Saturday, March 16, 2013
SO YOU LIKE HORROR STORIES, EH?
on the newsstands in my birth month and, as regular readers know,
I am fascinated by the comic books that came out in and around that
month. Exact arrival dates are often guesswork, but my guide for
them is Mike’s Amazing World of Comics, a remarkable repository of
EC Comics have long ago attained the status of legend among comic
fans and, because of that and because publisher Bill Gaines and his
family retained ownership of that material, individual stories and
issues have been reprinted in various formats since the mid-1960s.
So, for a change, I have read today’s vintage comic book, courtesy
of its inclusion in Russ Cochran’s big and beautiful EC Library
This issue’s cover was drawn by Wally Wood. It contains elements
from two of the four interior stories: the audience and theatrical
setting of “Well-Cooked Hams” and the guillotine of “Horror! Head
The Grand Comics Database lists all four stories as being scripted
by editor Al Feldstein. According to Feldstein and other sources,
the usual working method for these stories was for he and Gaines to
come up with the basic plots together. Then Feldstein would write
the scripts and break them down into panels on the art boards. The
lettering would be typeset and pasted onto the boards. The artists
would do their work on the already written, paneled and typeset art
boards. Some artists found this method confining, others found it
allowed them to concentrate on the drawing. In any case, the ECs
were some of the very best comic books of the era and many stories
are still considered classics today.
What follows are the GCD synopsis of each story and my comments on
them. You have been warned!
“Well-Heeled Ham” (8 pages) was drawn by Jack Davis.
Two American producers want to bring Parisian-style, Grand Guignol,
gory plays to a Broadway theater but the owner refuses to do
business with them. They shoot him and take the man's gory makeup
secrets manuscript, but he returns from the dead and gets his
revenge by swapping out the stage prop acid and red-hot stove with
the real things.
The Grand Guignol references add an exotic touch to the tale. The
owner’s passion for the play, which has been in his family for many
generations, make his murder all the more tragic. The story itself
never explicitly states that the dead owner swaps out the stage’s
props and I prefer having that little ambiguity as to how he gained
The story is hosted by the Crypt Keeper, one of DC’s three horror
hosts. Traditionally, each host would have at least one story in
every EC horror comic books. However, as you’ll see, some stories
would not be narrated by them.
“Madame Bluebeard” (7 pages) is narrated by the Vault Keeper and
drawn by Joe Orlando. The synopsis:
A woman raises her daughter to hate men and so for six years she
murders a husband a year, making each appear an accidental death,
as trophies for her departed mother. The seventh victim is not
quite dead when he drags himself from the airplane wreck she
caused, and thus she has to finish the job off herself with a large
rock. When he is interred with the other six dead men that are
ignorant they've been murdered "the wind...comes up...seems to
sound like a whisper...telling the others..." When she is alone in
the cemetery the corpses rise and drag her down into the earth with
This one is weak. Even if one wants to ignore the ridiculousness of
the community and the people chalking up the deaths by accident of
the woman’s seven husbands in seven years and of her finding a new
husband again and again, there’s still the tiresome litany of dead
husbands and how they really died. There is no suspense whatsoever
in the unfolding of this tale.
“Nature” is a one-page text story that’s spread out over two pages
and book ended by house ads. This is followed by the one-page “The
Crypt-Keeper’s Corner,” an editorial and letters page. There were
only two very short letters and one of them, from “The Old Witch,”
was almost certainly a fake.
“Return!” (6 pages) opens with a shot of the Crypt-Keeper but isn’t
narrated by him. It’s drawn by Jack Kamen. The synopsis:
A woman ends up getting pregnant by her husband's ghost!
This is the weakest story of the four. Even Kamen, who was so good
at drawing real people and emotion, couldn’t spruce up this script
enough to make it interesting, though its presumably happy ending
was a pretty rare thing for EC’s horror comics.
The Old Witch narrates “Horror! Head...It Off! (7 pages), the final
story of the issue. Drawn by Graham Ingels, the story takes place
during the French Revolution:
A member of the French nobility during the Terror betrays his
fellow's confidence in order to curry favor with the revolutionary
government. The servant of his latest duped victim demonstrates to
him in the market how chickens can live with their heads cut off
for quite some time and suggests that perhaps the same may be true
of humans. He laughs this off as the servant merely attempting to
frighten him, but later that evening, the servant does indeed guide
the headless body of his former master to acquire vengeance.
No artist epitomizes EC horror more than Ingels. The faces of his
human villains show their evil is striking detail while the faces
of the victims and those who would seek vengeance on the villains
show pain and determination. Even a middle-of-the-road story like
this is elevated by the art of Ingels. If I had to rank the tales
in this issue, this one would beat out the Davis entry by a hair.
Keep watching this bloggy thing for more vintage comic books from
the month of my birth.
I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.
© 2013 Tony Isabella