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Between the Panels: Horror Revamped
By Lance Victor Eaton (January 2008)

For those who know don't know much about comic book lore, the classic stories from EC Comics in the late 1940s and early 1950s almost single-handedly reinvented comics and shortly afterwards became the boogeyman that would tarnish all other comics' cultural value for years to come. As World War II ended and the Cold War began, comics transitioned from a superhero-dominant medium into one where artists and publishers began exploring crime, science fiction, and horror, presenting more realistic and violent events. Within a short time, psychiatrist Frederic Wertham attacked these comics and worked hard to clean them up.

As a result, the comic book industry mandated a new code of ethics in which numerous themes, actions, and language were prohibited from comics if they were to receive the Comics Code Authority stamp of approval. For many years, the comics industry was dominated by this standard and it's only in the last few decades that most major publishers have crept away from it. That's not to say that comics include all the graphic violence, language, and sex we see on movie channels late at night, but rather that many companies do publish series targeted at adults.

Vault of HorrorLooking back at the EC Comics era, The Vault of Horror stands as one of those popular but often graphic series that led to Wertham's attack. By today's standard, the graphic violence and sexual innuendo is far less than one would catch on prime time television. Indeed, in EC Archives: The Vault of Horror Volume 1 (a collection of the first six issues), the violence is minimal, leaving much to the imagination. Occasionally, there is a body burned alive or mauled by a werewolf, but overall, characters' ghastly demise happens only within readers' minds.

For this compilation, R.L. Stine's one page Foreword proves only mildly interesting. The remastered color panels on glossy paper are the real gems, allowing readers to easily access the language and view the much underrated art throughout. In addition to the comic stories, this collection also includes original running commentary from the Vault Keeper (a ghoulish figure who introduced many of the stories) as well as letters to the comics, and original comic covers. However, as in many of Gemstone Publishing's re-released collections, the best additions are the one-page essays at the beginning of each issue, providing a range of information about the series, its artists, and EC Comics - giving useful context to readers.

Ghouls Gone WildTales from the Crypt #1: Ghouls Gone Wild! can't really compare - but then it's not supposed to. This is one of the Papercutz series from NBM, an award-winning comic publishing house who have branched into a variety of demographics over the years. Papercutz's main reading population are 8-14 year old tweens. Based on the original EC Comic series, this compilation of short horror and suspense stories works well into this group.

Readers are introduced to the three classic EC Comic characters - the Crypt-Keeper, the Old Witch, and the Vault-Keeper - who guide readers through five short pieces, providing painful puns and dreadful laughs along the way. The stories themselves do have an edge to them, but of course the artists and editors make sure never to be egregiously violent and certainly abstain from foul language and explicit sexual innuendo. The art changes with each artist and while some of the stories visually mimic the old EC Comics, this series has taken a divergent path and tried new - and in some ways more haunting - artwork to drive their stories.

Some might say we have a morbid fascination with horror. It pops up in all media and no matter how low-brow people believe it to be, it still has great staying power. As we can see with these two books, spanning over fifty years in the genre, it still has an appeal, presenting us with visually rich and engaging material.
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