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EC Archives: Highlights of the 1950s' Best Comic Book Company

Updated on October 27, 2014

Horror and War Comic Books That Scared Young Readers, Parents and the Nation!

EC Comics, officially known as Entertaining Comics, published some of the best-written and drawn comics of the early 1950s. Its publications were known for their great storytelling, with tales that were literate and a higher quality than other contemporary comics and artwork that almost jumped off the page.

Unfortunately, the comics focused on tales of horror, crime and war, subjects that caused growing concern among educators, parents and public officials during the late 1940s and early 1950s. That concern grew into a paranoia that lead to severe self-censorship in the comic book industry -- a censorship that destroyed many careers and companies, including EC comics. By 1960, the company ceased to exist, with one notable exception as explained below.

Fortunately, many of the top titles were collected in a series of hardcover publications from 2006 to 2008 called EC Archives. The collections are over-sized so the artwork really stands out, allowing the reader to truly appreciate the efforts of such greats as Wally Wood, Jack Davis and Johnny Craig. As explained by the reprint publisher, the colors have also been enhanced through modern technology, which really helps as well.

The EC Archives series collected the comic book series Crime SuspenStories, Frontline Combat, The Haunt of Fear, Shock SuspenStories, Tales from the Crypt, Two-Fisted Tales, The Vault of Horror and Weird Science. Each collection is listed separately below, with some notes on the volumes that I have had a chance to read.

TALES FROM THE CRYPT

Tales from the Crypt was probably EC Comics most well-known title. Its name has entered pop culture, and the comic has inspired a movie and television series.

The comic book series that would become Tales from the Crypt actually began as International Comics in 1947, then changed its name to International Crime Patrol with issue No. 6.

One issue later, the word International was dropped and Crime Patrol lasted through issue No. 16.

With issue No. 17, EC Comics decided to shift the focus of the comic strictly to horror stories and renamed the series The Crypt of Terror. Retitled Tales from the Crypt with issue No. 20, the series would last until issue No. 44 in 1955.

Tales from the Crypt was EC Comics most popular comic during that time.

Tales from the Crypt, Vol. 1: Issues 1-6 (The EC Archives)
Tales from the Crypt, Vol. 1: Issues 1-6 (The EC Archives)

Artist highlights of this collection include Wally Wood's ''The Living Corpse'' and ''Terror Ride,'' Johnny Craig's ''Curse of the Full Moon,'' and Al Feldstein's ''Ghost Ship!'' All the stories in these six issues were written by editor Feldstein after story conferences with publisher Bill Gaines. This book includes the first six issues of the title (issues 17-22).

 
The EC Archives: Tales From The Crypt Volume 3
The EC Archives: Tales From The Crypt Volume 3

This collection features the work of three great artists: Jack Kamen, Joe Orlando and Jack Davis. Kamen was well-known for his beautiful women, as shown in ''Board to Death,'' while Davis would later be known for his work on Mad Magazine and for his movie posters. This collection contains issues 29-34.

 
The EC Archives: Tales From the Crypt Volume 4
The EC Archives: Tales From the Crypt Volume 4

This collection contains issues 35-40.

 

Tales from the Crypt -- The TV Series

Tales from the Crypt: The Complete Seasons 1-7 (7-Pack)
Tales from the Crypt: The Complete Seasons 1-7 (7-Pack)

You can buy the entire series in one swoop or click through and get individual seasons on Amazon!

 

THE HAUNT OF FEAR

Haunt of Fear (The EC Archives)
Haunt of Fear (The EC Archives)

This collection contains the first six issues of the series.

 

THE VAULT OF HORROR

The EC Archives: Vault of Horror, Vol. 1
The EC Archives: Vault of Horror, Vol. 1

This collection contains the first six issues of the series.

 
The EC Archives: The Vault of Horror Volume 3
The EC Archives: The Vault of Horror Volume 3

This collection is new, appearing in February 2014.

 

FRONTLINE COMBAT

The EC Archives: Frontline Combat
The EC Archives: Frontline Combat

The stories in this collection range from the Korean War back through the Civil War to the War of 1812, with art by such greats as John Severin, Russ Heath, Wally Wood, Jack Davis and Harvey Kurtzman. Kurtzman also wrote all the stories. The tales aren't gungho stories of of honor or Rambo-style shoot-em-ups. Instead, they dwell realistically on the cruelties of war and the twists or fate that sometimes decides who wins and loses. A profile of Rommel contrasts his military on the battlefield with the horrors of what the Nazis were doing, making clear that he shouldn't be admired. The stories on the Korean War are very good at explaining what was happening in the then-current conflict.

 

TWO-FISTED TALES

The EC Archives: Two-Fisted Tales Volume 1
The EC Archives: Two-Fisted Tales Volume 1

This collection contains the first six issues of the series, which began with No. 18.

 
The EC Archives: Two-Fisted Tales Volume 2 (Two-Fisted Tales: War and Fighting Men) (v. 2)
The EC Archives: Two-Fisted Tales Volume 2 (Two-Fisted Tales: War and Fighting Men) (v. 2)

A number of the stories in this collection focus on the then-current Korean War, not as gungho propaganda but simply explaining what was happening. Issue 26 documents the battle that occurred in 1950 near the Changjin (or Chosin) reservoir through a series of entertaining stories. It is history well-told. The art in this collection is amazing, with Jack Davis a true great. John Severin's style is perftect for the gritty series. Check out Harvey Kurtzman's tale called ''Rubble.'' His art style is very different from the rest of the collection, and his narrative about a young Korean farmer caught up in the fighting is heart-breaking. The collection contains issues No. 24-29.

 
The EC Archives: Two-Fisted Tales Volume 3
The EC Archives: Two-Fisted Tales Volume 3

This collection contains issues 30-35.

 

SHOCK SUSPENSTORIES

The EC Archives: Shock Suspenstories Volume 1 (v. 1)
The EC Archives: Shock Suspenstories Volume 1 (v. 1)

This collections contains the first six issues of the series.

 
The EC Archives: Shock Suspenstories Volume 2 (v. 2)
The EC Archives: Shock Suspenstories Volume 2 (v. 2)

This collections contains issues No. 7-12 of the series.

 

CRIME SUSPENSTORIES

Crime Suspenstories, Vol. 1 (EC Archives) (v. 1)
Crime Suspenstories, Vol. 1 (EC Archives) (v. 1)

The highlight of this collection is the art of Johnny Craig, who illustrated these crime tales with magnificent beauty. Other artists in the collection include Wally Wood, Harvey Kurtzman, Graham Ingels and one of my favorites, Jack Davis. Al Feldstein wrote most of these tales of crime, paranoia, mistaken identities, murder and cruel twists of fate.

 

WEIRD SCIENCE

EC Archives: Weird Science Volume 1 (Weird Science: Fantasy)
EC Archives: Weird Science Volume 1 (Weird Science: Fantasy)

This collection contains the first six issues of the series.

 
EC Archives: Weird Science Volume 2 (v. 2)
EC Archives: Weird Science Volume 2 (v. 2)

Artist highlights of this collection include Wally Wood's ''The Probers'' and ''The Maidens Cried'' and Jack Kamen's ''Something Missing!'' and ''The Last Man!'' "The Last Man" has one of those over-the-top shock endings that you'll remember for a while. Joe Orlando's ''Why Papa Left Home'' is a bizarre time travel piece, but you'll have to read it to learn its twist ending. Once again, all the stories were written by editor Al Feldstein after a conference with publisher Bill Gaines. This collection contains issues No. 7-12 of the series.

 
EC Archives Weird Science Volume 3 (v. 3)
EC Archives Weird Science Volume 3 (v. 3)

Artist highlights of this issue include Wally Wood's ''There'll Be Some Changes Made'' and Jack Kamen's ''Miscalculation.'' A really good tale is Al Williamson's ''Snap Ending!'' Once again, all the stories were written by editor Al Feldstein after a conference with publisher Bill Gaines. This collection contains issues No. 13-18 of the series.

 
EC Comics
EC Comics

The Fall of EC Comics As Paranoia Rules the U.S.

In the late 1940s, the comic book industry underwent a wave of criticism that the content of their publications was having a harmful effect on the youth of America. At first the publishers tried to explain their positions and fight back, but the protests grew (and even included events where comic books were burned!).

In 1954, a comic book critic named Fredric Wertham fanned the fires with his book Seduction of the Innocent, which argued that the comic books were contributing to juvenile delinquency and were subverting American values with their depictions of violence and gore. He didn't just focus on the war, crime and horror stories. He also took aim at the typical superhero comic book, arguing that Batman and Robin were homosexual, Wonder Woman highlighted bondage and lesbianism, and Superman was fascist.

The criticism led to congressional hearings. EC publisher William Gaines testified on behalf of the industry, but by all accounts his appearance was a disaster. At best, he seemed to misjudge the public's concern about comic books. At worst, he just was clueless. For instance, when asked if he thought the cover shown here was in good taste, he replied "Yes, I do, for the cover of a horror comic."

The antagonistic climate killed the EC comics' line, and by the time the comic book industry adopted a severe Comics Code Authority to self-censor its own products EC comics was on its last legs.

For More on the 1950s Comic Book Scare

The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America
The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America

This book does a great job of explaining what happened during the 1950s that led to the implosion of the comic book industry and EC Comics in particular.

 

Have You Ever Read Any of EC's Comics?

EC Comics' Covers
EC Comics' Covers

Have You Ever Read Any of EC's Comics?

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EC Comics' Lasting Legacy -- Mad Magazine!

Even if you have never read or heard of EC Comics, you no doubt are familiar with its longest-lasting publication.

In 1952, EC published a satirical comic book called Mad filled with parodies of superheroes, movies and pop culture. With issue No. 24 in 1955 the publication switched to a magazine format, in large part to avoid the newly implemented Comics Code Authority designed to enforce decency in comic books.

My older brother and I loved Mad when we were growing up and the magazine is still going strong today. It's probably not as subversive as it was when I read it in the 1960s and 1970s -- but that's because we now live in a world where most of the comedy seems to have been inspired by Mad magazine!

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    • Hairdresser007 profile image

      James Jordan 3 years ago from Burbank, CA

      I loved reading those. I always felt like I was getting a peak of something I wasn't supposed to see. I loved them!

    • David Stone1 profile image

      David Stone 3 years ago from New York City

      I was a Mad fanatic when I was a kid. I still make jokes based on it and the slanted humor. Don Martin was a favorite. The comic books never interested me, too busy being a country kid with something better to do, I guess.

    • profile image

      atomicgirl24 3 years ago

      Wow, great write up! I remember watching a terrific documentary years ago about the attack on comic books during the 1950s. William B. Gaines looked completely different back then-- instead of looking like Jerry Garcia with the long white hair and shaggy beard, he looked like Drew Carey, with the classic 1950s crew cut.

      Hollywood should definitely do a movie about this era. Besides being downright entertaining, it was a very interesting moment in American history that very few people know about.

    • Nancy Hardin profile image

      Nancy Carol Brown Hardin 3 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      I read Tales From the Crypt voraciously...couldn't get enough of 'em. My mother and father never looked at any of the comics I read, so it was never a problem of them stopping me from reading them. One story in particular I remember was about someone who wanted to lose weight, and was guaranteed if she took these capsules she would lose weight. And she did...and did...and did...and became like a walking skeleton, because inside the capsules were tapeworms! WOOHOO! I was so repelled and fascinated at the same time, I read the story over several times. I also loved MAD Magazine too, and Alfred E. Newman's "What, me worry?" attitude. Yep those were the good old days! My son, taking after his mother, began collecting MAD Magazine, when he was little, and had quite a collection going when he lost interest and sold them. Love this story about the comics I adored and thanks so much! Good history subject, so I'll put it in my FB page Hand in Glove With History, and also in my blog handinglovewithhistory.blogspot.com. Thanks so much for a good trip through my youth.

    • Zeross4 profile image

      Renee Dixon 3 years ago from Kentucky

      I haven't read the comic books, but I remember watching the show!

    • georgepmoola2 profile image

      georgepmoola2 3 years ago

      Great lens! Good to know one can still access these stories.

    • gozergirl profile image

      gozergirl 3 years ago

      Love this! I am a huge fan of this era of art, and these covers rock!!

    • profile image

      AngryBaker 3 years ago

      Tales from the Crypt brings back a lot of memories.... I used to spend my hard earned allowence on it, and them deal with the fallout from my mother who couldn't understand how I could read such a thing!