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Let Us Now Praise Al Feldstein

In my prime EC Fan-Addict years, 1952-to-1954, during which I was ten, eleven and twelve, the Pulitzer Prize for fiction went to The Caine Mutiny (drek), The Old Man and the Sea (suitable for pre-publication in Life), and “None.” The Best Picture Oscar went to An American in Paris (drek, with dancing), The Greatest Show on Earth (drek), and From Here to Eternity (drek, Montgomery Clift and Deborah Kerr notwithstanding.) And the most popular songs were Leroy Anderson’s “Blue Tango”, Percy Faith’s “Theme from Moulin Rouge“, and Kitty Kalen’s “Little Things Mean a Lot”, none of which have been publicly heard, outside of an elevator, in decades.

This is not to suggest that daring, mind-challenging works were not coming into existence. Invisible Man, The Adventures of Augie March, and Junkie were published. Beat the Devil and The Wild One were released. And Hank Williams, Big Mama Thornton, and Hank Ballard made their way up niche-market charts. But none of this was within immediate reach of the eyes, ears, or grubby fingers of those of us at Henry C. Lea Elementary.

Is it any wonder EC made an impression?

1.

I have no major disagreement with Gary Groth’s recent remarks. I applaud his formulation that a comic’s value is “intrinsically literary.” I swallow, with only a slight gulp, his recognition that EC’s prose was often cliche-ed, formulaic, “overwrought and fatuously earnest.” But as one who had his world rocked by – and sped to the newsstand each Tuesday and Thursday to skim the cream from its most recent deliveries – I take umbrage (“Take my umbrage… Please!”) at his equating ECs to “decent” noir B-movies.

You think Lee Marvin tossing hot coffee in Gloria Grahame’s kisser was something? You ought to see that ranch hand after its owner smote him with her branding iron. You consider Kiss Me Deadly perversely erotic? How about that cheating wife and her lover whose heads were transplanted onto each other’s bodies by her cuckolded husband?

Decency, as Mae West might have said, had nothing to do with it.

Sure, with ninety-minutes at their disposal, B-movies may have deepened and shaded characters more than EC could in a six-to-eight-page story. And maybe this time allowed movies to present more disturbing world views. (Or maybe not. EC damn well frequently disturbed me.) But in two areas critical to the interests of red-blooded American boys, EC kicked the ass of anything 1950 Hollywood films – A, B, C, or D – could offer.

I am talking SEX and VIOLENCE. Many EC alumni have expressed displeasure at or remorse over their involvement with such matters. Gary barely mentioned them when assessing EC. But I see no reason to treat S&V like one more crazed aunt locked inside an attic. (Which reminds me of that young man chained in the attic by that old hag… But I digress.) I consider sex and violence central to EC’s glory and responsible for its elevation in my personal artistic pantheon.

The Hays Code, remember, had tethered Hollywood since the 1930s. The silver screen dared not tarnish itself with too much licentiousness or brutality. But EC could strew its pages with rotting flesh, exposed body cavities, amputated limbs, and eviscerated organs. It could flash the kinkiness of an interplanetary explorer defrosting for his pleasure and disposal one beautiful woman after another and offer for its juvenile readers’ contemplation what exactly transpired once the salivating maniac or fanged beast or pulsating blob got his hands or paws or tentacles on the scantily clad damsel set like a canape before him.

EC cadged us toward the carnival’s back tents. It spot-lit corners of the mind we would need to master. If in the process, it drew us toward a higher class of text and illustration than our dimes usually purchased, that was good too.

But it was not the main thing.

2.

One problem with viewing comics as “literary” works is that, unlike fiction and poetry, they do not have a single author but, like films, are collaborative ventures. Our culture has accepted a film’s director as its auteur. By the same token, it seems, a comic’s editor should be considered its. If so, Al Feldstein, who is usually traduced for his tone-deaf prose, stone-handed drawing, and having usurped Harvey Kurtzman’s throne at MAD, was EC’s Orson Welles. Feldstein edited six of the seven horror, crime, and sci-fi books, where EC’s sex and violence glowed most stunningly. He wrote twenty-seven of these comics’ twenty-eight stories, usually from ideas fed him by Bill Gaines, EC’s publisher, who’d scribbled them down while up half the night from the Dexedrine he was popping.

In the interviews I’ve read, Feldstein has not seemed the introspective type. His stance has always been of the “Just-trying-to-create-good-comics-and-make-a-living” variety. But something in his psychic wiring must have found certain of Gaines’s snippets particularly compelling for him to elaborate upon them so frequently. Convenience alone can not account for the number of avenging corpses rising from graves, nor mere coincidence explain the many wrong-doers undone by similar wrongs snapped back on them, amplified. I’m especially intrigued by the frequency with which children slew parents in Feldstein’s stories. This wasn’t going on in many places, but I can recall four examples – and I haven’t read these comics in sixty years. But that could be my own psychic wires clicking.

Feldstein was a Jewish kid from Brooklyn. He grew up in the Depression and quit school to serve in World War II. (Of EC’s fourteen primary artists, all but Al Williamson, who was too young, mirrored his war service; nor did any, as far as I can tell, graduate college.) He was about twenty when the death camps were liberated and Hiroshima bombed. I can only imagine that the rage and terror, repulsion and guilt trapped within him, powered those tales in ways he did not care to explore. I do not doubt a personal vision as strong as Hemingway’s pounded upon Feldstein, compelling his imprinting it on the page. And this vision resonated with children like myself, fearful, powerless, groping for our own strengths, needing to test ourselves against terrors in order to move beyond them.1 So maybe Ryan is right.

I have more trouble with the sexual aspect of Feldstein’s work. While freer than most writers of his era to indulge his fantasies, he was also more punitive toward the characters who acted them out. John Updike tormented adulterers with depression and guilt. Feldstein lopped off their heads or burnt them alive. If they received a scarlet letter, it was branded on their flesh. In real life, sexual misbehavior might have cost one alimony. Feldstein made Shahira law seem like Thomas Jefferson had drafted it.

Feldstein reflected a society which, while fascinated by sex, was terrified or ashamed of this fascination. How these reflections played out on latency age males like myself is interesting, if embarrassing, to consider. As a rule, during a movie’s “mushy parts,” we headed for the refreshment stand to stock up on Jujubes, while the six-shooters re-loaded. I don’t think a Saturday matinee smooch stays with me, whether planted by Burt Lancaster or John Wayne, whether on Virginia Mayo or Gail Russell. But Feldstein scripted and EC’s artists delivered sexually charged images I have never escaped.

I suspect that my friends and I, while knowing little of the realities of sex, sensed something important and forbidden going on. Those panels seemed one of those fog-filled streets, at whose end something tempting yet dangerous lurked.

3.

Gary posed the question whether ECs were ‘good’ only in comparison to other comics or “good” by more objective standards. I am not sure objective standards exist by which to measure art. (Which standards, for instance, would mount Duchamp’s urinal in any museum or perform Cage’s “4’33″ in any concert hall?) Certainly, EC’s comics were the best of their time, and if you measure art by its influence on other artists or its cultural impact, EC was, at least, significant.

For one thing, its excesses helped blow-out America’s tolerance of comics and, through the resultant Comic Code, gut them of content for a generation. This oppression instilled in those of us left bereft a new respect in the First Amendment. It also left a vacuum, which the underground cartoonists would more than fill. Inspired by what EC had wrought, they surpassed it in new subject matter and attitude. And this assessment does not even consider “MAD,” one of the most influential periodicals of the decade.

But as devoted an EC fan as I am, I can’t recall recommending them to anyone, except as artifacts of socio-cultural interest, since a niece and nephew were pre-teens. The Code may, in retrospect, have come at a convenient time. It forced my circle, once we’d tired of thumbing through our “Poor” to “Fair” condition holdings to seek alternatives. We then found Kurtzman’s war books simplistic compared to All Quiet on the Western Front and Johnny Got His Gun. MAD paled beside Lenny Bruce and Jules Feiffer. Mickey Spillane and Playboy addressed the urges Feldstein had stirred.

Still, this does not settle the matter. While comics may be a literary form, and few of Feldstein’s words may remain with me, I can recall dozens of images spun from them. They adhere more firmly than any part of Mrs. Dalloway or The Idiot. I can’t contend that EC’s mix of the erotic and sadistic was helpful to my navigation of those foggy streets, but it was certainly compelling. My friends and I would not have lingered for a moment over a “romance” comic, but we devoured Feldstein’s. They touched something elemental within us.

The SEX and VIOLENCE endure. Is that not the most to ask of art? Does that not confirm EC as GREAT?

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56 Responses to Let Us Now Praise Al Feldstein

  1. patrick ford says:

    “One problem with viewing comics as “literary” works is that, unlike fiction and poetry, they do not have a single author but, like films, are collaborative ventures.”

    This is not always the case, and the examples to the contrary comprise the best work ever done in the field from the very earliest strips through what many people think of as the best work being done today.

  2. patrick ford says:

    It looks as if the Valiant Knights of the Derogatory are gathering at the round-table. KInd of interesting to contrast Bob’s quotation from the Groth, “overwrought and fatuously earnest” article with the TCJ #250 article by Ng.
    Groth and Ng aren’t that far apart and they both agree with Feldstein who said:

    “Yeah, they were all right. If you start judging them as works of art, you’ll never get anywhere. Judge by the fact that they were comics books written for fourteen-year old kids, sixteen maybe – we never thought we were hitting any higher than that…”

    The real agenda which fomented all this recent dredging fits an easily discernible pattern . People who harbor grudges and are looking to harpoon their own personal white whale.

  3. Kim Thompson says:

    Yes, that’s an odd overgeneralization by Bob Levin, who’s usually pretty spot on. For starters, there are any number of solo creators, period. And you need to distinguish between genuine creative collaborations and the use of assistants hired not for their own creativity but for their somewhat interchangeable skill (however high) in executing the creator’s work.

    There’s a broader point that a comic in which the writer and artist are separate people is at a distinct disadvantage since one of comics’ great qualities is the magic that happens somewhere in between the writing and the art, of course.

    Also, “EC’s comics were the best of their time” isn’t the “certainly” slam dunk Bob tosses off. There were better European comics at the time, I think, and plenty of better syndicated comic strips domestically, and if even if you say “by comics we mean American comic books” I’d have to say Barks at least shoots down the “certainly.”

  4. Jeet Heer says:

    Barks and John Stanley were both at least equal to EC and arguably (in my opinion) better. Also Eisner (who was winding down the Spirit at that point but had done some great comics in the late 1940s). This is a minority opinion but I also prefer Simon & Kirby from that period to Feldstein’s EC (although they weren’t as good as Kurtzman’s EC).

  5. Kim Thompson says:

    Although to put it in context, we’re arguing about whether EC’s comics were the very, very best American comic books of the first half of the 1950s or merely came in second or third. One is also tempted to give them points for not working on the humorous or cartoony side of the street, always the hard way of achieving genuine art in the comics field, where nearly all the masterpieces are comedic. (Not that a lot of EC wasn’t funny.)

    I believe Eisner was pretty thoroughly out of the SPIRIT game as an active creator by the time EC got rolling.

    (I like Bob’s inadvertent reference to “Shahira law” mostly because I first read it as “Shakira law.”)

  6. Kim Thompson says:

    Now, now. Asking whether the best work done in comics legitimately stacks up against the best work done in other media or art forms isn’t necessarily some bitter exercise in neurotic self-hatred among comics fans. For those of us who love comics it’s oftentimes tempting to put a thumb on the scales — as in Bob’s piece, or Eddie Campbell’s takedown of “literaries” (neither of which I really disagree with) — but any honest appraisal of comics’ achievement vs. their potential has to be tinged with some degree of disappointment.

  7. patrick ford says:

    Yeah, I think Jeet meant to say Jerry Grandenetti and Jules Feiffer.

    There were a couple of recent blog posts on Kirby writing scripts for not only his own S&K era stories, but many penciled and inked by other artists. Martin O’Hearn ,who is not one of those “Kirby kultist” people,uses stylometry to study authorship.
    http://martinohearn.blogspot.com/search/label/Kirby%20scripts

  8. Paul Slade says:

    Talking of Jules Feiffer, where do we stand with Volume 2 of Fantagraphics’ collection of his Village Voice cartoons? It was announced as a four-volume series. but I think I’m right in saying it’s still only 2008′s debut, The Explainers, that’s come out. Or is the whole series going to be called that?

  9. george says:

    Levin makes the important point that EC went beyond what was permissible in movies at the time. People who didn’t live through that era (or haven’t read up on it) may not know about the Hays Office. They look at crime and horror comics of the ’50s and don’t understand why anyone got upset. It’s mild compared to what’s available today, but at the time it was shocking.

    There really wasn’t anything to compare to EC and other publishers of crime and horror comics, except maybe the hard-boiled paperbacks: Mickey Spillane and his successors.

  10. Kim Thompson says:

    Yeah, the EC books went pretty far! I found a panel in the [redacted] EC collection we’re putting out next year whose implications were so disgusting I had to re-read it several times to make sure Feldstein was actually saying what I thought he was saying. And he was!

    No, I won’t tell you what the story is, or even the book.

  11. george says:

    The sex in EC was more subtle than the violence, although anyone over a certain age can figure out what’s going on between certain panels in “Came the Dawn” or “Lover Come Hack to Me.” That was the equivalent of the era’s movies, cutting away from the lovers embracing to show waves crashing on the shore, or fireworks going off.

    I remember a “ShockSuspenstories” yarn where two horny astronauts (one male, one female) are stranded on a planet and can’t take off their space suits. As the caption puts it: “They couldn’t touch, much less …”

    Feldstein (or whoever wrote that script) lets us complete that sentence in our minds.

  12. Robert Lamb says:

    Hey, Bob, I just finished Pirates and the Mouse and I loved it! Great job! Informative and hilarious.

  13. R. Fiore says:

    One difficulty in recapturing the 50s cultural milieu as it was actually experienced is that the transgressive stuff is the only thing anyone pays attention to any more. We think of the 1950s as a Thelonious Monk score to a Samuel Fuller movie with a narration by Lord Buckley.

  14. george says:

    I was born at the very end of the ’50s, and grew up thinking it was all “Leave it to Beaver” and “Father Knows Best.” Suburban houses with white picket fences. A bit later, thanks to “Grease” and “Happy Days,” the image was black leather jackets and rock ‘n’ roll on the jukebox.

    The ’50s was many things: Marlon Brando AND Debbie Reynolds. Lenny Bruce AND George Gobel. Thelonious Monk AND Perry Como. It’s a fascinating decade to study, because so many things were going on. But when I was growing up, the ’50s was regarded as a bland, boring, conformist decade … especially compared to the sizzling ’60s.

  15. Briany Najar says:

    Earlier that day, at the State University Library:

    Frederick Freekowski:

    ‘?…
    Hey! Where are the fuck books?
    (Some fuckin’ library!)
    Hm!?’

    [enters head librarian's office]

    I hereby liberate the fuck books in the name of the revolution!!
    Where are they hidden?’

    Head librarian:

    What did you say, young man?

    Frederick Freekowski:

    ‘Er… where are the fuck books hidden, ma’m?!?’

    Head librarian:

    ‘My dear sir, the library of the state university does not contain any “fuck books.”
    And as a matter of fact…
    …The state university will never contain any “fuck books.”
    Now get out.
    And take your Communist pervert friends with you!

  16. Briany Najar says:

    A dirty joke is not, of course, a serious attack upon morality, but it is a sort of mental rebellion, a momentary wish that things were otherwise. So also with all other jokes, which always centre round cowardice, laziness, dishonesty or some other quality which society cannot afford to encourage. Society has always to demand a little more from human beings than it will get in practice. It has to demand faultless discipline and self-sacrifice, it must expect its subjects to work hard, pay their taxes, and be faithful to their wives, it must assume that men think it glorious to die on the battlefield and women want wear themselves out with child-bearing. The whole of what one may call official literature is founded on such assumptions. I never read the proclamations of generals before battle, the speeches of Führers and prime ministers, the solidarity songs of public schools and left-wing political parties, national anthems, Temperance tracts, papal encyclicals and sermons against gambling and contraception, without seeming to hear in the background a chorus of raspberries from all the millions of common men to whom these high sentiments make no appeal.

    If you look into your own mind, which are you, Don Quixote or Sancho Panza? Almost certainly you are both. There is one part of you that wishes to be a hero or a saint, but another part of you is a little fat man who sees very clearly the advantages of staying alive with a whole skin. He is your unofficial self, the voice of the belly protesting against the soul. His tastes lie towards safety, soft beds, no work, pots of beer and women with ‘voluptuous’ figures. He it is who punctures your fine attitudes and urges you to look after Number One, to be unfaithful to your wife, to bilk your debts, and so on and so forth. Whether you allow yourself to be influenced by him is a different question. But it is simply a lie to say that he is not part of you, just as it is a lie to say that Don Quixote is not part of you either, though most of what is said and written consists of one lie or the other, usually the first.

    ~ George Orwell, 1941

  17. Daniel C. Parmenter says:

    “Like”

  18. Bob Levin says:

    C’mon, Kim, tell us what that story is. I would have probably missed it at the time, but my buddies and I did catch on when one of Kurtzman’s soldiers was worried about being attacked by hordes of the Red Chinese, and his pal said, “I was attacked by a couple of hordes once.”
    I agree some Barks stories were good. So was some Little Lulu. (But who knew there were European comic books then? We didn’t even know there were European movies until “And God Created Woman” was banned.) Hey, I’m looking back as a senior citizen at when I was a kid and distinguishing between what supported the comfy world view I was supposed to swallow and what impacted upon and disturbed it and saying I valued that more. (But then I’m the same guy who scorned anybody thinking Elvis Presley or the Beatles compared to Bob Dylan. But that’s a different discussion in a different forum.)
    Thanks R Lamb for the “Pirates” remarks. It was great fun writing it. You’ve encouraged me to ask Fanta for a royalty statement. Each time i do, it’s a great lesson in humility.

  19. Kim Thompson says:

    No, I won’t tell you what the story is. Anyone who wants to know has to buy all the books as they come out, I guess. Heh, heh.

  20. Heidi M. says:

    AN AMERICAN PARIS IS SUBLIME!!!!!! And healthy sex sublimated to dancing the way God meant it to be in God’s America.

  21. Briany Najar says:

    Due credit must go to Gilbert Shelton, in case you didn’t recognise that passage from The Freak Brothers.

    Meanwhile, at the Punch and Judy show…
    Representative of the Cockleton Amusements Censorship Board:

    ‘It’s disgraceful! That evil Punch character cracking skulls with his stick and twirling a baby around on the end of it – not to mention ridiculing a policeman. Then there’s that frightful ghost that pops up,and that vile crocodile swallowing an entire string of sausages at one gulp!’

    [...]
    Ricky Rubberneck:

    ‘Hee, hee! Goody – I can’t wait to be corrupted!

    ~ Ken Reid’s polymorphic Faceache, 1979.

  22. R. Haining says:

    Personally, I think it’s “The Prude” from the Haunt of Fear #28.

  23. Daniel C. Parmenter says:

    Yeah, I’ve been a Freak Brothers fan for about 40 years now.

  24. Briany Najar says:

    Word.

    40 years passes like nothing
    with the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers.

  25. Robert Lamb says:

    Get whatever you can to keep pumping out books – you’re one of my faves!

  26. steven samuels says:

    “They look at crime and horror comics of the ’50s and don’t understand why anyone got upset…. It’s mild compared to what’s available today, but at the time it was shocking.”

    In terms of entertainment available for kids it’s possible it would’ve been shocking twenty-five years after the fact. I mean, what did kids in the seventies have that was as comparably lurid? Scooby Doo? Curt Swan? In a lot of ways those comics even surpassed Warren in the lurid department. No doubt hard rock music filled the void in due time, but in comics terms it’s probably only in the past few decades where some of that luridness made a comeback.

  27. Dominick Grace says:

    Is there anything that lurid in comics aimed specifically at kids even today, though? Because It doesn’t seem to me that a lot of the mainstream comics I see these days (not many, admittedly, and I don’t read any as a rule) are now aimed at the age group they were aimed at when I was a kid; they seem to be aimed for more of an adolescent/teen audience. Or even young adult. When I began to see EC levels of explicit violence making their way back into mainstream comics (as opposed to the undergrounds or alternatives), it was generally in non code-approved books and especpally in new (at the time) imprints like Vertigo. Even in the 1980s (probably even the 1990s, though I hacked in all my Marvel reading some time in the middle of that decade), Spider-Man could never have had his eyeball eaten by a villain–and when it did happen, could you really still call ASM a comic for kids?

    Granted, in the 1950s, there really wasn’t any market (or recognized market) for comic books for anyone BUT kids, so perhaps this is an inapplicable distinction.

  28. steven samuels says:

    ” Spider-Man could never have had his eyeball eaten by a villain–and when it did happen, could you really still call ASM a comic for kids?”

    Wow. Did they really do that?

    I don’t follow the mainstream closely enough to answer this, but maybe it’s just like how Warren was when I was a kid. Maybe it was intended for older kids or young adults, but the practical effects of having them stacked at the bottom of the newsstand rack meant that they were easily purchaseable by kids. At my local B&N all the comics are stacked at the bottom rung. The distinction for most adults and perhaps sellers most likely escapes them.

  29. Paul Slade says:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spider-Man:_The_Other

    Judging by the Wikipedia entry, this whole storyline was a hoot, not least for the fact that the eyeball-chomping arc began in a book called “Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-Man”. Here’s a few Wiki extracts:

    “The first five chapters loosely followed the Kübler-Ross model of the stages of grief.”

    “Peter suddenly wakes up, and using the last of his strength, the savage, animalistic spider-side of himself takes over (granting him sharp teeth and stingers in his wrists), and he attacks Morlun.”

    “Peter gets a check up from Stark. As it turns out, Peter’s wounds from his old enemies have been healed, including his missing left eye, and even the tonsils he lost in fourth grade have reappeared. As Stark puts it, Peter’s “odometer had been reset” (this would be the first time he had an exoskeleton processed).”

    “As in Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, there is Latin written backwards on Joe Quesada’s promotional image for the crossover. When reversed, translated, and read correctly, it translates as: Rest in peace / The play is over / The fat lady has sung / Death equals all things / Death is everything’s final limit / Never despair! / Not all of me will die / It ain’t over until it’s over / Everything changes, nothing perishes / You have a big piece of spinach in your front teeth.”

  30. patrick ford says:

    The thing is ECs were intended for teenagers and young adults. And many other comic books of the post WWII era were as well. Publishers recognized many of the same kids who grew up with comic books kept right on reading them even into their early twenties. A survey (by a large national polling firm used by big business for marketing) commissioned by the Library Journal in the early 50′s showed 20% of men over the age of twenty regularly read comic books. As we know the super hero genre dwindled down to a few titles. Romance and Horror became extremely popular. The S&K romance comics were intended for teenage girls and young women who were reading romance pulp magazines. The horror comic books were almost certainly created with the publishers aware of the popularity of the horror and terror pulps of the late ’30s early ’40s which had come under federal pressure and were shut down after negative publicity generated in part by an article in The American Mercury.

    “This month, as every month, the 1,508,000 copies of terror magazines, known to the trade as the shudder group, will be sold throughout the nation… They will contain enough illustrated sex perversion to give Krafft-Ebing the unholy jitters.”

    http://www.moviegoods.com//Assets/product_images/1020/409754.1020.A.jpg
    http://raybowman.com/tta4103.jpg

    While under scrutiny, terror pulp publisher Martin Goodman ran into trouble with the Federal Trade Commission in 1940 because he were reprinting old stories with new titles, and bylines to confuse the buyer. The FTC issued a cease and desist order, and Goodman promised to not use reprints unless they were identified as such.

  31. george says:

    “In terms of entertainment available for kids it’s possible it would’ve been shocking twenty-five years after the fact. I mean, what did kids in the seventies have that was as comparably lurid? Scooby Doo? Curt Swan? In a lot of ways those comics even surpassed Warren in the lurid department.”

    Well, by the ’70s topless women were showing up in Warren comics (they were more restrained in the ’60s). And there were similar levels of nudity and gore in Marvel’s black and white magazines. For kids, these mags had the allure of forbidden fruit, much as ECs must have in the ’50s. This was before Warren descended to softcore porn with “1984″/”1994″ in the early ’80s.

    And R-rated movies were playing in every town by the early ’70s, and kids with tolerant parents saw plenty of them.

  32. Briany Najar says:

    Don’t forget the Skywald comics, Psycho, Scream, and Nightmare.
    Some of that was pretty “tasteless”.

    Erm, there was that Spectre mini-series as well.
    You know, the one written by that allegedly “Batshit” guy?
    Perhaps more psychotic than lurid, though.

    And if we’re including kids with tolerant parents, there was Skull, Insect Fear, Bogeyman, Legion of Charlies, etc, but I suppose it’s not really fair to say they were generally available to children.

  33. george says:

    There was the low-rent Eerie Publications (“Tales of Voodoo,” “Vampire Tales”), which reprinted pre-Code horror in the late ’60s and early ’70s, in black and white magazines. Those were passed around when I was in elementary school. We couldn’t believe the level of gore.

  34. george says:

    http://www.comics.org/publisher/1813/

    Just feast your eyes on this sleaze! They published one issue of a magazine called “Tales from the Crypt.” I assume a letter from Bill Gaines’ lawyer prevented a second issue.

    What I remember about these magazines is that every issue — seemingly every story — featured a decapitation. You didn’t see that in Marvel or DC comics of the time.

  35. patrick ford says:

    Many underground cartoonists had an affection for EC, either or both Kurtzman/MAD and the Feldstein material. One thing I’ve noticed in interviews is how many of them say their parents would not allow them to look at the horror comics.
    In 1971 I was routinely buying National Lampoon and I was in the eighth grade at the time. At the time I was a major fan of Frazetta and would buy anything with a Frazetta cover on it. I recall being kind of nervous about buying this issue (the first of many) because it had a nude woman on the cover. There was an older woman at the register and I came back later in the afternoon when I knew the cashier would be a guy who was probably 18 or 20 years old.
    http://www.marksverylarge.com/images/7104cover_l.jpg

  36. Briany Najar says:

    Hmmmmmm….
    In 1952, this Frazetta cover was published:
    http://frazetta.tumblr.com/image/29205143022
    (Domingos brought it up, over at HU in the “I Prefer Him as a Cartoonist” thread.)
    Bit of self-lampooning there? Or was he already attempting subversion of the colonialist schtick 20 years earlier?

  37. Anthony Thorne says:

    When I was 14 years old I attempted to shoplift the issue of HEAVY METAL which introduced Serpieri’s Druuna (highlighted by the first of many big-butt covers showing off Serpier’s linework). A switched on storekeeper followed me down the street and I had to dump the mag over a back fence before making a show of how empty handed I was as I walked back to the store and reclaimed my schoolbag. A week later (following days of heavy rain) my mother drove through the town and parked nearby the newsagency to buy us some lunch. I snuck out of the car and found the magazine lying in muddy grass, the cover and first few pages eaten away by snails. The dirty, torn pages possibly added to the allure and I’m pleasantly anticipating the day a decade or more hence when my 1-year old son discovers the run of Serpieri hardcovers on my comics shelf. (That’s unless Dark Horse comes to the party and does a Serpieri line ala their ongoing Manara series). Ah, memories..

  38. Briany Najar says:

    Sounds familiar… did it contain a story about a sexy teacher and her young pupil?

  39. patrick ford says:

    Inside the magazine the “Letter From the Editor” (page 4) has a note on the cover.

    Cover: Frank Frazetta, the undisputed master of adventure illustration and creator of the famous Conan paperback covers, treats this month’s readers to an oil-on-canvas interpretation of one of Rudyard Kipling’s lesser-known classics, WHITE MAN’S WET DREAM.

  40. george says:

    I was buying National Lampoon in junior high (when a clerk would sell it to me) and hiding it from my parents. Same with Cheech and Chong records.

    I don’t recall ever buying a copy of Vampirella, though, until I was 18. Most people at the time lumped it in with Playboy and other “adults only” publications.

  41. george says:

    I still remember my shock at reading Savage Tales No. 1 (1971) and seeing bare breasts in a Marvel publication. The severed head on the cover let you know this was not for kids.

    There have been various urban legends about the poor distribution of Savage Tales No. 1. My favorite had it being confiscated by Canadian authorities. Martin Goodman reportedly didn’t want to enter the B&W field anyway, and used the poor sales to scuttle the planned second issue, which didn’t appear for two more years — after Goodman was gone.

  42. When I was 12 or 13 I graduated from MAD to National Lampoon, mostly because they showed naked boobs. However, that was also where I discovered Mark Marek, Shary Flenniken, et al… that stuff had a profound impact!

  43. patrick ford says:

    Naked boobs were no big deal to me. It seemed like some kid always had a copy of Playboy or a pack of playing cards with naked ladies on the backside. At the time for me it was absolutely Frazetta which opened the door to Marek, Kliban, Wilson, M.K. Brown (very underrated and hugely imaginative), Charles Rodrigues, Sam Gross…”
    Those cartoonists kept the magazine interesting even under O’Rourke. You know what an unlikely pairing is? There is a strip in an early ’80s issue written by O’Rourke and drawn by Spain.

  44. Nat Lamp had boobies in it and I could just keep a stack on my shelf, my parents were none the wiser. Playboys etc were of course contraband and had to be sneaked.

    I’d love a NL anthology of just the comics. Some pretty fine work graced those pages.

  45. patrick ford says:

    Actually full frontal. It was kind of a stealth magazine. I even brought copies to school and it was a Catholic grade school. My mom used to give my sister grief over COSMOPOLITAN, but the only time she objected to anything I brought home was over a book called THE ROGUE ROMAN by a guy going by the name Lance Horner. My mom walked up to me holding it and said, “And who are these girls?” “Mom…It’s a Frazetta cover.” That satisfied her. Good thing she didn’t read it because it was pretty much soft-core porn.
    My parents were pretty cool though. My dad gave me THE GODFATHER to read in 1971 before the movie came out and I was either 12/13 at the time.

  46. Daniel C. Parmenter says:

    I’d be happy if they just did another printing of “National Lampoon Presents The Very Large Book of Comical Funnies”, which includes (appropriate to this discussion) the Warren-esque “Fall of the House of Bau” by P.J. O’Rourke and Neal Adams among many other treasures.

  47. patrick ford says:

    It’s true, the comics stayed great even into the ’80s when the rest of the magazine was not worth it. Feb. 1981 had a three page (nine panel grid) full water colour story by Shary Flenniken. And a four page full colour strip by Gahan Wilson. Hell, Jan. ’81 had Harvey Kurtzman in colour, and for two bucks you could have bought his page as a 16×22 poster.

  48. Kim Thompson says:

    Now that we’ve officially announced the next book as Ingels on our blog (to remind everyone, after the imminent double strike of the Williamson and Davis books that are on their way across the Pacific even as we speak, it’s Craig, then Feldstein SF, then Ingels), I can confirm “The Prude” as being the jaw-dropper in question.

  49. bill Batz says:

    EC library is the end all. How are the Pogo books coming guys?

  50. Ed Gauthier says:

    Gimme a break, you guys. Some of you are actually trying to sneak in comparisons to one off creators who were able to expertly hone their single character for 10 or 20 years, versus the small staff of EC geniuses who had to reckon with hundreds of different characters, stories, and thereby their very different story arcs over the years? Puh-lease!

    EC was not only the best, but there was no competition anywhere near them whatsoever.

    That being said, my hearty pat on the back goes out to Carl, Floyd and Will for getting really, really good at respectively drawing Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse and The Spirit eight hundred million times, over and over.

  51. Knut Robert Knutsen says:

    That’s an extremely limited way of looking at it.

    Carl Barks, for instance, not only “Drew Donald Duck” for those 25 years (as well as the 35 years after that when he did his classic Oils and lithographs) but he created a host of topt-tier supporting characters (Scrooge, Beagle Boys, Magica DeSpell, Flintheart Glomgold, Gyro Gearloose, Gladstone Gander and dozens of others) , in addition to significantly developing the existing ones.

    He also developed story templates to make the original gag-cartoon characters work in expansive, epic stories. His work is the cornerstone of comics production employing hundreds of writers and Artists in Europe and Latin America. He is also a major influence on many writers and artists far beyond the scope of Disney.

    While the EC Artists are definitely artistic geniuses worthy of praise, study and emulation, they do not compare to Carl Barks.

    In film terms, the EC Guys are Tobe Hooper to Carl Barks as Steven Spielberg. I am only sad that Disney comics haven’t sold as well in the US the last 40 years as they have in Europe, or you’d know this first hand.

  52. Andrew says:

    “The Prude” was written by Carl Wessler, not Al Feldstein.

  53. Mike Hunter says:

    ———————–
    Kim Thompson says:

    Yeah, the EC books went pretty far! I found a panel in the [redacted] EC collection we’re putting out next year whose implications were so disgusting I had to re-read it several times to make sure Feldstein was actually saying what I thought he was saying. And he was!

    No, I won’t tell you what the story is, or even the book.
    ————————

    Hmm! Could that have been from the adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s “The Handler”?

    See the third panel of the 5th page of the story, at http://marswillsendnomore.wordpress.com/2012/10/26/ec-comics-ray-bradbury-the-handler/

    (Mr. Thompson, you are missed…)

  54. Dave Hartley says:

    If you look down the thread the story is named (as is the actual author – this wasn’t one of Feldstein’s).

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