From Educational Comics to Ghastly Delights: The Rise and Fall of EC Comics
Once upon a time, in the colorful world of comic books, a remarkable story unfolded. In 1947, a young man named William Gaines inherited the EC Comic chain when his father, M.C. Gaines, tragically perished in a boating accident. At that time, EC stood for Educational Comics, delighting readers with patriotic American history and Bible tales. However, William had a different vision in mind – he transformed EC into Entertaining Comics, marking a new era in the industry.
With his fresh perspective, William wasted no time in assembling a team of talented writers and artists. In 1950, EC launched seven thrilling titles, proclaiming it as a “new trend” in comics. Among these were three chilling horror comics: The Crypt of Terror, The Vault of Horror, and The Haunt of Fear. Each spine-tingling book featured a unique character who introduced the stories and shared their eerie musings. The Old Witch presided over The Haunt of Fear, The Vault Keeper ruled The Vault of Horror, and the Crypt Keeper managed The Crypt of Terror, which would later become known as Tales From the Crypt.
The horror comics were skillfully edited by the talented comic book artist and writer, Al Feldstein. Feldstein, in collaboration with Gaines, wove tales unlike anything readers had experienced before, taking horror to a whole new level. Revenge and retribution were recurring themes, and the graphic descriptions and vivid illustrations left no detail untouched. Axes swung, bodies were shredded, torn, and devoured, all depicted in vibrant, gory color. Werewolves and zombies oozed blood, and no demise was too grisly. Even the most lifeless characters found a way to rise and stalk.
In 1952, Feldstein embarked on adapting stories by the legendary Ray Bradbury. Unfortunately, they neglected to consult Bradbury beforehand. However, the author gracefully accepted the adaptations and reached a settlement where he received twenty-five dollars for each of his stories used by EC Comics.
Alas, not everyone was enamored with the macabre allure of these horror comics aimed at children. In 1954, Dr. Fredric Wertham’s book, “Seduction of the Innocent,” hit the shelves, linking comic books to the perceived rise in juvenile delinquency across America. The government swiftly turned its attention to the horror comic books, and William Gaines found himself testifying before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee to Investigate Juvenile Delinquency. During the hearing, Gaines faced a challenging moment when a comic cover depicting a man holding a woman’s severed head with an ax was presented as evidence. In an attempt to defend his creation, Gaines argued that the cover would be in poor taste if, for example, the severed head were held higher, with blood dripping from it. This response did not sit well with the committee, leading to the establishment of the Comics Code. The Code imposed strict regulations, even forbidding the use of words like “horror” and “terror,” dealing a devastating blow to EC’s New Trend. Consequently, within a short period, all horror comics were canceled.
Fortunately for William Gaines, his humorous comic, MAD, enjoyed immense popularity. By transitioning MAD into a magazine format, it could evade the constraints of the Comics Code. This strategic move allowed Gaines to bid farewell to the horror genre forever.
Yet, amidst the aftermath, a perplexing question remained unanswered: Why didn’t juvenile delinquency decline as expected?