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EC-esque Undergrounds by Joseph Fiore
 

“The EC story that implanted itself most vividly in my [Skip Williamson] unfledged psyche was one illustrated by Jack Davis featuring a baseball game where intestines were the baselines, a human heart was home plate and a head was the ball” [1]

 

“I [Robert Crumb] had seen the first issue of Mad comics on the newsstand and I remember being bewildered by it!  ‘It's Melvin!'  What does this mean?” [2]

 

Its been some time since I've contributed any Underground-related material for the newsletter. Several distractions at work and at home account for the absence, however there is some exciting material being put together as we speak. This months newsletter features the contributions of Justin Farrell. Justin is both an advisor and one of the most significant contributors to the forthcoming HippyComix Underground Price Guide. You can also say that Justin and I share a similar interest in seeing Underground Comix receive the recognition they so rightfully deserve. So without further delay, I give you this months newsletter article entitled EC-esque Undergrounds by Justin Farrell.


Entertainment Comics (EC) was a publisher of comic books specializing in crime, horror, humor, war and science-fiction from the 1940s through the 1950s.  Both ECs and Underground comix (UGs) exhibited a wider array of content than the more conventional superhero comics that were their contemporaries or preceded them.  It is this wide array of imaginative content, particularly the horror and crime stories, that led to the formation of the Comics Code Authority (EC) and its eventual subversion (UG).  Collectors now recognize that the diversity of content to be found within UGs to be wide as the human experience (Sex, drugs, rock & roll, racism, sexism, classism, etc.), where the only censorship was self-imposed.  Because of this, comic historians such as Jerry Weist have posited that the three main historical developments within comics are symbolized by Action Comics #1, Mad #1, and Zap Comix #1. [3]   Indeed, the ties between EC comics and UG comix are very strong.  EC proved a major influence on the future underground cartoonist's and the references in both content and visual stylization are numerous.  Therefore, one can loosely define an “EC-esque Underground” as being comix that are (1) by former EC artists, (2) heavily influenced by EC in content, or (3) contain overt EC pastiche. 

 

With the publication of Mad at the editorial helm of Harvey Kurtzman, the future UG cartoonists got their start in early EC fandom.  A group of Mad inspired humor and satire fanzines began to appear, including Jay Lynch's Jack High, Robert & Charles Crumb's Foo, Don Dohler's Wild, and Skip Williamson's contributions to both Wild & Smudge. [4]   Kurtzman, beyond editing Mad, was equally well known for the long-running Little Annie Fanny stories in Playboy magazine from 1962 to 1988. [5]   Kurtzman also served as editor for Warren 's Help! from 1962 to 1966, which gave the first national exposure to key UG artists and writers Gilbert Shelton, Robert Crumb, Joel Beck, Jay Lynch, Rand Holmes, and Skip Williamson. [6] [7]   Kurtzman's other contributions to UG Comix include the self-titled Kurtzman Komix (1976) and the Mad homage cover to Bijou Funnies #8. 

 

Wally Wood's fanzine witzend, with an emphasis on early graphic stories, is generally regarded as another forerunner of the UG comix movement of 1960s-70s. [8]   Published on an irregular schedule throughout the 1960s, the early issues featured the creative talents of EC veterans Wood, Will Elder, Harvey Kurtzman, Don Martin, Reed Crandall, Frank Frazetta, Al Williamson, and Roy Krenkel alongside early work by the UG standouts Art Spiegelman, Vaughn Bode, Richard “Grass” Green, and Roger Brand (Wood's assistant).  Wood later added more titles to his UG portfolio, including a cover to Big Apple Comix, the adult-oriented Cannon, and the self-explanatory Gang Bang (#1-3).

 

Beyond Wood's own contribution to the UG Comix scene, one notable UG artist frequently paid homage to Wood's science fiction stylization.  As a youngster, Rand Holmes was heavily influenced by Wood's pencils. [9]   For instance, Holmes' covers for Harold Hedd #2, Slow Death #5-6, Fog City Comics #2-3, and Death Rattle (Vol. 2) #4 recall Wood's EC work and have earned him the moniker on some message boards as “the pothead's Wally Wood.” 

 

In addition to former EC artists going underground, there are also UG comix that exhibit content and cover designs that are largely influenced or pay homage to EC titles.  In From the Tomb #4, a fanzine emphasizing pre-code, British reprint, and Bronze Age revival horror comics, Frank Motler presents an EC homage listing, amusingly titled “a jolting list of retention in the EC tradition,” which includes many UG comix.  Given the rather obscure nature of this publication, this listing is presented and expanded upon for the purposes of this article. 

 

 

   
 
INSECT FEAR #1
This CGC 8.5 Insect Fear #1 (1 st print) sold for $115 in May 2005 (Source GPA/Heritage Comics).
 
 
THRILLING MURDER #1
This near mint CGC 9.4 Thrilling Murder #1 (1 st print) sold in June 2005 for $54 (Source GPA/Heritage Comics).
 
 
SLOW DEATH #1
This CGC 9.6 Slow Death #1 (1 st print) sold in May 2005 for $184 (Source GPA/Heritage Comics). This copy ranks as the highest graded according to CGC 's Census.
 
 
SKULL COMICS #1
A CGC 9.6 Skull Comics #1 (2 nd print) sold for $172.50 in May 2005. Shown here is a CGC 8.5 (3 rd print) Fred Todd File Copy (Courtesy of Steve Bergier).
 

Table 1.  EC-esque Underground Comix (After Motler 2001) [10]

Title

Nos.

Description

Armpit of Fear, The

nn

EC cover parody; 8 pg. mini

Barn of Fear, the

1

EC parody issue and cover

Bicentennial Gross Outs

nn

"What me worry?" cover; Stories in the EC tradition

Big Apple Comix

nn

Cover and comix by Wally Wood, Al Williamson, and others

Bijou Funnies

8

Harvey Kurtzman Mad cover parody; several stories loosely in the EC humor style

Bogeyman

1-3

"Horror in a blood vein"; Comix in the EC tradition

Bogeyman

2

Comix in the EC tradition

Bogeyman

3

Comix in the EC tradition

Cannon

 

UG comix by Wally Wood

Corporate Crime Comics

1-2

True crime tales in the EC tradition

Death Rattle (Vol. 1)

1-3

Comix in the EC tradition

Death Rattle (Vol. 2)

1-13

Horror anthology; Some stories in the EC tradition; Rand Holmes EC science homage cover in the style of Wood (#4); Xenozoic Tales (#8)

Dorrgsheett Digest

1

EC "New Direction" parody cover

Dr. Wirtham's Comix & Stories

1-10

Loosely EC-esque in title only

Fog City Comics

2-3

Weird Science #19 parody cover (#2); Holmes art in the style of Wood

Gang Bang

1-3

UG comix by Wally Wood

Harold Hedd

2

Holmes art in the style of Wood

Insect Fear

1-3

"Tales from the behavioral sink"; Comix in the EC tradition

Kurtzman Komix

nn

UG comix by Harvey Kurtzman, including several "Hey Look!" panels

Nickel Library Series

nn

EC homage covers; Wood, Frazetta art

Skull Comics

1-6

"Tales contrived to flip you out of your"; Comix in the EC tradition; EC badge (#1-4, 6)

Slow Death

1-11

Comix and covers in the EC tradition; Weird Science #9 parody cover (#5); Holmes art in the style of Wood (#5-6); EC science homage covers (#6-7)

Tales from the Fridge

1

EC horror cover parody

Tales from the Ozone

2

Loose EC cover parody

Tales from the Tube

1

"Raves from the caves of waves"; EC cover parody

Tales Mutated for the Mod

1

Mad #1 cover parody

Tales of Sex and Death

1-2

EC science homage covers

Thrilling Murder Comics

1

Horror and crime stories in the EC tradition

Two-Fisted Zombies (All New Underground Comix #5)

5

"Tales of night spawned contagion"

witzend

1-13

Veteran EC artists alongside emerging UG talent

Xenozoic Tales

1-14

Stories and art inspired by Wood, Williamson, Krenkel, Frazetta

According to Motler, “the most recommended items for the general adult EC fan would be Death Rattle, Skull, Slow Death, Tales from the Fridge and the essential Insect Fear.” [11]  

Special thanks to Richard Byard and Erik Garmany for their diligent reviews and input into this article.   



[1] Rosenkranz, P.  (2002).  Rebel Visions:  the Underground Comix Revolution 1963-1975.  (1st ed.).  Seattle , WA .  Fantagraphics Books. 
[2] Crumb. R.  (1998).  The R. Crumb Coffee Table Art Book.  (1st paperback ed.).  P. Poplaski Ed.  Boston , New York , London .  Back Bay Books/Little, Brown, and Company. 
[3] Weist, J.  (2000).  The Comic Art Price Guide.  (2nd ed.).  Gloucester , MA :  Arcturian Books. 
[4] Weist, J.  (2000).  The Comic Art Price Guide.  (2nd ed.).  Gloucester , MA :  Arcturian Books
[5] Harvey Kutzman.  (2005).  In Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia.  Retrieved October 14, 2005 , from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harvey_Kurtzman
[6] Harvey Kutzman.  (2005).  In Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia.  Retrieved October 14, 2005 , from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harvey_Kurtzman
[7] Rosenkranz, P.  (2002).  Rebel Visions:  the Underground Comix Revolution 1963-1975.  (1st ed.).  Seattle , WA .  Fantagraphics Books. 
[8] Witzend.  (2005).  In Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia.  Retrieved October 14, 2005 , from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Witzend
[9] Rosenkranz, P.  (2002).  Rebel Visions:  the Underground Comix Revolution 1963-1975.  (1st ed.).  Seattle , WA .  Fantagraphics Books.
[10] Motler, F.  (2001).  Flattery, the sincerest form of imitation.  From the Tomb #4.  United Kingdom .  Peter Normanton, publ.. 
[11] Motler, F.  (2001).  Flattery, the sincerest form of imitation.  From the Tomb #4.  United Kingdom .  Peter Normanton, publ.. 


 
     
     
 

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