Scenes Dealing with Walking Dead, Torture, Vampires

In midtwentieth-century America, the appetite for comics was astounding. As many as a hundred million books were sold each month. Whereas the comics of the forties starred talking animals and muscle-bound superheroes, the fifties saw the rise of comics that grew darker and stranger. One publisher, Entertaining Comics (EC), altered the landscape of American pop culture with its twisted, vividly illustrated forays into genre: science fiction, horror, mysteries, suspense, war stories. Readers devoured EC’s gruesome tales, but the golden age of crypt-keepers and space dinosaurs was short-lived. In 1954, the Comics Magazine Association of America—besieged by obscenity trials, comic-book burnings, and claims that comics caused juvenile delinquency—established the infamous Comics Code. One criterion of the Code prohibited “scenes dealing with, or instruments associated with walking dead, torture, vampires and vampirism, ghouls, cannibalism, and werewolfism.” “Tales from the Crypt: The Revolutionary Art of MAD and EC Comics,” showing at the Society of Illustrators until October 27, collects more than seventy comic-book pages of pre-Code, ghoulish gore. Feast your eyes, and may your juvenile delinquency be long and prosperous.

 

Johnny Craig, The Vault of Horror, issue no. 30 cover, ink on paper, April–May 1953. From the collection of Eugene Park and Anna Copland.

 

Al Feldstein, Shock SuspenStories, issue no. 7 cover, ink on paper, February–March 1953. From the collection of Zaddick Longenbach.

 

Al Williamson, Bill Gaines, Al Feldstein, and Jim Wroten, Space-Borne!, Weird Science, issue no. 16, ink on paper, November–December 1952. From the collection of Jim Halperin.

 

Marie Severin (original illustration by Graham Ingels), The Haunt of Fear, issue no. 17 cover, ink on paper, hand-colored lithograph, watercolor, June 1974. From the collection of Rob Pistella.

 

Wally Wood and Harvey Kurtzman, Blobs!, MAD, issue no. 1, page 6 of 7, ink on paper, October–November 1952. From the collection of Rob Pistella.

 

Wally Wood, Weird Science, issue no. 15 cover, ink on paper, September–October 1952. From the collection of Ken Caviness.

 

Jack Davis, Tales from the Crypt, issue no. 35 cover, ink on paper, April–May 1953. From the collection of Zaddick Longenbach.