Sunday, October 26, 2008

#104: Tales from the Crypt: From Comic Books to Television


Tales from the Crypt: From Comic Books to Movies
Directed by Chip Selby
Released 2004

I believe I mentioned, way back in my review of The Blob, that I used to write and draw my own comic books, most of which were based on Horror films, short stories by Stephen King or Horror comics. Naturally, almost all of these loves were done behind the backs of my parents, who were unaware that I had a hidden stash of comics like reprints of The Vault of Horror and Tales from the Crypt.

When I was growing up in the late 1970s and early 1980s, there was a massive resurgence of all things Horror related, especially in the world of comic books, where characters like Swamp Thing and even Dracula were the stars of their own series. What I didn't fully appreciate was history that existed behind the reprints of those old Horror comics, which began with a publishing company called EC Comics.

Started by a man named Maxwell Gaines and driven to prominence by his son William M. Gaines (whom you may remember as the man behind Mad magazine), the "EC" in EC Comics originally stood for "Educational Comics." The elder Gaines had been one of the comic book format's earliest pioneers, originally using his company to publish educational stories from history and the Bible.

Naturally, kids didn't want to read about shit like that in a comic book. What kind of escape can you find in the pages of a picture book that tells you the same stuff that kid is already being pummelled with in school and church?

The documentary Tales from the Crypt: From Comic Books to Television essentially tells the story of the younger Gaines inheriting his father's company and turning it into the highly successful, and eventually controversial, "Entertainment Comics," which published several lines of comics that dealt with Horror, Science Fiction, True Crime and war stories.

Obviously, this is a niche movie and a far step away from the Horror movies I've been reviewing this month. If you were a never a fan of Horror comics, the Tales from the Crypt TV show or anthology Horror movies like Creepshow or Tales from the Darkside, you might as well forget about reading the rest of this entry. For those who might be interested in the history of comics, this documentary, while cheaply made and featuring mostly "talking head" footage of interviews interspersed between archival photos and art from the comic books.

The talking heads include an impressive array of Horror legends, including George A. Romero, John Carpenter, Stephen King, and R.L. Stine, along with many of books' most famous artists. Seeing the links between these old horror comics and some of the most classic Horror movies in the past few decades is enlightening, especially when you see the obvious influence on directors like John Carpenter and zombie-king Romero (whose collaboration with King on Creepshow is also examined as an homage to the EC books).

The real dramatic meat of the documentary comes with the discussion of Dr. Frederic Wertham's Seduction of the Innocent, which blamed the comics industry for causing juvenile denliquency in America's youth. A massive Congressional inquiry occurred, followed by federal investigations which lead to the dissolution of many of the comic book publishing companies and eventually Gaines' most popular books. The film also deals with the redemption of Gaines via his success with Mad and the eventual resurgence of Tales via the HBO series.

Clocking it at just under an hour, Tales from the Crypt: From Comic Books to Television seems a little slight. A more all-encompassing documentary about how the anti-comics culture war affected the entire industry (like the story told in David Hadju's book The Ten Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America) is definitely something I'd love to see.

For more on Tales from the Crypt: From Comic Books to Television:
- Movie information at IMDB
- For more on EC Comics, check out Wikipedia.
- EC Comics online
- Buy the DVD from the official site.

The intro for the Tales from the Crypt TV show:

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