EC Comics to the Rescue!

November 11, 2012

Entertainment Comics, usually called EC (comics), was a line of, you guessed it, comics, published in the 1950s by William Gaines, later publisher of Mad Magazine.  I just finished a book, Came the Dawnthat features stories from EC drawn by Wallace Wood. They fall into two categories:  horror tales, e.g. those from Tales from the Crypt; and noir-ish social tales, including straight up crime stuff, but also a lot of stories about mob violence, prejudice, and institutional corruption.  They can be surprisingly blunt and hard-hitting, and the fine upstanding citizens of the small towns and cities of American don’t come off all that well in them.

Gaines, shown below in the 50s and in the 70s, was called before the Congressional committee on juvenile delinquency to testify about his productions.  Estes Kefauver, a full-blown FDR liberal didn’t see the use of this sort of freedom of speech.  Legislative pressure and bad publicity forced him to cease publication of his lurid comics, which had been popular, but we got MAD Magazine out of the deal!  Subversive, maybe, but nobody could say it wasn’t in good taste!

The color cover below was the subject of a particularly amusing repartee between Gaines and the congressional inquisitors:  he didn’t give an inch, but the Congress was not having any of it.  He might not be a communist, but he was clearly a danger to society. I have read online that the audio recordings of the hearings are available at various websites.

Chief Counsel Herbert Beaser: Let me get the limits as far as what you put into your magazine. Is the sole test of what you would put into your magazine whether it sells? Is there any limit you can think of that you would not put in a magazine because you thought a child should not see or read about it?
Bill Gaines: No, I wouldn’t say that there is any limit for the reason you outlined. My only limits are the bounds of good taste, what I consider good taste.
Beaser: Then you think a child cannot in any way, in any way, shape, or manner, be hurt by anything that a child reads or sees?
Gaines: I don’t believe so.
Beaser: There would be no limit actually to what you put in the magazines?
Gaines: Only within the bounds of good taste.
Beaser: Your own good taste and saleability?
Gaines: Yes.
Senator Estes Kefauver: Here is your May 22 issue. [Kefauver is mistakenly referring to Crime Suspenstories #22, cover date May] This seems to be a man with a bloody axe holding a woman’s head up which has been severed from her body. Do you think that is in good taste?
Gaines: Yes sir, I do, for the cover of a horror comic. A cover in bad taste, for example, might be defined as holding the head a little higher so that the neck could be seen dripping blood from it, and moving the body over a little further so that the neck of the body could be seen to be bloody.
Kefauver: You have blood coming out of her mouth.
Gaines: A little.
Kefauver: Here is blood on the axe. I think most adults are shocked by that.

The congressional scrutiny of comics was sparked by a popular book, Seduction of the Innocentby a psychoanalyst, Frederic Wertham.  He was concerned about violence and role models for the young in our society, but just how much of a nincompoop scold, and how much of a thoughtful, but over-zealous crusader against pop entertainment he was, I’m not sure.  The little I have read of him makes him seem more complex than the anti-comics bogey man image, but that’s just Wikipedia talkin’.

The artwork and the stories have a clear relationship with the contemporary film noirs, but the highlighting of social injustice, as injustice, and not just bad luck, and often openly preaching against it, do not.  In the story on the left, a black man is framed and then killed by the chief in a faked escape attempt.  The man on the right is another corrupt chief:  he lets his men beat an innocent man to a pulp to make him confess to a hit-and-run killing he had nothing to do with.  Many of the stories have O’Henry endings:  the black man is killed just after a white man confesses to the crime; the victim of the hit-and-run was the chief’s wife, whom he murdered.

Of course, women, drawn with standard 1950s Playboy fantasy voluptuousness, play a big role in the stories.  I imagine that they kept a lot of readers reading when the social justice themes started to lose their interest, but sometimes they are just plain old noir femme fatales.  In the story below, a seventeen year old piece of  jailbait gives her lover the lowdown so he won’t blow her story about being molested by a harmless old man, killed by a mob led by her hysterical dad.

In the title story, Came the Dawn, we are led to believe that the love bunny is actually a homicidal maniac escaped from a local asylum, but we learn the truth in another one of those surprise endings.  The story does a clever reversal of sex roles, with the man seeming to be the victim and the woman the sexual predator, but she turns out to be really in love after all.

In the panels below, a handsome fellow has just firebombed the house of some Jews who dared to move onto the block, and his wife is horrified.  Worse is coming:  his mother reveals that he was adopted, and that his birth parents were Jews.  Still, that wife is quite a dish!  (The dead Jews weren’t bad looking either…)


Balmy and Clod

June 17, 2011

I remember in sixth grade after a vacation, sitting and listening while each classmate was asked what he or she did over the break.  Several girls responded in this fashion:  “On Monday, I saw Bonnie and ClydeOn Tuesday, I saw  Bonnie and Clyde again.  On Thursday, I saw…”  I saw it too, but only once.

Some people criticized the film for glorifying a couple of outlaws – the usual culture-war stuff in the 1960s and early 70s.  Watching it yesterday, it seemed to me that the bank robbers were portrayed as utterly pathetic losers, uneducated and ignorant, stifled by their small-town lives in an era of economic disaster.

Clyde announces his masculine deficiencies right off, at the very start of the film.  First, symbolically:  He declares to Bonnie that he cut off some toes to escape work detail in prison.  Secondly, after a small robbery and heady getaway, he rejects Bonnie’s frenzied sexual advances and declares, “I ain’t no  lover boy.”  He’s a great shot with a pistol, though.

I was prepared to not like this film – another over-rated artifact of the 1960s effervescence – but, in fact, it is very good.  Spare, and very dark.  The editing is so crisp, keeping the pace going, and commenting on the smallness of the characters and their foolish, clueless self-aggrandizement.  Of course, it all builds towards that concluding fusillade, that made the film such a favorite for my sexually precocious, or curious, female classmates.  Doomed lovers are always a popular theme.

Clyde is impotent, although he does manage to perform at last, near the end.  They drive towards the final ambush, eating fruit, dribbling juice down their faces.  (Reminded me of the pre-sex meal scene in Tom Jones.)  Of course, sex is not what’s coming, or is it?  Sex-Death, the eternal couple, dancing on display here.  Eros and Thanatos.  Bonnie, cheated of earthly ecstasy, seems to achieve it in death.  The stylistic and thematic debt to the too-little-known Gun Crazy is enormous.

And of course, there’s this!


Big deal.

January 20, 2010

Big Deal

There’s nothing more to say, is there?

…except, “Thank You, Alfred!”  

Well, I can say a little more.  To celebrate this milestone, I have listed below fifteen posts that are favorites of mine.  They are not the most visited or most commented:  just the ones that are favorites of mine for one reason or another.  I have listed them in oldest-first order:


Does it get better than this?

October 24, 2009

Political satire at its funniest!

Who better than MAD to satirize the logic of Mutually Assured Destruction, aka MAD?

Thanks so much to Doug and Scott of The Mad Cover site and The MAD Store for digging up this old favorite of mine!


MAD about Wolverton

July 24, 2009

From his "Kiss" series

From the collection of Glenn Bray, on display at this Exhibition.

Wolverton wrote for the comics, for MAD Magazine, where most of his fans probably encountered him, and produced an amazing set of illustrations for the Bible published by the California church of which he was a member.  Looking at his images, it’s clear he was a formative influence on many artists in the undergound comix scene, Art Crumb, among them. (See the Snoid  after looking through Wolvertson’s stuff if you don’t believe me.)

revelation_heat


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