Sunday, May 20, 2007

Number 134

EC: Preachy-ing to The Choir

Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein, as publisher and editor of EC Comics, had social consciousness. They published several stories they called "preachies," which were stories told, EC-style, to demonstrate the racist and uglier side of life in America.

The preachy in Shock Suspenstories #11* is "In Gratitude," drawn by Wally Wood. The message is straightforward. A young soldier, Joey, returns home a hero from Korea. He has been wounded and lost his hand. His best buddy threw himself on a hand grenade and saved Joey's life. Because his buddy, Hank, had no family Joey has his remains sent home for burial in the town cemetery. The undertaker calls Joey's parents, as well as other townies, and they protest having this black person buried in their cemetery.

In the climactic scene Joey gets up to the podium and chews out the bigots, then sits down and cries while they walk out in silence.
Maybe no one thought about this in 1953 when it was published, but the only people shown in the story are white people. Hank, when he's shown, is pictured so his race can't be easily determined.

In a nutshell this was what I find nowadays to be outdated about the EC Preachies. White people were most often the springboards for their stories. The minority group members, blacks, Jews, Mexicans, whomever, were just props. Because of the strict storytelling strictures of EC Comics there had to be a shock ending, so the minority characters were often just a way of fooling the reader until the denouement.

"In Gratitude" was spotlighted in the documentary on the first Tales From The Crypt TV series DVD, "Tales From The Crypt: From Comic Books to Television." What wasn't mentioned that put it in some sort of historical context is that the story appeared a year before the landmark "Brown v Board Of Education" ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court, two years before the savage murder of Emmett Till, three years before the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and ten years before the March on Washington, all watershed events in the history of Civil Rights. In all of those events African-Americans were the group that had to take action. They couldn't just depend on white people, even well-meaning white people producing comic books in New York, to precipitate the action.

As well-meaning as "In Gratitude" was, I believe that anyone who believed strongly in segregation wouldn't be swayed by this story, and the readers who would most likely be in agreement with the story would be people who had a predisposition to that philosophy. I don't think the Preachies changed anybody's minds, but even while saying that, it was brave of EC to publish them. In those days of Senator Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee, Civil Rights as an issue was viewed in about the same light as Communism. It was a threat to the American way of white people having absolute power and minorities knowing their "place."

*In case you're interested, two other stories from Shock Suspenstories #11 are covered in Pappy's #102 and Pappy's #99 .

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