Remember the first comic you picked up? It might have been great, but was probably kind of terrible, and you still found something that you intensely loved about it. That’s why you’re here, right? For me, it was an issue of Tales from the Crypt that I found at my grandparents’ house when I was seven. There were a ton of words, and the drawings were a little static, but they were disgusting. And I loved it.
Dark Horse’s reprint of The Vault of Horror - EC Archives vol 3 is a warts-and-all love letter to these old books that we all loved, and America writ large loved to hate. In this volume, they’ve reprinted issues 24-29 of The Vault of Horror, with the tales ranging from a set of conjoined twins (one of whom has been dead for years), a local city council building a highway over a graveyard with obvious consequences, and a woman performing taxidermy on (taxiderming?) her abusive husband.
EC Comics tend to get looked at with rose colored glasses when we talk about them. They were the victim of the Seduction of the Innocent trials — and to that end, several of these issues include letters from concerned parents that the editors respond to with tact and good sense — and we think of them as the underdogs. But the fact remains that there’s some truly problematic stuff in some of these issues. There’s some cringe-inducing casual racism in basically any issue involving a person of color (which are few and far between), and the women are all either shrews who are trying to keep their men, pure evil, or helpless in the face of the events conspiring around them. About half the stories in these collections where women feature at all would fail Kelly Sue DeConnick’s Sexy Lamp test.
One thing that I’m not sure is a downside: in the process of reprinting these books, Dark Horse has had them all digitally recolored. The coloring looks fine, a little more gradient than I’m used to in books from that period, but they’re also somewhat erasing the work Marie Severin did on all the issues. They maintain in the several repetitive introductions that it was done to meet printing quality standards and the new colorist was doing his best to quote Severin’s work, but still. You can’t just re-do Marie Severin’s work and think that’s totally 100% okay. The lady was a genius. Anyways, moving on.
The upsides: these comic books will teach you everything you need to know about making a comic book. The unspoken thing about these old EC comics is that they are formalist dreamboats. Aside from the heavy use of narration, these comics are tightly plotted and paced, with some of the most expressive faces you’ll see for that period. Johnny Craig, Jack Davis, George Evans… These guys are on a Kirby/Eisner level as far as a book you can take apart and learn everything there is to know about comic books from a single issue. You might learn some “what-not-to-do” lessons about the aforementioned packed narrative captions, or the overuse of exclamation points. (Actual quote: “Emma opened the refrigerator and withdrew a can of frozen orange juice! Then she took a can-opener from a drawer!” It’s the most dramatic frozen orange juice that’s ever been prepared).
The books also have some hidden gems. Issue 29 features an official EC adaptation of “Let’s Play Poison” by Ray Bradbury; for a history nut (and you may have to be to pick this collection up), it’s pretty intriguing to see the back and forth in the letter columns about whether or not EC comics are corrupting the youth of the nation; the short stories in every issue are what we would call flash fiction nowadays, and they’d probably be in a literary mag before they ended up in a comic book.
These books make for a good library collection with the DC Absolute editions and the Marvel Essential reprints. I don’t think you’d regret picking them up one bit. Unless you’ve just eaten…
Writers: Various Artists: Various Publisher: Dark Horse Comics Price: $49.99 Release Date: 1/29/14