It’s been almost 3 years since Gemstone discontinued their EC Archives series, which is really too bad because those are some excellent collections of some legendary comics. Any comics fan of worth should have some EC titles in their collection. Back in the 50’s the sort of individuality and storytelling that was displayed in an EC comic was almost unheard of. Three years is a long time in comics so when I discovered this news and realized it wasn’t reported on so-called ‘respectable’ comics news sites, I took it upon myself to spread the good word. I’m disappointed that this news got so little play that it didn’t come to my attention until about a week ago.
Fantagraphics Books President and Co-Publisher Gary Groth announced today at Comic-Con International that it has entered into a publishing agreement with William M. Gaines Agent, Inc. to publish the EC Comics Library, beginning in Summer 2012. The announcement teams two of the most storied comics publishers in history and aims to reintroduce the timeless work of EC to contemporary readers.
Fantagraphics will re-package the EC Comics (with the exception of MAD, which is now owned by DC Comics/Time Warner) in a series of handsome hardcovers devoted to specific artists and writers. While virtually all previous EC collections have been published by comic book title, Fantagraphics will collect the comics by artist, allowing fans to finally own single-volume tomes collecting the work of their favorite creators.
“It pleases me greatly to be in partnership with such an influential company as Fantagraphics,” said Cathy Gaines Mifsud, President of William M. Gaines Agent, Inc. “It’s a pleasure to be working with a company that shares similar values, yet retains unique and distinct creativity. I trust them fully to carry on the iconic EC brand.”
Entertaining Comics may have been the greatest mainstream publisher in comics history, with an attention to quality and consistency that has never been rivaled. Under the stewardship of William Gaines (who took over the company from his father, Max Gaines, in 1947), EC’s “New Trend” line employed a Murderer’s Row of writers and artists including Harvey Kurtzman, Wally Wood, Jack Davis, Johnny Craig, Al Feldstein, Reed Crandall, Will Elder, Frank Frazetta, Graham Ingels, Jack Kamen, Bernard Krigstein, John Severin, Al Williamson, Joe Orlando, and many others.
“EC was the most consistently literate and quality-minded publisher in the history of mainstream comics,” said Groth. “Editors Al Feldstein and Harvey Kurtzman were aware that comics was an artistic medium in a way that few editors did, and publisher Bill Gaines was unique in taking a hands-on approach to his comics line, choosing his editors wisely, giving them such editorial freedom and latitude, and taking such personal pride — and responsibility — in his comics. This was simply unheard of in mainstream comics; if more publishers had had Gaines’ integrity, the history of comics would’ve been vastly different.”
Like most of its contemporaries, EC specialized in genre fiction, specifically horror, crime, science-fiction, war, and satire, with several titles that seeped into the public consciousness long after their demise, including Tales from the Crypt, Two-Fisted Tales, Weird Science, and of course MAD. Unlike most of its contemporaries, Gaines and his staff took great pride in crafting socially aware works that transcended their genres. “At a time when comics were considered sub-literate junk by the reading public, Gaines and the EC creators were impressing people like Ray Bradbury with the aesthetic possibilities of the medium. That was no mean feat,” Groth added.
The first four books in the series will be:
• “Corpse on the Imjin” and Other Stories by Harvey Kurtzman. This will reprint all the war stories Kurtzman wrote and drew himself in Two-Fisted Tales and Frontline Combat, including all 23 of his covers — each a masterpiece in its own right. This volume will also include all the war stories that Kurtzman wrote and laid out but were drawn by artists who weren’t regularly featured in his war books: Gene Colan, Joe Kubert, Alex Toth, Dave Berg, Ric Estrada, Russ Heath, and others. (The regulars were Jack Davis, John Severin, Wally Wood, and George Evans, each of whom will later be the subject of their own war comics collections). Kurtzman’s war comics are still considered to be the gold standard for the genre, with a devotion not only to historical accuracy but also to resisting any impulse to glamorize wartime; a WWII veteran himself, Kurtzman’s humanistic approach was in stark contrast to the simple minded, jingoistic efforts of EC’s rival publishers, and paved the way for other popular media to depict the true face of war.
• “Came the Dawn” and Other Stories by Wally Wood: Though often remembered for his science-fiction work, Wood’s heavy, noirish brushstrokes were perfectly suited for EC’s rough-hewn suspense stories in (the appropriately titled)Shock SuspenStories and this volume will collect them all for the first time.
• Jack Davis’s horror stories (exact title t.b.a.): Jack Davis’s gift for caricature has made him an icon in the advertis- ing world and helped define MAD magazine, but he was also one of the most versatile cartoonists of his generation; after “Ghastly” Graham Ingels, Davis was EC’s most prolific horror artist, appearing in all three of EC’s horror titles —Haunt of Fear, Vault of Horror, and Crypt of Terror. This will collect the entirety of Davis’s horror work, all of which was written by Al Feldstein.
• Al Williamson’s science-fiction stories (exact title t.b.a.): EC published two SF comics — Weird Fantasy and Weird Science — and Williamson was one of the stars, with an illustrative style that carried on the tradition of the great adventure comic strips like Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon. This volume will compile all 174 pages of Williamson’s SF stories.
“EC featured many of the best artists working at the time — innovators like Kurtzman, Bernie Krigstein, and Johnny Craig, illustrators like Al Williamson and Jack Kamen, and renaissance cartoonists like Wally Wood, Will Elder, and Jack Davis,” said Groth. “Many of these artists did the best work of their careers for EC, and that is directly attributable to the creative environment Gaines created.”
Fantagraphics will be publishing four EC collections a year, beginning in Summer 2012.