Tales from the Crypt: The Revolutionary Art of MAD and EC Comicsby Matthew Innis |
A big business in the fifties, as many as 100 million comic books were sold monthly. Although the superhero and funny animal titles were popular in the forties the appetite had turned to subjects that reflected current trends and interests.
Perhaps the most prominent comic book publisher at the time was Entertaining Comics (EC), led by William M. Gaines. An aspiring high school teacher, Gaines found himself the 25 year old head of a struggling publishing company when his father died in a boating accident. Gaines knew little about the industry but hired young, creative editor/artists Al Feldstein and Harvey Kurtzman to test new formats and launched a broad slate of revolutionary titles covering science fiction, horror, crime, war, suspense and humor.
The EC team would later be called among the most talented assembly of comic book artists and writers the industry had ever seen. While quickly copied because of their unprecedented success, EC stories were markedly different from the competition. They were expertly illustrated, written for an intelligent audience and offered an unexpected twist ending. Critics would point to the violence depicted in the crime and horror titles or the mature nature of the story subjects. Gaines had assumed an intelligent audience comprised of young adults and older readers and not children who would otherwise find little meaning in the work.
When the Comics Code arrived Gaines first balked at censorship, eventually relented and submitted his work lest the comics not be distributed. But by 1955 it was clear that EC’s comic books were doomed and he ceased publishing all but one title – MAD. By turning this comic book into a magazine Gaines was free of the Comics Code and saw its circulation peak at more than 2 million over the next two decades. Harvey Kurtzman created MAD magazine in the 1950s as a vehicle for social commentary, for parody and to challenge the establishment. Pulitzer prize winning author and cartoonist Art Spiegelman said, “I think Harvey’s MAD was more important than pot and LSD in shaping the generation that protested the Vietnam War.” MAD gave birth to irreverent American satire and its influence is felt even today.
Robert Crumb said of MAD, “When I was 14, MAD was a very heavy thing. It was the first thing that poked fun at the mass media. The old MAD comics worked inside the mass media. But it started getting too strong. People got scared and the government threatened action. The publishers formed the comics code. There haven’t been any good comics since then. That’s 13 years.”
Jerry Garcia lead guitarist of the Grateful Dead, and himself a collector of EC comics, said, “For me, the 50s were rock and roll- and EC Comics”.
Curator Rob Pistella explains, “Bill Gaines and crew assembled among the finest illustrators of the day and produced timeless works that transcend the medium. MAD and EC Comics enlightened readers to such themes as prejudice, hypocrisy and inhumanity, and turned accepted conventions of science-fiction, horror and humor upside down – a revolutionary act that help to redefine popular culture.”
For the first time in New York, a gallery show and exhibition of the EC comic book art that struck fear in the hearts of arbiters of good taste will see the light of day. Featured are more than 70 large original comic book art pages by acknowledged comic art masters.
In addition to the original 1950’s pen and ink black & white pages are the printed comic books, story commentaries and biographies. Titles presented include Aces High, Crime Suspenstories, Crypt of Terror, Extra!, Haunt of Fear, Frontline Combat, Impact, Piracy, MAD, Two-Fisted Tales, Tales From the Crypt, The Vault of Horror, Weird Fantasy, Weird Science, Weird Science Fantasy, MAD 3-D art and more!
Award-winning artists featured include Johnny Craig, Reed Crandall, Jack Davis, Will Elder, George Evans, Al Feldstein, Frank Frazetta, Graham Ingels, B. Krigstein, Harvey Kurtzman, Joe Orlando, John Severin, Marie Severin, Angelo Torres, Al Williamson and Wally Wood.
This show is curated by comic art historian and collector Rob Pistella, with special thanks to EC aficionado and collector Rob Reiner for his contribution of words, art, advice and enthusiasm.