Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Review- THE HAUNT OF FEAR ANNUAL VOL. 6

THE HAUNT OF FEAR ANNUAL VOL. 6 (Gemstone, 1999; Softcover)
Collects The Haunt of Fear Nos. 26-28 (cover dates August- December, 1954)
Writers: William Gaines, Al Feldstein, Otto Binder, Carl Wessler, and possibly Jack Oleck.
Artists: Graham Ingels, Bernie Krigstein, Jack Kamen, Jack Davis, George Evans, and Reed Crandall.
Colorist: Marie Severin
EC Comics are the best comic books ever made. Alan Moore? Yes, he's a fine storyteller. European comics from publishers like Humanoids? Absolutely breathtaking. Artists like Marcos Martin? Yes, they are doing great artwork. Yet no matter how many talents I encounter, nothing seems to be able to top EC. It's not nostalgia. Indeed, I didn't read any EC Comics until a decade ago. It's the simple fact that the stories are intelligent, well-crafted, dense, and way ahead of their time. All Horror that came after EC bear it's influence. I see it in The Twilight Zone. I see it in Hitchcock films. I see it in every single slasher flick ever made. Yet none of these capture the brilliance of these comics. I have always found comic books to be an artform with the potential for ultimate expression. You have words which carry weight coupled with the impact of the artwork. I find comics to be even more riveting than film.
The artwork is what also puts EC head and shoulders above their peers, both in the decade they were originally published in or any other. These guys were great, every last one of them. I cannot pick a favorite because it constantly changes. 
Notice the Cryptkeeper reading Wertham's Seduction of the Innocent. Gaines poured gasoline on that fire, didn't he? lol
The heat was on publisher William Gaines and the artists, what with that charlatan Dr. Frederick Wertham and his sensationalist book Seduction of the Innocent. He had the American public so convinced that comic books, especially the type published by EC, were the root of juvenile delinquency and the increase of crime. Distributors blackballed EC because they wouldn't carry the Comics Code Authority and they canceled all of their books except for Mad. There were the New Direction and Picto-Fiction lines, but both were commercial failures. The front inside cover of issue 28 had this printed inside of it. (A facsimile is included in this book.) Note the sarcastic tone and antagonistic nature of Gaines' writing. One of the reasons I named my son William was because of Gaines. He stuck to his guns in the face of overwhelming odds, and the last laugh belonged to him. 
Ghastly Graham Ingels' artwork on issue 26's Marriage Vow is amazing. The writing in that story is equally impressive. It's really difficult to pick out a favorite when all of these stories are so damn good, so I'll just a list a few. Issue 27's Swamped is another gruesome one, a tale of a ghoul (“cannibal” as the kids call them these days) who lives in a swamp. Ingels obviously knew that 28 would be the final issue, because on the splash page of The Prude, he signed “Farewell, Ghastly” under the tearful Old Witch who introduced the tale. 
So I have now finished this title as part of my EC marathon. I am savoring all of these great comic books, and I encourage anyone serious about the artform to read EC. On second thought, don't, because everything else will be found lacking once you experience their brilliance.
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, 3 in the case of this book. They should have put 4 issues in Vol. 5 and 4 issues in Vol. 6, but I digress. 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.
My only gripe with this book is that the gutters are occasionally tight, the result of the material being formatted for Golden Age comics but reprinted in modern comic size, which is slightly narrower. Nothing is lost in the gutters but I thought that I would make a note of this for those who are concerned with such things.
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.
Linework restoration rating: 5 out of 5. William Gaines kept the original artwork, or filmed it, and so what you have here are superb presentations of this material with no line dropouts.
Color restoration rating: 5 out of 5. The color palette is entirely faithful to the original issues with the exceptions of the covers. Marie Severin recolored them all for the EC Library sets, and those same versions are found here.
Paper rating: 3.5 out of 5. The comics themselves are printed on the mando/heavy pulp paper of the day, while the covers are presented on the original slick cover stock.
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.

This particular book is long out of print, but some of these stories can be found in Fantagraphics' artist-centric EC collections at InStockTrades!


2 comments:

  1. what is your opinion on the fantagraphics ec comics reprint's?

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    Replies
    1. I haven't even looked at them, to be honest with you. I don't like the way that they are collecting them by artist rather than title. I would have preferred it if they continued with the EC Archives line.
      That said, I'm sure that the Fantagraphics books are beautifully produced, both in terms "restoration"/scan resolution and paper and binding. I've yet to meet a Fantagraphics book that I haven't liked.
      Any way you slice it, you can't go wrong with EC. These Gemstone Annuals, the Archives, the old Library Sets, these Fantagraphics editions... they are apples, oranges, grapes, or strawberries, and are all delicious.

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