Tuesday 18 October 2011

It's just comics- part 2

After dismissing the big Nostalgia EC HORROR book in my previous part, I remembered there was another story worth mentioning. It was crime story that evoked the style of what would later be called 'film noir.' It was one of a group of stories by a writer named Carl Wessler, made after Gaines and Feldstein started out-sourcing some of the scripting in 1953. This is from Shock Suspenstories in the last year of EC's colour comic books. It has those huge blocks of text that make EC problematic for the comics theory purists, but they've never bothered me unless they're tediously written, which was more often than not. This one does the tough first person voice-over appropriate to type. The narrator has been hired for 500 bucks to bump a guy off: 'a five-c-note for a couple'a hours work.'

Shock Suspenstories #17- Oct 1954 Wessler/Evans

Typical of an EC story, you don't need to read the whole thing to get the point, though I would be happy enough on any day to look at six pages of George Evans drawings with no story attached at all. Going straight to the end, the assassin chases his prey all over the place, finally down a stairway and into an unlit room. Suddenly the lights go on and he finds himself fatefully onstage in a small theatre. "It turns out I've walked in on the opening scene of a play about President McKinley and the guy what shot him. It's called "The Assassin". There's a twist, huh? Whose picture do you suppose is on a five-c-bill? Yeah..."

The EC CRIME comics as a whole were actually a cut above other publishers' attempts, due entirely to Johnny Craig being the editor/writer of Crime Suspenstories. He also drew one of the four stories in each issue. Here's an example of a daring splash page by Craig. There's something about the colour doubled under the black lines on the figures that creates a very unusual 3D effect, visible even in this scan. It would be easy to characterize this as a happy accident, but I can think of many messes that have been made by colourists mistakenly thinking that any colour combined with black will be invisible. (this is a reprint and may not reflect the original presentation).

Crime Suspensetories #2- Dec 1951- by Johnny Craig

The story is about a criminal who realises he looks just like a certain millionaire who is ailing in a rest home. He kills the guy, takes his place, and makes a swift recovery. Taking over the guy's life, he now realizes the rich guy got rich by devious financial practices and is not well liked. A trio of brothers whose father has just committed suicide on account of the rich bloke, come visiting and haul the 'rich guy' out into a very secluded spot, with the obvious intention of doing him in. The guy spills his guts about how he's not the rich guy but just a chancer who bumped him off and took his place. He's a ringer in other words. The trio are not sure whether to believe him and shoot him anyway, finishing with the punchline, "Now he's a DEAD ringer." And so you see the EC practice of building an entire story around a pun.

I haven't seen any crime comics that were half as good as Craig's, but for further reading, Santiago Garcia, recently transplanted to the USA and findiing himself at the Baltimore Comic Convention, picked up a handful of issues of Crime Does Not Pay, published by Lev Gleason, edited by Charles Biro, the first of the CRIME comics (1942-54) and wrote three long appraisals of them (read from the bottom up). I can't look at those Biro books without wondering how he thought all that garish colouring was a good idea. Marie Severin coloured the EC books in a more thoughtful way, though if she did every one of them I can't imagine there was much time for thinking.

But hey, It's just comics. They were churned out like a factory product. The things that make them still work, if they do, are almost accidental, the choice of an artist, or a story that is good in spite of itself, or somebody cared more than they needed to.

(I'm still adrift from my original destination... more to come)

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Blogger Sebastián Cabrol said...

Eddie: I feel something strange when i see the "old" flat colouring; my mind says that all that method is gone, and re-use it (re-creating it on the computer) would be like admiting a strong depending on nostalgia and the years that would never return. But my heart considers that solid, vivid colours to be a living thing, not dead but only sleeping. i´ts confusing. Excuse my english, and regards from Argentina.

18 October 2011 at 15:21:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Matthew Adams said...

Ha, I feel the same Sebastian.

18 October 2011 at 17:59:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Santiago García said...

I see a lot of modern cartoonists using flat colors to good effect. I can't imagine Chris Ware's or Daniel Clowes' works any other way, for example, and I can't imagine anyone more modern.

18 October 2011 at 18:09:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Jeet Heer said...

Yeah, Johnny Craig's horror and suspense stories are really great, definitely a cut above the EC norm (I think it helped that he wrote and drew them -- the stories don't have the textual overkill typically of EC comics). I'm looking forward to the Fantagraphics EC collections which will be divided by cartoonists -- the Kurtzman volumes will be a treasure as will the Craig volumes.

18 October 2011 at 22:53:00 GMT-5  

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