It’s just not Comic-Con until someone complains about Fredric Wertham, and the panelists for THE WONDERFUL, HORRIBLE WORLD OF E.C. COMICS are here to keep the tradition alive. More importantly, though, they’re here to discuss the history and legacy of the legendary E.C. Comics, which was responsible for some of the best horror, science fiction, crime, and war comics ever created. Some of their titles included Tales from the Crypt, The Haunt of Fear, Weird Fantasy, Shock SuspenStories, and Two-Fisted Tales, to name but a few. Comics historians Grant Geissman, Danny Fingeroth, Arie Kaplan, and Dr. Travis Langley gathered together on Friday evening to pay tribute to E.C. Comics in a wide-ranging discussion that included a slide show of famous covers and behind-the-scenes photos sure to satisfy old and new E.C. fans.
Max Gaines founded the company in 1944, and his son Bill took over in 1947. Though E.C.’s early days saw a lot of derivative titles – its sole superhero comic Moon Girl was simply a Wonder Woman knockoff, according to Geissman – the company soon became one of the most innovative publishers in the comics industry, largely spurred on by legendary comics creator Al Feldstein. “E.C. actually created the very first proper science fiction comics,” said Geissman, who also noted the company’s propensity for socially conscious work: E.C. was “the first company to do stories about taboo subjects like racism, bigotry, police corruption, police brutality, antisemitism…and this was very unusual” in the mainstream comics industry at the time, especially for readers in middle America.
There’s no way to cover every legendary writer and artist that came through the halls of E.C. in one hour-long panel, but there were special mentions for Harvey Kurtzman, whose famous story “Corpse on the Imjin!” focused on the horrors of war rather than on “rah-rah” jingoism, and Marie Severin, “one of the very few women working in comics at the time…starting in 1951, she colored literally every story and cover that E.C. published,” according to Geissman. The panelists also covered how influential E.C.’s comedy title MAD was to shows like Saturday Night Live and to underground comics artists like Robert Crumb.
Talk turned inevitably to Dr. Fredric Wertham and his book, Seduction of the Innocent, which inflamed the anti-comics hysteria that put the nail in the coffin of E.C.’s groundbreaking line of horror and crime comics. But even after Wertham’s book and the subsequent book burnings and congressional hearings, E.C. continued to put out incredibly high-quality comic books. They simply focused on different genres, releasing “Master Race,” the first comic book story to deal with the Holocaust, and “Judgment Day,” a sci-fi story starring a Black protagonist that Ray Bradbury wrote in a letter column “should be required reading for every man, woman, and child in the United States.”
This panel may be a bit dry for people who don’t enjoy exhaustive comic book history, but for E.C. fans, it’s an enjoyable, informative watch. For further reading, Geissman has a Taschen book coming out this fall called The History of E.C. Comics. Fingeroth warned, “Everybody start working out now so you can actually lift it.” I own some of Taschen’s other coffee table comic book tomes myself (all of which are superb in quality), so believe me when I say he’s not kidding.