Weird Science The EC Archives Volume 2 (EC Comics/Gemstone)
Written by Al Feldstein with Bill Gaines, drawn by Al Feldstein, Jack Kamen, Harvey Kurtzman, Wally Wood, George Roussos, George Olsen and Joe Orlando
Collects Weird Science #7-12 (1951-1952)
For years, I heard great things about EC Comics. The stories were stunners, the art amazing and all of it way ahead of its time. But, they’re not exactly the easiest comics to get your hands on. Back in college, I got my hands on a Vault of Horror reprint annual from Gemstone, but for various reasons, I’ve never been able to get through it. While listening to the audiobook version of Ten-Cent Plague in my car (which I actually finished quite a while ago and forgot to post about), I actually made a trip to a comic book shop that had much nicer EC reprints for half off. They had this volume and then a couple of the war collections, which I wasn’t as interested in. Man, am I glad I picked this book up!
One of the things you need to know if you’re going to try and jump into the work of EC books is that they are over-written. The comics were written for kids and presumably needed lots of hand holding as far as story progression goes. But, if you can get past that and the relentless twist endings, there are some pretty fantastic stories to check out. One of the problems I’ve had with the Vault collection is that the twists are super obvious 60 years later, but also many of the stories are very similar. Science benefits from a big mix of horror, sci-fi and fantasy as well as stories drawn by some of the best artists in the medium.
I’d say I figured out the twist of about 95% of the stories by the second or third page, so they weren’t super surprising, but like a great philosopher once said, sometimes it’s about the journey not the destination. Knowing what the twist is going to be frees you up to really look at the art by Wood, Kamen, Orlando, Kurtzman and the others. These guys are fantastic. In fact, they’re so good, you can mostly skip those huge boxes of text at the top of the panels (not a single sentence ends in a period, always an exclamation point or an ellipses) and you’ll still understand what’s going on.
One more thing that I couldn’t help thinking of while reading these stories is how much of a direct connection there is in the world of sci-fi and fantasy between these stories and Twilight Zone. Both series had a nice, broad spectrum of stories they would tell. You’re as likely to read a story about a man who goes back in time to become his own dad as you are one about alien women who burst out of the chest of men. You can also see roots for movies and stories that have been made or written since then. I have no idea if James Cameron read that issue I mentioned about the women, but there’s obviously some thematic connections between it and Alien (the story is called “The Maidens Cried” from issue 10 and drawn by the amazing Wally Wood).
So, if you’re a sci-fi fan or just want to experience some historically beloved comics in a format that flatters the line work of some of the absolute masters of the form, do yourself a favor and check out some of these beautiful Gemstone hardcovers. I’d love to get my hands on all of them and might grab those war hardcovers if they’re still at the comic shop (I’m not going to say which one because I don’t want someone to snatch them up!), but they’re actually kind of pricey with $50 cover prices and often times go for more online. But, hey, it’s always nice to have a comic project, right? Time to make a checklist!
I’ve been reading comics since 1992, when Superman died. In the ensuing nearly 20 years, I’ve watched a few documentaries and read a few books about the history of the medium, but nothing too in depth. Even so, most of these kinds of things go through the same general flow of information: the first comic consisted of newspaper comic strips put in one book, someone eventually started doing that with new material, Superman came along and exploded everything, comics sold in the millions, eventually though there was a downturn, superheroes fell out of favor, horror comics got big, Frederick Wertham, the death of EC, Barry Allen kicks off the Silver Age, underground comix, grim and gritty, Image, the bust, etc.
Going into Comic Book Confidential on Netflix Instant I was curious how much of the above would be included (well, not Image because the movie came out in ’88). As it turned out nearly all of it wound up in this doc, but what really makes CBC interesting is how it focuses not on Marvel and DC after a while, but on the underground and independent comics and their creators from the 60s, 70s and 80s. After a certain point in the doc, you’d think the Big Two were just putting out nonsense that no one cared about, which might not be completely representative of what was happening, but I did appreciate the focus. I personally don’t need to hear about how Green Lantern/Green Arrow pushed the borders of what could be talked about in a comic book or how epic Claremont and Byrne’s X-Men run was for the millionth time. In fact, I hadn’t heard about guys like Spain or Gilbert Shelton, so not only getting an idea of their work but how they created or thought of creation was a lot of fun.
The movie does something kind of interesting, but also slightly annoying after a while where they have the creators featured actually reading some of their comics as the panels and pages are shown on screen. It’s actually a better presentation than I’ve seen in most motion comics, but I also would probably have liked to have seen Jack Kirby, Will Eisner, Robert Crumb, Stan Lee, Harvey Pekar, Al Feldstein, Harvey Kurtzman or any of the others get more screen time. In fact, I would love to see some of the out takes and footage that didn’t make it into the finished product because the movie’s only 90 minutes long. Someone should talk to director Ron Mann about putting out a kick ass special edition DVD with all those extras.
The most interesting aspect of this film, for me, though is how it’s such a snapshot of the comic industry at the time, or more accurately a particular aspect of it. You’d think that, from the tone of the movie, that indie comics were going to take over the world and become this amazing art form that people all over would enjoy. It’s almost like doing a documentary about youth culture that you finished and put together right before the Vietnam War hit because soon after, everything changed. There’s no real indication of the grim and gritty movement (though they do talk to Frank Miller about his Batman comics), the boom, Image and the bust. So what happened? I dunno. I’d actually like to see director Ron Mann gather as many survivors from the original doc as he can and answer that question.