The Days of EC:

A Critical Examination of the Pulp Books of the Past and What They Can Teach Us About Our Future

The pages were pulpy and the colors were bright, the ink was fresh and the dialogue had been waxed freshly onto each page and all it cost was a nickel to buy. The panels were tight, the stories were tighter, and yet everything was clean, precise, and full of entertainment that made way for what comic books are today.

It was the time of Harvey Kurtzman, Otto Binder, and Carl Wessler.

It was the time of the EC Comics.

A company that was designed to focus entirely on the promotion of genre, the exact goals of the EC books were to market, sell, and push product into the mass market. There was little reliance on other media forms, because what ensured the books’ sales was a high emphasis on the elements of crime, horror, fantasy and sci-fi. However, the real credit to these books’ success was the fact that they were unconventional in the stories they included in their comics and functioned quite differently than the contemporary books seen in stores today. For example, when purchasing an EC comic, which ranged from the titles Tales From The Crypt, House of Fear, The Vault of Horror or the sci-fi fantasy tales like Weird Science and Weird Fantasy, readers were always greeted with an excerpt that went into much detail about what the story would entail and what readers were in store for. The dialogue was something that did not arise until later in the narrative and when it did it was only written in small forms. There weren’t any splash pages, spreads, and certainly no stories that were without an ending. There was only a beginning, a middle, and a conclusion, and every story featured was covered in approximately eight pages. It always concluded with a greeting from the Cryptkeeper or Witch and was constantly paving new ground for new types of stories, and a new issue was ready to be released in the following weeks. Years after their initial run EC comics decided to re-release their titles in a series of marvelous reprints with the intention of showing the public the way comic books once were and how they have changed since.

Now although the industry has changed since then the books that EC once published have essentially become overlooked or forgotten, the essential nature of the books remains highly relevant and can offer valuable learning tools when seeking to understand more about what comics are and how they evolved since.

One thing the creators behind these books mastered was the skill of pacing a story without being burdened by non-essential plots or ideas. Each panel was essential to the next and there was never a scene that could be deemed as unimportant or unnecessary. There was no “come back next week” and each character featured was constructed quickly and the narratives were all made appropriate to the story’s length. And yet despite this, the main goal of the comics was to allow readers to see something deeper, something more than what was presented on the page.

They wanted their readers to think bigger.

It’s no secret that the horror, crime, science fiction, and fantasy that was featured in these titles was ahead of its time, for the stories comprised of big ideas with grand implications about both society as well as mankind. A horror comic by EC almost always began as nothing more than a simple incident, a turn of events that inspired the work of later writers like Stephen King and Alan Moore. Later it was crafted around the idea that someone in the story deserving of a certain act of retribution that was consequential to the deeds the characters committed. A cheating husband was given a form of punishment that balanced out his marriage, a thief was sometimes greeted with suffering that demonstrated that whatever he stole was something that caused his life to end. It was the horror of the justice and was certain to creep and linger within the consciousness of all those who were invested in these stories.

Science fiction followed a similar trajectory, except only these tales were created to promote big ideas that were reminiscent of fiction author Arthur C. Clarke, Issac Asimov, and L. Ron Hubbard. It was raw sci-fi, promoting ideas that were meant to rouse deep thought in the readers’ minds and cause them to ask grander questions about their own existence and perhaps their own purpose.

The integrity of comics depends on the remembrance of books such as this, for they much like an adjunct history professor studying the events of the past these stories provide readers with an appreciation for the future. EC comics introduced readers to tremendous talent that laid the foundations for everything that contemporary readers know now, and although the Tales from The Crypt, The Haunt of Fear, and The Vault of Horror, are retrievable at some local comic stores their reputation is still somewhat buried beneath a mound of more centralized stories, and it must be upturned, and remembered by everyone, including and especially the people like us.

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Jarrett Mazza is a writer and teacher living in Canada. He attended Wilfrid Laurier University and received an Honours Bachelor’s Degree in English and Contemporary Studies as well as a Bachelor of Education from the prestigious Schulich School of Education. He is now in the process of earning an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College in Vermont. He has been fascinated by superheroes and stories for as long as he can remember and studied comic book writing and sequential storytelling from industry professionals Ty Templeton and Andy Schmidt. When he is not self-publishing his own comic books, he is working on his thesis novel, submitting short stories to publishers, obsessing about geek fandom, and looking for new things to read and write.

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1 Comment

  1. Frank Stoaks says:

    What a lovely article about the EC line. I only have a passing familiarity with EC but what I’ve read I’ve really really enjoyed. I do have a soft spot for the genre short stories that publishers like EC, Warren and the Simon and Kirby studio used to do. Reading a story that is done in two to eight pages is a great contrast to the sprawling and humongous continuity of mainstream superhero work. I think it’s a pity that there’s no mainstream comics that I can think of that uses the template of short stories that EC and Warren used. I guess 2000AD but I suppose their best days are behind them perhaps. Anyway, I think I might just go down to my local comic store and pick up some more EC stuff after reading this.

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