Monday, December 11, 2006

Graphic Lit: The EC Archives

Last week, I took a look at two commendable collections of some classic comic strips. Today, I thought I'd take a look at some other noteworthy compendiums, starting with a new attempt to archive one of the most famous comic book publishers ever: E.C.

Back in the 1950s, the E.C. line was known for its high-quality horror, crime and science-fiction titles (not to mention a little humor book called "Mad").

Unfortunately, the graphic (for the time) nature of these books was decried by social advocates who saw them as the '50s equivalent of "Grand Theft Auto." The vilification by folks like psychiatrist Frederic Wertham led to congressional hearings and the industry's creation of the Comics Code, which neutered the art form for decades.

E.C.'s owner, William M. Gaines, eventually quit the comics business and turned "Mad" into a magazine, but the original comics are known and loved to this day by collectors young and old.

"The E.C. Archives" attempts to collect all of the company's books in an ambitious series of lush hardcovers. Two books have come out so far, "Weird Science Vol. 1" and "Shock SuspenStories Vol. 1."

Each volume collects the first six issues of its respective series, including the original ads and letter pages. George Lucas and Steven Spielberg provide introductions for the first two books.

The E.C. series were known for their "shock" twist endings, many of which seem forced and awkward today. For every genuinely nail-biting tale there's one that seems like a third-rate "Twilight Zone" episode.

A bear hunter IS TURNED INTO A RUG! A furrier from the future visits a planet WHERE THE ANIMALS WEAR PELTS MADE OUT OF PEOPLE! An effeminate man marries solely for business reasons because HE'S A ROBOT! (Actually, that last one's kinda good.)

If the plots could be hackneyed, the art was anything but. Virtuoso craftsmen like Jack Davis, Wally Wood, George Evans, "Ghastly" Graham Ingles, Harvey Kurtzman (the driving force behind "Mad") and many more lent their considerable talents. The amount of talent inside the average E.C. comic is staggering.

Publisher Gemstone has gone to considerable effort, and the hard work shows; the books look great. However, the high price and extensive number of titles ("Tales from the Crypt" and "Two Fisted Tales" will come out soon) mean these books are primarily for devoted collectors and those with deep pocketbooks.

Fans will no doubt adore "The E.C. Archives," but I'd love to see someone try to do a coffee-table-sized, one-volume collection of E.C.'s creme de la creme. For those of us on a budget.

Other recent treasuries

"Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip, Vol. 1,"
Drawn and Quarterly, 96 pages, $19.95.

Though beloved around the globe, Jansson's "Moomin" books aren't well known in the U.S. Hopefully, this book, collecting the initial run of the comic strip spin-off, will fix that problem.

Like "Peanuts," Jansson's strip combines melancholy and whimsy to delightful effect. It's a wonderful, delicate little strip that parents should share with their children whenever possible.

"Passionella and Other Stories"
by Jules Feiffer, Fantagraphics, 232 pages, $19.95.

Flush with "Peanuts" money, Fantagraphics has been reworking some of its other projects, including this fourth volume in the "Collected Feiffer" series.

There's some lovely material here, enough so the book works on its own merits -- you won't feel the need to track down the other volumes first. Stand-out stories include "The Lonely Machine," "Harold Swerg" and "The Relationship."

"The Real-Great Adventures of Terr'ble Thompson!"
by Gene Deitch, 104 pages, $18.95.

Most recently seen in Dan Nadel's "Art Out of Time," Terr'ble Thompson is the great comic strip that almost was -- Deitch giving it the ax after only six months when his animation career began to take off.

Thompson is an irrepressible little boy who, he insists, has had a hand in every significant moment in history. And indeed, Cleopatra and Christopher Columbus show up, eager for his help. The end result is a joyful, silly strip that makes you wonder what might have been if Deitch had stuck with it.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2006


At 11:39 AM, Anonymous DrMindbender said...

How are the coloring jobs on the EC reprints? I remember the first wave of double sized Gladstone reprints looked much more faithful to the originals than the more recent chronological ones which are pretty garish and overly bright.

At 10:14 PM, Blogger Chris said...

I think they look pretty good, though the colors may be overly bright. Definitely not garish though. A solid job overall.


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