Thursday, June 6, 2013
THE VAULT OF HORROR
in my birth month of December 1951. Continuing its numbering from
War Against Crime, it was one of EC’s legendary horror titles.
EC published 29 issues of the title from April-May 1950 to December
1954-January 1955. Thanks to Russ Cochran and his still-stunning
EC Library collections of the 1980s, I own and have read this issue
in glorious and oversized black-and-white.
Johnny Craig, my favorite of the great EC artists, drew and signed
the cover of this issue. The cover scene reflects the Frankenstein
Monster story that appears inside the issue.
Craig didn’t do the Frankenstein story, but he did write and draw
“Fountains of Youth!” (8 pages), the issue’s lead story. Against
the better judgment of her older brother, a young woman signs on as
secretary and traveling companion to a wealthy socialite. At sea,
however, what seemed like the young woman’s seasickness becomes a
horrible wasting disease that takes her life. The brother suspects
the socialite somehow murdered his sister and sets out to prevent
the same thing from happening to another young woman. The shocking
truth, clumsily explained by a surprisingly knowledgeable ship’s
doctor on the story’s closing page, reveals a centuries-old horror.
That rushed explanation notwithstanding, this is a fine effort by
Craig. His expressive faces and poses range from joy to concern to
fearful astonishment, driving home the emotions of his characters.
His characters are believable; his writing, pacing and storytelling
are all first-rate.
We don’t know who wrote “The Monster in the Ice!” (7 pages), but it
was drawn by Graham “Ghastly” Ingels. This is a neat little tale
of Arctic scientists finding what they believe to be the corpse of
the Frankenstein Monster. In what seemed like a good idea at the
time, they have one of their workers chip the body out of the ice.
Because, really, what could possibly go wrong with that? My only
complaint about this hee hee chilling story, it’s that we didn’t
get to see more of the Monster as drawn by Ingels. He would have
been the perfect artist for a comic-book adaptation of the classic
horror novel by Mary Shelly.
Next up is a double-page spread featuring an ad for Weird Fantasy
#10 on one side, an order form for Picture Stories from the Bible
on the other side, and, in the middle, “Choice,” a text story which
the Grand Comics Database credits to publisher William M. Gaines.
I never read such text stories as a kid and I don’t read them as an
adult, but the GCD provides this summary:
He had been sentenced to ten years in the sweltering cells of El
Malein Prison out in the Sahara Desert, but he knew he couldn't
make it. So, as the airplane he was in flew nearer to that prison
site, he jumped out of the plane and pulled the ripcord on his
parachute. He landed, and for the next five days, he braved the
heat and whipping sand, trying to find water. Then....he saw the
tall pond fronds that indicated an oasis, and it renewed his waning
strength. Just then, the fronds disappeared....it had all been a
mirage! But....had made his choice and he still had his
freedom....the freedom to die in agony!
“The Vault-Keeper’s Corner” is this issue’s letter page. EC built
its fan base on its excellent comics, but editor Al Feldstein and
publisher Bill Gaines also knew how to engage their readers. This
page is a mix of gag letters, praise for artists, honest answers to
readers questions and a nice dig at the EC imitators.
“Gone... Fishing!” is written by Feldstein and drawn by Jack Davis.
The six-page fits the typical EC horror formula, once described as
“you sharpen the pencil, then the pencil sharpens you.” A sports-
fisherman goes fishing with a friend who is morally opposed to the
sport because of cruelty to the hooked fishes. We get a glimpse of
that cruelty, which sends the friend walking away in a combination
of disgust and illness. The fisherman continues to fish, but he’s
getting hungry. When he spots a wrapped candy bar on the beach, he
opens it and starts eating it...only to scream in pain and horror
when he realizes he’s been hooked by the candy bar. Something in
the water is fishing for him. His friend returns to see the hooked
sportsman being dragged under the waves. Yes, it’s silly, but it’s
also darkly hilarious.
“What the Dog Dragged In” by Feldstein and artist Jack Kamen is the
issue’s finale and it’s an “unauthorized adaptation” - also known
as theft - of the Ray Bradbury story, “The Emissary.” EC did a few
of these “unauthorized adaptations” before Bradbury contacted them
to inquire about payment for the stories. An agreement was struck
between comics fan Bradbury and the EC Bradbury fans for a series
of authorized adaptations of his stories. These collaborations are
among the best stories published by EC Comics.
In this seven-page story, Betty, a beautiful woman who is blind and
confined to a wheelchair, relies on her dog Jerry to care for her.
She sends Jerry to the butcher to get food for her housekeeper to
cook for her. It’s an errand the dog has done many times before.
However, this time, Jerry darts across the street and is struck by
a car driven by the handsome and wealthy Roger.
Roger takes the dog to a doctor while Betty wonders about her dog
and worries about him. A few anxious days later, now strong enough
to travel, Jerry leads Roger to Betty’s home. Enjoying the company
of Betty and Jerry, Roger tells her to send Jerry to him whenever
she wants to see him. Friendship soon blossoms into romance and,
not at all concerned about Betty’s blindness or any other physical
problems, Roger proposes to her. She accepts.
The deliriously happy Roger drives off whistling and tune...and fails
to see the truck heading right for him. In the days that follows,
Betty asks Jerry to bring Roger to her again and again. Nothing.
Indeed, the dog stops trying...until his master’s pleas and tears
send him out more time.
Jerry returns. Betty reaches out for him and finds him covered in
“rancid crawling soil.” She hears the creak of someone walking up
her rickety stairs.
Slowly,,,painfully...dragging one leg after the other! The bedroom
door swung open! It stood framed in the doorway! Betty stared at it
with sightless eyes...
Yep. Though Kamen doesn’t give us a good look, it’s dead Roger who
has come a’calling after Jerry dug up his grave. For the ending of
a horror story, it’s almost sweet.
EC always asked its readers to vote for their favorite stories in
each issue. Assuming the polls are still open six decades later,
here’s how I rank them:
1) What the Dog Dragged In!
2) Fountains of Youth!
3) “Gone... Fishing!”
4) “The Monster in the Ice”
Keep reading this bloggy thing for more vintage comic-book covers
from the month of my birth.
I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.
© 2013 Tony Isabella