Bloody-Disgusting’s Visions of Horror aims to highlight the creative talents of artists who have left an indelible mark on the comics industry, through their significant contributions to the horror genre. From Golden Age classics to Modern Age inspirations, we have illuminated various popular pieces of comic book art from a stylistically diverse group of industry powerhouses, such as the likes ofRichard Corben, Bernie Wrightson, and Menton3. Today, the latest VoH spotlight will be shining on none other than renowned MADcartoonist — and Comic Book Hall of Fame inductee — Jack Davis. Specifically, this article will look at his legendary work in some of the most recognizable names in horror anthology comics, “Tales from the Crypt” and “The Haunt of Fear”.
Davis was fresh out of college and starving for work when he marched into EC Comics’ headquarters in Manhattan, in 1950. It was there where he met the influential Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein who, evidently, saw something very special in the artist’s portfolio; because both owner and editor hired Davis on the spot, effectively kickstarting his iconic career.
At the time, horror comics seemed to be at the height of popularity in the industry, and EC Comics was at the center of the playing field. Davis was put to work immediately, contributing to a variety of different titles under the publishing company’s expanding belt. Although he didn’t particularly prefer to draw the gruesomely delicious illustrations he concocted for EC Comics, Davis’ images of slobbering beasts, grotesquely detailed freaks, and nefarious individuals with distinguishably villainous features, are still being lauded as some of the best artistic works in classic horror, today. With a plethora of hair-raising and controversial pieces featured in widely popular horror anthologies like “Tales from the Crypt”, “The Haunt of Fear”, and “The Vault of Horror”, it’s not difficult to understand why.
For anyone interested in classic horror comics, “Tales from the Crypt”, as well as its contemporaries, serves as a great starting point for novices and aficionados alike. Not only because it’s such an integral part of comics history, but because it’s a prime example of how impactful classic horror comics can be in shaping a new generation of nightmarish tales for the masses. The stories take readers through themes of revenge, murder, corruption and comeuppance, presented through an overarching narrative of morality and karma. The artistic style of dull colour palettes and loud pastels really lends itself to the brutal depictions of gratuitous violence, crime, and sexual content, as well as to Davis’ wickedly illustrated ghouls, werewolves, zombies, and vampires for those unforgettable supernatural tales.
Davis quickly established himself as one of the more prolific illustrators at EC Comics, and was soon taking over as cover artist for“Tales from the Crypt”. He had done 17 consecutive covers in total, from issue #29 through #46; three of which are featured above. Most significantly, he was given artistic control over the famous storyteller and ghoul-lunatic host, the Crypt-Keeper. In the comics, the Crypt-Keeper (as seen below) is a scraggly-haired, decrepit elderly creeper, with a fantastically hideous face and a devilish wit. The following image is taken from the cover of an EC Comics’ cartoonist anthology collection, courtesy of Fantagraphics Books, titled “Taint The Meat…It’s The Humanity! and Other Stories.”
Horror stories, such as the ones written and drawn in these anthologies, reigned supreme in the unregulated era, before the Comics Code Authority forced the industry to self-censor in response to public outcry derived from psychiatrist, Fredric Wertham’s fear-mongering. He had written a fairly best-selling book linking comic books to juvenile delinquency, and these raw, classic tales bore the brunt of the attack. Severe restrictions were made on what could be published, and as a result, “Tales from the Crypt”, along with other various horror titles, were unceremoniously discontinued in 1955.
One of the more controversial stories illustrated by Davis was referenced in Wertham’s book due to the nature of violence featured in the tale. “Foul Play” was published in “The Haunt of Fear” #19 in 1953. It stood out amongst the rest for its brutal depiction of a baseball game gone horribly wrong. Intestines are illustrated to mark base lines; severed limbs are used as bats; and a decapitated head takes the place of a ball. Take a look.
Davis’s style reflects the bold fearless sensationalism that gives horror its resonance. His illustrations produce an air of confidence and a grit that comes from a deep understanding of the genre. He genuinely carries the stories with his artistic contributions, providing a strong dynamic and authenticity to the pages. While his horror artwork might not represent himself as an artist, it is the perfect representation of the comics culture of that time; daring, gritty, a bit cheesy, and unquestionably unapologetic.
That’s exactly why his work from EC Comics is still relevant, sixty plus years after the fact. It has been revived and reprinted numerous times, and has paved the way for many different media adaptations over the years. There have been a handful of films and even a few television series; from child-friendly Saturday morning cartoons à la “Tales from the Cryptkeeper”, to HBO’s “Tales from the Crypt”which ran for 7 seasons, produced 93 episodes, and was just as gory and explicit as the comics.
If you’re interested in more Visions of Horror, check out our previous posts HERE. If you want Bloody-Disgusting to cover one of your favourite horror artists, or a fantastic piece of horror-related comic book art, head down to the comment section, or hit upShadowJayd on Twitter.
Author: ShadowJayd, known everywhere else as Farah Jayden Hakkak, has been a staff writer for Bloody-Disgusting since July 2012. You can find her on Twitter, or passed out by the dirt road behind Wendy’s.