In praise of Tales from the Crypt

When the news hit that Tales From the Crypt may again be revived, I knew William Gaines had to be smiling somewhere. 

Gaines was an amazingly talented publisher responsible for iconoclastic EC magazines like Crypt and Mad Magazine.

Other EC comics such as Crypt, Vault of Horror, and The Haunt of Fear, were the precursors to modern horror films, showing blood and violence that movies of the time couldn’t. 

It was a big influence on George Romero’s ultra-bloody approach to his movies, and he and Stephen King paid great respect to the EC comics with their ’82 homage Creepshow.

But the EC Comics weren’t just about gore. They taught moral lessons to the kids reading them, and like the Twilight Zone, if you were a bad person, you would soon get terrible, supernatural retribution. And like the Twilight Zone, the EC comics took on controversial issues no one else would touch, including racism and drug abuse. 

As Gaines said in the book, Tales From the Crypt: The Official Archives, “If somebody did something really bad, he usually ‘got it.’ And of course the EC way was he got it the same way he gave it.”

The government didn’t feel the same way about the EC titles however, and they soon started cracking down on comics, one of the first times the powers that be started going after art in the interest of “protecting our children.”

The anti-comic campaign was lead by a psychiatrist named Fredric Wertham, who accused Batman and Robin of being gay lovers, and Wonder Woman of being a sadistic lesbian.

Newsstands and candy stores were shut down for carrying EC comics, a crusade that happened, incidentally, at the same time of the McCarthy hearings, and finally Gaines and company threw in the towel in September 1954.

The last issues of the EC Comics carried a sad farewell and also took a jab at those who believed horror comics caused the ills of the world: “Naturally, with comic magazine censorship now a fact, we at EC look forward to an immediate drop in the crime and juvenile delinquency rate of the United States.”

Many years later, things were much different. The influence of EC on modern horror proved enormous, and Tales From the Crypt became a hit on HBO when it debuted in 1989.

As Bill’s widow, Anne Gaines, said, “The public may remember Bill best for Made, but Tales From the Crypt and the other horror comics always had a very special place in his heart. He was so pleased when it became a successful TV series. It was a great vindication.”