A Late Valentine

Haunt of Fear No. 12When I was a kid, I thought comics sucked. The only mainstream comic I ever read was Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth. It was written and drawn by Jack Kirby. But it definitely wasn’t the art I liked. Kirby is a really important comic book artist. He more or less created Marvel Comics as we now know it. And his style was totally new: extreme perspective implying lots of motion. But it was Kirby the storyteller that I liked. (Stan Lee is overrated.)

What I liked about Kamandi is that it is a post-apocalyptic story about a kid on his own. The stories were interesting, unlike the stupid stories about Spiderman and the Fantastic Four. I’m just not into superheroes. But something like Kamandi, though rare, was interesting.

Then in 1971, East Coast Comix started publishing reprints of the EC Comics from the 1950s. They focused on the horror comics—Tales from the Crypt, The Vault of Horror, and The Haunt of Fear—but published other things like their western and war titles. I was in love!

To start, these comics were really well drawn by people like Jack Davis and Ghastly (Graham Ingels). Davis is (still alive at 87) just great, but Ghastly: he was, well, ghastly. When you read comics he drew, you try not to touch the pages for fear the ink will come off. No one could draw someone’s heart being ripped out of their chest like Ghastly!

What was most important about all the EC comics was how well they were written. Unlike superhero comics, you didn’t know how they were going to end. Sure, EC had its cliches. In particular, they loved revenge stories—especially in the horror titles. I remember one from Haunt of Fear No. 12 (This is probably not exactly right—I haven’t read it for 30 years!):

There is a nice old widower garbage man. During his work, he grabs broken toys and such. Then he repairs them and gives them to the local children, who understandably love him. Two evil real estate types (think: Mitt Romney) want his house for some development deal they are cooking up. But the old man refuses to sell. So the evil duo go about setting the town against him. They spread rumors that he is a terrible person and that he lives in filth. On valentines day, they get all the people to send him vicious cards. The old man disappears. Finally, the authorities break into his house and find that the old man has hanged himself, but they are surprised to see what a nice tidy place he has. A year goes by and the old (dead) man claws his way out of his coffin. He finds the younger of the evil men and kills him. He then sends the man’s heart to the other as a valentine.

Great right? At least for a ten-year-old.

Maybe the stories weren’t so great. There’s no doubt they were much better than all the other comics of the time. But I suspect they were great. William Gaines and Al Feldstein (still alive at 86) pulled stories from a lot of great sources. I first read H. P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, and Oscar Wilde in the pages of EC Comics.

What’s more, EC Comics introduced me to a whole world of comic books that were more than the popular tripe of the day: from Bernie Wrightson[1] and Vaughn Bodē[2] at that time to so many talented artists today. Just the same, I wish comic books were not called “graphic novels” and that they weren’t sold in Barnes & Nobel.

Here is the story of EC Comics, a video made for the Horror Hall Of Fame awarding publisher William Gaines:


[1] Some of Bernie Wrightson’s work:

Bernie Wrightson

[2] Some of Vaughn Bodē’s work:

Vaughn Bodē Schizophrenia

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