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‘The EC Archives: Terror Illustrated’ HC (review)

Written by Al Feldstein, Jack Oleck, John Larner
Art by Jack Davis, Reed Crandell, Graham Ingels,
Johnny Craig, Joe Orlando, George Evans

Published by Dark Horse Comics/E.C. Comics


Terror Illustrated is the new book collecting the rare 1950s Picto-Fiction title from E.C. Comics, complete with the third issue that only saw print in the Russ Cochran slipcase collection decades later (which I didn’t get so these were all brand-new to me).

Essentially the Picto-Fiction titles were Gaines and Feldstein’s attempt at getting E.C. out of hot water with the public by leaving comic books behind entirely and inventing something new, for adults.

What they invented was basically a magazine combining elements of comic books with elements of pulp novels.

They still had the horror stories, and they were still heavily illustrated, only now they weren’t quite as gory. The art–mostly by E.C. veterans–was more traditionally illustrative, with no word balloons in sight but lots of text–sometimes entire pages of it.

It’s that text that’s the problem. The stories here aren’t particularly bad in any way but neither are they particularly memorable. E.C.’s editor and chief writer Al Feldstein writes the bulk of them under various pen names (including “Alfred E. Neuman,” not yet assigned to the Kid over at Mad). While on the surface he would seem the perfect person for the job, it comes across to me as though he just didn’t have the experience writing non-comics stories.

The very first story, “The Sucker,” is one of several herein written in second person, which, has always been cringeworthy to me. As far as I’m concerned, the only time second person ever worked was on some radio series like The Whistler, and even then the narrator comes off as obnoxious and arrogant, just like he does here.

Jack Oleck, another sometime E.C. writer, contributes to every issue as well. Many years later, while working on similar stories in DC’s so-called “mystery” line of comics, Oleck would also novelize the two 1970s E.C. movies.

Some of the stories such as the second issue’s “Head Man” are typical of the trademark E.C. shock ending stories, while others, as noted above, read very much like they were lifted from radio scripts. Knowing as we do now that E.C. was strongly influenced by radio, they may well have been.

But no, it’s not the stories here that make this book worth having. The reason E.C. Comics was always better than its 1950s competition was the art. The reason E.C. as a company is still lionized in its own burgeoning fandom here in the 21st century is its art. The reason to buy this book–and I’m going to assume you saw this coming–is its art.

It’s tough to say which artist comes across best here. Story after story I found myself simply awed by the talents of men whose comics work I’ve been familiar with for as long as I can remember. Reed Crandall is perhaps the star here. I’ve written on more than one occasion that Crandall was too good for comics. This book proves that.

My favorite though was a surprise even to me and that’s George Evans! Evans draws a story in every issue and his work here just blows me away. Always reliable but never a major favorite of mine, here, to me, he stands out in a sea of standout artwork.

That other artwork also includes some of the best I’ve ever seen from Joe Orlando, Johnny Craig, and Graham Ingels. Also, the lesser-known Charles Sultan. When the great Jack Davis is bringing up the rear, you know this is good stuff.

There’s a brief Foreword from cult film director Mick Garris and a couple of very informative pages from E.C. historian Grant Geissman deftly explaining how the stories in this volume came to exist in the first place. Obviously, Terror Illustrated quickly failed, as did the Picto-Fiction line in general–an interesting experiment, leaving poor E.C. to direct all its energy to its last remaining title–Mad. In the end, I guess you could say that kind of worked out for all concerned.

Beautifully packaged by Dark Horse as part of its E.C. Archives series, Terror Illustrated is, of course, a must for the E.C. Fan-Addict of any age. If you’re just looking for a good, scary read, you could do a lot worse. If you’re a fan of any one or all of the artists herein, you’ll be in heaven.

Booksteve recommends.  


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