The EC Archives: Tales from the Crypt

The EC Archives: Tales from the Crypt, Volume 1 (2007). Gemstone Publishing, 212 pages.
The EC Archives: Tales from the Crypt, Volume 2 (2007). Gemstone Publishing, 212 pages.

By all rights, I should have been at Comic-Con 2008 during the last week of July. I bought a full pass more than six months in advance. I had a couple of old buddies from Los Angeles that I was going to team up with and “do the floor”. I had a place to stay. I had arranged a heavily discounted airplane ticket. I had my sessions planned out, what lines I was going to stand in for autographs, what panels I was going to attend. I had everything but a costume.

Fate intervened.

Two days before I was to leave, I came down with The Mother Of All Colds, expanding into a strep-throat-like illness that made me sound like Harvey Fierstein, and so congested that I could only breath through my mouth. I couldn’t work, much less fly. And so, very reluctantly, I stayed here in humid Fort Lauderdale, instead of breezy San Diego. Sadness and gnashing of teeth ensued.

For the record, my last San Diego Comic-Con was in 2000, the last year I lived in Los Angeles.

One of my Los Angeles friends whom I was hoping would go to San Diego with me this year is Jonathan Green (as I have said before on this site, Jonathans Rule). However, Jon, being a responsible father, decided not to go this year. He did not want to set a bad example for his eight-year-old son, especially at a time in the boy’s life when Jon is trying to teach him thriftiness and the value of a hard-earned dollar.

Jon was, however, hoping to live vicariously through me. This was especially true since we are both huge EC Comics fans, and we had been exchanging emails over the past few weeks outlining some of our dream acquisitions.

When I emailed Jon that I would not be able to attend this year thanks to an Evil Virus Attack, he opined that the best revenge would be to stay in bed and read comics.

Which I did.

And that finally brings us to the subject of this review. If, a few paragraphs earlier when I wrote “huge EC Comics fans”, you went, “What the hell is EC?”, I’ll give you a very brief summary. “EC” stands for “Entertaining Comics”. Without going into all the detail (go here if you want that), when I say “EC”, I’m referring to the comic books published by EC from about 1948 to 1956. This period, referred to as the “New Trend” by the EC editors at the time, introduced the greatest revolution in illustrated fiction yet seen. EC comics included The Haunt of Fear , The Vault of Horror , Weird Science , Weird Fantasy , Shock SuspenStories , and – the only title to survive the 1950’s – Mad .

During the brief period they were published, EC Comics completely changed the whole concept of comic books. EC hired highly talented artists who brought a cinema-like touch to the 4-color pages. The stories were aimed at teenagers and young adults, not at children. Most, if not all, of the stories taught a lesson. Most were considered “racy” or “shocking” at the time. And almost all are considered classics today.

But the New Trend line of EC comics did not survive after the summer of 1955, when the U.S. Congress – spurred on by a pop psychology book called Seduction of the Innocent, which claimed comic books turned children in murderers and rapists – held hearings about standards and practices in the comic book industry. EC comics, with their lurid covers and cutting-edge stories, did not hold up well during a time when the country was looking to clamp down on any freedom of expression. And so, they were effectively banned. Mad was the only survivor, as it converted to black-and-white and resized itself into a magazine.

The New Trend EC comics are very rare nowadays, especially since as time went by, so many of them got adapted into lucrative television shows and hit films.

Naturally, there have been several reprints and collections over the years. I looked at many of these collections with longing, but most of them were reprinted in black-and-white, not in the full color of the originals. And many of the reprints excised some of the humorous elements like the prose stories and the Editor’s Page. But in the last few years, they’ve finally gotten the deluxe treatment, and that’s what I’m talking about today.

The EC Archives is a series of thick, glossy hardcover collections of the New Trend EC Comics. I read through both existing volumes of Tales From The Crypt during the week of Comic-Con, and was reminded of what glorious storytelling is contained within these pages. These reprints are made directly from the original art (with a few exceptions where the original artwork has been lost forever in time), and have been recolored using modern techniques by one of the original EC colorists. The artwork jumps off the page.

In these volumes of Tales From The Crypt – one of the very first of the revolutionary EC line – we can see how the basics of the 20th century horror story actually work. The spurned lovers, the revenge stories, the guy/girl who had it coming to them, they’re all here. You got your zombies, your ghosts, vampires, werewolves, aliens, robots, immortals, you name it, they’re here. And of course, there is The Crypt-Keeper to present them all to you – along with his fellow “Ghou-Lunatics”, The Old Witch and The Vault-Keeper.

As a modern reader, it’s baffling to see how anyone could have taken these stories so seriously that they would seek to ban them – just the presence of the hilarious “hosts” for each story should have been enough to clue in even the most humorless person skimming any issue. These are the best forms of what I call Delicious Horror – the type of ridiculous phony gore that is delectable to watch (or read) because it’s so obviously not real.

Tales From The Crypt, like all EC Comics, specializes in the “Good Lord!” moment: the point in the story when some character realizes what is going on, or going to happen, or has been happening, etc. and then says “Good Lord!” followed by some sort of revelation. Here are some examples:

“Good Lord! Look! A dead man!”

“Locked! Good Lord! How will I get out of here?”

“Good Lord! It’s A… heart! A human heart!”

“Good Lord! I… I must be insane. Wanting to… No! Don’t let me do it!”

“Good Lord! How Horrible! He’s been… scalped!”

“Good Lord! Her pulse has actually stopped!”

“Good Lord! It’s locked! Chained… and locked from the inside!”

“Good Lord! My beard! It’s stopped growing!”

“Good Lord! He’s out of his mind! He’s fighting with that doll!”

And my favorite, from the cover of Tales From The Crypt #25 (found in Volume 2 of this collection):

“Good Lord! This isn’t wax! This is a human hand!”

These hardcover reprints are gorgeous to the eye, thrilling and entertaining to read. “Entertaining Comics” in the best of all senses of both words. I await the remaining volumes in this series, along with the other EC comic titles being reprinted in the same format. But beware, once you start reading them, you won’t be able to put them down.

Good Lord!

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