Monday, July 9, 2012
By "EC ones," Gygax was, of course, referring to those published by Entertaining Comics by William Gaines. Between 1950 and 1955, when EC published three noteworthy titles: Tales from the Crypt, The Vault of Horror, and The Haunt of Fear. All of these titles focused on horror stories, as one might expect, but most were presented with a grim sense of humor that made them more memorable than similar comics produced by other publishers. In addition, the artwork of EC's comics was ghoulishly vibrant, thanks to a variety of in-house and freelance talent. Frank Frazetta and Al Williamson are but two of the illustrators EC employed who would later go on to great acclaim within their profession.
EC Comics ceased publishing its horror titles as a result of mounting public criticism of the subject matter of many comic books, culminating in the formation of the Comics Code Authority, whose code made it increasingly difficult to publish the kinds of darkly humorous stories for which EC was known. By 1955, Gaines gave up on Tales from the Crypt and its siblings to focus instead on Mad. Consequently, EC Comics weren't easy to come by during the late 50s and throughout the 1960s. In time, though, there was a growing nostalgia for them, leading to reprints, the first of which, Horror Comics of the 1950's, was published in 1971. Others would follow.
The local public library I regularly visited had a copy of Horror Comics of the 1950's -- in its children's book section, no less! -- and I vividly remember seeing it on the shelf. I was both horrified and entranced by its depiction of a man trapped in a mausoleum as a corpse opens up its coffin and rises from it. That was my typical response to things horrific as a child: I was frightened but I still wanted to look. I don't know how many times I looked at the cover of this book before I dared to open it, let alone check it out and take it home -- probably years. Eventually, though, I plucked up enough courage to do so and was instantly entranced. Sure, there was still plenty of stuff in it that unnerved me, even giving me weird dreams and nightmares, but I loved it nonetheless. As I got older, I made an effort to seek out more EC Comics and read them, too, an occupation that became a lot easier as the years wore on and more of these classic comics were reprinted.
Others more knowledgeable than I might be able to point which stories Gygax most remembered reading from his childhood and how they might have influenced his conception of fantasy. For me, EC Comics ushered in a lifelong fascination with the undead, with justly ironic punishments, and with black humor, all of which play prominent roles in the games I run. To say they were influential on me is an understatement. If you've never read any for yourself, go ahead and try to find a few. They're readily available nowadays and I think, even if they don't appeal to you, you'll find them a fascinating window on both the early days of comics and the hobby.