Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Number 1680: Adventures into EC imitation

In the last few issues of their horror titles before the Comics Code was implemented, the American Comics Group dropped its regular vampire/werewolf/ghost stories for less “objectionable” fare. Unlike some other publishers, EC’s Bill Gaines, for instance, who took opposition to the forces that were looking to either kill or censor comic books, ACG decided it needed to voluntarily make some changes. In Adventures Into the Unknown #60 (Nov.-Dec., 1954), an editorial on the state of the horror comics says, “ . . . As violations of good taste [by rival publishers] increased — as pictorial content grew more and more lurid — it was inevitable that a wave of protest should come into being. Such protest is constructive, we feel — save where it attempts to condemn the entire realm of comics because of the sins of the few.” [Emphasis mine.]

ACG was one of the few publishers signed up for the Code able to make the transition and keep the line going. It lasted another 12 years, until 1967. But in the few remaining pre-Code issues something different from what their readers were used to was tried, and that was the “shock ending” type of story. It was a style used by EC, and imitated by some of their competitors. ACG tried it, and as an example came up with this science fiction story. It was a short-lived experiment. The art is by Kenneth Landau.

Two more Landau stories: another pre-Code tale, and the very last story published in Forbidden Worlds in 1967. Just click on the thumbnail.


Ryan Anthony said...

Landau's art was really good, but I'm afraid the ending wasn't a schock. It was pretty obvious from the moment they entered the mouse hole.
The bit about Bol expecting a hero's welcome reminded me of a hilarious story in Ray Bradbury's "Martian Chronicles."
Do you think the editorial, especially the part about "good taste," was a dig at William Gaines and EC?

Brian Barnes said...

That very Wood-like art. It's a pretty decent but more low-budget imitation.

I think publishes like ACG really missed the point of EC's "shock endings" stories. They were definitely ways to wrap up stories, but where just one feature of the story. The journey to the ending was the more important part, and that's where EC shined.

When you replace it with just a shock ending, you get stories like this. Illustrated well, a light read, but not really anything memorable.

J_D_La_Rue_67 said...

"Where no man has succeeded before"... sounds familiar.

Seems like ACG's attitude was precisely the same attempt to "anticipate the mortal blow" that led italian publishers to create their own corporate "Moral Guarantee" code when a similar bill was proposed, as I said before.
I admire and respect Gaines' "uncompromising" attitude, but I guess sometimes you just HAVE to compromise, not to give up, but hoping to "outwit" your opponent.
Really nice art here, very EC style (Orlando? Sometimes I get confused with artists).
Lovely aliens, pretty lame "surprise ending" (maybe was ok in '54). Thanks.

Darci said...

Hospitality seems to be cut from the same cloth as "The Invaders", Rod Serling's favorite Twilight Zone episode from Richard Matheson. That episode didn't air until 1961. I wonder if the idea had appeared in print even earlier?

Pappy said...

J D, here is an interesting Code-approved reprint of a pre-Code story. It's also drawn by Kenneth Landau, and the pre-Code version of the story is milder than the Comics Code-approved story.

I don't know how censorship works in your country, but in the U.S. no government agency would be able to censor comic books. The self-censoring was done to appease parents, teachers, and politicians who were alarmed by the content of comic books. Because Bill Gaines, much criticized for his horror comics, did not originally join the Comics Code Authority some distributors were not putting his comics out for sale. The economics of the situation led him to join the Code, but the stringency of the Code at that point, plus slumping sales, led him to quit the color comic book business.

Pappy said...

Darci, it has been so many years since I saw "The Invaders" I can't really respond, except to say that the general idea was probably around before 1954 when ACG did their story...EC had been doing the "you eat it so it eats you" style stories and that was what this story imitated.

(I read Matheson in the 1950s and '60s — he was a favorite of mine — and his short stories and novels like I Am Legend and The Shrinking Man were read and re-read, as much for the ideas as for their emotional content. Not every fantasy or science fiction writer was able to capture feelings as well as Matheson.)

Even an early (1951) and fairly minor short story of Matheson's, "Drink My Red Blood" has its moments where you can see this guy had some original ways of looking at stories. Read it here.

Pappy said...

Ryan, sure it was a dig at Gaines. He volunteered to speak to the Senate Subcommittee looking into comic books, and so he put himself out front as the "spokesman" for the more disreputable comic books. And there were lots of comics out there that were coat-tailing EC with out-and-out imitations of EC or just grossout stories (you know, the kind we love!) but I believe Gaines was the guy who ended up nailed to the cross.

Pappy said...

Brian, I agree with you about 99%...I thought EC fell into the formula plot-trap often enough that sometimes when re-reading the comics I skip-read those stories. (Ignoring the captions, specifically.)

But yes, there were many more stories that did shine.

J_D_La_Rue_67 said...

Thanks Pappy. I already checked this great and touching story. Landau can really draw aliens.
Yes the italian MG was pretty much like Comics Code, only it lasted a few years, from 1962 to 1967.
The Catholic Church also published from 1951 a "Kid's press showcase" edited by the "Apostolate of Good Press" (I'm not kidding, man), which purpose was to review and to list "Morally harmful press, not to be read by youngsters for any reason, being an excitement to crime, corruption and sensuality". An index of forbidden comics!
A government censorship commitee was instituted for movies in the Fifties, mostly to appease the Church who had a similar institution since the Thirties.
Being a librarian, I'm currently looking at some movie reviews the Church commitee made in the Thirties-Forties including "Bride of Frankenstein" and it's great laugh.
No movie mentioning the word "divorce" or somehow offending "the Divinity" could be shown in Parish cinemas, but Nazi documentaries showing the war in Poland and France were highly recommended!
Anyway, the Church had, and have, its own comics publishers, but it's a long story and I'm definitely too long... Thanks!