you notice that the regulars in Kurtzman’s war books and the standard against which he measured all other artists who tried out for him, were equally good at dramatic and comedic work? I wonder if it was the absence of this humanizing quality that turned Kurtzman off to otherwise fine craftsman like Alex Toth, Gene Colan, and Russ Heath.)

Stylistically, Ingels and Kamen fit somewhere in between and were as instantly recognizable as the rest. Bringing up the rear, you had Krigstein, perhaps the most ambitious of the artists, who genuinely wanted to propel comics into literary territory (even more so than Kurtzman).

Next, portraying drama in comics form had never been one of the form’s fortes. In fact, it had almost never been done successfully. The best newspaper strips over the first half of the century — Moon Mullins, Happy Hooligan, the Katzenjammer Kids, Mutt and Jeff, Barney Google, Popeye, the Gumps, Skippy, Mickey Mouse, et al. — always couched their drama in comedic terms (usually a mélange of slapstick, vaudeville, and gags) that also, miraculously, reflected a dimension of (usually) lower or middle-class life as most urban Americans experienced it. Slapstick + kitchen-sink drama. There were only three significant exceptions that I can think of — Little Orphan Annie, Dick Tracy, and Gasoline Alley, two of which were couched in adventure terms, and all of which had humorous elements to leaven the drama or make it palatable to what the newspaper editors or artists thought was their audience.

There was certainly drama of a sort in strips like Krazy Kat and Little Nemo, but it was the graphic element of the strips that propelled them into the first rank. There was melodrama in such strips as Rex Morgan, Mary Perkins, and Mark Trail (and probably others I don’t care to think about), but these were hokey, dull, tepid soap operas. There were adventure strips — Flash Gordon, Captain Easy, Prince Valiant, Terry and the Pirates — but these, too, were not first and foremost drama (with the possible exception of Valiant) so much as melodrama within adventure, sci-fi, or fantasy trappings where the latter were just as important as the former.

But EC attempted to do straight drama in comics form, undiluted by comedy or slapstick or adventure trappings. True, most of EC’s dramatic stories were bound within genres — crime and suspense and science fiction — but they played it as straight as they could within those — and their readership’s — limitations. The preachies were the most naturalistic, many unrelentingly grim and tough-minded, such as “…So Shall Ye Reap” and “In Gratitude.”

“My World” is in Weird Science #22 (Nov.-Dec. 1953) and was written by Al Feldstein and drawn by Wallace Wood.

And what other publisher would have conceived of “My World”? — a touching and uncondescending paean to childhood enthusiasms as well as an expression of love for the intimacy of the medium itself. These were the earliest glimmerings that comics were capable of expressing a level of dramatic seriousness or reflection — even though it wasn’t until the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s that such ambitions truly paid off (e.g., many of the underground cartoonists, such as Justin Green, and later, Harvey Pekar, et al.)

The stories — or the writing — weren’t as consistent as the drawing, ranging from the pure gross-out pop of the horror comics to the Bradbury adaptations or the Kurtzman war comics and Mad. Somewhere in between, in my view, were the Johnny Craig-authored (and often drawn) crime comics and Feldstein’s vast output. EC’s limitations here are all too obvious: the stories (especially Feldstein’s) were often burdened by formula and cliché, the writing prolix, overwrought, and fatuously earnest.

But the level of craft often heightens the experience; the Craig work particularly is formally inventive and often clever. But the writing, which was at least intelligently conceived, was helped immeasurably by some of the best cartoonists of their generations. It was Krigstein who said, “You simply cannot underestimate the effect of an artist on a drawn story. You simply cannot underestimate that.”

The stories occasionally rose to the level of a decent noir movie — never at the level of, say, Night and the City, but closer to a programmer or B-movie such as Somewhere in the Night; Bill Mason likened one of Wood’s short stories in Came The Dawn And Other Stories to Storm Warning, a 1951 “preachy” starring Ronald Reagan and Ginger Rogers (and an almost unrecognizable Doris Day), which I thought was on target. Many of EC’s suspense stories were roughly coterminous with an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents or one of TV’s 1950s dramatic anthologies like Four Star Playhouse (aired the same time as EC was publishing) — not literary by any means, but not too shabby, either.

The question of how artistic values apply to comics was rarely ventilated by its practitioners in the first 50 years of the comic book and for good reason: the entire context of the comic book was devoid of self-understanding or self-reflection. The wider culture never took comics even as seriously as it took its movies, never demonstrated any appreciation for it, never rewarded achievement in any way — because the wider culture never saw an achievement there worth rewarding or cheering, and mostly for good reason.

The artists toiling in comics who cared about such matters were few and far between and usually at the level of craft, not art. The few artists who did have a sophisticated grasp of the concept, or the integrity to implement their beliefs, toiled in obscurity (such as Barks or Stanley) or were marginalized (like Kurtzman and Krigstein). There was no place for them. (The cultural context of newspaper strips was entirely different, but the cartoonists in that area still thought of themselves as something less than artists — as newspapermen, cranking out dandy entertainments to build readership — of which Caniff was probably the nonpareil practitioner and proponent. Although George Herriman thrived in this context, thanks to the patronage of Hearst, the absence of a genuine aesthetic context had its drawbacks — just as our more self-conscious age of artistes has its own set of drawbacks.)

You may have noticed that I’ve used the term “literary” pretty casually here, and I’ve noticed that it’s used at least as casually in reviews or even as short-hand, as in “lit comics,” to differentiate them from commercial or mass market comics. But can the term in fact be properly and accurately applied to comics? I often wrestle with how artistic standards ought to be applied to comics, and I’ve always concluded that the artistic values of comics are intrinsically literary. To me, there’s no getting around it; comics is no less a literary form than prose simply because images are an essential component of the former. What constitutes “literary” values won’t be disposed of in this paragraph, but maybe we can agree that form and content have to be successfully married to create something of human relevance, depth, and substance, or otherwise offer the play of pure aesthetic pleasure. Comics, after all, share many of the same or equivalent qualities that we associate with literature — narrative technique, narrative structure, fictional representation, verisimilitude, expressionism, tone, texture, authorial voice, etc. The key is to understand that the visual element is every bit as much a part of its literary expression as the words (and often more so) and that the medium has to use its own unique properties to embody what we may loosely refer to as literary values.

As an aside, it’s worth pointing out that looking for literary values in comic books from their inception in the ’30s through at least the ’70s and ’80s is a pretty fruitless task. This leads us straight into the territory of Manny Farber’s elephant art vs. termite art, but, put succinctly, there are a lot of fascinatingly recondite or rarefied or compartmentalized aesthetic virtues to be found in commercial comic books, none of which should be dismissed out of hand, but in terms of fully realized literary works — or oeuvres — very few.

I should mention here the obvious, which is that there is no consensus as to what exactly constitutes literary values. My dear friend, Don Phelps, who is on the side of termite art, has argued persuasively that strips like Little Orphan Annie, Dick Tracy, and Popeye are examples of literary visual art.

“The Flying Machine” is from Weird Science-Fantasy #23 (March 1954) Story by Ray Bradbury, adaptation by Al Feldstein; art by Bernard Krigstein, recolored by Marie Severin.

At this point, the next most salient question to pose is: Were EC Comics “good” only relative to the miserable or nonexistent standards of their competition, or were they good by any more objective standards? A mixture of both, I think, but most importantly for the purposes of this discussion, there were individual stories within the EC books that represent genuine artistic or literary achievement. Among them, for example, would be “Master Race,” “The Flying Machine,” and several of Kurtzman’s war stories — “Corpse on the Imjin,” “The Big If,” and a handful of others. In terms of the dramatic use of comics, these are as good as the medium had offered up to at least this point and probably for many years thereafter, only exceeded in artistry by a handful of poetic-graphic masterpieces, most prominently Krazy Kat and Little Nemo.

“Air Burst!” is from Frontline Combat #4 (Jan. – Feb. 1952) Story and art by Harvey Kurtzman.

I suppose the most efficient way to point out some of EC’s merits is by taking issue with some of Chris’s judgments in his critique. He admits that “the most well-known stories still hold up” (I would say they do quite a bit more than “hold up”), and praises, slightly, the stories “Air Burst!,” (I assume this is what he meant when he referred to “Air Raid”), “Kill!,” and “Big ‘If’!,” rightly so, but then proceeds to fault several other stories written and drawn by Kurtzman, beginning with “Contact!,” dismissed as “a simplistic, jingoistic ‘us vs. them’ tale that naïvely suggests America will win the Korean War because ‘we believe in good.’”

“Contact!” is from Frontline Combat #2 (September 1951) Story and art by Harvey Kurtzman.

Though it is marred by that sentiment on the last page (which Kurtzman himself lamented in the accompanying interview we published and called “dreadful”), the rest of the story is neither naïve nor jingoistic, and this criticism strikes me as emblematically glib and short sighted, almost willfully blind to its virtues. One of the characters, Durkee, is indeed jingoistic, referring to the North Koreans as ‘gooks,’ which is challenged by another soldier who fires back, “Always using that dumb word ‘gook’! You make it sound like you’re a big-shot American superman! You’re no superman! You’re just a big bag of …”

Pages three and four, in an eight-panel sequence, is a masterful depiction of violence, culminating in Durkee repeatedly stabbing an already-dead North Korean soldier in a psychotic rage (“That’s right … Durkee! Knife him, Superman! Knife him after I’ve killed him, big shot!”). This is the exact opposite of the comic-booky violence prevalent through its history; it’s viscerally repellant and retains its force today. (One can see how Kurtzman’s depiction of violence here inspired Jack Jackson’s aesthetic disposition toward his depiction of American history.) The tension here is as much between the American soldiers as it is between the U.S. and North Korean forces. After retreating in the face of heavy casualties and a superior force, the remaining troops call in artillery and air support, with one page devoted to the North Koreans being pulverized. One of Kurtzman’s goals was to show the savagery of war for what it was. (Contrary to what Chris writes, Kurtzman was not a pacifist and was not anti-war, per se.) One of the themes Kurtzman would return to over and over again was how mechanization amplified the horrors of war; he here depicts death being inflicted remotely, by tanks and aircraft.

“Rubble!” is from Two-Fisted Tales #24 (Nov.– Dec. 1951) Story and art by Harvey Kurtzman.

Chris peremptorily waves off two more stories: “But even stories that appear to emphasize Kurtzman’s anti-war leanings, like ‘Rubble!’ or ‘Dying City!’ (done with Alex Toth) paint [the] Communist side in such simplistic, negative terms (leaving the Americans to always come off as [the] sympathetic guys who fight because they have to, gosh darn it, not cause they want to) that it’s hard to feel as thought there isn’t more than a little flag-waving going on in the background.”

I see no flag-waving in either story. Quite the opposite: both sides are implicated in the two stories. In “Rubble!” the Chun family builds a home — meticulously shown over three pages of seven panels each — which is destroyed by “a single artillery blast” in one panel. When the U.N. (i.e., the U.S.) rolls in looking for a good position for a gun emplacement, they dispassionately bulldoze the remains of the house (and the family, earlier shown killed beneath the debris!) and put up their 155 mm cannon so that they can pummel the enemy — showing how war reduces both sides’ actions to sheer utility, and thereby diminishes their humanity. The last panel shows that the gun has been moved again, presumably to a more strategic location; the fate of the Chun family is a matter of complete indifference to both sides.

“Dying City!” is from Two-Fisted Tales #22 (July – Aug. 1951) Story by Harvey Kurtzman, art by Alex Toth.

In “Dying City,” collateral damage is again the subject: A young patriotic North Korean zealot leaves his family in Suwon and eagerly goes to war — a sickeningly familiar scenario in every country that goes to war. When he returns, he finds that his father was “accidentally” killed by his own side, and he himself is subsequently blinded by a bomb dropped from an American plane. In the last panel, “American tanks roll into the blackened ruins of Suwon! Once more, the city has changed hands! The black smoke from burning oil of blasted war machines rolls over the sky, and amidst the rubble, an old man mumbles to a North Korean soldier whose body grows cold and begins to stiffen with rigor mortis!” Whose flag is being waved here?

Both stories can be faulted artistically (I could certainly do without all those exclamation points!). I see them more as being compressed than simplistic, and they could perhaps be more profitably interpreted as fables than as naturalistic war stories. But, in these two stories — “Rubble!” and “Dying City!” — Kurtzman demonstrates an admirable empathy toward both sides of the conflict, and in seven short pages tells eloquent and humane stories remarkably — though perhaps not entirely — free of ideological bias.

To bring us back to the original question of where EC resides in the history of comics: As I said, EC’s flaws are pretty obvious: Even when the artists were striving for greater seriousness than the ironic gore of the horror stories or the outrageous early sci-fi plots or even the clever but predictable crime and suspense stories, the writing was often overwrought, prolix, and ham-fisted, and the artists were straightjacketed by EC’s rigid visual grid (which Kurtzman and Craig avoided by writing their own stories, and Krigstein rebelled against time and time again).

They were Entertaining Comics first and foremost, but they also seemed compelled to break out of their commercial formulas, however finely realized, and publish stories that were fiercely honest, politically adversarial, visually masterful, and occasionally formally innovative. But, taken as a whole, the company’s output was a mixed bag. I don’t think that there’s any question that the language of the medium has grown and matured since the time of EC Comics, and that in the hands of comparable craftsman today, comics have become more eloquent and nuanced than Bill Gaines, Al Feldstein, and the artists who worked with them could imagine — or perhaps as eloquent and nuanced as they could imagine, which would’ve been no small feat in 1950.

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102 Responses to Entertaining Comics

  1. Chris Mautner says:

    I’m too swamped at work right now to address Gary’s points (or offer up any mea culpas) but I did want to note there’s a bad link to my initial review. If you want to read my original review of the EC books (and I’m not necessarily saying you should), go here: http://robot6.comicbookresources.com/2012/10/robot-reviews-the-ec-library/

  2. Jeet Heer says:

    Okay, this looks great. Will have to set aside a big chunk of time to hunker down & read carefully.

  3. Tony says:

    Yeah, all fine and dandy. Quintessential Groth. But why are the books so small?

  4. Sammy says:

    Can someone blog more negative reviews of Fantagraphics books so Groth can write more essays like this one? So great to read this.
    The sad thing about being a serious fan of comics is that as you read all the “great” comics (whatever you discovered as a teenager, most likely), you circle back round to all the books, artists, and subgenres that didn’t look interesting before and find things to enjoy about them, even though they are not “great” in the usual way, and then you circle back round again to the next set of books you weren’t interested in and find something to like about those (a strange sidekick, weird inking, gay subtext) while in the meantime digging deeper into more obscure areas of comics, getting farther and farther away from “great” comics that dont require a context to be enjoyed or appreciated.
    EC comics, as Groth points out, were made for children, so if you’re an adult and reading children’s comics (from the 1950’s no less) you’re too deep in the hole to be talking about “great” in a regular sense, sort of, in a way.

  5. Dan Nadel says:

    I’ve been through the same process and wound up publishing two books about the little journey. It’s a strange time now. It’s possible that to a lot of younger cartoonists Fletcher Hanks is more relevant than Harvey Kurtzman. On the one hand it was a necessary corrective (and one which ye ol’ Comics Comics was very much a part of) to a canon that had calcified. But I do think we temporarily lost the plot along the way and now the really great works need to be revisited with fresh eyes, which I think Chris Mautner did, and fairly well. I’d love to see more honest writing on this kind of work. Hey, I’d like to see a young critic (ok, like one of 3 we have) take on Caniff.

  6. R. Fiore says:

    And yet, Dell Comics published more good comics than EC, by number of pages at very least, with anonymous talent working either in the house styles of animation studios or emulating the personal styles of other cartoonists, typically according to a formula, in a manner that could survive under any censorship regime. I’m-just-saying.

    Another point: In the spectrum of black to white, black exists, and if a totalitarian system with auto-genocidal tendencies isn’t there it’s awfully damned close. The lesson of the Vietnam experience is not that there’s good and evil in everyone, but that it’s morally perilous to be in a position where you can’t be wrong.

  7. I like to imagine an alternate reality, where in the last half of the 1950s Bill Gaines took the line in a whole new direction with design by Erik Nitsche; writing by Alfred Bester and Patricia Highsmith; and, added to the roster of the usual gang of idiots were John Hubley and others who left UPA following the HUAC hearings and that whole slew of Hollywood talent left homeless by that atrocity.

    Funny no one has mentioned Tom Devlin’s piece on EC in TCJ 238…

  8. Vanja says:

    I believe that the problem has to do with hype. People come to EC Archives after hearing the praise without understanding the context. This is why it’s important to have pieces like this here – EC was by and large ahead of its time and presents a very important touchstone in the history of American comics and the development of the medium. The uninitiated don’t always grasp seem to get caught up in the hype and eventually approach these comics expecting something very different from what they are. On the other hand, it’s entirely justified that they were taken to such a high stature – if the overall sentiment was that these were simply above average middle 20th century comics, how many of the modern readers would actively seek them out?

  9. Pingback: Kibbles ‘n’ Bits: EC reconsidered, kids ignored and you’re a bad stalker, Charlie Brown

  10. Mike Hunter says:

    Ah, what a delight to get a new Gary Groth essay to savor! Great stuff…

    ——————-
    Groth says:

    (Did you notice that the regulars in Kurtzman’s war books and the standard against which he measured all other artists who tried out for him, were equally good at dramatic and comedic work? I wonder if it was the absence of this humanizing quality that turned Kurtzman off to otherwise fine craftsman like Alex Toth, Gene Colan, and Russ Heath.)
    —————–

    A fine perception! Rather than calling it “humanizing,” though, I’d describe it (characteristically, in a far more verbose fashion) as the ability to expressionistically twist their art in partially cartoonish directions, and thus add emotional “oomph” to their visuals — in action, emotional expressions, gesture — that Kurtzman appreciated in his “regulars.” As he very much did in his own work, thereby cluing us in as to his preferences.

    As shown by, for instance, Jack Davis: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_zD76GyK9Tjo/S8s7dmrr62I/AAAAAAAAB6M/ba3NOGv2g_A/s1600/jdwar-001.jpg

    A Davis EC war story: http://ethunter1.blogspot.com/2011/07/sunday-funnies-enemy-contact.html

    By contrast, imagine the preceding rendered by an Al Williamson or Hal Foster. A lot prettier, but…

    ——————
    R. Fiore says:

    And yet, Dell Comics published more good comics than EC, by number of pages at very least, with anonymous talent working either in the house styles of animation studios or emulating the personal styles of other cartoonists, typically according to a formula, in a manner that could survive under any censorship regime. I’m-just-saying.
    ——————-

    Yes, both Dell and Gold Key, of which I particularly have fond memories of, do not deserve to be forgotten; should receive their measure of praise.

    But, did either ever rise to the heights that EC so frequently did, produce widely-acknowledged masterpieces of the art form?

    That “by number of pages at very least” caveat is painful. (“He may not be as brilliant a designer as _______, but he puts out a lot more work!”)

    The “anonymous talent working either in the house styles of animation studios or emulating the personal styles of other cartoonists” is likewise, if not a formula for mediocrity, not exactly the stuff to raise the creative level of an art form, influence and inspire future generations.

    ———————
    Vanja says:

    I believe that the problem has to do with hype. People come to EC Archives after hearing the praise without understanding the context. This is why it’s important to have pieces like this here – EC was by and large ahead of its time and presents a very important touchstone in the history of American comics and the development of the medium.
    ———————-

    Indeed so!

    And, it’s profoundly ahistorical to trash EC for not having done Daniel Clowes or Chris Ware-type full-fledged “art comics.” It’s like some more-enlightened-than-thou moderns sneering at Lincoln for being a “racist.”

  11. Jeet Heer says:

    I agree with the general thrust of Gary’s comments, but here are a few additional thoughts, quibbles, and digressions inspired by this piece.

    1) With a few exceptions (Barks, Stanley, Kurtzman) the interesting commercial comic books of the 1940s/1950s were visually much stronger than were as literary works. This is certainly true of most EC comics. So I’m wondering whether a focus on the literary side of things doesn’t do these comics a disservice. To put it another way: Most of the EC books belong to the history of American drawing & illustration rather than the history of American comics. Artists like Wood, Davis, Ingels etc. created hundreds of memorable images, scenes which once seen can not easily be forgotten, visual milestones that have constantly inspired artists in many fields (not just comics but fiction, painting and film). Never mind that the stories they illustrated were mostly middling pulp; the images themselves were strange and potent. They continue to have a life and are of more than antiquarian interest.

    2) Gary’s defense of Kurtzman is well done. I’m wondering if more shouldn’t be said about Kurtzman’s art and his formalist innovations. I love Kurtzman’s thick bounding line, so muscular and expressive. As much as any of the EC artists, you can get a great deal of pleasure just from immersing yourself in the drawings. But when you read the stories there is something more there that is lacking in most of the EC work (aside from Craig & Krigstein). Kurtzman’s intelligence in storytelling, the way he organizes the page as a discrete unit, the care with which images are organized to flow coherently: these genuinely advanced the art of comics. Look at the way page 3 of “Rubble!” is organized into three tiers: the first tier with the laying of stones, the second tier with the thatching of the roof and the final tier as one large panel with the surveying of the finished house: the very page itself has an architectural structure that calls attention the physicality of house building, of the house as something that (like the comics page) is constructed block by block. Frank King and Chris Ware have made similar visual links between architecture and comics, and Kurtzman belongs in their select company as a formalist innovator.

    3) I’m not sure what Gary means by this: “What other comics publisher would even … steal from the best — Ray Bradbury?” What was Ray Bradbury the best of? American fiction? No, the early 1950s was a period when there were many better fiction writers: Hemingway (past his prime, but still …), Faulkner, Bellow, Nabokov, K.A. Porter, Salinger Mailer, etc. Bradbury was hardly in that league. Maybe best science fiction writer? I dunno. I can think of quite a few s.f. writers from the period who I prefer: Sturgeon, Bester, arguably C.L. Moore and Henry Kuttner. Bradbury was a good writer, but I wouldn’t say best. In fact, some of the problems of Bradbury’s work (a certain over-ripeness and excessively lush prose) overlap with the general bad tendencies of EC, which might explain why Gaines and Feldstein were attracted to the author of The Martian Chronicles.

    4) In terms of EC & the history of comics and the comics cannon . As I’ve said elsewhere, we always see the past through the prism of the present. I got interested in Kurtzman in the 1980s because he obviously had a strong influence on some of the best cartoonists around (notably Crumb and Spiegelman). These days, cartoonists are taking from a wider array of sources so our sense of the “canon” has enlarged. Thanks to Chris Ware, Charles Forbell, Frank King, and Gluyas Williams all seem super relevant. Thanks to Ivan Brunetti, we can newly appreciate Otto Soglow. And as Dan mentioned there are many young artists today influenced by Fletcher Hanks (or, God help us, Heavy Metal). The place of EC in “the canon” will depend in part on their ability to continue inspiring young cartoonists. I think the new Fantagraphics series will help with that.

    5) Absolutely agree with R. Fiore that Dell ultimately published more good comics than EC. Barks and Stanley being the stars but also lesser but still good work from Jesse Marsh and others.

  12. ant says:

    Is that Toth page inked by Kurtzman?

  13. patrick ford says:

    It is inked by Kurtzman.

  14. patrick ford says:

    BTW Kurtzman also inked a story by John Severin. It’s the first story in the first issue of FRONTLINE COMBAT.

  15. Sammy says:

    Just as an aside, jeet you might be interested to know that many “younger” cartoonists learned a lot about more obscure cartoonists of the past from Dylan Williams, who was constantly xeroxing and sending stuff to people who he thought would enjoy or learn something from them. Personally, I know of a couple dozen cartoonists who discovered (or learned a lot more about) many of their favorite old cartoonists thanks to Dylan. For me it was Jesse Marsh and Gluyas Williams. Unannounced, a heavy envelope of their comics, xeroxed and stapled as zines, arrived in the mail. He was very generous in that way.

  16. R. Fiore says:

    It would be perverse for a publisher to try to diffuse enthusiasm for the work he publishes. If you don’t think what you’re publishing is worthy of you imprint then you don’t publish it. For instance, Fantagraphics turned down the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Could have been millionaires . . .

  17. R. Fiore says:

    Note qualification “at very least.” Carl Barks is at least Harvey Kurtzman’s peer, and you couldn’t have produced as much as he did without resorting to formula. At any rate, he made profligate use of formulae.

  18. Daniel C. Parmenter says:

    Charles Forbell, Frank King, and Gluyas Williams weren’t relevant before Chris Ware?

  19. ant says:

    Thanks. I will admit I’m not too up on EC stuff….I am sorry.

  20. James says:

    That’s true, at different times over the years Dylan, bless him, sent me packages of odd works by Mort Meskin, Jerry Grandenetti, Ogden Whitney, Noel Sickles and a bunch of Toth storyboards. Wow, he is so sorely missed.

  21. olly hill says:

    The connection between architecture and comics Jeet refers to is most profound, something i have often mulled over. Indeed the two have a long history, The Microcosm of London (1808), a collaboration between Augustus Pugin and Thomas Rowlandson being possibly the earliest? There also remains a great version of Peter Ackroyd’s Hawksmoor to be illustrated, although From Hell touched on this slightly. Apologies for the digression!

  22. Kim Thompson says:

    Looking for literary content, at least literary content that can in any way stand toe to toe with contemporary actual literature, in any mainstream comic is an exercise in futility. (Certainly in any non-humor story; a case can be made for Barks and Stanley, as well as a number of comic strips.) The stories are at best a crude libretto that allows the graphic side (illustration, design, narration) of the comic to sing.

    I wonder if the strengths of comics are such that if the literary content (at least on genre material such as that favored by EC) were any higher the material would not function as well as comics. I’m with Jeet Heer on Bradbury, whose weaknesses — or maybe we should say limitations — as a writer not only explain his appeal to EC but his appropriateness to EC.

    In his interview with me (issue shipping this week, plug plug), Jacques Tardi told me that he started doing adaptations because he was frustrated that comics writing never seemed to achieve the level of prose writing. (Including, implicitly, his own.) But even then he picked genre fiction and potboilers to adapt (except for Céline, but I think it’s significant that he treated those as an illustration job and not a comics job).

    I must say, as someone with a jaundiced skepticism toward revisiting those things that thrilled me as a youth (I dread the day when I finally break down and try to re-read HOWARD THE DUCK), I’ve found the EC comics better than I thought they would be. The Johnny Craig material is even more terrific than I remembered, and clever writing and gorgeous drawing make the Feldstein/Kamen SF book — not one’s first choice for a top EC comic, I’m guessing — a genuine delight. If I were a comics reader who’d figured “Oh, that’s nice, they’re doing EC, I guess I’ll get a couple of the better ones” I think I might’ve flipped to “These are awesome, I need to get ALL of these” after reading the first few.

  23. Briany Najar says:

    Joe Orlando is always underrated, obvs cos he’s not Wood. I think his “funny” stuff in Panic shows him doing his own thing a bit more and draws attention to qualities that are also present in some of the scifi he did. Like the one about the new teacher from another planet. I forget the title.
    One Orlando-limned EC story I can’t forget the name of is The Craving Grave! That looks pretty good, and the intro blurb is amazing. Maybe it even qualifies as some kind of cheap literature. It’s classic show-biz anyway; it makes me widen my eyes and lean closer.

    “I wonder if the strengths of comics are such that if the literary content (at least on genre material such as that favored by EC) were any higher the material would not function as well as comics.”

    If comics are like literature, they’re more like narrative metrical poetry than drama. There’s a bias toward finitude in certain areas, a compromise(?) between scale and articulation, if the thing is to play along. A piece of music could have gaps several minutes long between each note, different each time, and still be music to someone – but could it Rock?? Could it have Swing?? Comics that do rock or swing don’t have a lot of room for verbosity but hey, that Nat King Cole did alright though and there’s Mantovani and all that stuff. etc

  24. Daniel C. Parmenter says:

    “In fact, some of the problems of Bradbury’s work (a certain over-ripeness and excessively lush prose) overlap with the general bad tendencies of EC, which might explain why Gaines and Feldstein were attracted to the author of The Martian Chronicles.”

    I think this is a good point and perhaps this is indeed why EC were attracted to him. He’s certainly generous with descriptions and atmosphere and the adaptations that EC did seem to capture his style quite nicely. I’ll agree that Bradbury wasn’t necessarily the best SF/fantasy author of his time, though certainly he’s up there (IMO).

    A good friend who ran a science fiction/fantasy bookstore for a number of years described Bradbury and certain other authors as “gateway drugs”, meaning that they’re the type of authors that attract people who aren’t necessarily into SF/fantasy. From there, many go on to read other authors in the field. I suppose Neil Gaiman and a few others play that role now.

  25. Robert Boyd says:

    This has always been a practice of those who haunted microfilm readers and bought packets of old strips on eBay. I’ll never forget when Tom Devlin handed me a stack of Moomin xeroxes–a revelation!

  26. Robert Boyd says:

    I think what’s confusing here is the word “literary.” We can’t expect comics to have excellent prose style, after all. “Narrative” could be a substitute, but it’s not quite right. After all, comics do a lot of things we see in literature (for example, metaphor and hyperbole) but do those things generally with pictures.

  27. Kim Thompson says:

    “We can’t expect comics to have excellent prose style, after all.” Uh… Why not?

  28. R. Fiore says:

    The main verbal contribution of the comics has been to the vernacular, and it has sometimes been prodigous. The problem is that there simply isn’t an equivalent word to “literary” to apply to comics. “Poetic” also gets drafted now and then, I think. The person who coins an appropriate word will be doing the art form a service.

    Among those who have written well in balloons are George Herriman, Percy Crosby, Walt Kelly, and, well, Harvey Kurtzman.

  29. patrick ford says:

    There are a couple of different ways of looking at writing and art. You can evaluate them as meaningful art, or look at them for entertainment value.
    You will see various people scoff at the notion of Stanley, Barks, or E.C. as art, and then go into some long digression about “comics cannons” and how their cannon is bigger than your cannon, and you ought to be mortified by the inadequate cannon you have. The impression given is that these are people who read only Proust, look only at certain paintings in museums, and listen only to a few composers and then only when the music is played by a specific orchestra. If that’s the case it’s hard to dispute their argument. When that isn’t the case the next day the person, pissing on Robert Crumb or E.C. Seagr, is on display enthusing about The Watchmen, or movies by some director who looks like Matt Drudge.

    The way it looks to me is the reason writing in comic books tends to be poor in relation to the artwork stems from the fact there is no reason (aside from earning a living) a writer would want to write comic books. The very best writers in comics (strips and books) are always cartoonists (writer-artists). The exceptions I’m aware of are few and far between. This is perfectly natural because cartooning is a writer-artists medium and was from the very start. In fact there is a lot of very good writing in comic strips, some of it arguably great (Segar, Herriman, Schulz, McCay, King, Feininger, Crosby, Tuthill, Fontaine Fox, Ahern, Crockett Johnson…) Name the five greatest comic strips of all time and there isn’t any doubt they will all be the product of a writer-artist. Draw up a list of the five best writers in comic books and they will all be writer-artists. Look at underground and alternative comic books and the best are all produced by writer-artists.
    In the early days of comic books the idea was hatched to facilitate production by means of an assembly line. Comic book publishers often had roots in pulp magazines and with that market going into decline the publishers had contacts with people who had been grinding out pulps (Schwartz, Weisinger, Fox, etc.) as editors or writers. These writers were what can honestly called hacks (truly no offense intended). The artist for the most part were younger, inspired by comic strips (Foster, Raymond, Crane, Caniff) and generally from some low income borough in New York (exceptions apply). Most of those young artists could write, or probably could have written if they had tried, but I assume the publishers and editors connections to their existing stable of writers meant they guided work to the men they were familiar with. Why not when the art might be the work of five or six artists. One might do layouts, another figures, a third specialized in faces, another did backgrounds, there might well be several inkers on the assembly line as well, that’s how the shops which packaged comic book stories worked. Even a writer-artist like Will Eisner farmed out much of his work to create more product.
    This all stayed about the same for a very long time. It was the ’60s when you began to see a significant number of new writers enter the industry along with new artists and writer-artists. The writers were different from the old time pulp magazine veterans (many of whom were still active in the ’60s). The new writers had something in common though, and it was the fact they were almost all super hero comic books fans of the highest possible level. Once that pattern was set it remained unchanged (talking mainstream comics here) right through to today. Even a guy like Alan Moore is a huge tights fanatic. These writers know the history of the characters inside out, they would know who Superman’s cousins on Krypton are, they are passionate about “building Batman’s, and Superman’s legacy.” They call Batman “Bruce” as if he’s a personal friend. This works out well since every single person still reading mainstream comics is fascinated those things. It is apparently common for fans to have been reading Spider-Man for twenty or thirty years. The change in writers or artists is secondary to following Spider-Man. Many of these fans are so insulated from other types of comics they trumpet the idea Alan Moore “deconstructed the super hero” when Harvey Kurtzman had done that back in the ’50s in a far more effective and entertaining way. In fact deconstructing the super hero is such a tempting target that it had been going on for years. Jack Cole’s PLASTIC MAN is a prime example.
    I agree Dell featured the most widespread good to decent writing in old comic books. Kelly, Stanley, and Barks, were exceptional writers. The thing about Dell is their grind it out guys were better writers than the DC or Marvel grind it out guys. I enjoy comic books (sadly) mainly for the artwork. Since comic book artwork is intended to tell a story it is nice if the text is at least readable. Anything written by Robert Thompson, Gaylord Dubois, or Paul Newman, is a well constructed read which has some level of wit and can be read without struggling to keep at it.

  30. Eric Reynolds says:

    Sammy: I also discovered Jesse Marsh and Gluyas Williams thru Dylan!

  31. DanielT says:

    “Canon” you guys, “canon”.

  32. DanielT says:

    Sorry but this isn’t the first (or second) time this month I’ve seen this error made.

  33. patrick ford says:

    Sorry, my attempt at humor misfired.

  34. patrick ford says:

    The context of well done genre comics as well as Jeet’s comments on “architectural structure” got me to thinking about the fantastic Italian writer-artist Attilio Micheluzzi. What is interesting is Micheluzzi was born in 1930 but didn’t begin drawing comics until 1972, prior to that he was an architect. In the U.S. there was a fair amount of interest in Micheluzzi back in the ’80s . He even did some stories for a comic book called TWISTED TALES. I took a look and all his stuff seems to be out of print and commanding high prices on Amazon. His book SHANGHAI which was published by the Pacific Comics Club now goes for forty-five bucks. It would be nice to see some of his work back in print. Here are a few comments by Micheluzzi which bring to mind things said by Kurtzman.

    “Before starting any story I do a lot of research, in the most painstaking way. I read as much as I can about the area and get get most of the iconographic documentation out of my personal archive which is quite large. Historical accuracy is absolutely vital, every visual detail is represented with great care.
    After the documentation I write out the stories most important parts and the characters peculiarities. This way I begin with a definite scenario.
    I prefer working alone, because the end result is strictly original, and an expression of it’s authors way of thinking.
    The work for Eclipse Comics was proposed to me by an Italian friend of mine, Tony Raiola, who lives in California. I didn’t like working on that kind of story because I don’t like that kind of American comic book. I hate the kind of horror and violence in those stories.”

  35. Eric Haven says:

    Yep – Dylan’s stapled books of Kurtzman, Krigstein, Meskin, & Jesse Marsh were revelations for me. I bought the Fanta Kurtzman book, it’s gorgeous… but Dylan’s xeroxed version (20 years old now!) will always be the “definitive edition” in my mind.

  36. trench says:

    avast DanielT, or we’ll explode you with our word cannons!

  37. Briany Najar says:

    It’s not prose though, is it?
    Is drama prose? Is narration within drama a form of prose?
    (The question marks aren’t purely rhetorical, I’m starting to think my idea of what prose is might not be the same as everyone else’s.)

    I suppose I’m thinking that prose connects to corroborative prose via the syntax of prose, not via visual images. Maybe I’m in danger of approaching essentialism here, but it seems that when the packets of text in comics become prose-like, the mode of reading/experiencing shifts away from that delicate, dynamic state that enables comics to be most active as a distinct medium.
    Mode = rhythm. If the subtitles on a film are too voluble you have to pause the film and then you’re losing some of the magic of the medium.

    I dunno. I really don’t like that kind of narrow-minded conservatism about what constitutes comics, but I can sort of see how the attachment to certain popular stylistic conventions arises.
    Pop. Even underground Pop needs to pop.

    The old British comics with the captions underneath (often rhyming, or otherwise laden with wordplay) were generally read once as comics, dismissing the captions, and then again in a different mode, as text with illustrations – rather than “all at once,” alternating modes within the one reading.

    Right so, anyway: prose is known as literature, poetry is known as literature, drama is known as literature, what about film? Is film known as literature? It’s usually got verbality and there’s a written basis, as well as tone, texture, expression, etc. I’ve never heard film referred to as literature, but I have seen screenplays shelved alongside plays.
    It strikes me that cinematography is quite widely appreciated, at least acknowledged as substantial, but many people see comics as primarily a verbal form with the illustrations functioning as icing on the cake. Colour is a cherry on top. Maybe just cos the most obvious blockbuster examples (DC etc) do actually function that way.

  38. patrick ford says:

    Bradbury’s prose style ties him to an earlier time. His stylistic roots are down there in Verne, Dickens, H.G. Wells, where it is very common to see language which modern readers would find excessive, even difficult to read. When Groth said “the best” I assume he meant the best of his type, which would have been science fiction-fantasy-horror writers of the late ’40s or earlier.

    A bit of Dickens:

    Mind! I don’t mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country’s done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

    Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grind- stone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shriveled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dogdays; and didn’t thaw it one degree at Christmas.

  39. patrick ford says:

    H.G. Wells: It was heavy, this vapour, heavier than the densest smoke, so that, after the first tumultuous uprush and outflow of its impact, it sank down through the air and poured over the ground in a manner rather liquid than gaseous, abandoning the hills, and streaming into the valleys and ditches and watercourses even as I have heard the carbonic-acid gas that pours from volcanic clefts is wont to do. And where it came upon water some chemical action occurred, and the surface would be instantly covered with a powdery scum that sank slowly and made way for more. The scum was absolutely insoluble, and it is a strange thing, seeing the instant effect of the gas, that one could drink without hurt the water from which it had been strained. The vapour did not diffuse as a true gas would do. It hung together in banks, flowing slug- gishly down the slope of the land and driving reluctantly before the wind, and very slowly it combined with the mist and moisture of the air, and sank to the earth in the form of dust. Save that an unknown element giving a group of four lines in the blue of the spectrum is concerned, we are still entirely ignorant of the nature of this substance.

  40. Jeet Heer says:

    This Dylan Williams stuff is fascinating. Someone should do an essay on how Williams helped redefine & enlarge the comics canon just by championing old cartoonists and sending their work out to people.

  41. Jeet Heer says:

    Patrick Ford is right that Bradbury was steeped in the 19th century storytelling mode, which made him a curious anachronism in the 1940s and 1950s. I’d also add that Bradbury liked having O. Henry style trick or snap endings, which is another affinity he had with EC. He fit into the EC world perfectly in a way that other, more stylish & modern science fiction writers (say Bester or Sturgeon) would not have.

  42. Jeet Heer says:

    I talk about this in the Chris Ware: Drawing is a Form of Thinking book, but briefly, yes, Ware has made those artists more relevant by showing that they are of more than antiquarian interest, that the techniques and storytelling approaches they developed can inspire good contemporary work. In the same way, T.S. Eliot made Donne more relevant, Kafka made Dickens (particularly the “dark” Dickens of Bleak House & other late novels) more relevant. Present developments always alter how we see the past. The past is not fixed or static but exists in a fluid relationship with the present, a continuous dialogue between the living & the dead.

  43. Jeet Heer says:

    Yeah, the word “literary” is a problem. Narrative or storytelling is better. But I have to take issue with this: “We can’t expect comics to have excellent prose style, after all.” Most comics writing is dialogue but there have been been cartoonists who also write beautiful prose in their captions: Herriman, Ben Katchor and Chris Ware come to mind.

  44. patrick ford says:

    There were pulp writers who modified their style. The Edgar Rice Burroughs of the late ’30s and into the ’40s had pared down his sentence structure and bursts of elaborate descriptive passages considerably from the way he was writing in the early 1900’s. Bradbury may have done that eventually, I’ve never looked at his later material, but his prose style is absolutely almost Victorian. There is architecture there in writing style. The Victorian era was the age of ornament.
    In another sense there was something “modern” about Bradbury’s writing which he has in common with the ambitions Gary identifies in the E.C. material and what you find in Wells and Dickens. That is the writing had a philosophical message which was the whole purpose. This is really obvious in the narrators commentary in WAR OF THE WORLDS. You would miss these aspects completely if you were only aware of the basic plot which is pretty scant. So Bradbury sort of raised the bar for Science Fiction which had been trending towards BEM space opera by harkening back to Verne (his case study of NEMO as a kind of Ahab obsessed with revenge) and Wells (the narrator comparing the Martian’s attitude towards man to man’s attitude towards animals. And panicked men behaving like animals) and the deeper purpose in their writing.

  45. Daniel C. Parmenter says:

    Fair enough. Gluyas Williams’s stuff seems like a fine example of the “clear line” approach long before anyone used that term.

    I was thinking about stuff like The Mad Peck’s strips, where he’d sometimes use GW’s version of Robert Benchley, as an example of how his work remained relevant for various artists; though I suppose in that case, it was more the semi-iconic status of that image of Benchley rather than the use of GW’s style per se that was the motivation for its use by Mr. Peck.

  46. Daniel C. Parmenter says:

    And more to your point, as Borges writes: “we may read Kafka and then authors who wrote before him, and find in the latter certain Kafkaesque traits”.

  47. Kim Thompson says:

    I always like to pour over the comics in my cannon.

  48. patrick ford says:

    My comics cannon will blow away your comics canon.

  49. Daniel C. Parmenter says:

    And not to thread-jack myself, but dang, I love Gluyas Williams. Looks at these:

    http://shaenon.livejournal.com/18097.html?thread=138929

    Every single one is almost like a little animated cartoon. He lived in my old hometown of Newton MA for a time and apparently one of the local tennis clubs has (had?) an original by him on their walls, though I never saw it as we weren’t club members.

    I still see the Gluyas Williams Gallery at used bookstores occasionally. It’s the kind of book I’d buy multiple copies of, just to be able to hand them out to people who need to see it.

  50. Daniel C. Parmenter says:

    Also, in each case the captions are completely unnecessary.

  51. Briany Najar says:

    Al Feldstein(?) :

    THE WIND BLOWS SADLY ACROSS THE GNARLED AND BENT TREES AROUND ME. IT WHISPERS PAST THE COLD STONE MONUMENTS THAT THE OTHERS PROUDLY HOLD UPWARD TOWARD THE NIGHT SKY. BUT UPON MY BREAST THERE IS NO COLD STONE FOR THE WIND TO SING OVER. I LIE SILENT WITH AN EMPTINESS WITHIN ME … A YEARNING. THE OTHERS SIGH CONTENTEDLY, SHIFTING AND CRACKING , EMBRACING THEIR CHARGES …THEIR RIGID CHILDREN. BUT I AM BARREN …FRUITLESS. BENEATH MY MOUNDED OUTER SKIN-CRUST, NO RIGID CHARGE LIES, NESTLING. I AM LONELY. I AM WAITING

    I AM AN UNOCCUPIED GRAVE, CRYING WITH THE CRYING WIND … WAITING FOR MY LONELINESS TO END . . .
    WAITING FOR A BODY!

  52. Daniel C. Parmenter says:

    I love Art Spiegelman commix.

  53. Mike Hunter says:

    Jeet Heer says:

    …Most of the EC books belong to the history of American drawing & illustration rather than the history of American comics. Artists like Wood, Davis, Ingels etc. created hundreds of memorable images, scenes which once seen can not easily be forgotten, visual milestones that have constantly inspired artists in many fields (not just comics but fiction, painting and film). Never mind that the stories they illustrated were mostly middling pulp; the images themselves were strange and potent…

    Certainly the EC comics covers contained plenty of striking images…

    http://www.crimeboss.com/covers/CrimeSuspenStories022.jpg

    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/a/a0/Tales_from_the_Crypt_24.jpg/250px-Tales_from_the_Crypt_24.jpg

    http://24.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_lhnj5y5MFW1qhf8u8o1_400.jpg

    http://24.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_md3621qrRo1rabgjfo1_r1_1280.png

    …which became well-known in the field and influential.

    However, it’s, um, misguided to — in an attempt to disassociate the consistently splendid artwork from the often ho-hum stories — claim that admirers saw and read these works not as comics, the narratives a significant part of the pulpy pleasure, but as scattered “illustrations.”

    …I’m wondering if more shouldn’t be said about Kurtzman’s art and his formalist innovations…when you read the stories there is something more there that is lacking in most of the EC work (aside from Craig & Krigstein). Kurtzman’s intelligence in storytelling, the way he organizes the page as a discrete unit, the care with which images are organized to flow coherently: these genuinely advanced the art of comics.

    Yes, indeed! It took me a while to learn to appreciate his stylized rendering approach, but his mastery is extraordinary.

    …What was Ray Bradbury the best of? American fiction? No, the early 1950s was a period when there were many better fiction writers: Hemingway (past his prime, but still …), Faulkner, Bellow, Nabokov, K.A. Porter, Salinger Mailer, etc. Bradbury was hardly in that league. Maybe best science fiction writer? I dunno. I can think of quite a few s.f. writers from the period who I prefer: Sturgeon, Bester, arguably C.L. Moore and Henry Kuttner. Bradbury was a good writer, but I wouldn’t say best.

    Bradbury was indeed hardly in the league of some of, say, Faulkner and Nabokov. But to think of him as an SF writer misses the point that he was atypical in the genre; more poetic and fantasy-ish rather than gadgetry-fixated; more interested in characterization and crafting exquisite prose than in simply making some invention or wild idea (What if a building could exist in several dimensions at once? [“And He Built a Crooked House”] What if invading aliens could exactly duplicate humans? [“Who Goes There?”]) the main focus of the narrative. With, as most SF writers (and I’ve read mountains of their stuff) writing style and depth of characterization utilitarian, subordinate to the all-important IDEA.

    Which factors serve to explain why most SF writers remained firmly lodged in that ghetto, and Bradbury achieved significant “crossover appeal,” his stories frequently appearing in mainstream magazines such as “The Saturday Evening Post”: http://www.sffaudio.com/images12/TheWorldTheChildrenMade565.png , http://astromonster.blogspot.com/2012/06/original-1951-illustration-by-james-r.html .

    Let us not also forget that Bradbury — despite the Norman Rockwell, small-town Americana image of him — was also capable of crafting some chilling, creepily perverse horror tales. “The October Game,” for instance, which in psychological depth, emotional extremity, “twistedness,” makes Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” pale in comparison: http://lib.ru/INOFANT/BRADBURY/october.txt .

    Bradbury is actually best perceived as a successor to Poe; as America’s second-greatest fantasist…

    In fact, some of the problems of Bradbury’s work (a certain over-ripeness and excessively lush prose) overlap with the general bad tendencies of EC, which might explain why Gaines and Feldstein were attracted to the author of The Martian Chronicles.

    I’d disagree about those factors being “problematic” in his stories. (Reminds of the “too many notes!” criticism of Mozart.) However, it makes sense that Bradbury’s lush prose would appeal to folks with a fondness for prose-heavy, frequently overripe captions.

    I’d also add that Bradbury liked having O. Henry style trick or snap endings, which is another affinity he had with EC. He fit into the EC world perfectly in a way that other, more stylish & modern science fiction writers (say Bester or Sturgeon) would not have.

    Yes, Bradbury liked the “twist ending.” Like Harlan Ellison, he is an author mostly known and appreciated for his short stories, a field where in genre work twist endings are routine. (For instance, the original great “The Day the Earth Stood Still” movie inspired by the SF story, “Farewell to the Master,” with a silly-ass twist ending*, which the film jettisoned.)

    As for his frequent appearance in EC comics, remember he discovered some of his plots had been lifted, and rather than throwing a hissy fit over the appropriation by “lowbrow” comic books, and appreciative of the quality of their work…

    In 1951, EC Comics started stealing Ray Bradbury’s work. After three swipes, Bradbury sent a letter to editor Bill Gaines. Not a cease-and-desist order, though. Instead, he wrote, “Just a note to remind you of an oversight. You have not as yet sent on the check for $50.00 to cover the use of secondary rights on my two stories ‘The Rocket Man’ and ‘Kaleidoscope.’ . . . I feel this was probably overlooked in the general confusion of office work, and look forward to your payment in the near future.”

    Payment was quickly made, followed by two dozen more stories—officially authorized and duly credited….

    [A whole batch of EC art at: http://imprint.printmag.com/michael-dooley/ray-bradbury-1950s-comics-illustrated-man/ ]

    (No High Art purist, Bradbury; he’d written how he found lurid old SF pulps a revelation as a child, praised Disney…)

    Jeet Heer says:

    In terms of EC & the history of comics and the comics cannon . …I got interested in Kurtzman in the 1980s because he obviously had a strong influence on some of the best cartoonists around (notably Crumb and Spiegelman). These days, cartoonists are taking from a wider array of sources so our sense of the “canon” has enlarged. Thanks to Chris Ware, Charles Forbell, Frank King, and Gluyas Williams all seem super relevant. Thanks to Ivan Brunetti, we can newly appreciate Otto Soglow.

    Nowadays, other artists are, as rightly noted, influenced by King, Soglow, etc.

    However, that influence pales with the gigantic one exerted by EC — in art styles, narrative tropes, “anti-Establishment” attitude — upon underground comics creators and their successors.

    Absolutely agree with R. Fiore that Dell ultimately published more good comics than EC. Barks and Stanley being the stars but also lesser but still good work from Jesse Marsh and others.

    Thanks for the info! Back then — utterly indifferent to Barks and Stanley’s work, as with Harvey comics fare — I’d not noticed that they appeared in Dell comics. Those are certainly feathers in Dell’s cap, even if Barks and Stanley failed, again, to be remotely as influential as Wally Wood or Graham Ingels, whose “schools” number many adherents.

    Daniel C. Parmenter says:

    …A good friend who ran a science fiction/fantasy bookstore for a number of years described Bradbury and certain other authors as “gateway drugs”, meaning that they’re the type of authors that attract people who aren’t necessarily into SF/fantasy. From there, many go on to read other authors in the field…

    He certainly could be appreciated by “people who aren’t necessarily into SF/fantasy,” hence the “crossover appeal” noted earlier. However, does it then follow they’d get “into” the utterly different Heinlein, Asimov, PKD?

    A more likely path is that followed by my brother, who went from Edgar Rice Burroughs to Robert E. Howard, then on to Tolkien and Bradbury; an escalation in style, sophistication, complexity. (OK, he hasn’t made it up to Borges yet…)

    *[SPOILER ALERT] The robot was the master, the human-like alien his servant…

  54. Daniel C. Parmenter says:

    Mike, each reader’s path is unique. Some might very well get into Heinlein/Asimov/PKD and others via Bradbury and others might not; and for some folks, Heinlein/Asimov themselves were no doubt the “gateway drug” to other SF. My own path was something like Tolkien -> DUNE -> Pern -> Niven to everything else. As for Borges, one could easily go from Niven’s “All the Myriad Ways” to “The Garden of Forking Paths” in one easy step. “It’s all good” as they say.

  55. R. Haining says:

    The “Feldstein/Kamen SF book”? Are you implying that you’ve decided what the next EC Library volume(s) will be after “Child of Tomorrow”? If so, please feel free to share. If not, do you mind telling us instead what strips will be reprinted in the next Peanuts volume? (I don’t think I’ll be surprised, though.)

    Seriously though, since Fantagraphics announced their EC project, I’ve been curious about how you would handle certain artists, in particular, Jack Kamen. Kamen did some wonderful work for EC (the Ray Bradbury adaptions stand out), but I think he was given more than his share of routine stories. I’m guessing his SF work would cover two volumes if you printed everything. Setting aside the commercial viability of printing all of Kamen’s New Trend work, from a critical standpoint should all of this material be reprinted in volumes designed for the casual reader or are you opting for a more selective approach? This question could apply to Ingels and Davis as well, although publishing all of their work may more popular than Kamen’s.

    Your approach to reprinting the EC material is unique with its own advantages and disadvantages. One can trace the development of an artist’s style more clearly in these books, but it does have the drawback of repetitiveness as each artist was assigned stories according to their strengths. In the war books Davis was generally assigned the contemporary war stories (and Civil War) while Wood was given the historical tales. In the horror, Ingels was given the more Gothic tales, while Kamen the more domestic. This approach would also seem to preclude a comprehensive reprinting, as there are some artists who only worked briefly for EC, such as Sid Check and Howard Larsen. There are also oddities such as “Hong Kong Intrigue” from the first issue of Two-Fisted Tales, which Bill Gaines described as, “the most dreadful, horrible, stupid story.” Should this material be reprinted in a volume called “The Borrowed Body and Other Stories That Don’t Fit Anywhere Else”? Or should you use your critical judgement and weed out the more routine (and let’s face it bad) material?

    Gary Groth is wearing at least two hats here. He is a critic and a publisher. As a critic, there may be the desire to edit out the lesser material. As a publisher, he may want to publish everything that the market will bear and let the readers decide. I will be interested to see how he balances these two sensibilities.

    Regarding the issue of hype around EC, I can’t recall any essay of any length about that did not point out their flaws, starting with Don Thompson’s “The Spawn of the Son of M.C. Gaines” in the Comic-Book Book back in the seventies. He described reading his first EC comic (Haunt of Fear #2)and thinking two of the stories were great and two were pretty good. From what I remember, he was very clear that EC had its share of average stories. I remember an article in TCJ #67 where the author (whose name I cannot recall) reviewed the complete Weird Fantasy and compared it to watching every episode of the Twilight Zone (certainly a subject of hype)and in both cases found only some of the material memorable. The only area I can think of where I saw hype for EC was in advertising copy for various reprints & that is where hype is not only expected, but probably required.

  56. Kim Thompson says:

    I’ll defer to Gary on answering most of this — if he wants to. We’ve got to keep some surprises up our sleeves, after all.

    I guess I did let the cat out of the bag on the Kamen SF collection before it was officially announced, but our Spring 2014 schedule will be official soon enough. My own persepctive is that I too was skittish about the “repetitiveness” aspect of compiling all of a cartoonist’s work in one book (or more) but I’ve found, reading the books from one end to the other as they’re completed (for proofreading purposes AND for fun), that this turns out to be much, MUCH less of a problem than one might fear. (The other EC book for that season will feature exactly who the next obvious choice is among the EC greats, and no, his stories didn’t feel repetitive to me either when I read them all in a row.)

    But, you know… it’s not as if you have to read ‘em all at once. A 700-page omnibus of Wodehouse “Jeeeves” stories would be “repetitive” if you sat down and read it cover to cover; most people don’t buy it for that purpose. Invest in some bookmarks, and if 6 or 7 Kamen stories is all you can take at once, pop in one of those bookmarks and pick the book up in a month or two again. But if you’re like me you’ll be digging it so much you’ll cruise through the whole thing and be left wanting more. And I say this as someone who until a few months ago was sort of dreading the inevitable Kamen books as a reader: The last 60 years have done nothing but add to the vintage charm of Kamen’s lovely, lush art and the retro cleverness of Feldstein’s SF concepts.

  57. patrick ford says:

    To date there is Kurtzman, Wood, Davis, and Williamson/Frazetta. How could the next choice be obvious? The obvious would be Krigstein, except that he isn’t all that obvious since you guys are reprinting the KRIGSTEIN COMICS book as a soft cover. So maybe not so obvious based on that. And if the view would then be you don’t want the KRIGSTEIN COMICS book competing with a Krigstein EC book then is Ingles any more obvious than Crandall? Or maybe the obvious choice is Severin because Severin might be seen as more commercial/larger fan base than Ingles or Crandall? And to me Feldstein would be an obvious choice seeing as his artwork which might have almost looked dated in the ’50s looks almost modern today. I really like Feldstein’s artwork; like it much more than his writing. If Bradbury is overripe then Feldstein is fermenting.
    Say you’re not thinking of an Elder book are you?

  58. patrick ford says:

    EXTRA! EXTRA! CRAIG TO STAR IN FANTAGRAPHICS EC BOOK.

  59. Briany Najar says:

    I mean, I would have thought Ghastly would be a who many a fan-addict would choose, especially the lowbrow baby-boomers. He’s sort of iconic and probably also people who are new to EC would have their preconceptions catered to. Slimy chiaroscuro ghoulishness.
    But Craig’s an auteur, a writer-artist – that’s got to be important to consider, let alone the fact that he’s arguably a better writer than Feldstein. He’s got some really unsettling atmospheres in his stories, like there’s actually something up with him. He used insanity, misapprehension and confusion as themes, that’s always hot. Plus, all the kids these days are mad about sweat-drops, they can’t get enough. Sweat-drops are like the new denim.

  60. Briany Najar says:

    Right.
    I didn’t know about the Craig book that’s already scheduled. (oh, ha ha)
    And I was assuming that Krigstein was already accounted for.
    So it’s gots to be that greasy necro stuff by Ingels.
    Hooray.
    Or maybe it could be Crandall.
    This whole bloody speculation has turned into a Johnny Craig story.
    “Oh no, they weren’t talking about EC comics at all! And I don’t have a computer! I’ll never escape! There is no window!”

  61. patrick ford says:

    Yes I think you are right it will be Craig.
    It’s interesting that the New Direction titles were close to being artist specific and in one case PSYCHOANALYSIS did feature the artwork of one artist. Jack Kamen drew every single story. Even more interesting in that Kamen was not the big fan favorite Wood, Davis, Williamson, and others were. And when Russ Cochran reprinted the New Direction titles it was PSYCHOANALYSIS which sold out first. To this day you can still buy the Johnny Craig edited title EXTRA! from Cochran at the original cover price.
    Of the other New Direction titles PIRACY could be seen as Reed Crandall’s book. S.Clay Wilson certainly saw it that way. Wilson said
    “The importance of pirates in my landlocked imagination can never be underestimated. PIRACY comics would continue to be a touchstone. ”
    ACES HIGH was kind of a George Evans book, VALOR was associated with WOOD.
    The Kamen issues of PSYCHOANALYSIS are available from Cochran as an annual which collects all four issues in colour on nine quality newsprint.

    Monte Beauchamp’s BLAB! #1 published in 1986 is an excellent magazine featuring just about all the great Underground creators commenting on EC. Kim Deitch mentions having to hide the E.C. horror comics from his parents. Justin Green describes his memory of an E.C. horror comic book where the splash page showed, “…a stark white head floating in a pond of process red.” Gilbert Shelton pays tribute to Jack Kamen. Spain recalls his friend Fred Toote’ would point out people on the street and describe them as being a Jack Davis or Bernie Krigstein character come to life.

  62. Kim Thompson says:

    Whoops, I didn’t realize everyone didn’t know this: Books #5 and #6 are Craig and Feldstein. They’ve both been up on Amazon for months, and we blogged this way back in October: http://www.fantagraphics.com/index.php?option=com_myblog&category=Johnny+Craig&Itemid=113 …and they’re available for pre-order on our website.

    So yeah, if you eliminate the already-collected-or-planned Kurtzman, Wood, Davis, Williamson, Craig, Feldstein, and then Kamen, I think #8 is a fairly obvious pick for EC fans.

  63. Andy Stout says:

    Considering Krigstein wasn’t mentioned in Kim’s list there…!

    Just, for this one, single book: please make an exception and do it in color. Doesn’t need to be every book, many EC artists look better in B&W, but KRIGSTEIN, c’mon!

  64. patrick ford says:

    Krigstein is the obvious choice except…

    http://www.amazon.com/Messages-Bottle-Comic-Stories-Krigstein/dp/1606995804/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1359350882&sr=1-1&keywords=Krigstein

    In that Kamen is being featured before Ingles, Severin, and Crandall I don’t know that there is an obvious choice. Ingles I suppose.

  65. Allen Smith says:

    Cannon is the Wally Wood character. Or, Pete Morisi’s Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt.:-)

  66. Briany Najar says:

    Ah, so Patrick’s “Extra! Extra!” wasn’t sarcasm after all. Sorry Patrick, when I found out about the Craig book I assumed you were taking the mickey out of my ignorance. It turns out we were in the same boat.
    So now what I’m wondering is: is it enough that Fanta are putting out the Krigstein anthology, which does contain EC stories, or, does the “EC Library” project demand a Krigstein volume of its own?
    (In these difficult times.) Hmmm……..
    I reckon maybe, for the ages, you would want the EC Library to be a thing in itself and not leave important artists out, even if the same publisher already has their work in another package. Then the question would be, which book gets “More Blessed to Give” and “Master Race”? I guess Messages gets those, and the EC Library volume gets the more horrific stuff, “You, Murderer” and suchlike. Or… did he do enough scifi for a whole book? (“The Flying Machine” is probably my fave non-Kurtzman EC story, it’s exquisitely formed and I can show it to friends who don’t generally dig ’50s comicbooks without my having to put it in context or make excuses.)

    Nah.
    It’s clearly got to be Graham Ingels.
    He’s EC-relevant in a way that Krigstein isn’t. Krigstein went with Atlas, did some great stuff there, but Ingels drifted away from comics. Both men gravitated towards painting, and both were teaching art from 1962 on. It would be possibe to get a very good idea about Krigstein the comic-artist without ever looking at an EC story.
    Ingels, it’s Ingels.
    “Bayou” for the title track.

  67. Briany Najar says:

    “Spain recalls his friend Fred Toote’ would point out people on the street and describe them as being a Jack Davis or Bernie Krigstein character come to life.”

    I was thinking of this gift of Fred Toote’s last night as well.
    There’s a Jack Davis woman and a Joe Orlando man. I thought Spain’s take on Joe Orlando was interesting in that it does look like an observation of Orlando’s style without just being a less glamorous version of Wood’s. It’s kind of a demonstration of the subtlety that Spain’s hand was capable of, and thus of the stubborn and robust determination that drove his signature style.

  68. patrick ford says:

    Despite having the EXTRA! book published by Russ Cochran Craig my mind completely skipped on Craig, and I wasn’t aware of the Feldstein book either.
    EC is a case like Barks where I am suffering from multiple format syndrome. I first found EC through the old B&W paperback collections, which was pretty eye opening since I had no clue as to what they were, but could plainly see the MAD connection with Jack Davis being in there and EC being common to both MAD and the paperbacks. This was really exciting to a ten or eleven year old kid, like unearthing some unknown treasure. Not to much later it was the Nostalgia Press book, then the poorly reproduced EAST COAST COMICS versions, then scattered volumes of the Cochran Library sets, and finally the complete Cochran comic book reprints done in the ’90s.
    The new FB format being artist specific and in B&W would be my ideal format but I just can’t sink in any more money into EC. I got the Kurtzman book and that might well be it for me. I had to have that one, and would buy another cause it didn’t include “LUCKY FIGHTS IT THROUGH” and a few other Kurtzman stories.

  69. Kim Thompson says:

    Inclusion in MESSAGES IN A BOTTLE will not affect inclusion in the subsequent EC Library iteration. So there will be redundancies between the two, but it wouldn’t make any sense to have a trans-company Krigstein collection that excluded his EC work or to have an EC Library with crucial stories missing. (And after all, one printing will be BW and one will be color.)

  70. patrick ford says:

    So it is Krigstein? Say, what’s the story with Krigstein’s long 87TH PRECINCT story not being in the new book? At 32 pages it’s the longest story Krigstein ever drew by a good margin. It’s the last story he drew for comics (complete and published). And I think it’s PD, it was recently included in “The Mammoth Book of Best Crime Comics.”

  71. Kim Thompson says:

    “So it is Krigstein?” I didn’t say that. I said that when we do Krigstein it won’t be affected by MESSAGES.

    Be patient. We’ll announce it in due time.

  72. Kim Thompson says:

    And to the other question, the “87th Precinct” story wasn’t included because within a finite page count, its huge length would’ve meant bumping four or five other stories. And MESSAGES Editor Greg Sadowski says it’s not a particularly great: Krigstein himself said it was “the most fantastically absurd and idiotic story that has ever been presented to an artist for a breakdown” and did it only half-heartedly, and when presented with a second story by the editor found that one “even stupider than the first one” and quit comics entirely.

    It’s of course an irony that during his whole comics career he’d pleaded and begged for longer stories, and once he got one it was so terrible it drove him out of comics entirely.

    I do kind of wonder what would’ve happened if Gaines (and Feldstein?) had abandoned their OCD obsession with four stories in every issue and at least thrown the occasional issue open to a double-length 14-pager, or even a story that ran for a full issue. Imagine a 28-page Craig crime novella, or a 28-page Feldstein/Wood SF story…

    And of course for those who really want to see it, “Precinct” is in that MAMMOTH BOOK OF CRIME COMICS, after all. It’s probably also up on the internet somewhere as well.

  73. patrick ford says:

    That comment by Krigstein has to be seen in context. That was his default opinion of comic book scripts for the most part, he was equally harsh in his assessment of scripts he was given by Timely-Atlas and others. I mean Ed McBain is no Stephen Crane. I will say the addition of the 87th PRECINCT story would be the one thing which would have compelled me to purchase the softcover since I already have both of the earlier hardcover books as well as TCJ #276.

  74. James says:

    I hate to disagree with Greg Sadowski who does such a great job on his books, but I have a copy of the 87th Precinct comic by B. Krigstein and the uncredited slightly crazy writer and it is is actually very interesting, certainly enough to be worth reprinting in color (and including the whackadoodle inside cover art). I’d go so far as to say it is one of my favorite things Krigstein ever did, maybe not for sustained intense experimentation but because for once, it gave him the opportunity to explore long-form narrative (a stated dream of his) and the story is a bizarre bohemian twister with real quirk appeal. I think that he made a serious error in judgement in dismissing it as he did and that he should have continued along those lines, at least long enough to have done another half-dozen or so issues. Now, it is no longer one of what would have been the attractions of the book, since I already have “B. Krigstein Comics.” And, who ever said comics shouldn’t be absurd?

  75. patrick ford says:

    James, I absolutely agree, and unfortunately the MAMMOTH BOOK OF CRIME COMICS reprint suffers from being almost digest sized and of very poor quality. It looks like one of those situations where the art was reduced to black line through chemical of digital methods and then retouched/reinked by another hand.

  76. James says:

    I don’t know if they went to that much trouble, I had that book and it looks pretty bad in there—- it also doesn’t have the cover art. It just served to motivate me to track down the actual issue, which I actually prize for it’s oddness—it’s quite a fun and entertaining comic.

  77. patrick ford says:

    Krigstein’s comments about the script echo what he said about Stan Lee and the scripts at Atlas. For Krigstein to say, “This is the worst script ever” only meant it was tied for first place with lots of other bad scripts.
    Maybe the next issue of KRAMERS ERGOT can publish it huge and from nice scans.

  78. patrick ford says:

    BTW. What’s going on with B. KRIGSTEIN VOL. 2. A LIFE IN ART FROM COMICS TO CANVAS 1955-1990.

  79. Kim Thompson says:

    Finishing that is Greg Sadowski’s next project.

  80. patrick ford says:

    Sounds great, and hope it’s a hardcover. Maybe it could include a certain capstone story from that period? I happened on a great interview with Chris Ware which was conducted by Dylan Williams which had comments on Krigstein.

    http://dylanwilliamsreporter.blogspot.com/2012/12/an-interview-with-chris-ware.html

    Williams: What do you think about Krigstein?

    Ware: Yeah, sure, I was always pretty amazed by the guy. I think everyone is. I wish someone would put out a book of his stuff. He did paintings too. I almost bought one. They had a show of them right after his death. They’re really pretty bad.

    Williams: Really?

    Ware: They’re sort of like late-modernist chromatism, or something. One of those weird theory paintings. Apparently his wife won’t sell any of his comic artwork, which of it he had. Who cares? It’s nice that they’re reprinting stuff. That’s the great thing about comics.

    Williams: Have you seen the stuff he did after E.C.?

    Ware: No, I have never really tried to…

    Williams: That stuff is great.

    Ware: I feel so ignorant. What companies was he doing it for?

    Williams: For Timely, you know, the Marvel / Atlas thing. They’d give him these four pagers and he’d cram in seventy-two panels on four pages or whatever. He set all these records… actually, it’s kind of like your stuff.

    Ware: Wow, I was not aware of this.

    Williams: That’s what I’m saying about the time stuff, ‘cause he was really into that dissecting the moment, looking at it from different angles.

    Ware: This is like revelation time.

  81. R. Haining says:

    Certainly, a 700 page omnibus is not meant to read in one sitting. A 200 page collection is another matter. A more apt comparison might be watching four episodes of a 50’s TV show in a row as opposed to watching one episode of each show.
    As I stated earlier, this approach has its advantages. I believe the Craig volume will be a particularly strong entry.
    As for the next volume, Ingels. Has to be Ingels.

  82. Kim Thompson says:

    To date, I’ve read every EC book that we’ve done in one sitting, pretty much (I mean, aside from cases of force majeure like breaking for dinner), and never gotten bored because of the “it’s all the same artist” aspect. Not with Kamen, not with Feldstein, not with Davis, not with Williamson, not with Wood, certainly not with Craig, obviously not with Kurtzman, and not with upcoming [REDACTED]. That concern becomes more ridiculous, I think, when you consider that practically every other archival comic-book or comic-strip series also comprises the same artist over 200 or more pages.

    And also because, y’know, the three writers — Kurtzman, Feldstein, and Craig — really did know how to keep things fresh. There’s the occasional stinker in there, especially when it was clear that a desperate Feldstein had to pump out a story that day and just grabbed at random from the “revenge/turnabout” drawer, but the batting average is very high.

  83. Jan Stolz says:

    Stories like “Judgement Day” were remarkable for their time, especially when one takes into account the comics code told Gaines “Change the last panel. It can’t be a black guy.” Gaines became so outraged at the absurd demand that he told the comics code to “F” itself and ordered it published the way it was. Gutsy stuff that not many other publishers would do.

  84. Greg Sadowski says:

    Krigstein was particularly caustic about 87th Precinct. He was actually more generous toward his late Atlas scripts, offering that they “weren’t that bad.” In making my story choices, I felt obligated to take Krigstein’s own feelings into account, and I knew he approached the 87th Precinct job with condescension, telling John Benson, “I treated it as a perfectly absurd and idiotic story and I did an idiotic story out of it, and I thought that somebody would get the message up there. I was amazed because they liked it and printed it. They printed the thing!” Having read that, how could I in good conscience include it in a “best of” collection? I decided it would be more appropriate to treat it historically, as it was the only time during his mature period Krigstein was allowed to do a full 32-page story, whatever his personal feelings about it. For that reason I was planning on reprinting it in the upcoming full bio instead.

  85. R. Haining says:

    Actually, the code didn’t object to “the black guy.” As Bill Gaines said, “Knowing the Code, that I could have understood. What they objected to, which I couldn’t understand, was the beads of perspiration on the Negro’s forehead. This was to them a very distasteful thing.” (Quote from the annotations in Russ Cochran’s edition of the complete Incredible Science-Fiction.)

  86. patrick ford says:

    Excellent news. I have been eagerly awaiting Volume Two for several years. I hope it will be a hardcover, but that’s a minor point.

  87. Pingback: Fantagraphics news: EC, Nijigahara Holograph, Michael Jordan

  88. patrick ford says:

    Paul Gravett: “Hard to choose as I rate them all but I’d single out two for special mention: Blind Man’s Bluff, the 87th Precinct story based on Ed McBain’s characters about a deranged blind painter, is the last ever comic drawn by the lost genius Bernie Krigstein, never reprinted before since it appeared in 1962, and ranks as one of the strangest, most surreal sagas in American comics!”

  89. steven samuels says:

    “EC comics, as Groth points out, were made for children, so if you’re an adult and reading children’s comics (from the 1950′s no less) you’re too deep in the hole to be talking about “great” in a regular sense, sort of, in a way.”

    The problem with this “it’s all relative” argument is that there are various examples of art aimed at children that’s great. So it’s not so much that EC Comics might fail on so-called “literary” grounds. It’s that might fail by the aesthetic standards of even halfway decent children’s art.

    Besides that, for decades EC’s have been extolled by many as the very best the comic book world has to offer. Maybe not by TCJ so much, but that type of reputation nevertheless is surely overdue for a comedown.

  90. steven samuels says:

    ” It’s that it might fail by the aesthetic standards of even halfway decent children’s art. “

  91. steven samuels says:

    Saying that EC Comics is important mostly for historical reasons isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement of its stories, is it?

  92. steven samuels says:

    “Literary” is not appropriate at all. I think the word “intelligence” would be a better fit. It certainly sums up what most comic books lack, and yes at least some of those EC Comics.

  93. Andy Stout says:

    Ding ding ding, Ingels was correct!

    http://www.fantagraphics.com/index.php?option=com_myblog&show=The-EC-Comics-Library-gets-Ghastly-in-October.html&Itemid=113

    But what I’m curious about is how they chose the stories for this collection, as it appears to be the very first collection that is not “The Complete by “; unlike the Davis book which collects only from Tales from the Crypt, for exampe, this is collecting 25 stories from TftC, VoH, HoF, and SSS, which had around 100 to choose from. Is the implication that this will be the lone Ingels tome, a best-of?

  94. Andy Stout says:

    Oops, it thought I was doing html tags; that was supposed to be “The Complete [genre or title] by [artist]”.

  95. Kim Thompson says:

    No, no, we’ll release every Ingels story — he’s getting a series of books with all his work in chronological order.

    The whole series is pretty much planned out by now, and different cartoonists have their work broken up in different ways (by title, by genre, sometimes by single comic) in order to create more or less equivalent-length, thematically coherent books. But certainly the plan is to collect every single story by every EC regular, and as you can see from the way non-regulars’ stories are being snuck into books (Kubert, Toth, Colan, and Berg in CORPSE ON THE IMJIN!; Williamson’s brother Fleagles in 50 GIRLS 50; several non-regular SF artists like Kida in the Feldstein SF book) virtually all of those should make it too.

    But we’re going to announce these lineups as we go, two more every season, so please don’t deluge us with “Well, what are you going to do about such-and-such?” or “When are you going to do this?” emails or message board posts. Leave some mystery in your life.

  96. R. Fiore says:

    . . . And you’ll know you’re getting to the end when those Jack Kamen volumes start coming out . . .

  97. patrick ford says:

    And yet Kamen was the only EC artist to ever have his own series of comic books cover to cover.

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