THE VAULT OF HORROR ANNUAL VOL. 3 (Gemstone, 1996; Softcover)
Collects The Vault of Horror Nos. 22-26 (cover dates December, 1951/January, 1952- August/September, 1952)
Writers: Johnny Craig, William M. Gaines, Al Feldstein, and Ray Bradbury.
Artists: Johnny Craig, Graham Ingels, Jack Davis, Jack Kamen, Joe Orlando, and Sid Check.
Broken record time- I say this every time I review an EC book but it bears repeating: EC Comics are among the greatest, if not the greatest, comic books ever made. Certainly the best Horror comics ever made. The writing and artwork were always worlds better than they had to be. It was a game for the artists to try and one up and impress each other, and the world reaped the benefits of their art for the sake of art.
These issues were basically the Johnny Craig and Jack Davis show, as they seemed to do the lion's share of the covers and art. We get a healthy (or is it unhealthy?) dose of Ghastly Graham Ingels' macabre genius. There is less emphasis on gore in EC Comics and more emphasis on the twist ending. It is always impressive to see how much story is crammed into so few pages. There is never a story where the characters are not fully explained or fully developed.
I have two favorite stories among this book full of favorites. 99 44/100% Pure Horror! is a tale of an overly ambitious young man who works his way up at the soap factory. He hits a ceiling, though. There is nowhere left to promote him over his current boss, so he comes up with an ingenious way of dealing with that problem. His keepsakes of this event are disturbing, but suffice it to say, always keep the soap out of your eyes in the shower, kids!
What The Dog Dragged In! was an unauthorized adaptation of Ray Bradbury's The Emissary. EC did several of these, and when Bradbury called them on it they paid him. Bradbury even began working with them. Sadly, Bradbury passed away this past year. Pretty much all of the folks who worked on these EC Comics aside from Al Feldstein are dead.
This was perfect Hallowe'en reading. Oh, who am I kidding...I read this stuff all year round. I am thrilled that the EC Archives line has been recently resurrected over at Dark Horse. No matter which way you buy your ECs (Fantagraphics, Dark Horse, Gemstone, or the original issues), you win!
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.
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.
DVD-style Extras included in this book: None.
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. Some of the blacks on the interior pages look weak, but that is the result of the water based inks used in the 1990s.
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. Some folks prefer this comic book feeling paper. I prefer paper with a little more heft.
Binding rating: 4.5 out of 5. The glued binding is over 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.