TALES FROM THE CRYPT ANNUAL VOL. 1 (Gemstone, 1994; Softcover)
Collects The Crypt of Terror # 17-19 and Tales From The Crypt # 20, 21 (cover dates April/May, 1950- December, 1950/January, 1951)
Writers: Al Feldstein, Gardner Fox, Johnny Craig, and Ivan Klapper
Artists: Al Feldstein, Johnny Craig, Bill Fraccio, George Roussos, Wally Wood, Harvey Kurtzman, Graham Ingels, and Jack Kamen
|The first few EC Annuals did not have the title printed on the spine.|
While not the first Horror comic book, Tales From The Crypt was the title that put the genre on the map. Like every other comic book company, EC dabbled in lots of genres (Westerns, Crime, Science Fiction). The seeds of the genre that they would become synonymous with, Horror, were laid in the last few issues of War Against Crime! and Crime Patrol. They inserted tales under the banners The Vault Of Horror and The Crypt Of Terror on the cover while simultaneously coining their future phrase SuspenStory. Vault Of Horror was launched the same month as this title, and EC's New Trend Direction was on. Haunt Of Fear would follow one month later.
I read all of these comics years ago in Tales From The Crypt Archives Vol. 1. When you compare these issues to those later in the series, two things become apparent. The first is that the trademark EC ironic twist ending, later employed by Rod Serling in The Twilight Zone, isn't quite perfected yet. There are more “happy endings” in these early issues than there would be later on in the series. The second is that EC employed more comic book journeymen than they would within a few issues. EC later had their stable of artists who did very little work outside of EC during that time. Those artists do contribute here as well, but we see folks like George Roussos and Gardner Fox who are known to fans of DC and Marvel Comics of the 1960s.
Al Feldstein's stories are strong right out of the gate, with his rock solid linework adding a confidence to the proceedings. While not as moody as Graham Ingels or as kinetic as Johnny Craig, Feldstein is the “voice” of this series as far as I'm concerned. Jack Kamen is my favorite of the EC artists stable, with artwork of beautiful people put into horrific circumstances.
The ironic EC twist ending is executed effectively for the first time in #20s A Fatal Caper. #21's Terror Ride, on the other hand, has so happy an ending that is seems anticlimactic. Your mileage may vary. I'm not complaining, mind you. I know that the best of this series is yet to come, and I've read every issue before.
Next to my beloved Spider-Man, EC are my favorite comic books. They are certainly the gold standard for Horror comic books. Without EC we wouldn't have the works of Stephen King or John Carpenter, as these comics were a huge influence on their young minds. Believe the hype and pick up some reprints of these comics. You can thank me later.
Junk Food For Thought rating: 4.75 out of 5.
The OCD zone- Gemstone overprinted their single issue reprints in the '90s with an eye toward selling their own back issues. They re-purposed this overstock by trimming and 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.
Linework and Color restoration: The linework is excellent, photographed from the original art. The color palette is faithful to the original publication except for the covers, which are all recolored. All of these recolored covers look inferior to the original versions, especially #21, where the recoloring changes the hair color of the judge in the story. Ridiculous.
Paper stock: Standard pulp paper of the day. The pro is that this looks and feels like a real comic book. The con, and it is a very large one, is that this will age and yellow, just like real comic book paper. I am admittedly less and less worried about this sort of thing as time goes by, as I will likely be dead and gone before this book deteriorates too badly.
Binding: Perfect binding (which is fancy talk for glued). If it hasn't fallen apart in 23 years I am not going to lose sleep over it. The gutters are a bit too tight for my taste.
Cover notes: The cover of the first few Annuals, like this one, did not have a cardstock cover. They had a thick glossy paper cover. This is basically a very fat comic book with a really thick cover. There are only a handful of EC Annuals with the paper covers; the rest have cardstock covers.