Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Review- THE HAUNT OF FEAR ANNUAL VOL. 5

THE HAUNT OF FEAR ANNUAL VOL. 5 (Gemstone, 1998; Softcover)
Collects The Haunt of Fear Nos. 21-25 (cover dates October, 1953- June, 1954)
Writer: Al Feldstein
Artists: Graham Ingels, Jack Kamen, George Evans, Jack Davis, and Reed Crandall.

Okay, I know that I sound like a broken record every single time that I review an EC book, but these are the best comic books ever made. The artists are the cream of the crop, with it being a toss up as to who is my favorite. Could it be “Ghastly” Graham Ingels' creepy crawly Gothic-tinged masterpieces? George Evans' frighteningly realistic artwork that looks so good you'd swear that he photo referenced the horrific events that occurred? Jack Kamen's beautifully rendered people doing godawful things to one another? Who could possibly decide? Not I, said the fly.
Artwork by Jack Kamen
I've read so many EC Comics and so many Golden Age Horror comics that it is hard for me to pinpoint who influenced whom and who did “liberal adaptations” of whose work. Some of these stories, like ...Only Sin Deep, seem extremely familiar. In it, a greedy, vain young lady sells her beauty to a seedy pawn shop owner by allowing him to make a wax cast of her facial features. She has one year to redeem the money for her beauty. Once the year is up she grows old and hideous, returns to the pawn shop, etc. I know that there was a variation of this riff on the '80s Twilight Zone series, and that's not the only place that I've heard this song before. If anyone knows where this story idea originally came from, please let me know. I'm curious.
Artwork by Reed Crandall
Wish You Were Here (Issue 22) is a variation on the Monkey's Paw but with a completely different ending. Issue 23's Creep Course finds “Ghastly” Graham Ingels in top form in a story about a co-ed who is flunking out of Ancient History. She plans to seduce her professor and have him give her a passing grade. She has a nightmare that his house has a cellar where he traps other students* and reenacts the events of the Roman Colosseum. *There are reports of three missing students which fed her anxiety. She goes to the professor's house and is relieved to find that he doesn't like ancient Rome at all. I won't give you the ending. Sorry, folks. 
No Silver Atoll! is another favorite of mine. In this George Evans illustrated story, eleven passengers survive a plane crash in the Pacific Ocean and find a tiny, possibly uncharted island and set up a camp. Strange things immediately begin to occur. Things go missing. Strange things, such as quarters, a belt buckle, and a ring. The castaways quickly figure out that everything that is missing is made of silver. Then people start turning up missing once a month during the full moon. You can put the rest together for yourself. I'll say no more. 
Artwork by George Evans
The Old Witch's Grim Fairy Tales, which are bastardizations of Grimm Fairy Tales, are the only stories where the writing and the gags wear thin after a while. They try too hard to be clever. The Jack Kamen artwork in all of them makes them very palatable, however. Issue 25 is the best of the best in this book. All four stories are incredibly clever and well done. 
Artwork by "Ghastly" Graham Ingels
Many modern comic book fans prefer decompressed, text free comic books. They like to “let the pictures do the heavy lifting.” These EC Comics are prime examples of why that storytelling style sucks when compared to well done third (and occasionally first) party narratives. There is so much story and atmosphere crammed into each and every panel without bloated full and double page spreads with minimal story unfolding. EC accomplished more in 5-7 pages than many comics do in 5-7 issues.
These EC Annuals can be ordered directly from Russ Cochran at his site for a paltry $7.50 each. You can't find a better entertainment value for that price anywhere.
Junk Food For Thought rating: 5 out of 5.

The OCD zone- If you do not know what an EC Annual is, then pull up a chair. I'll give you the skinny on these great books. Gemstone overprinted their single issue reprints in the '90s with an eye toward selling their own back issues. They re-purposed this overstock by gluing 5 entire issues into a cardstock cover. While this is not technically a trade paperback (it has no ISBN), it is squarebound and has the title on the spine. Close enough for Rock and Roll in my book. The comics themselves are printed on the mando/heavy pulp paper of the day. The water based inks look fine, although the blacks look weak on this paper, like they didn't sink in correctly. I am not sure if this is the ink or the paper's fault, as I am not an expert on the printing processes used in these books. I can spot bad restoration and reproduction a mile away, but the nuts and bolts of the printing process is outside of my realm of expertise.
William Gaines kept the original artwork, or filmed it, and so what you have are superb presentations of this material with no line dropouts. The color palette is largely faithful to the original material. My only gripe with this book is that the gutters are tight, the result of the material being formatted for Golden Age comics but reprinted in modern comic size, which is slightly narrower. Not all of these Annuals seem to have this problem, so I might just have a slightly “defective” copy of this book.
Linework restoration rating: 5 out of 5.
Color restoration rating: 5 out of 5.
Paper rating: 3.5 out of 5.
Binding rating: 4.5 out of 5. The glued binding is 15 years old and has nary a creak when you flip through it.
Cardstock cover coating rating: 4 out of 5. There isn't much in the way of coating, but this book has a nice thick cover and a fair amount of flex.

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