“World’s most notorious comics” publisher EC explored in epic Taschen tome

The pioneering comics broke virtually every 1950s taboo in subject matter, and created renowned stories in Tales from the Crypt, MAD and Weird Science.

26 August 2020

Taschen’s latest tome The History of EC Comics is a true behemoth, exploring the entire history of the revolutionary comics publisher over 592 large format pages (and hence weighing over 5.2kg), allowing fans to scrutinise their artwork in all their gory detail. Founded by legendary comic book pioneer M. C. Gaines in 1947, then inherited by his son Bill Gaines, EC Comics went on to reinvent the medium and produce renowned titles such as Tales from the Crypt, MAD and Weird Science. It specialised in publishing morbid horror and crime stories, and published the first true-to-life war comics and “real” sci-fi tales, while gaining notoriety during the 1950s for tackling then-taboo subjects spanning racism, bigotry, vigilantism, drug addition, police corruption and anti-Semitism.

Written and curated by EC-expert Grant Geissman, the compendium starts in the M. C. Gaines era – who is seen as a founding father of the comics industry as it stands, instrumental in establishing the format and introducing characters including the Green Lantern and Wonder Woman. His involvement, though, is in some ways the prelude, as when his son Bill Gaines takes over is when EC really makes its name.

“So why should there be a gigantic, weighty tome in celebration of these comics?” asks Geissman in the introduction to the book. “Put simply, because this lesser-known company had an enormous impact on American pop culture, managing to be both commercially successful as well as boldly innovative.

“At its creative peak in the 1950s… EC reads like a ‘who’s who’ of mid-20th Century comic books,” continues Geissman, citing Al Feldstein, Harvey Kurtzman, Johnny Craig, Wally Wood and others as contributors. Meanwhile, its influence on popular culture reaches beyond the comic book sphere, he explains, with the likes of Stephen King, Stephen Spielberg, Robert Crumb, Terry Gilliam and George Lucas known to be inspired by EC titles.

Eventually, EC’s brave, no-holds-barred approach would be its undoing, as it proved too controversial for its time and was shut down by official agencies following an inquiry into horror and crime comics – those leading the charge believing that its content was causing juvenile delinquency. In the present day, this fact only makes the company’s own tale all the juicier. And visually it is a feast, featuring over 1000 illustrations including the rarest and most infamous covers, panels, photos, vintage original artwork and its best-known stories, across giant 29 x 39.5cm pages.

The History of EC Comics by Grant Geissman is out now, published by Taschen.

GalleryGrant Geissman: The History of EC Comics (copyright Taschen 2020)

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Jenny Brewer

Jenny oversees our editorial output across work, news and features. She was previously It’s Nice That's news editor. Get in touch with any big creative stories, tips, pitches, news and opinions, or questions about all things editorial.

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