Compliment a Techie Today

Let’s compliment a Techie today. They’re the ones doing the hard work of creating and maintaining technology. Today we give them their due celebration!

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Let’s compliment a Techie today. They’re the ones doing the hard work of creating and maintaining technology. And technology is great unti It stpp wrk… Let’s try that again. Technology is great… until it stops working. That’s when we stop to notice it. And not in a good way. We’re usually looking for why it went wrong. We’re not gawking over the design, the sophistication of the engineering that went into the thing that is now part of our everyday lives. Nope. We just want it to do what it’s supposed to do. And that’s when we go looking for a techie.

Techies

It’d be easy to talk about techies as if this were a nature special. Fade into a Steve Irwin impersonator talking about the “majestic and reclusive techie…” And other biologist-related puns and in-jokes. We forget that these are real people doing real work. And we only care to notice them when something goes wrong. Most of the time, we forget, the technology is working the way that it’s supposed to. It’s designed to perform some task in a shorter amount of time than we can. Or, if we can’t do said task, then we get this technology to do it for us. The technology usually makes it easier and more cost-efficient than paying a person to do it. I like to think of my crockpot at moments like this. I cut and season the required ingredients, add them to the pot, and set the timer. You see!? Technology has made it easier for me to prepare a meal for my family without having to risk burning down my house. Well, the risk of fire is still there. That’s why I read the manual and move the crockpot away from any flammable items. I realize the crockpot isn’t going to strike awe into the mind of the reader here. It’s a simple kitchen appliance. The design and functionality of it are basic and there’s really not much to improve upon there. It’s antiquated technology. Now, when it comes to my home computer, well, that’s a different story. That thing is slow. Absurdly slow and I want nothing more than to put my fist through it as I have to wait for a file to open. Now, when I was younger, it could have been considered a “lightning fast” computer. “4 Gigabytes of random-access-memory” was not available in Macintosh’s Apple II. And despite my frustrations with it, the machine was designed well and is doing the job it’s supposed to do. With the technology available to it. The problem with this equation is the person who bought it- me. Sigh. I have only myself to blame here.

The Unsung Heroes

In the case of my god-awful home computer, it was still designed by a team of trained professionals. The details of it, even the slight bevel around the edges of the screen, was designed by a person who knew the exact angle that bevel should be set at. And thus, the pieces came together, and the computer was born. I don’t know the names of anyone who designed the thing, but I’m thankful they know what they’re doing. And as for my crockpot, it’s still a work of art. Despite the “outdated” technology, someone still had to design the look of it and to incorporate all the parts. The wiring within needs to be calibrated. A regulator of some type is installed to make sure the heating coils inside don’t burn too hot and too fast. Each turn of the knob needs to correspond with the right amount of temperature delivered over a set amount of time. And the fact that it does this so reliably makes my life easier. Not to mention adding a few inches to my waistline. But that’s another issue for another post. And while I named off “coils, regulator, and wiring,” I’m not entirely sure those are the accurate terms for such a thing. I’m just a writer and not much of a techie myself. To all the techies reading this, I apologize for my ignorance.

A little bit of Techie in all of Us

When it comes to video games, all of us are gamers to some degree. This is true when it comes to technology. Someone may call themselves “technologically challenged.” But in truth, they lack confidence in their technology skills. Most of the population are techies of the lowest order- they have a smartphone, cell phone, or just a crockpot at home. Knowing how to operate the basic functions of these gadgets makes them a techie. And then there are the techies who know a lot about a specific type of technology and not others. For example; my father-in-law is quite familiar with how to operate his home theater system. He set it up. He knows all the remotes and how to navigate to the proper input to watch his blu-rays. I’m familiar with my own home theater system. Therefore, when my father-in-law comes over, one of the first things he does is ask for me to turn on the Cowboys game. The differences in our two home theater systems aren’t terribly extreme. But the nuances between them is enough that one wrong button push will cause disaster. And by disaster, I mean missing the Cowboys game. Part of the reason I’m able to do this is I’ve been able to find the best internet deals and packages available in my area. Make sure you do the same so you can at least save a few bucks while you watch your favorite team play this Sunday. It’s up to me to turn on the tv and navigate to the right input so he can watch his precious Cowboys. After all, we all know how to run. But those who train and practice it become track stars. Does this mean we’re all inept at running? Absolutely not. Some are just more avid about their running than others. This is what separates basic tech skills from techies. It’s the techies who can pick up a broken smartphone and know how to fix it.

To Each Their Own Skill

techieThanks to techies, we get to watch our Sunday football, catch up on emails, and watch YouTube Clips on our phones. And while we have awards for athletes, authors, and soldiers, we don’t spend time celebrating the techies. It’s these techies who facilitate the connecting of information that allows us to watch football, read and listen to books by authors and keep vigil over our dedicated civil servants and armed forces personnel. Thank you, Techies. Today we stop to recognize you not because something is broken. We recognize you for all your hard work despite the technology not always working right!

Bigger Screens Are Not the Answer!

Nearly everyone has a smartphone these days. Or, advertisers want you to believe nearly everyone does- "smarter phones with bigger screens!" Is it true?

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Nearly everyone has a smartphone these days. Or, advertisers want you to believe nearly everyone does- "smarter phones with bigger screens!" And when you do finally cave to peer pressure, they want you to buy a smartphone with the biggest screen available. There’s an obvious joke to play here; something about being bigger is better, and some sort of innuendo. But that’s not going to happen. What will happen, however, is that screens on smartphones will get bigger and bigger.Bigger But why?

The Space Race

Back in the 40s and 50s, computers were a new thing. They were bulky and crude compared to the technology we command today. Beyond that, they could compute equations only if the input was just right. The tubes involved in computers had to be moved just right, or they wouldn’t function properly. And then came the computers with the punch cards. To make the computer do exactly what you wanted, you had to have the right punch cards to make that happen. Those cards had to put in the right order as well. If you had a stack of punch cards for a computer, you had to make sure they stayed in the right order. If someone dropped them or moved just one card out of order, then the whole process was messed up. Computers, though helpful, were not as useful as they were meant to be. Organizations still relied on the time-tested and trusted source of computing numbers- the human mind. To do this, having a math degree came in handy. Once someone attained the appropriate degree and proved they could execute the right calculations with reasonable accuracy, they were handed stacks of equations to double-check. BiggerThis is detailed in “Hidden Figures,” by Margot Lee Shetterly. The movie touches, briefly, on this skill. Therefore, you must read the book because it’ll show you so much more about what went into computing. In fact, that’s where the term “computer” came from; a person who computes equations.

A Computer is a Person

Back before NASA existed, there was the NACA, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. NACA was concerned with creating superior airplanes and missiles after World War I. Naturally, when the Second World War erupted, NACA was expanded to research and test new airplanes and aerodynamics. To do this, they needed help to compute the mountains of data that came with the researching, testing, and experimenting. So they hired people with math degrees to do the analysis. Entire buildings of “computers” were hired out. And with the draft invoked, NACA had to look beyond the typical male candidates they were so used to finding. This was part of the catalyst for women, both African-American and white, to find their way into the NACA, and soon, NASA.

The Moon

After World War II, there came another conflict the United States was intent on winning- The Cold War. Hence, NACA was still needed. But now they had to go beyond the skies- they needed to go to space. Then John F. Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States, gave his iconic speech on September 12, 1962. In it, he spoke these lines that would forever define space exploration; “We choose to go to the moon! We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win, and others, too.” With that, the race to the moon was on. As exciting as it was to claim that we would make it to the moon first, there was a problem- they had to figure out a way to get up there. To do that, they needed to train pilots to be astronauts. And therein lay another problem- astronauts can only do so much. To pilot a craft out of our atmosphere, there needed to be a support staff capable of doing it. Constant communication was required. Data needed to be taken and analyzed rapidly. That’s why they started making computers smaller, faster, and lighter. You can read up on the speech through NASA’s site, or watch it on YouTube. Just make sure you’ve checked the best internet deals and packages first so you can save some cash before you do.

Then and Now

BiggerThink about this- the smartphones we now use have more computing power than all of NASA did when they put a man on the moon. And yet, we’re using them to play games and watch fail videos. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. Fail videos are fun to watch. And setting a high score is great. What NASA inadvertently started in the late 60s—the miniaturization of the computer—has become an obsession. Now the latest trend is to pack more and more computing power into a smaller device. But there seems to be one drawback to all this- the screens are getting bigger.

The Screen Race

I currently use an iPhone SE. The screen is 4 inches. And it works for me. I don’t need a huge screen on my phone. The size of this thing is just right because I have to carry it with me and I don’t want to carry it in my hand all the time either. I also refuse to use a cradle or hustle of this thing. Call me vain, but I wouldn’t be caught dead with a smartphone holster on me. But fashion these days is taking a disturbing trend. Pants are coming with fewer pockets. They’re also becoming tighter and tighter.

Why This Trend?

This fascination with tight pants is beyond me. Then again, I was never on the cutting edge of fashion.Bigger I grew up in the age when baggy pants were “in.” And better yet, add in a couple extra pockets to make them cargo pants. At first, I didn’t want to buy into the trend. I was so thankful when I did. They were incredibly comfortable! It wasn’t the material that made them comfortable, but the room inside them. I was sealed into some denim torture device. No, I had room to breathe. My pants didn’t judge me, instead, they embraced me and said, “You’ll fit right in!” What could make these pants even better? Pockets! Who’d have thought? By adding an extra pair of pockets you could carry extra stuff on you, like a phone! Yet, as these phones get bigger and bigger, cargo pants are shunned from the fashion world. They’re ostracized and cast out. They’re not “fashionable.” And yet, I’m doomed to carry a massive phone on me without a pocket to carry it in. I ask you, why must we be condemned to this existence? Do we really need screens this big on our phones? And if so, why can’t we have pants that can carry them?

The Next Trend

Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m the one who refuses to switch trends. But that’s okay. I’m an outsider anyway, and always have been. Therefore, I’ll stick with my outdated sense of style. I do this because it’s comfortable. Beyond comfort, I know what looks good on me and what I like to be seen in. Therefore, it will be relaxed bootcut jeans, flannel, and a pair of tennis shoes. Even if they come out with a new phone to fit in every pocket, it won’t affect my sense of style. But I have heard of Samsung creating a foldable phone. That might be the new trend. I hope so because a phone that folds will make it easier to fit into a pocket. And when that happens, we’ll have the best of both worlds; big screens, and a pocket that can fit them.

The History of 'Tales from the Crypt' and EC Comics Horror Part III

The conclusion of the history of 'Tales of the Crypt' and EC Comics Horror.

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Johnny Craig

[caption id="attachment_119251" align="alignleft" width="281"]Tales from the Crypt Johnny Craig.[/caption] As with any successful enterprise, you need a talented team to carry out the vision of the company.  The artists and professionals at EC Comics became the who’s who of the industry – all of whom shared a driving passion for the comic form.  There was Jonathan Monroe Craig, known to his friends and colleagues as Johnny, who joined EC Comics back when it was under the control of Max in 1947.  After Max’s death, Craig went from doing lettering and correcting artwork in the art department to becoming a regular artist for the company.  Starting with the western and crime titles, Craig made his mark on the industry with his artwork for The Vault of Horror, The Haunt of Fear, and Tales from the Crypt. Sporting a clean and uncluttered style, Craig’s artwork took root in the reader’s imagination.  His compositions showed just enough of the macabre to suggest crucial story elements while leaving out elements of explicit violence.  Focusing on anticipation and dread rather than explicitness and gore, Craig’s name quickly became a mainstay within the industry.  A well-versed comic book reader could easily identify a Johnny Craig piece simply by observing the style of the piece.  Famed comic book writer, Wally Wood, once said of Craig that he drew “the cleanest horror stories you ever saw.”  It was Craig’s cover of the woman with the severed head that was the topic of debate at the 1954 Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency. [caption id="attachment_119252" align="alignright" width="300"]Tales from the Crypt Jack Davis.[/caption] During his career with EC Comics, Craig drew the covers of twenty-nine issues and many more stories.  Known for being a slow and deliberate artist with a meticulous style, it would typically take Craig about a month to finish a story, whereas other EC artists finished within a week.  Unlike the other artists at EC Comics, Craig was also a writer.  He routinely scripted stories for The Vault of Horror as well as Crime SuspenStories.  In early 1954, Craig became the editor of The Vault of Horror and went on to create the character of Drusilla, a pin-up style goth companion for the Vault Keeper.

Jack Davis

Another key figure in the story of the EC Comics’ horror line was John Burton Davis, Jr., known by Jack, who had been drawing comics since the age of 12, when his cartoon artwork was published in Tip Top Comics No. 9 (December 1936).  At age 25, Davis illustrated a training manual for the Coca-Cola company, which gave him the means to buy a car and head to New York.  There, he attended the Art Students League of New York.  To his consternation, all the comic book publishers rejected his work except for one.  Gaines saw potential in Davis’ work and immediately gave him assignments.  Davis recounted this moment in a 2011 interview with The Wall Street Journal: “Every time you went in to see Bill Gaines, he would write you a check when you brought in a story. You didn't have to put in a bill or anything. I was very, very hungry and I was thinking about getting married. So I kept the road pretty hot between home and Canal Street. I would go in for that almighty check, go home and do the work, bring it in and get another check and pick up another story.” If it was the need for a paycheck that brought Davis into the front doors of 225 Lafayette Street, it was his talent that kept him there.  Davis’ distinct style, which was Expressionistic in the way he elongated his figures and exaggerated their proportions, became a mainstay of the EC Comics’ horror line.  He is noted for his work on Tales from the Crypt where he updated the appearance of the Crypt Keeper by adding hairy warts on his face and a salivating mouth and exaggerating the size of his hands and feet.  He illustrated the cover for every issue of Tales from the Crypt from #29 to #46. Where Craig was slow and deliberate in his art style, Davis was fast – churning out as many as three pages per day.  The prospect of reverting to starving artist mode provided its own set of motivations.  “I’d have to be fast,” recalled Davis, “because when you turned them in, that’s when you’d get your money.  The faster you drew, the faster the money came in.”  Other artists for the comics included Jack Kamen, Graham Ingels, George Roussos, Joe Orlando, Al Williamson, Fred Peters, George Evans, Bill Elder, Reed Crandall, and Bernie Krigstein.

Marie Severin

[caption id="attachment_119253" align="alignright" width="300"]Tales from the Crypt Marie Severin.[/caption] Another key figure was a woman named Marie Severin.  Severin acted as the colorist for the comics.  She made a point to study the juxtaposition of colors to find which ones (there was a range of 48 colors from which she had to choose) worked best together.  Along with choosing and proofreading the colors, Severin would use coloring to subtly shield some of the more gruesome and explicit content in the stories.  Feldstein referred to her as the “conscience of EC.” “I would never assume an editorial position,” she said. “What I would do very often is, if somebody was being dismembered, I would rather color it in yellow because it's garish, and also [so] you could see what was going on. Or red, for the blood element, but not to subdue the artwork. ... I mean, the main reason these people were buying these books was to see somebody's head cut off, y'know? ... And [the editors] trusted me with a lot a stuff. They knew that I wouldn't subdue artwork; I would just kind of shield it a little bit so if a parent picked up the book in the drug store, they wouldn't see that somebody's stomach was all red.” Public frenzy over comic books.

The end of an era

[caption id="attachment_119254" align="alignright" width="207"]Tales from the Crypt Public frenzy over comic books.[/caption] By 1954, the jig was up.  In April of that year, psychiatrist Fredric Wertham published his book, Seduction of the Innocent: The Influence of Comic Books on Today’s Youth.  The book was a response to growing unease about the influence of the comic book industry on the minds of the youth of America.  In the book, Wertham cited pictorial representations of violence and sexuality in comic books stories as being responsible for the corruption of children, contributing specifically to juvenile delinquency and illiteracy.  Horror comics like the EC Comics titles were at the forefront of the controversy. In addition to asserting that Batman and Robin were actually gay partners and that Wonder Woman had a bondage subtext as well as a lesbian slant, Wertham rejected the horror comics outright. Today, cultural critics could hardly be so sweeping in their generalizations nor so quick to their conclusions about the effects of comic books on young readers; you are more likely to encounter freedom of speech defenses and warnings against the censorship of such material rather than outright condemnation.  Times have changed.  In 1954, this debate was taken quite seriously by parents across the United States who were legitimately concerned for children’s welfare.

The Comics Code Authority

Mirroring the intent behind Hollywood’s 1930s Production Code and opting for self-regulation rather than government interference, the comic book industry created the Comics Code Authority.  New York Magistrate Charles F. Murphy, an acknowledged expert about juvenile delinquency, headed the organization.  As part of the restrictions set in place and enforced by the Comics Code, stories had to end with good triumphing over evil; depictions of “excessive violence” were prohibited as were “lurid, unsavory, gruesome illustrations”; depictions of sex or sexual subject matter, including seduction and sadism, were strictly prohibited; and the words “horror” or “terror” were forbidden in comic book titles. Production of Tales from the Crypt, The Vault of Horror, and The Haunt of Fear was halted nearly overnight.  In September 1954, Gaines and his team published their final issues of each of the three horror comics.  Prior to deciding to cease production, Gaines had been toying with the idea of reviving The Crypt of Terror title for a fourth horror comic book under the company's belt.  Because an issue of The Crypt of Terror had already been produced by the time of the hearing, it was published as the final issue of the Tales from the Crypt series.  That was in September of 1955.

The legacy of horror

[caption id="attachment_119255" align="alignleft" width="300"]Tales from the Crypt The Crypt Keeper, HBO TV series.[/caption] Tales from the Crypt lives on.  From 1964 to 1966, Ballantine Books reprinted selected stories from the comic book in a series of paperback EC anthologies.  But, it was the 1972 British movie adaptation by director Freddie Francis that kept alive the legacy of the title.  In 1989, HBO adapted the stories in the various EC Comics titles for their iconic TV series, Tales from the Crypt.  The Tales from the Crypt title, over all the other horror titles of the time period, has since taken on a special significance in comic book history as being a perfect example of the short-lived genre that persisted in the early 1950s.  In that specific sense, Tales from the Crypt is a sort of cultural time capsule, a piece of nostalgia that conjures up for us more innocent times - times when you and I were still young and impressionable and could be made to feel afraid of things that go bump in the night.  Our current fears of mortgages and credit scores don't have quite the same flavor to them.  At that age, we delighted in the knowledge that we were consuming images and words that were't "wholesome" or "educational" (or any of the other things that our parents and teachers told us we should read), but what did we care?  Ultimately, that is the cultural significance of Tales from the Crypt today.  It turns us into children again.

The History of "Tales of the Crypt" and EC Comics Horror Part II

The continuing story of the history of 'Tales from the Crypt' and EC Comics Horror

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Read Part I

Going back in history

By 1952, over twenty publishing companies, including Gaines’ EC Comics, were putting out nearly seven hundred titles per month.  Approximately one hundred million comic books were sold each week.  In his book, The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), cultural historian David Hajdu presents reports that the average comic book issue had a pass along rate of six or more readers.  In the early 1950s, comics reached more people than magazines, radio, and television.

Comics and pulp

Tales from the Crypt
The crime comics of the time and the pulp magazines on which they were partly based saw the rise of a subgenre of narrative that featured sadistic villains and graphic scenes of torture and death.  With influences from the Grand Guignol theater of Paris, these stories moved ever closer to the outright salacious tone of the horror genre proper. In 1947, Avon Publications, a subsidiary of the American News Company, published Eerie, the first comic book with original horror content.  When Gaines showed on the scene in 1947, the market was primed for a new direction.  Titles like Tomb of Terror, Adventures into the Unknown, The Tormented, and Chamber of Chills began to pop up.  By the early 1950s, a third of all comics were horror comics.

Max Gaines and the founding of Educational Comics

Tales from the Crypt
Before the realization of that new industry direction and before Gaines himself even entered the scene, it was Gaines' father, Maxwell Charles Gaines, referred to as Max, who pioneered the industry and provided the conditions for the spark to happen.  Born in New York City in 1894, Max grew into a combative and uncompromising personality.  In The Mad World of William Gaines (1972), author Frank Jacobs recounts an incident when a four-year-old Max leaned out of a second-story window and fell out, catching his leg on a picket fence on the way down.  The leg became the source of a lifetime of pain and discomfort, often contributing to his aggravated temperament as an adult. Gaines and his father did not get along, the latter charging that the former would never amount to anything.  By Gaines’ recollection, Max “expected the worse from his son and was rarely disappointed,” and would often employ the stern reproaches of a leather belt to make his point.  Nonetheless, Max proved a pivotal character in the history of the American comic book. Famous Funnies, 1933. The first comic book. Tales from the Crypt
Up until around 1933, comics were printed predominantly in strip format, though a couple of newspaper tabloid inserts had been published by then.  Max became the first to compile the strips into what cultural historians recognize as the first true American comic book – a 36-page book called Famous Funnies: A Carnival of Comics (1933).  With the subsequent Funnies on Parade, Max invented a whole new market for publishers – the beginning of the comic book industry. In an essay entitled Narrative Illustration: The Story of Comics, Max traced the origins of the comic book to the time of the prehistoric caveman, who would scratch and paint records of mythologies and daily life on cave walls.  He contends that these stories satisfied mankind’s innate urge to depict a story and tell it for the record.  “[Comic books’] appeal to the consumer,” he writes in the piece, “is also of profound significance and their method of approach has been recognized and adapted to purposes of propaganda and advertising.  Many of their artists have ingenuity, imagination, and an unerring control of the pen in communicating ideas.” Max went on to found Educational Comics in 1944 after he acquired the rights to the comic book title, Picture Stories from the Bible.  With the objective of using his company to market religious and educational stories to schools and churches, Max set about making his mark on the industry.  Picture Stories from American History, Land of the Lost, and Animal Fables became the company’s bread and butter.  These wholesome preliminary titles were a far cry from the slew of gleefully distasteful ones that his son Bill would later publish. Tales from the Crypt
On August 20, 1947, Max took a speedboat trip out onto Lake Placid in New York with his friend Sam Irwin and Irwin’s 8-year-old son, William.  Tragedy struck when another speedboat collided with theirs.  Max was able to hurl Irwin’s son out of the way at the last second before the collision.  Unfortunately, Sam and Max were both killed.  Gaines was 25-years-old when he inherited his late father’s business.  His mother had to request it of him.  Thus, his plans of becoming a high school chemistry teacher were put aside for this unexpected (and not altogether welcomed) venture. Gaines' first act as the owner of the company was to reinvent the business model from the ground up.  He changed the name of the company from Educational Comics to Entertaining Comics or EC Comics. Probing the history of the new EC Comics, a cultural historian can divide their publication cycles into two distinct trends.  The first trend saw the production of mostly western, comedy, romance, and crime titles.  Comics like Gunfighter, Saddle Justice, and War Against Crime! became their focus – what became known as the teenage market for comic books.

Al Feldstein

In 1948, Albert Feldstein, know to his friends and colleagues simply as Al, came onboard as an artist and effectively started the next publication trend, launching the company in a whole new direction and into comic book history.  Because the industry was flooded with imitators who sought to cash in on the craze, sales took a dip for many of these companies.  Feldstein sought a solution.  In an interview with The Comics Journal #177 (May 1995), he recalled this pivotal moment. Tales from the Crypt
“I came to [Gaines] one day and said, ‘Look Bill, why are we following these idiots and, when the trend dies, getting caught? Why don’t we innovate, and why don’t we have people follow us?’ At that time, we were very good friends. We used to go to roller derby together and he used to drive me home because we both lived in Brooklyn. We’d chat on the way home and we got to talking about what we liked when we were kids. Bill was a science fiction and horror fan, and I was a horror movie fan, and I said, ‘Why don’t we try horror?’ I reminded him about the ‘Old Witch’s Tale’ on Lights Out, Arch Oboler’s stuff on radio." As a genre, horror flourished in America in the years after the Great Depression and leading up to WWII.  Pulp fiction, which became all the rage in the 1920s and 30s, emphasized exploitative and sensational subject matter. In November 1923, the first issue of Weird Tales was published.  After visiting the Grand Guignol theater for inspiration, publisher Henry Steeger revived the Dime Mystery Novel series and added Terror Tales in September 1934 and Horror Stories in January 1935.  The lurid stories of the pulp magazines are predecessors to those of the horror comic.  The radio shows that Gaines and Feldstein admired, like The Shadow (1930) and The Spider (1933), also proved highly popular.  The 1930s also saw the proliferation of the Universal Pictures horror films.  Movies like Todd Browning’s Dracula (1931) and James Whale’s Frankenstein (1931) were highly influential. The stage was set for these horror comic book titles to take root in the market.  In fact, prior to the Gaines and Feldstein’s car ride discussion, the idea of creating a horror comic had already been floating around.  According to Hajdu in The Ten-Cent Plague, comic book artist Sheldon Moldoff had already proposed horror to Gaines and created a mock-up of two issues – Tales of the Supernatural and This Magazine is Haunted.  The two issues sat in a cabinet the night Gaines and Feldstein hatched their plan.  Eventually, some of the stories in the Moldoff comics would get published through EC Comics’ horror titles.

Developing the horror

Tales from the CryptThey first tested the market for this new format in December of 1949 with the inclusion of two original horror stories embedded within Crime Patrol #15 and its companion publication War Against Crime #10: “Return from the Grave” and “Buried Alive.”  One of the key features of the radio thrillers that both Gaines and Feldstein drew inspiration from was the presence of a host to introduce, comment on, and close out the stories.  Crime Patrol first introduced readers to the Crypt Keeper; War Against Crime introduced the Vault Keeper. In “Return from the Grave,” two greedy executives convince a down-on-his-luck business owner to commit suicide so that they can take control of his company.  When they get a call for a large order of perfume, the men are thrown into a panic because they do not have the perfume formula to manufacture the product.  The formula, as it turns out, is written on a piece of paper that was in the pocket of the suit the old man was buried in. The men set to digging up the grave, but rather than find the formula, they discover an empty coffin with a note that reads: “I have discovered how you have stolen money from me for the last three years driving me to suicide. I have risen from my grave... and will not return until I have taken my revenge!"  The two executives meet their demise, of course. It is worth noting that many of the repeated story formulas for the EC horror comics (all of which were developed by Feldstein, Gaines, and later, other key figures that would play pivotal roles in the overarching legacy of EC Comics) involved malevolent characters meeting their demise at the hands of the people they wronged.  This theme of evil-begets-more-evil, or punishment being inflicted on the sinner, is categorically at odds with the moralistic objections of the Senators who would later push for a permanent halt in the production of such materials. In “Buried Alive” an anxious gravedigger named John is tortured by a nightly recurring dream that he has buried alive the person whose grave he dug earlier that day.  The dream involves a case of mistakenly proclaimed catalepsy which causes everyone to believe the person to be dead.  In the dream, John can hear the moaning from the graveyard of the person buried alive.  He awakens from these dreams in a panic, and to clear his conscience of any possible mistake, he goes to the cemetery in the dead of night to dig up the grave and find out if the person was, in fact, buried alive.  He does this on two occasions, and to his relief, the person is undeniably dead. He covers back up the grave but is puzzled the next morning after each occasion to read in the local newspaper that a grave was found that day to be desecrated by an unknown graverobber.  In an unexpected revelation, the dreams the gravedigger was having turn out to have been premonitions of his own being buried alive, and he awakens from a cataleptic state to find that he is buried six feet underground in a coffin.  As panic sets in and oxygen runs short, John seems on the verge of death, when suddenly he hears digging above him.  In a final plot twist, characteristic of the juiciest pulp fiction, the graverobber who digs up the grave and inadvertently saves the protagonist is none other than the protagonist’s best friend. These types of stories proved highly popular.  Final, revelatory plot twists and dramatic turns in the direction of the plot became hallmarks of the genre.  When Gaines and Feldstein noticed an uptick in sales, they decided to stay the course and keep producing horror stories.  By issue #16 of Crime Patrol, there were more horror stories in the publication than crime stories.  Gaines suggested changing the title of the comic to something else.

Title changes and the U.S. mail system

Tales from the Crypt
In the early 1950s all magazines, including comics, had to be shipped through the U.S. mail system with a Second-Class Entry status.  Publishers had to register and pay a fee to obtain the status.  To avoid paying that fee, they would simply change the title of an old publication and keep the same shipping status.  For this reason, when Crime Patrol became The Crypt of Terror and War Against Crime became The Vault of Horror, the title of the publication changed but the numbering of the issues stayed the same.  The Crypt of Terror (later renamed Tales from the Crypt with issue #20 in December 1949) debuted with issue #17 and The Vault of Horror debuted with issue #12. In May 1950, The Haunt of Fear was introduced with the Old Witch hosting the stories.  It was common for the Crypt Keeper, the Vault Keeper, and the Old Witch to routinely make appearances in each other’s magazines.  Apart from their titles, nothing distinguished one comic book from the other.  Each publication featured a morbid, tongue-in-cheek style humor in conjunction with the horror stories, which focused on subjects like murder, the supernatural, monsters, witchcraft, and zombies.  A new era had begun.   Read Part III   Edited by Kyle Weckerly

The History of 'Tales from the Crypt' and EC Comics Horror Part I

A complete history of EC Comics, the horror comic, and one of the most iconic titles in comic book history: Tales from the Crypt.

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[caption id="attachment_119242" align="alignright" width="409"]Tales from the Crypt Dexedrine diet pills.[/caption] Part I William “Bill” Gaines, the bespectacled publisher of EC Comics, fidgeted in his chair as he prepared to give his opening statement to the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency.  The year was 1954 and diet pills were all the rage.  Originally prescribed to World War II soldiers to keep them alert during combat, amphetamines quickly became the drug of choice for obsessive dieters, like Gaines, who sought a pharmacological solution to curb their appetite. By the late 1960s, drugs like Aminorex and Dexedrine (which is the pill Gaines took that day) had been taken off the market as a health hazard, but for the moment, the pill was doing the trick.  A boost of energy was one of the touted benefits of Dexedrine – just enough for a housewife to get through her daily chores or, say, a successful comic book publisher to get through the hardline accusations of a panel of senators determined to indict industry leaders for pedaling corrupting materials.  Now, in Room 110 of the United States Courthouse on Foley Square, with all eyes and television cameras focused on him, Gaines delivered his statement.

A Senate hearing and the corruption of youth

“Entertaining reading has never harmed anyone,” he began.  “Those who want to prohibit comic magazines seem to see dirty, sneaky, perverted monsters who use the comics as a blueprint for action. Do we think our children are so evil, so simple-minded, that it takes a story of murder to set them to murder, a story of robbery to set them to robbery?” Bill Gaines speaking before the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency. [caption id="attachment_119241" align="alignleft" width="300"]Tales from the Crypt Bill Gaines at the hearing of the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency.[/caption] Though his words have a ring of truth about them that is instantly recognizable today, they could hardly be considered tactful at that moment.  The men of the Subcommittee were not interested in a defense of the comic book industry, especially the comics that Gaines' company produced.  Gaines would later blame the Dexedrine for his foggy mindset and his testimony, which some saw as the pivotal moment that brought about the end of the comic book industry as they knew it. The Senate committee chairman, Robert Hendrickson, Republican of New Jersey, sat on the panel to his right.  But, it was Estes Kefauver who stole the show.  Having run for President in the Democratic primaries in 1952, Kefauver brought an air of authority to the hearings.  With his voice gaining momentum and volume as he proceeded, Gaines delivered the final proclamation that set his testimony at complete odds with the senators’ agenda and the rigid mores of the popular culture. “Nobody has ever been ruined by a comic.” Kefauver and the rest of the Subcommittee would have begged to differ.  By that point, renowned German-American psychiatrist, Dr. Fredric Wertham, had already delivered his first public attack on the comic book industry in an interview with Collier’s Magazine called “Horror in the Nursery” (by Judith Crist; March 27, 1948).  “The time has come,” declared to Wertham in the article, “to legislate these books off the newsstands and out of the candy stores." Kefauver directed Gaines’ attention to Exhibit A: the cover of Crime SuspenStories #22.  The cover featured a full-color illustration of a man holding up a woman’s severed head with one hand, her eyes rolled back and blood dripping out her parted lips.  His other hand gripped a blood-splattered ax.  “Jolting Tales of Tension in the EC Tradition,” read the caption.  That cover has since been touted as the most notorious comic book cover ever produced  - the one that the senators singled out as exemplative of the pressing moral issue facing America. [caption id="attachment_119243" align="alignright" width="206"]Tales from the Crypt Controversial Johnny Craig cover.[/caption] The cover and the issue it belonged to were part of a movement that dated back to just after World War II when returning GIs sought more titillating material than the popular detective and crime comics of the time.  In these pulp-inspired stories, the murders got more gruesome and the sex got steamier.  Titles like Guilty and Famous Crimes paved the way for the arrival of a new genre of comics – one that provided an impetus for these Senate hearings and an investigation into the corruption of the moral fabric of America: the horror comic. “Do you think that is in good taste?” Kefauver demanded, pointing at the cover. “Yes sir, I do, for the cover of a horror comic,” Gaines replied. "You have blood coming out of her mouth,” Kefauver charged back. “A little.” Did Gaines, who was not an unintelligent man, realize the absurdity of having to defend comic books as a standard for “good taste”?  Did he realize at that moment at the witness table that he was fighting an impossible battle, one in which he had no other choice but to deny the very basis of his business’ success?  For the past seven years, he and his team of maverick artists, writers, and editors had prided themselves on their ability to cater to a readership completely uninterested in “good taste.” In other words, the images and stories in the comics catered to people's expectations and desires.  The work was marketable.  That is what Gaines meant by his assertion that the cover art was in "good taste," though that is certainly not how Kefauver and the rest of the Subcommittee saw things.  With the effects of the Dexedrine starting to wear off, Gaines continued his drug-addled testimony.  By all accounts of the time, his statements were a PR disaster for his company, the industry, and comic books in general.  Did he recognize at that moment that this was the beginning of the end? Read Part II   Edited by Kyle Weckerly