Monday, February 10, 2014

I Reads You Review: "Foul Play!"


WRITER: Grant Geissman
COVER: Johnny Craig (Back cover by Graham Ingels)
ISBN: 978-0060746988; paperback (April 2005)
272pp, Color, $29.95 U.S.

Foul Play! The Art and Artists of the Notorious 1950s E.C. Comics is a 2005 non-fiction book.  Written by Grant Geissman, the book profiles the careers of the artists who drew for E.C. Comics in the early 1950s, focusing on the 14 artists most associated with the publisher.  This book also includes 14 E.C. stories drawn by these artists.

What was E.C. Comics?  Entertaining Comics was a comic book publisher that was first known as Educational Comics when it was founded in 1944 by Max Gaines.  Of course, Entertaining Comics is best known by its common name “E.C. Comics.”  Max Gaines died in a boating accident in 1947, and his son, William “Bill” Gaines, took over the company.  In 1949 and 1950, Bill Gaines began publishing a line of new titles that featured crime, horror, military, science fiction, and suspense comics.

Under the editorship of Al Feldstein and Harvey Kurtzman, this line featured the work of prominent and talented freelance illustrators like Jack Davis, Will Elder, Bernard Krigstein, and Wally Wood (to name a few).  Titles like Tales from the Crypt, Frontline Combat, Shock SuspenStories, Weird Science, and Weird Fantasy (to name a few) presented a fresh approach to comic book storytelling.  This line of comic books became a hit with readers.  Eventually, however, controversy and political backlash effectively ended E.C. Comics in 1954.

Originally published in April 2005, Foul Play! The Art and Artists of the Notorious 1950s E.C. Comics is a paperback book (8.5” x 11”) that profiles these artists who drew for E.C. Comics.  The book’s author, Grant Geissman, is an Emmy-nominated composer of music for television programs.  Geissman is also an expert on E.C. Comics and MAD Magazine (also originally published by Bill Gaines).

Foul Play! (which is out-of-print as of this writing) is practically a who’s who of mid-20th century popular illustration.  The book features such E.C. artists as Al Feldstein, Harvey Kurtzman, Johnny Craig, Jack Davis, (Ghastly) Graham Ingels, Jack Kamen, Wallace “Wally” Wood, Joe Orlando, Will Elder, John Severin, George Evans, Al Williamson, Reed Crandall, and Bernie Krigstein, among others. Geissman offers biographical details about the artists, describes how they came to work for Bill Gaines, and how their careers evolved after E.C. Comics.

Foul Play! also reprints 14 stories from various E.C. comics publications, each one showcasing the work of a particular artist.  Plus, the book includes, as a special bonus, a lost E.C. Comics story, entitled, “Wanted for Murder!”  Drawn by Al Williamson (with an uncredited assist from Angelo Torres), this was originally intended to be published in 1956 in Crime Illustrated, part of the E.C. Picto-Fiction magazine line.  The magazine was never published, and the story was forgotten and unseen until published in this book.

Over the years, I have had occasion to read reprint editions of various EC Comics.  I even have one of those Russ Cochran boxed sets (the four-volume Weird Science).  I had not heard of Foul Play! and discovered it on a wire book shelf in a comic book shop I was visiting.

I was actually at the shop to pick up some comic books that I was going to review for the Comic Book Bin.  But Foul Play! caught my attention the same way a nude photograph of Halle Berry or Charlize Theron probably would.  That was about nine years ago.  In that time, I have read this book a few times, read portions of it numerous times, and thumbed through it countless times (especially when I’m on the toilet).

Foul Play! The Art and Artists of the Notorious 1950s E.C. Comics is an evergreen book.  It is always going to be relevant because I think that comic book scholars and aficionados will never forget E.C. Comics.  They were a high-water mark in the history of comic books, especially American comic books; perhaps, they were the first high-water mark of American comic books.  Anyone who ever read them never forgot them, and for some, they were an inspiration.  Because some of the people this line of comics influenced went on to contribute to American culture (high, low, and pop), E.C. Comics may have ceased publication, but it never died.  So Foul Play! may be out of print, but it is still in play.


Reviewed by Leroy Douresseaux

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