Comics Ate My Brain

May 18, 2005

Foul Play! Is More Than Fair

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom Bondurant @ 1:45 am
Foul Play!, subtitled The Art And Artists Of The Notorious 1950s E.C. Comics!, is clearly author Grant Geissman’s labor of love. It’s the kind of book an enthusiastic fan would write, and the enthusiasm fairly oozes out of the pages. Foul Play! reminded me of the Les Daniels/Chip Kidd Complete History volumes devoted to Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, and its coverage is no less comprehensive. There’s enough here to keep a reader entertained for quite a while, from biographies of the artists to reproductions of representative stories. At times there’s almost too much information on a page, but for the most part the effect is endearing, not off-putting.

E.C. was the black sheep of the comics industry in the 1950s, taking a fair amount of heat from watchdog groups for its horror and science fiction stories which tended toward the grisly. Its titles definitely stood out next to comics’ more kid-oriented fare. However, its live-fast, die-young notoriety has served it well over the years, inspiring tributes in modern comics and a long-running HBO series, Tales from the Crypt. I think of E.C.’ s stable as the dinosaurs of comic books — important steps in comics’ evolution, of which only a vestigal trace (Mad magazine) is left today.

The book is divided into thirteen solo biographies, each accompanied by a story. Other sections include short “best of the rest” bios, a brief history of the company, and an unpublished E.C. story. The focus is therefore on the artists, with E.C.’s place in overall comics history summarized at the beginning. Accordingly, related books like Mad and Cracked, as well as certain artists’ superhero work, aren’t given as much detail as the artists’ work on the main E.C. titles. Still, this book is detailed enough, and the artists’ post-E.C. work is given enough attention that the reader can relate each biography to something more familiar.

After the gold-rush days of the 1940s, E.C. Comics and its artists represented a desire to push comics past its pulp roots and into the realm of stories told for adults. However, by the end of the 1950s E.C. as it had been was gone, and the superheroes were back to stay. Although many of today’s comics feature topics as mature, and stories more profane, than the “worst” of E.C.’s output, American comic books still struggle with their juvenile-literature image. Foul Play! is a vivid, entertaining tour of comics’ first rebellion.

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