Horror ECs? How’s bayou?

§ February 21st, 2024 § Filed under publishing § 6 Comments

So some surprising comic news this week, with Oni Press announcing their revival of the EC Comics brand. By which I mean the brand that brought us Vault of Horror and Weird Science, and not, say, anything along the lines of Lucky Fights It Through.

This isn’t the first time that there’s been an attempt at bringing back EC Comics, specifically with new material and not just reprints of the originals. Usually it’s been a revival of the best-known of the ECs, Tales from the Crypt, which has been disinterred at least a couple of times in the last few years with new stories “in the EC tradition” under the familiar TFTC logo. For example, here’s issue #8 of the Papercutz-published version from 2008:

What’s interesting about Oni’s use of the EC brand is that it’s not starting off with yet another Tales from the Crypt series, or a revival of any of the other original titles. Instead, they’re doing brand new series, leaning on the EC brand itself to establish themselves, rather than depending on the name recognition of the title made part of pop culture for modern audiences primarily thanks to a TV show.

As such, they’ve tried to come up with new series names that evoke the EC experience…one working maybe a little better than the other. The first is the wonderfully-titled Cruel Universe:

…and the other is…well, Epitaphs from the Abyss:

…which gets points for trying, I suppose. It’s better than just swapping out synonyms for “tales” or “vault” or “horror” or “fear” I guess, but actually saying the name out loud (as I had occasion to do the other day) it doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue.

That said, the covers look swell, and I like the classic “SCIENCE” and “TERROR” banners in the corners. And they’ve got a pretty solid collection of creators to work on these books to start off, with folks like Jason Aaron, Cecil Castellucci, Peter Krause, Kano, Stephanie Phillips, Malachi Ward, Cullen Bunn, and Jay Stephens, among many others. One hopes that they retain use of the Leroy lettering of the originals, which is as much a part of the look ‘n’ feel of EC as any of its artists.

Another part of what made EC “EC” was its relatively small-ish and consistent roster of artists. Not saying these new ones won’t have great work in them, judging by the creatives announced, but part of the appeal of the originals was knowing you’d get new stories from the regulars. You crack open a Crypt, you expect a Jack Davis story and a Graham Ingels story, and so on. Sure, it wasn’t the same artists in every issue every time, but there was enough consistency that each title, or each genre of title, had its EC “house style,” that you knew what to expect. It’s too early to say what the Oni-era EC is going to do, but are we going to get, say, a Peter Krause story in every issue? Are the majority of the stories going to be written by Cullen Bunn and Jason Aaron in every release?

That’s not how modern anthology books work, and we’re likely to see a much wider range of stories and artwork from far more people than had worked on the originals. More dependence on freelancers than a bullpen (did EC have a literal bullpen?), which isn’t necessarily a comment on resultant quality. But it’ll certainly result in a different feel in the type of books these new releases will be. Beyond the fact that there’ll be about seven decades between the two versions of EC, of course. And there ain’t nuthin’ wrong with more points of view and life experiences informing the stories. (Cue the complaints of “wokeness” from the Usual Suspects, who obviously had never read an EC comic before.)

Trying to capture that EC style has been a continual windmill tilted at by the comic publishers over those decades. Outside of DC and Marvel’s Comics Code-approved “mystery” titles like House of Secrets, which followed in the short story anthology format (and featured plenty of good work of their own), one of the primary spiritual successors to EC is the output of Warren Publishing:

…especially with its own artistic excellence and its willingness to, shall we say, skirt the boundaries of taste in an occasionally tongue in cheek manner.

And one would be remiss to not mention the oeuvre of writer Bruce Jones, responsible for various 1980s EC-type indies like the following:

And even now, Image Comics is publishing Creepshow, a comic inspired by the Stephen King movie that was itself inspired by EC Comics:

This is hardly a comprehensive list, as the original ECs cast a long shadow and many, many publishers and creators have tried to follow in its footsteps. Given the creators involved, the publishing strategy taken with new and not revived titles, and the involvement of original publisher William M. Gaines’ daughter and grandson in this effort, I am at least cautiously optimistic. The immense regard in which EC Comics are held must surely be somewhat daunting to any new folks working on these books, but I am hoping what we get approaches the high precedent set by the originals.

Just don’t forget that Leroy lettering! I MEAN C’MON

6 Responses to “Horror ECs? How’s bayou?”

  • Jim Kosmicki says:

    anybody know where A. Machine has been since Charlton finally went under? They probably need the lettering work…

  • Daniel T says:

    Epitaphs From The Abyss is the title of a Thomas Ligotti book, not an EC-derived comic.

    The best spiritual successor to EC was DC’s Wasteland.

  • Snark Shark says:

    To me, it’s not really ECs without those original creators… yes, they are literally ALL dead by now, so it’s not like I expect that to happen.

    Doesn’t mean they can’t be GOOD, of course. Who knows! Those covers are good.

    I DO recommend Alien Worlds/Twisted Tales and Creepy/Eerie.

    Not Wasteland- I’m afraid I found that one boring.

    ” For example, here’s issue #8 of the Papercutz-published version from 2008″

    OK, that looks like CRAP!

  • Sean Mageean says:

    @Mike Sterling

    That is interesting news–hopefully it will be a lot more successful than the short-lived Atlas Comics revival that Martin Goodman’s grandson attempted a little more than a decade ago. Are there confirmed release dates and price points for the comics yet? That “Cruel Universe” cover is pretty cool, but I can’t say I’m overly thrilled by the listed talent so far–excepting Jason Aaron. I’d much rather have the likes of Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Robert Crumb, Robert Williams, Bill Griffith, Robert Stout, Mark Schultz, Jim Starlin, Bruce Jones, Steve Englehart, Doug Moench, Steve Skeates, Don Glut, John Byrne, Jerry Ordway,
    Frank Brunner, Steranko, P. Craig Russell, Alex Ross, Michael Golden, Paul Gulacy, Paul Smith, Gilbert and Jaime and Mario Hernandez, Howard Chaykin, Alan Davis, Dave Gibbons,etc. contributing stories–that would be a suitable follow up to the original EC Comics.

    Yes, EC Comics did have a Bullpen–that’s where Stan Lee lifted the idea. There is an old satirical drawing that Marie Severin did of all the artists/writers/editors of the EC Bullpen (when I say “all” it was really around a dozen people or so) that was published either in an EC Comic or a fan publication like “Squa Tront.” You can probably Google it and find it.

    As for follow ups to Warren’s Creepy and Eerie magazines, you should give a shout out to Warrant’s Shudder and Vampiress Carmilla magazines–available at your fine shop–which do a great job of capturing the energy and vibe of the defunct Warren mags and even go the extra mile of using Frazetta and San Julian paintings on many covers.

  • Snark Shark says:

    “Warrant’s Shudder and Vampiress Carmilla”

    The covers were great, the art was good, but ths stories weren’t up to snuff.