Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
EC Comics

Publishers of a line of Comic books in the early 1950s which proved influential in the development of comic-strip fantasy. The Educational Comics Company was formed in the mid-1940s by Max C Gaines, and passed into the hands of his son, William M Gaines (1922-1992), after Max's death in 1947. EC was transformed in late 1949 with the introduction, by Gaines and Albert Feldstein (1925-    ), of Horror strips into one of their Police titles, Crime Patrol (#15 1949). Enthusiastic reader response inspired them radically to revamp their entire list: Crime Patrol became Crypt of Terror (from #17 1950; vt Tales from the Crypt from #20), War Against Crime became Vault of Horror (from #12 1950), and Gunfighter became Haunt of Fear (from #15 1950). Borrowing from popular radio shows the gimmick of a host to introduce each story, Gaines and Feldstein fashioned a succession of intelligently written, twist-in-the-tail strips that were to prove immensely popular.

Simultaneously, they launched two sf titles (Weird Fantasy and Weird Science), and later the same year two more "new trend" comics emerged: Crime Suspense Stories ed Feldstein and the pacifist war title Two-Fisted Tales ed Harvey Kurtzman (1924-    ). In mid-1951 another war title, Frontline Combat, emerged, followed in early 1952 by Shock Suspense Stories.

EC's output was characterized by mature writing and art by the top people in the field, including Jack Davis (1926-    ), Wally Wood (1927-1981), Graham Ingels, Johnny Craig (1926-    ), Al Williamson, Reed Crandall, Bernie Krigstein (1919-    ), George Evans (1920-    ) and the team of John Severin (1921-    ) and Will Elder (1922-    ). After "borrowing" a plot from Ray Bradbury, Gaines and Feldstein were flattered when Bradbury suggested they officially adapt his stories; this led to a series of memorable strips.

Another characteristic of EC was the unflinching depiction of gore and violence; in the McCarthyite period they inevitably came to the notice of conservative pressure groups – indeed, Gaines was called in to testify before the Senate subcommittee in 1954. EC, like many other publishers, saw its sales plummet, and by early 1955 Gaines had cancelled almost all his titles, replacing them with a slew of Comics Code Approved titles. Although these were not without merit, the "new direction" titles like Piracy, Valor, Impact and Psychoanalysis were emasculated, and by 1956 all had folded. As a last stab, EC entered the magazine field, but the "picto-fiction" mixture of text and illustrations found few friends, and with the May issue of Shock Illustrated EC closed the door as a publisher of fantasy. Only one title survived the change to magazine format, Mad Magazine, which went on to enjoy sales countable in millions. Initiated by Kurtzman in 1952, Mad's irreverent, anti-authoritarian stance swiftly caught on, and in many ways sowed the seeds of the underground comics of the 1960s – many of whose artists saw Kurtzman as their mentor. EC's horror comics inspired James Warren to start publishing his Horror-magazine line (> Warren Publishing) and DC Comics to enter the "mystery" field in the late 1960s.

The original EC comics have been reprinted a number of times, most notably in the hardback series from Russ Cochran (1985-1986 12 vols) and, in the 1990s, in comic-book format from Gladstone and Gemstone. [DR/RT]

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This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.