Horror Comes With a Lot of Exclamation Points

Confession: I’m a wimp. I avoid most horror movies and slashers and Stephen King books like the plague. For whatever reason, I scare easily. I carry whatever I’ve seen or read with me, and next thing you know, I’m insisting more lights be left on at night. I don’t enjoy the sensation of being frightened. Given that, I wasn’t sure how I would react to the Tales from the Crypt stories from the EC Comics archive. I’ve only seen a handful of episodes from the television show, and that didn’t go over so well. I opened the first comic, almost cringing. It didn’t help that it was late at night and the house was empty. I turned on more lights as a precaution. After a few stories, I realized I didn’t have to worry.

In this case, horror isn’t terrifying. It’s chilling, bizarre, and downright creepy at times, but it doesn’t leave me awake in bed jumping at every noise. The stories cover scientists taking extreme acts to stay forever youthful, werewolves, ghost ships, and murder. There are lines like, “This is a real, big-as-life corpse.” The wife responds, “Only there’s no life left in it.” Those panels come from a story titled “The Corpse Nobody Knew.” Genius.

The Crypt of Terror #17 – Al Feldstein, George Roussos

I was thrilled to find the stories have a more delightfully pulpy tone than a scare your pants off one. They’re not exactly playful, but they’re not far from it. I’m glad I can not only read these comics, I can actually enjoy them. I mean, almost every sentence ends with an exclamation point. How can a story that enthusiastic be frightening? In addition to the punctuation and wacky plots, I’m charmed by the art, the short one-page stories, and letters in The Crypt-Keeper’s Corner.

The style of art reminds me of fantastic 1950s science fiction paperback covers. It’s bold and colorful, and that takes away the fright factor, too. Suspenseful moments are easier to take when they’re illustrated in bright tones. Well, at least for me.

Crypt of Terror #19 – Al Feldstein – If it looks like a ghost ship and appears out of nowhere, consider not boarding.

Finally, the letters to the Crypt-Keeper may be the only letters section I’ve read consistently. The in-character replies to readers just make you smile. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen literary recommendations from the writer or editors in this section before. I’ve already added more than a few titles from the Crypt-Keeper’s selections to my reading list. I’ll get to those after I finish reading more from the EC Comics archive.

2 Responses to Horror Comes With a Lot of Exclamation Points

  1. Tim LeMaster February 5, 2012 at 7:49 am #

    EC comics usually had some kind of morality play going on. Bad guys would do something like murder in some horrible fashion but they would always get caught in the end. Also some of the best science fiction writers of all time wrote for or had their stuff adapted to EC comics. In fact their science fiction stuff is rather good.

  2. Jeff Nettleton February 4, 2012 at 4:04 pm #

    EC always had a sense of humor about what they were doing, compared to everybody else, which also meant they were less patronizing or hidebound. I’m no horror fan, either (too vivid an imagination that could turn something mildly scarry into horrific nightmares), but EC’s stuff was not Lovecraftian lurking terror or Robert Bloch horror next door. They were more in tune with the Universal monster stuff, the 50s atomic horrors, and the more gothic stuff.
    As for literary recommendations, there have been books that specialized in that: Denny O’Neil’s The Question (DC, late 80s), James Robinson’s work, especially Firearm (Malibu); Dean Motter’s retro-future stuff (Mister X, Terminal City, Electropolis), Brian Bendis’ independent books (AKA Goldfish, Jinx, Torso, and the like) and some others (Grendel always had a very literary and philosophical letters page).

Welcoming the Future, Treasuring the Past.