Thursday, December 04, 2014

EC Additions

After the comic book red-scare frenzy of the middle 1950s, the Comics Code Authority was put in place and this pulled the teeth from a large portion of creativity in the comics industry. The Code was promoted most loudly and most diligently by John L. Goldwater, the owner of Archie Comics. It was a personal mission of this right wing bastard, and his way of doing his best to put EC Comics out of business. He never forgave them for the "Starchie" parody that Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder produced for an early issue of MAD.

The limitations of the Code seemed obviously worded to shut down EC, which was easily the finest producer of comics the industry has ever seen. No more horror. No more ground-breaking science-fiction stories. No more violence. No more sex. No more bad guys getting away with their crimes. These were the things that had made EC popular with the readers, and without the ability to speak freely and illustrate freely, the company was likely doomed.

William Gaines, the owner, had two choices. Adapt, or perish. He chose initially to try to steer the company in a tamer lane with his "New Direction" line of comics. The artists were largely the same. Gaines paid the highest rates in the industry for story and art, and he only employed the greatest comics artists who were available. The New Direction titles continued this tradition of excellence.

But...the edge was gone. There was no danger to the stories. No bite. The things that the fan base had come to expect from EC were missing, and they failed to support the company's new titles.

The best selling title Gaines had was MAD. He chose to transform that one into a magazine to escape the Comics Code (a brilliant move). That saved that one title and eventually made Gaines the highest paid publisher on Earth. But he was forced to kill off all of the New Direction books, and thus died the finest comics company that ever saw the light of print.

I picked up a couple of New Direction books this week (PIRACY). Gorgeous artwork. The stories are good, but nothing like the yarns from the days before the hated Comics Code. Alas.

A work of brilliance from Bernie Krigstein. Krigstein was one of the best artists ever to turn his hand to comic books and sequential art. He is  also arguably the closest the industry ever got to fine art. At one point he tried to unionize comic book artists and writers, but failed. Eventually, he was forced from the comics industry.

The last issue of PIRACY. Cover by George Evans.

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