EC Comics

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A short-lived but influential publisher of Anthology Comic books.

EC Comics, aka "Entertaining Comics" and "Educational Comics", was founded in 1944 by Maxwell Gaines with the aim of producing fact-based comic books aimed at churches and schools. After his death in 1947, his son William Gaines inherited the business, producing comic books in typical genres: western, crime, romance. Starting in 1949, the younger Gaines began introducing the "New Trend" series focusing on horror (Tales from the Crypt, The Vault of Horror, The Haunt of Fear), crime (Crime SuspenStories), realistically depicted war (Two-Fisted Tales, Frontline Combat) and Science Fiction (Weird Science, Weird Fantasy). The horror, science fiction and crime stories almost invariably had a Twist Ending. EC made extensive use of the Karmic Twist Ending before The Twilight Zone ever aired. (They stayed clear of the Cruel Twist Ending.)

A combination of evocative (if sensationalistic and florid) writing and excellent art by some of the top comic book artists of the time, combined with outreach to the fans, quickly caused EC's sales to skyrocket. In addition to a strong theme of often gruesome poetic justice, EC's titles often tackled social issues of the day, especially in their science fiction and suspense books.

EC was not shy about "borrowing" ideas from prose stories and were caught at it by Ray Bradbury, but they were able to negotiate a settlement, and published several fine and very faithful authorized adaptations of his work.

This was also the birthplace of a little comic book called Tales Calculated to Drive You Mad, a satire and comedy title. Its first issues sold poorly, but it soon found enough of a following to inspire a number of imitators, including one published by EC itself (Panic).

But it was Too Good to Last. A groundswell of outrage from the Moral Guardians of the mid-1950s led to a Congressional investigation of possible ties between comic books and juvenile delinquency. To protect themselves from possible government censorship, the comic book publishers established the Comics Code in 1954. William Gaines, although he'd initially been in favor of the idea, felt the code adopted was far too restrictive and gave the Code authorities too much opportunity for Executive Meddling.

After distributors refused to carry comic books without the Comics Code Authority stamp, Gaines reluctantly signed EC up to the service. This required canceling several series, some of them the company's best sellers, as the magazines' very titles violated the Code. Despite a valiant attempt at a "New Direction" focusing more on social realism than horror, EC remained blacklisted by many newsdealers, and found itself too frequently clashing with the CCA executives. Gaines tried to carry on the tradition of adult-oriented stories with the Picto-Fiction magazines, but they didn't sell.

Notoriously, EC was told to change the ethnicity of a character in a reprint of the classic Does This Remind You of Anything? story "Judgment Day." This was the last straw, and the story was reprinted unchanged in the final comic book published by the company.

The black-and-white Mad Magazine, which had switched from the comic medium for reasons unrelated to the Code, ultimately became the sole surviving EC publication and went on to decades of success. But the influence of EC has continued through multiple reprints, homages by subsequent horror and SF writers, a pair of early-'70s British feature films, and the television series Tales from the Crypt.

Tropes used in EC Comics include:
  • Actually Not a Vampire: a resolution in one "guess what this person is" story. Since this was a story in EC Comics, it didn't end there.
  • Anthology Comic
  • Asshole Victim: See Karmic Death.
  • Brown Note: One story was about aliens so hideous that any human seeing them would be driven insane. It came with an editor's note explaining that the representation of the aliens on the page was deliberately toned down so as not to lose the readership.
  • Cats Have Nine Lives: "Dig That Cat, He's Real Gone"
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: A staple of the horror comics.
  • Hurricane of Puns: The horror hosts were prone to these, in a tradition stretching back to Raymond, the host of Inner Sanctum.
  • Karmic Death: Another staple of the horror comics.
  • Mondegreen: The twist of the Shock SuspenStories tale "Raw Deal". The man they rescued from sea? He's not screaming that he hates his wife, he's screaming that he ate his wife.
  • Narrator: The three horror hosts, the Crypt Keeper of Tales from the Crypt, the Vault Keeper of The Vault of Horror and the Old Witch of The Haunt of Fear, not only introduced the stories and provided epilogues, but also cracked jokes at the readers' and each other's expense.
  • Orphanage of Fear: "Halloween"
    • And a Home For The Blind Of Fear in "Blind Alleys."
  • The Parody: Mad and Panic.
  • Patriotic Fervor: The townspeople in "The Patriots" lean towards the worse side of this, suspecting a man who fails to remove his hat in the presence of an American flag to be a "foreigner and a Commie" and beating him to death. Turns out the so-called Commie was, in fact a blind American war veteran.
  • Phlegmings: Popular with the horror hosts.
  • Robots Enslaving Robots: "Judgment Day" has robots who are prejudiced based on the color of their casings.
  • Self-Made Orphan: "The Orphan"
  • Suddenly Ethnicity: "Judgment Day".
  • Time Travelers Are Spies: "...For Us the Living" (Weird Fantasy #20) begins with an atomic scientist being arrested as a spy for a foreign power. The scientist admits his identifying documents are all forged because he came from an alternate time-branch in which Abraham Lincoln escaped assassination and brought peace to the world.
  • Twist Ending: Almost all variations, to the point of being the Mandatory Twist Ending. Usually examples of the Karmic Twist Ending.
  • Walls of Text: Notoriously, the script was always written first, often directly on the storyboard, so that the art was stuck wherever it could fit.
    • This was averted, however, by Harvey Kurtzman who storyboarded his scripts before giving them to other artists. His work employs very different pacing and tone than the other stories.
  • What the Hell, Townspeople?: In the Shock SuspenStory "In Gratitude..." an injured white war vet ends up giving his hometown kind of callout after they choose to recognize him for his valor, but wouldn't even bury his black friend, who had saved his life in the first place, in the town cemetery.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: "The Precious Years"