EC Comics is famous, even notorious, for their boundary pushing content at a time when entertainment was being curtailed into the tamest of territories. But beyond the shock value of some titles, EC produced thoughtful commentary on everything from greed to the hell of war, and challenged us to acknowledge an appreciation for the macabre.
In his book, The History of EC Comics, author Grant Geissman presents a thorough examination of EC’s history, covering how the company was founded, its growth, and the genres that were featured in their books. Geissman gave Scoop a peek at what readers can find in the book and expressed his appreciation for all things EC Comics.
Scoop: What do you like about EC Comics?
Grant Geissman (GG): In a nutshell, taken as a whole, the EC Comics output from 1950 to 1955 represent some of the best writing and artwork ever to appear in comics. The list of artists that did some of their best work ever for EC include now-legendary people like Wallace Wood, Jack Davis, Al Feldstein, Johnny Craig, Bernie Krigstein, Graham Ingels, Jack Kamen, George Evans, Al Williamson, and Frank Frazetta.
Scoop: Do you prefer any of EC’s genres over others? If so, which one is your favorite and why?
GG: If I had to pick only one, probably the science fiction comics would be my favorite. EC publisher Bill Gaines and artist/writer/editor Al Feldstein always said that they were proudest of their science fiction comics (Weird Science, Weird Fantasy, which were then combined into Weird Science-Fantasy, and which was finally morphed into Incredible Science Fiction). Their horror and crime comics sold by far the best (Tales from the Crypt, The Vault of Horror, The Haunt of Fear, Crime SuspenStories and Shock SuspenStories), and the profits from those allowed the company to continue publishing the lesser-selling (but beloved) science fiction comics. With the horror comics doing most of the heavy lifting, EC also published the first true-to-life war comics, Two-Fisted Tales and Frontline Combat, written and edited by Harvey Kurtzman. And under the EC umbrella Kurtzman also created the first satire comic, MAD.
Scoop: What can EC fans expect to find in this book?
GG: The History of EC Comics traces the complete story of how the EC Comics came to exist and how they developed into the legendary company they became, starting in 1933 with comics pioneer M.C. Gaines, who was Bill Gaines’s father. The book is divided into several sections and chapters, which focus on the company’s different eras and genres. There are over 1,000 illustrations, including covers, splash panels, original art, rare and previously unseen photos, and much more. There are several complete stories presented as well (some shot from the original art), so one can really get a feel of what made the EC Comics so remarkable.
Scoop: How does this compare to the other books you’ve written about EC Comics and MAD?
GG: The biggest difference is the scope and size of this project. I wanted the book to be a complete, chronological history of the company, and think readers will find it to be a fascinating read as well as an unabashed visual feast for the eyes. The bulk of the book concentrates on EC’s most important and fertile period, which was from 1950 to 1955. But we also trace the build-up periods before that, and we have an Aftermath section that focuses on how EC influenced more contemporary creators like novelists Stephen King and R.L. Stine, filmmakers George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and George Romero, Underground cartoonist Robert Crumb, and musician Jerry Garcia.
Scoop: The book’s announcement stated that the Gaines family is cooperating with the project. How involved are they with the book?
GG: They opened up their archives to me totally, so there are a lot of family photos and other archival material from both the M.C. Gaines and the Bill Gaines eras that haven’t previously been seen. There are also a fair amount of personal drawings done for Gaines by the staff, and things like that. There is material in this book that will surprise even the most die-hard, seasoned EC fan.
Scoop: Can you tell me about some of the never before published rarities that’ll be in the book?
GG: Apart from what I previously mentioned, there are things like vintage cover proofs, vintage contracts and letters from the EC office on EC stationary, paintings given to Bill Gaines by Al Feldstein, Johnny Craig, Graham Ingels, and Wallace Wood, and much more. Most of the cover images were shot from Gaines File Copies, which are generally considered to be the best surviving copies of issues of the EC Comics.
Scoop: Is it material that you’ve come across in your writing and collecting experiences or is it stories and art you hadn’t seen?
GG: It’s both, actually.
Scoop: EC has a very interesting history. As someone who has authored multiple books on the subject, did you uncover anything that surprised you?
GG: Since the EC story actually started with comics pioneer M.C. Gaines in 1933, it was very interesting researching and gathering material about his early career, and how it all led to the EC Comics as we know them. There is early M.C. Gaines material in the book that most people will not have ever seen, so that is nice.
Scoop: Why did you and/or Taschen decide on publishing it in coffee table book size?
GG: This book is part of what they call their XXL line. The size of it (about 16” high by 11-3/4” wide) is along the same lines as their previous XXL comics-related books, 75 Years of DC Comics and 75 Years of Marvel.
Scoop: What else are you working on now?
GG: There are a few EC-related irons in the fire!
Scoop: When will the book be available and where can EC fans buy it?
GG: The book is out now, and is available through the Taschen website. Many comic shops are carrying it as well, and it is also available through various online booksellers. Copies sold through Bud’s Art Books online have a special tip-in sheet signed by me, with specialty artwork by EC artist Angelo Torres that was colored by original EC colorist Marie Severin.