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Creator / EC Comics

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EC Comics' publisher William Gaines, flanked by the Crypt Keeper, the Old Witch, and the Vault Keeper.

"You should know this about our horror books. We have no ghosts, devils, goblins, or the like. We tolerate vampires and werewolves, if they follow tradition and behave the way respectable vampires and werewolves should. We love walking corpse stories. We’ll accept the occasional zombie or mummy. And we relish the tales of sadism. Virtue doesn’t always have to triumph."
"EC Comics Horror Guidelines", from a 1950s Help Wanted ad

"We try to entertain and educate. That's all there is to it. A lot of people have the idea that we're a bunch of monsters who sit around drooling and dreaming up horror and filth. That's not true, as you can see."
Bill Gaines, really trying to walk back that Help Wanted ad, as quoted in "Depravity for Children — 10 Cents a Copy!" (The Hartford Courant, Feb. 14, 1954)

A short-lived but highly influential U.S. publisher of Anthology Comic books.

EC Comics was founded by Maxwell Gaines in 1944 as "Educational Comics", with the aim of producing fact-based comic books marketed at churches and schools. After his death in 1947, his son William M. Gaines inherited the business, re-branding it as "Entertaining Comics" and producing titles in more typical commercially-oriented genres: Western, Crime Fiction, romance. Then, beginning in 1949, the younger Gaines started introducing the "New Trend" series, with titles focusing on Horror (Tales from the Crypt, The Vault of Horror, The Haunt of Fear), crime (Crime SuspenStories), realistically depicted war (Two-Fisted Tales, Frontline Combat), Science Fiction (Weird Science, Weird Fantasy), or a mixture of the above (Shock SuspenStories). The horror, science fiction, and crime stories almost invariably featured Twist Endings, and EC was making extensive use of the Karmic Twist Ending before The Twilight Zone (1959) ever aired. (They stayed clear of the Cruel Twist Ending.)

A combination of evocative (if sensationalistic and florid) writing and excellent art by some of the top comic book artists of the time, combined with outreach to the fans, quickly caused EC's sales to skyrocket. In addition to a strong theme of often gruesome poetic justice, EC's titles often tackled social issues of the day, especially in their science fiction and suspense books.

At its height its roster included the legendary Harvey Kurtzman, Al Feldstein, Wally Wood, Bernard Krigstein, Bill Elder, Jack Davis, and several other legendary talents who revolutionized the history of comics. The style of EC Comics, with its personalized editorials created a sense of give and take between readers and creators that would later be imitated by the Marvel Bullpen. EC was also groundbreaking for featuring profiles of some of its creators in its pages and for its broad range of subject matter which made it perhaps the only major comics publishing imprint with a regular adult audience. They benefited greatly from the post-war climate which saw superheroes displaced in popularity. Put simply, the struggle for Alternative Comics to justify their existence in a market dominated by superheroes did not exist then. This allowed them to tackle a range of subjects and ideas with a freshness not seen in comics at that time and rarely afterwards.

EC was not shy about "borrowing" ideas from prose stories and were caught at it by Ray Bradbury, but they were able to negotiate a settlement, and published several fine and very faithful authorized adaptations of his work.

This was also the birthplace of a little comic book called Tales Calculated to Drive You MAD, a satire and comedy title. Its first issues sold poorly, but it soon found enough of a following to inspire a number of imitators, including one published by EC itself (Panic).

But it was too good to last. A groundswell of outrage from the Moral Guardians of the mid-1950s led to a Congressional investigation of possible ties between comic books and juvenile delinquency. To protect themselves from possible government censorship, the comic book publishers established The Comics Code in 1954, resulting in comics being forbidden to have sexual content, racial content, drugs and alcohol (unless it's for educational purposes) and graphic violence in them. William Gaines, although he'd initially been in favor of the idea, felt the code adopted was far too restrictive and gave the Code authorities too much opportunity for Executive Meddling.

After distributors refused to carry comic books without the Comics Code Authority stamp, Gaines reluctantly signed EC up to the service. This required canceling several series, some of them the company's best sellers, as the magazines' very titles violated the Code. Despite a valiant attempt at a "New Direction" focusing more on social realism than horror, EC remained blacklisted by many newsdealers, and found itself too frequently clashing with the CCA executives. Gaines tried to carry on the tradition of adult-oriented stories with the Picto-Fiction magazines, but they didn't sell.

Notoriously, EC was told by the CCA to change the ethnicity of a character in a reprint of the classic Does This Remind You of Anything? story "Judgment Day", on what was blatantly racist grounds. This was the last straw, and the story was reprinted unchanged in the final comic book published by the company.

The black-and-white MAD, which had switched from the color-comic medium in 1955 for reasons unrelated to the Code, ultimately became the sole surviving EC publication and went on to decades of success as a satirical/parodical magazine for children, adolescents, and proudly immature adults. But the influence of EC has continued through multiple reprints, homages by subsequent horror and SF writers, a pair of early-'70s British feature films titled Tales from the Crypt and Vault of Horror, and the television series Tales from the Crypt.

Despite this, EC Comics wasn't forgotten by its readership who sustained its influence through a cult like devotion. Many of them, indeed became underground comics artists as well as original talents who later worked on mainstream comics bringing the EC influence with them, among them Robert Crumb, Frank Miller, Neil Gaiman, Art Spiegelman and Alan Moore to name a few. Indeed this cultlike popularity played a role in the development of comics fandom and today EC endures as one of the greatest contribution to the comics industry.

Not to be confused with DC Comics, although their properties are now both owned by Warner Bros..

Comics Published By The Company:

  • Pre-Trend Comics (1946-1950):
    • Animal Fables (1946–1947) #1-7
    • Animated Comics (1947) #1
    • Blackstone the Magician Detective Fights Crime (1947) #1
    • Crime Patrol (1948–1950) #7-16 (continued as The Crypt of Terror)
    • Dandy Comics (1947–1948) #1-7
    • Fat and Slat (1947–1948) #1-4 (continued as Gunfighter)
    • Gunfighter (1948–1950) #5-14 (continued as The Haunt of Fear)
    • Happy Houlihans (1947) #1-2 (continued as Saddle Justice)
    • International Comics (1947) #1-5 (continued as International Crime Patrol)
    • International Crime Patrol (1948) #6 (continued as Crime Patrol)
    • Land of the Lost (1946–1948) #1-9
    • Modern Love (1949–1950) #1-8
    • A Moon, a Girl...Romance (1949–1950) #9-12 (continued as Weird Fantasy)
    • Moon Girl (1947–1949) #2-6 (continued as Moon Girl Fights Crime!)
    • Moon Girl and the Prince (1947) #1 (continued as Moon Girl)
    • Moon Girl Fights Crime! (1949) #7-8 (continued as A Moon, a Girl...Romance)
    • Picture Stories from the Bible (1944–1946) #1-3 (New Testament edition, Old Testament edition published by DC Comics)
    • Picture Stories from American History (1945–1947) #1-4
    • Picture Stories from Science (1947) #1-2
    • Picture Stories from World History (1947) #1-2
    • Saddle Justice (1948–1949) #3-8 (continued as Saddle Romances)
    • Saddle Romances (1949–1950) #9-11 (continued as Weird Science)
    • Tiny Tot Comics (1946–1947) #1-10
    • War Against Crime! (1948–1950) #1-11 (continued as The Vault of Horror)

  • New Trend Comics (1950-1955)
    • The Crypt of Terror/Tales from the Crypt (April/May 1950 to February/March 1955, 27 issues)
    • The Vault of Horror (April/May 1950 to December/January 1955, 29 issues)
    • The Haunt of Fear (May/June 1950 to November/December 1954, 28 issues)
    • Weird Fantasy (May/June 1950 to November/December 1953, 22 issues)
    • Weird Science (May/June 1950 to November/December 1953, 22 issues)
    • Crime SuspenStories (October/November 1950 to February/March 1955, 27 issues)
    • Two-Fisted Tales (November/December 1950 to February 1955, 24 issues)
    • Frontline Combat (July/August, 1951 to January 1954, 15 issues)
    • Shock SuspenStories (February/March 1952 to December/January 1955, 18 issues)
    • Tales Calculated to Drive You MAD (October/November 1952 to May 1955, 23 issues)
      • Retooled as MAD magazine, with issue #24 in July 1955; ongoing to this day
    • Three Dimensional E.C. Classics/Three Dimensional Tales from the Crypt of Terror (Spring 1954 to March 1954, 2 issues)
    • Panic (February–March 1954 to December/January 1956, 12 issues)
    • Weird Science-Fantasy (March 1954 to May/June 1955, 7 issues)
    • Piracy (October/November 1954 to October/November 1955, 7 issues)

  • New Direction Comics (1955-1956)
    • Impact (March/April 1955)
    • Valor (March/April 1955)
    • Extra! (March/April 1955)
    • Aces High (March/April 1955)
    • Psychoanalysis (March/April, 1955)
    • M.D. (April/May 1955)
    • Incredible Science Fiction (July/August 1955)
    • Confessions Illustrated (1955-1956)
    • Crime Illustrated (1955-1956)
    • Shock Illustrated (1955-1956)
    • Terror Illustrated (1955-1956)

Tropes associated with EC Comics include:

  • Absence of Evidence: In "Fall Guy for Murder" from Crime Suspenstories #18, a man hires a detective to find his wife who he claims took everything she had and ran out on him. The gumshoe immediately becomes suspicious when he sees that literally every last thing she had ever owned was missing; every piece of clothing, every single pair of shoes, every last hat, all of her luggage, etc. As he notes, a lady running away from her husband on the quick would leave behind something she wouldn't bother taking. It turns out to be a set-up.
  • Absurdly Dedicated Worker: In one story a man's Robot Wife keeps protecting him long after he's dead and his flesh has rotted away.
  • Actually Not a Vampire — a resolution in one "guess what this person is" story. Since this was a story in EC Comics, it didn't end there.
  • Adipose Rex: Seen frequently in the "Grim Fairy Tales" and any other medieval-themed story involving a wicked king.
  • An Aesop:
    • Judgment Day features an astronaut from Earth refusing to allow a planet of robots whose society is segregated along color lines to join a coalition of civilized species. The moral about segregation and how it can be overcome is then made crystal clear when the astronaut takes his helmet off and the reader discovers that he is black.
    • Master Race is about a German immigrant to America after World War II who is driven to near-madness because he believes he is being stalked by someone from the war. As the story unfolds, it is slowly revealed that the man was a commander at Bergen-Belsen, and the man following him is a Jew he had tortured who had vowed revenge. The story is shot through with accurate descriptions and depictions of what occurred in the Nazi concentration camps, and was one of the first pieces in American popular culture to address the Holocaust at all.
  • Artistic Licence – History: In Desert Fox, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel is depicted as being stopped in the street by random SS and Gestapo men who tell him that they have orders from Hitler to accompany him to Berlin by car, after which they explain to him that Hitler has given him two choices: either be tried by the People's Court in Berlin, or commit suicide by poison. In real life, two generals from Hitler's headquarters, Wilhelm Burgdorf and Ernst Maisel, visited Rommel at his home, with Burgdorf informing him of the charges against him and offering him three options: either choosing to defend himself in front of Hitler, facing the People's Court, or taking poison, with the last option ensuring him a burial with full military honors and with his family and staff spared. Rommel opted for suicide and explained his decision to his wife and son before getting into Burgdorf's car and taking the poison.
  • Asshole Victim: See Karmic Death.
  • Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever: One sci-fi tale had a man turn into an ever-growing giant. While the Square-Cube Law is ignored, his increased need for energy is not... He's eventually consuming over fifty tons of meat a day, and the government actually has to destroy him before he causes a famine!
  • Author Powers: "My World", a Feldstein story written as a showcase for Wally Wood's talent, which depicts the artist's act of creation as a beautiful, amazing thing that transcends the bonds of mundane reality. (Decades later, Wood would skewer Feldstein's idealism in the deeply profane and cynical Self-Parody "My Word" for Big Apple Comix, where sex — the ultimate act of creation — is revealed to be just as dulled by the hopeless passivity of modern life as everything else, and the artist has absolutely no control over any of it.)
  • Back from the Dead: Many stories in the horror titles have the victim(s) pulling this off in order to ensure that justice will be served. Subverted when a couple of stories involve people being revived but still decaying afterward.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: In "A Kind of Justice", its revealed that the rapist the townsfolk are hunting for was in fact the sheriff who consoles and intimidates his victim that he'll kill her family if she doesn't comply and its implied will continue to act the same way. Extremely dark stuff.
  • Beastly Bloodsports: In Vault of Horror story "The Pit!" (#40, 1954) has competing cockfighting and dogfighting rings; the money-hungry women who run them are jealous of each other's profits and goad their Henpecked Husbands into escalating the fights to draw more customers until the two men decide to pit the women against each other. Got a No Animals Were Harmed adaptation for the Tales from the Crypt TV show, where the husbands are MMA fighters whose wives are their overcompetitive managers.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: In "Wish You Were Here", a businessman's wife discovers an enchanted Chinese figurine and wishes for a fortune. Learning that her husband was killed while driving to his lawyer's office (after naming her the beneficiary of a generous life insurance policy), and remembering what happened in "The Monkey's Paw", she wishes for him to be brought back to the way he was "just before the accident"; unfortunately, he's still a corpse since he died of a heart attack just before the crash. She uses the third and final wish to make him alive... which condemns him to eternal pain and agony, since his dead body had been embalmed. Even her hacking him to tiny bits can't put him out of his misery.
    • In "A Sock For Christmas", a baker demands that the king fills his son's stocking after his son had gone through hell being the prince's whipping boy. The king laughs at his request. But the next day, the baker's son ends up getting a whole pile of presents and his father gets what he asked for. He wanted the king to fill his son's stocking, so Santa Claus did just that... piece by piece!
  • Big Damn Heroes: "The Thing from the Grave" ("Tales from the Crypt #22") features the protagonist, Jim, getting killed off and buried by Bill, a jealous rival, who then tries to kill Jim's girlfriend after she rejects his advances. But because Jim made a promise to save Laura from any danger, no matter where he is, Jim promptly rises from the grave in time to save Laura from the burning building Bill trapped her in (and then drag Bill back into his own grave with him).
  • Black Comedy: A frequent staple of all the titles.
  • Blob Monster: The stories "Ooze in the Cellar", "Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes", and "Strictly From Hunger" involve one.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality:
    • A quite literal example in "Judgment Day", to highlight the injustices and futility of racism. The planet of Cybrinia was founded by a handful of sentient robots, free to develop their own society and never straying from their original designs when building more... except that, of their own accord, the orange robots began to limit resources for the blue ones, slowly segregating them and pushing them into menial career paths with insufficient "educator" programming. The delegate can only offer weak excuses for "keep[ing] them in their place", saying that he knows it's illogical and there's no functional difference between the two castes, but there's nothing he can do. Given that the robots are mentioned as being constructed by enlightened humans in the past, the intent of Tarleton's visit was likely to see whether or not they failed to make the same mistakes as their creators' ancestors.
    • "Let the Punishment Fit the Crime!" features a group of kids, curious after seeing a newspaper headline about a criminal being executed, consulting with the town's adults about various things like capital punishment, jury trials, and electric chairs, and the bemused adults later watching them hold a funeral procession. In the end, they realize in horror that they've imposed "grown-up" morality on a child's understanding of the world — a boy in the neighborhood had stolen a girl's doll, and since that was a living thing and a child in the kids' eyes, they declared him guilty of kidnapping and killed him with a live wire.
  • Body Horror: The climax of "Horror We? How's Bayou?" (Haunt of Fear #17) ends with three victims of the murderous Everett reassembling their bodies in the swamp (including Max Forman's head attaching itself to a dead womans body) in order to take revenge on Everett's brother Sidney, who directed his victims to his murderous brother—but not by killing him, but by using Forman's surgery tools to reassemble Sidney's body into a horrific monstrosity, something even Everett is scared of. The narration sums it up.
    "Sidney, or what was ONCE Sidney but is now nothing, more than a confused reorganization of Sidney's dismembered body, stands before him...the upside-down head hanging from the left hip, sobbing...the left leg, sewn to the left shoulder, crooked awkwardly around a make shift crutch...the right leg swaying from the right shoulder...the left arm, erupting from the neck, gesticulating...and the right arm supporting the entire grisly sight..."
  • Brown Note: One story was about aliens so hideous that any human seeing them would be driven insane. It came with an editor's note explaining that the representation of the aliens on the page was deliberately toned down so as not to lose the readership.
  • Captain Ersatz: Animal Fables, one of EC's early Funny Animal comics, features a recurring bug character called "Freddy Firefly", whose design is obviously pilfered from Hoppity the Grasshopper, the lead character from Fleischer Studios Mr. Bug Goes to Town.
  • Cats Have Nine Lives: In "Dig That Cat, He's Real Gone" (The Haunt of Fear #21) a scientist transplants a cat gland into a man, who thus gains the ability to come back from death nine times. He becomes a daredevil named "Ulric the Undying", and earns moeny by "surviving" dangerous stunts - he actually dies each time, but then comes back to life. For his grand finale (his eighth life) he'll be sealed into a coffin and buried alive for three hours. As he lies there, he reflects on the whole experience... and then realizes that the process of transferring the gland also killed the cat... which means that gland only gave him eight lives.
  • Circling Vultures: In the story "Carrion Death!" (Shock SuspenStories #9), a fugitive trudges through the desert for four days, handcuffed to the corpse of a state trooper he killed. The fugitive sees the vultures as his only chance to rid himself of the dead weight attached to his right arm, but after they have stripped the corpse clean, he finds out that they do eat live flesh, too.
  • Color-Coded Castes: The story "Judgment Day" combines this trope with Fantastic Racism. A human astronaut visits a planet of robots that come in two colors, orange and blue, and the orange robots discriminate against the blue robots.
  • Comic-Book Adaptation: Across their magazines, adaptations of various stories appeared. Two-Fisted Tales #36 featured an adaptation of the 19th and 20th chapters of I, Claudius sequel Claudius the God, The Vault of Horror #13 featured an adaptation of The Most Dangerous Game and The Haunt of Fear #9 featured an adaptation of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer of all things, just to name a few examples.
  • Complete-the-Quote Title: "...And All Through The House!" (which was adapted in the Tales from the Crypt film and again as an episode of the Tales from the Crypt television series) takes place on the night before Christmas.
  • Conjoined Twins: Quite a few stories involve them, usually as part of an ending twist.
    • "Lower Berth" ("Tales from the Crypt #33") features a two headed twin as a central character, although he's an undead prop for most of the story.
  • Creator Cameo:
  • Crippling Overspecialization: Some of the artists, most tragically Ghastly Graham, specialized in horror imagery too much and were unable to adapt to more family-friendly material once horror was banned.
  • Cruel Twist Ending: Mr. Drink, from "The Reluctant Vampire", is perhaps the only murderous individual who doesn't quite deserve his gruesome end - while he has begun to kill other people again, ostensibly to save his ass and keep him supplied in "liquid assets", he's also donating most of the plasma to the blood bank he works at to boost the inventory and keep it from being shut down. (Ironically, the TV series, usually known for being Darker and Edgier, makes him more sympathetic than his comics counterpart, and even gives him a happy ending).
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: A staple of the horror comics.
  • Darker and Edgier: The post-1948 EC Comics, with particular regard to their horror comics, which were the studios biggest breadwinners, and a startling contrast from the lighter content their earlier educational and funny animal comics started with.
    • Shock Suspenstories in comparison to the other horror titles. While stories in the other titles would usually end with the death of an Asshole Victim, Shock had quite a few stories where The Bad Guy Wins, often due to a Cruel Twist Ending.
  • Deadly Prank: "A Fatal Caper" features some bored rich kids tricking their friend with a faked magic spell and trapping him in a coffin, with the intention to release him very soon. Not only does he get Buried Alive, but the corpse they removed from the coffin originally died of leprosy, and they likely contracted it themselves.
  • Death of a Child: Children were not spared in the stories "Tain't the Meat...It's the Humanity" (Tales from the Crypt #32), "Last Laugh" (Tales from the Crypt #38), "The Death Wagon" (Vault of Horror #24), "Let's Play Poison" (Vault of Horror #29), "Let the Punishment Fit the Crime" (Vault of Horror #33), "Shoe-Button Eyes" (Vault of Horror #35), "Sugar 'n Spice 'n..." (Shock SuspenStories #6), and "The October Game" (Shock Suspenstories #9).
  • Decoy Protagonist: "Horror We? How's Bayou?" starts with Max Forman, a doctor, getting misdirected by a hermit named Sidney to his swamp-bound home, but he's killed off barely three pages in, in order to placate Sidney's murderous brother, Everett. He returns by the end, but not in one piece.
  • Digital Destruction: Some of the color reprints of the horror comics tended to completely alter the original colors and add elements that clearly weren't in the original comic art, such as photoshop gradients. They wised up and started using the original colors in later reprints.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: In the Vault of Horror story "Let the Punishment Fit the Crime," a group of children murder another child by pushing him into live wire. Why? He stole a girl's doll and wouldn't give it back. After all, the local judge had told the kids that "kidnapping" was an offense punishable by death in the electric chair.
  • The Dog Bites Back: The ending of "Horror We? Hows Bayou?". Everett's victims come back from the dead and horrifically reassemble his brothers body into a bizarre monstrosity.
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: More than one story ends with the nightmarish events within having been All Just a DreamAnd then they happen anyway.
  • Drop Dead Gorgeous: Several stories have murder victims depicted lying in alluring poses, particularly when drawn by Jack Kamen or Wally Wood. An in-universe lampshading in the Shock SuspenStories story "Beauty and the Beach," when a jealous husband makes his exhibitionist wife wear her bikini before encasing her in plastic so that "she can be admired...always!"
  • Drugs Are Bad: "The Monkey" (Shock SuspenStories #12). The teenage protagonist starts with smoking a joint, eventually develops a heroin addiction and accidentally kills his own father for trying to take away his drugs.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: Before EC made its iconic horror, crime, war and science fiction classics, its first three years were as a fairly standard comic label called Educational Comics, which had wholesome fare like Picture Stories From The Bible and Animal Fables, the total antithesis of the kind of stories and art that would put EC on the map from 1949 and on and the label was renamed Entertainment Comics.
  • Enclosed Extraterrestrials: In "Judgment Day" a human astronaut visits a planet of robots to determine their fitness to join the Galactic Republic and keeps his helmet on for the entire visit. He eventually decides that the robots are not ready to join because some robots discriminate against others because of the color of their casings. In the final panel he takes off his helmet, showing that he is a black man.
  • Fantastic Racism: "Judgment Day" is centered around a planet of racist robots who enslave other robots based on the color of their casings.
  • Final Solution: The strip, "Master Race" drawn by Bernard Krigstein was one of the few times American popular culture addressed the Holocaust in The '50s. It was also addressed in Frontline Combat.
  • First-Person Shooter: Some panels of certain Korean War stories in Frontline Combat are drawn this way, from the point of view of the protagonist aiming and shooting, which is startlingly prescient for modern readers.
  • Found Footage Films: A very early example of the genre in "Television Terror", where a TV host resembling Allen Funt conducts a live tour of a haunted house, has a nervous breakdown, and finally hangs himself on air, all viewed through the lens of his portable camera.
  • Fun with Acronyms: The Grateful Hoboes, Outcasts, and Unwanteds' Layaways Society (G.H.O.U.L.S.) in Mournin' Mess from Tales From The Crypt #38.
  • All Germans Are Nazis: Desert Fox, a kind of biographical story of Erwin Rommel, is an ironic portrayal of the famous general, especially deconstructing his Worthy Opponent status among the Allies. The panels contrast his general nobility as a field marshal with various atrocities committed by the Nazis, and ends up noting that Rommel, and other "decent" Nazis, couldn't escape the poisonous nature of Nazism.
  • Gender Bender: In the story "Transformation Complete" (Weird Science #10) a scientist named Emil Hinde invents a formula that can change the patient's gender. Emil is also a My Beloved Smother to his daughter, Terry and he fears that she's going to leave him when she marries her boyfriend, Lee, so he gives the formula to Lee, claiming that it's cold medicine. Strange things begin to happen to Lee: his skin his softens and he stops growing facial hair. This along with a sudden desire to stay clothed causes tension and he argues with Terry before suddenly disappearing. When Terry figures out what her father did, she gives the formula to herself, turns into a man and marries Lee.
  • Genre Savvy: Sasha from "Concerto for Violin and Werewolf" (Tales from the Crypt #42, and not to be confused with "Werewolf Concerto" from Vault of Horror #16) is a rather rare example in EC Comics. Upon a visit to his old master, who has become a bit of a lunatic in his older years, he finds reports of a werewolf on the prowl, similar to those of his youth. Instead of dismissing them as fiction as many protagonists of similar stories have, he sees this as an opportunity to increase his fame, and so prepares himself a gun and silver bullets. Then, when it's revealed that the whole town is infested with werewolves, he laughs and reveals that he had expected this after reading the story "Midnight Mess" from ''Tales From the Crypt'', wherein a man wanders into a restaurant only to find it to be inhabited by Vampires. As such, he opens his case to pull out his machine gun... only to find his priceless Stradivarius violin. As it turns out, his old master is a werewolf too and made the switch, but he still gets credit for effort.
  • Going Down with the Ship: "Prairie Schooner" has a forcibly retired sea captain move into his spinster sister's house, go insane from losing his ship and take over the house, making it his "ship" including remodeling the cellar into the bridge. Then his sister, who has to take in laundry due to spending all her money on the remodeling, has a heart attack upstairs while doing laundry in the tub and the water spills down and floods the cellar. Insisting that the captain must remain, he stays down there and slowly drowns in scalding water...despite the fact that he could simply walk up the stairs and out of danger.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Ironically, despite their infamous nature, EC's lineup very rarely showed the nitty gritty of the violence on panel. Usually, they would show a panel of the danger approaching their victim, then it would cut to the next panel showing the (often bloody) aftermath. If we do get to see it, the victim is almost always just off-panel, with an arm/leg or two to make it clear they're getting the chop. The exception seems to be gunshot wounds, which happen quite frequently.
  • Halloween Episode: The bulk of "The October Game" (Shock Suspenstories #9) is set during Halloween evening.
  • Hate Sink: Too many to list. Many a character the stories follow is a morally bankrupt and often murderous piece of human garbage, which makes the reader feel all the more elated when they come to an inevitable and gruesome demise. Some stand out examples include Senor Tobosa from The Bath, Sam Bricker from Grounds For Horror, Milton from Bedtime Gory, and Mr. Lasch from A Stitch In Time.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: Pipes up quite a few times, but nowhere more than a character in one of the prose stories named Petie Dildo.
  • Henpecked Husband: Most of the married men depicted as not madly in love, many of whom wished to end their marital strife once and for all. (Such plots were known colloquially around the offices as "Buster stories" — Gaines and Feldstein's explanation being that the wives either called their spouses that, or looked like they could at any moment; the more obvious colloquial expression, "ball-buster", hadn't come into wide use yet.)
    • The first issue of Shocking Suspenstories features a Gender-Inverted Example in "The Neat Job": a housewife dominated by an abusive husband with a Control Freak streak intense enough that he insists that they keep track of everything on inventory charts, down to individual asprin in the medicine cabinet. Things come to a breaking point when he flys into a rage finding her in his workshop having broken a jar of nails while trying to fix a picture that had fallen. In the last panel, she's politely explaining to a pair of detectives how she was very careful to do a neat job of cleaning up afterward, as they nervously survey the neatly labled jars containing all of his parts.
  • Heroic Suicide: One story involves a surgeon who finds himself suffering from episodes of Missing Time during which he commits terrible acts of violence, even killing a cat at one point. When he feels an episode coming on during an operation, he throws himself out a window rather than harm his patient.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Subverted for horror in "Operation Friendship." The one friend cut out the interesting part of his friend's brain to keep their friendship alive, while the lesser part of the brain was left to be married to a woman.
    • Featured in the backstory of "In Gratitude," wherein two Korean war soldiers form a tight bond during their service, so much so that one sacrifices himself for the other. The survivor therefore asks that his friend be buried in the family plot only to find that his family refused to do so upon finding out his friend was black.
  • History Repeats: In "Understudies" from Crime Suspenstories #21, two lovers, one with an alcoholic wife and the other with a violently abusive husband, hit upon the idea that each could murder the spouse they're sick of so their lover can alter their appearance and seamlessly replace them. The plan works, but stress from keeping up the charade for years makes the lady take up heavy drinking and frays the gentleman's temper until...well, Here We Go Again!.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard
    • One story has a gangster being brought Back from the Dead, by a professor who tells the gangster's colleagues that there may have been some brain damage. The gangster awakens, badly burned, shoots the scientist (was going to do some follow-up care) dead and then monomaniacally starts killing off the jurors who convicted him. He shoots the first two, but the police get wise to him and put the others under protection. He then goes after the judge, but as this point is a slow, rotting mass of flesh that goes down one strike from the poker and disintegrates. Maybe next time, don't kill the only guy who might keep you from decaying?
  • Horror Host: The Crypt Keeper in Tales from the Crypt, the Vault Keeper in Vault of Horror, and the Old Witch in The Haunt of Fear.
  • Human Head on the Wall: A variant occurs in the Vault of Horror story "Hook, Line, and Stinker!" where the victim is not a hunter but a fisherman—or so he says. When he claims to be out fishing, he's actually out cheating on his fiancee, and when she finds out she kills him and mounts his entire body on a plaque on the wall like a fishing trophy.
  • Humans Are Bastards: A running theme in many of the more preachier tales of Shock SuspenStories, particularly those that deal with mob violence. Notable examples include A Kind of Justice, Hate, In Gratitude... and The Patriots.
  • Human Jack-O-Lantern: Shock SuspenStories issue #2 has the story "Halloween!" A woman comes to work at a miserable, underfunded orphanage. She tries to make things as nice for the kids as she can, and when they want a jack-o-lantern for Halloween, she goes to the office of the head of the orphange... and finds out he's been embezzling funds for years. When she threatens to expose him, he threatens her life— and the kids rally to save her. And get their jack-o-lantern.
  • Human Resources: In "The Death Wagon" from Vault of Horror #24, two crooked used car salesmen get their comeuppance from the victims of their shoddy cars:
    "Amos's skull grinned from where one headlight should have been...Herman's from the other! Two red tongues had replaced the windshield wipers! Eye-balls stared from parking-light sockets! Severed hands served as door handles! Ash-white skin replaced slip covers! Disjointed feet substituted for clutch, brake, gas, and light-dimming pedals! Blood filled the gas tank...intestines the crank-case! Bones were used for the gear-shift, steering wheel, spokes, piston-rods and other structures!"
  • Hurricane of Puns: The Horror Hosts were prone to these, in a tradition stretching back to Raymond, the host of Inner Sanctum.
  • Identical Stranger: In "Double-Crossed" from Crime Suspenstories #24, a man by the name of David Volney arrives in town and is greeted with awe and respect from literally everyone he runs into, and learns that he looks exactly like a millionaire by the name of Edwin Jordon, who happens to be divorcing his beautiful wife. By sheer chance, he runs into Jordon's wife and her new man, both of whom start insulting him. Volney stands up to the wife and slugs the other man when he takes a swing, and the wife is impressed with her "husband"'s sudden backbone and more manly personality. Volney sneaks into Jordon's house, kills him and completely destroys the body. In case someone tries to test him, he makes sure to put his own fingerprints on everything Jordon owns, trains himself to write like him, etc. It turns out that while Volney had been shmoozing it up with the wife that afternoon, Jordon had stormed upstairs to the other man's hotel room in front of a bunch of witnesses and shot him before fleeing back home. Volney can't prove the truth with no evidence and even if he could, he'd still be on the hook for murdering Jordon.
  • Inheritance Murder: If you ever find yourself in one of these comics, try not to have any heirs. Especially don't mention that everything will be theirs if you die. Or mock them about how they'll never get their hands on your money.
  • Karmic Death: Another staple of the horror comics.
  • Karma Houdini: It happened quite often in Crime SuspenStories and Shock SuspenStories but the darkest example has to be "A Kind of Justice".
    • The story "The Pen Is Mightier" is entirely based around this trope. A journalist uses his influence in the publishing world to steal, cheat, and seduce a woman away from her husband. The reader is led to believe he will eventually get his comeuppance; but the story ends abruptly with him literally getting away with the murder of his mistress's husband. An editorial note at the end states that the character was not punished because in the real world, a person like this really would get away with it.
  • Knife-Throwing Act:
    • In "Current Attraction" in Tales from the Crypt #41 the main character's daughter is attracted to the circus knife thrower, a married man.
    • In "One Last Fling!" in The Vault of Horror #21 the main character is a circus knife thrower and uses his skills to kill his wife onstage after she becomes a vampire.
  • Licensed Pinball Table: The Tales from the Crypt pinball, released by Data East in 1993 as a tie-in to both the EC Comics' title and the HBO series. Click here for details.
  • Lighter and Softer: The "New Direction" titles, which dealt with milder, Code-friendly subjects such as crusading journalism (Extra!), historical fantasy (Valor), and medical drama (M.D., Psychoanalysis). Impact still retained the signature twist endings, but they were often saccharine and even more heavy-handed in moralizing the reader, and, ironically, very few — aside from "Master Race" — are remembered today by even the most devoted fans.
  • Loophole Abuse:
    • Meta: EC attempted this with the Terror/Shock Illustrated magazines; they could get past the Code since they weren't comics, just heavily illustrated stories. Sadly they failed.
    • In "...My Brother's Keeper" from Shock Suspenstories #16, a heartless sociopath kills his twin brother's fiancee right in front of him, and boasts about doing so in court, knowing that there's no way the law can punish him. And even though the judge laments it, he's right. As they drive home, the good twin recalls how the evil twin's wicked deeds forced their parents into suicide, and laments how all their lives his brother has gotten away with everything, even literal murder because people were afraid of harming the good twin. He tells the evil twin that he's going to make him pay for his crimes, and the evil twin mocks him for it. Then the good twin slashes his own throat, and the evil twin is powerless to stop his own lifeblood from flowing out of the wound—that's how it is with Siamese twins.
  • Lost Aesop: "Mau Mau!" with a message that can be best summarized as "racism is bad, colonialism is good".
  • Merlin Sickness: Arnold in A-corny Story! after he turns away an elderly employer, where he turns into a baby because of a Haiti tree's curse and then shrivels away to nothing.
  • Mistaken Identity: In "Murder May Boomerang" from Crime Suspenstories #1, a loving son devoted to his elderly single father is horrified to find their home ransacked and his father badly beaten. The battered father, eyes glassy, barely manages to stammer out that someone had broken in and swapped their convict uniform for the son's hunting clothes. Furious, the son takes his dazed father out in his car to find the killer. The dazed old man points to a guy in hunting clothes walking by the side of the road, identifying him as the culprit, and the son viciously runs him over. As they head into town so the son can get help for his father, they spy an off-duty cop in hunting clothes waving bye to his boss—the father grabs his son's arm and points, identifying him as the killer...and the son realizes that his dad was out of his mind from shock and would identify anyone in hunting clothes as the killer in that state. Oops.
  • Mondegreen Gag: The twist of the Shock SuspenStories tale "Raw Deal". The man they rescued from sea? He's not screaming that he hates his wife, he's screaming that he ate his wife.
  • Murder Is the Best Solution: Got nagging wives? Boring husbands? Kids who look too much like the spouse you hate? Or, hey, maybe you're a kid and you're tired of your parents neglecting you! Maybe you married an wealthy old man who refuses to die on his own or your aging wife is losing her looks. Oh-ho, we've all been there, one way or another, but not all of us know what to do about it! Fortunately, EC Comics is here to show you the time-tested way to get yourself out of literally any sticky situation. Warning—Murder may put you into a different, even stickier situation. EC Comics and TV Tropes are not liable for ironic deaths that may result from your decision to murder. Murder may be illegal in Alaska, Hawaii, and Minnesota. Consult your doctor before attempting murder.
  • Narrator: The three Horror Hosts - the Crypt Keeper of Tales from the Crypt, the Vault Keeper of The Vault of Horror and the Old Witch of The Haunt of Fear, known collectively as "The GhouLunatics" - not only introduced the stories and provided epilogues, but also cracked jokes at the readers' and each other's expense.
  • Never Smile at a Crocodile: "That's a 'Croc'".
  • Obfuscating Disability:
    • In "Paralyzed" from Crime Suspenstories #12, a wife whose husband was about to leave her deliberately crashes their car in an effort to kill them both and spare herself the damage a divorce would do to her social standing. She then pretends to have been crippled below the waist in order to force her husband to stay and to soak up the sympathy from her friends and neighbors. Her husband unexpectedly catches her walking one day, and she kills him and buries his body in the cellar in order to keep her secret, using her "paralysis" as her alibi. For three months afterwards, she plays the bereaved crippled wife whose husband disappeared mysteriously to the hilt, enjoying the constant visits and attentions of her caring friends. When a fire breaks out in her bedroom thanks to the candle she's kept in her window as a very public symbol of hope, she bolts up from the bed...but after three months without being free to leave her wheelchair and use them properly her legs buckle under her and she really does break her back, leaving her helpless as the fire grows and grows.
    • In "Hear No Evil" from Crime Suspenstories #13 a Gold Digger marries a wealthy man who'd been rendered stone deaf in WWII and thus unable to hear the Sarcastic Confessions she was making to his face about only being with him for the money. (Lucky for her, he never got the hang of lip-reading and used notes instead.) Eventually, she gets bored with him, and when he introduces him to his old friend and business associate sparks fly. After the deaf man gets into a car crash, the adulterers decide to kill him and make it look like suicide, plotting to poison him right in front of his face. They all sit down to a cup of coffee, but it's the lover who falls to the ground, gagging. As the gold-digger is taken away by police, the "deaf" man waits until they're gone, then puts on some music and enjoys it, grinning and reflecting on how nice music sounded now that the car crash had restored his hearing and how easy switching the coffee cups had been.
    • "Hail and Hearty" from Crime Suspenstories #15, features Ben Storch, whose "heart condition" forced him to lie on the couch all day while his wife Anna worked a full-time job and did every single chore in the house and yard. Exhausted from overwork, Anna went to their doctor, who warned her not to overstress her heart, and the doctor laughed when she lamented how both she and her husband had heart trouble. According to the doctor, the only thing paining her husband's chest was indigestion from overeating. The good news is, in the end, Ben helped her spread warm ashes on the snow. Also a couple of his gold teeth.
  • Only Six Faces: Not a whole lot a facial variety here, at least among the living characters.
  • Orphanage of Fear: Briarwood Orphanage Asylum, the setting of the story "Halloween". Conditions wouldn't be quite so bad if the director Mr. Critchit wasn't spending only the bare minimum on the facility's upkeep and pocketing the difference, though. Money's so tight that his skull has to be emptied out and carved up just so the orphan kids can have their Jack-o'-Lantern.
    • And a Home For The Blind Of Fear in "Blind Alleys."
  • Our Zombies Are Different: By todays' standards anyway; the mindless flesh-eating zombie wasn't really a thing yet, so zombies would be either traditional voodoo zombies or more often, corpses come back for revenge. The role of humanoid people-eaters usually went to...
  • Overly Prepared Gag: Many stories were clearly written backwards from the twist, and so had a tendency to come off as this if not executed well — doubly so if the ending involved a play on words or the subversion of a repeated phrase.
  • The Parody: MAD and Panic.
  • Patriotic Fervor: The townspeople in "The Patriots" lean towards the worse side of this, suspecting a man who sneers at the town's military parade and fails to remove his hat in the presence of an American flag to be a "foreigner" and a "Commie". After they beat him to death, it turns out the so-called Commie was, in fact, a blind American war veteran with facial paralysis - he was actually smiling proudly knowing his old regiment was marching there.
  • Phlegmings: All three hosts had them, but Vault-Keeper in particular was usually depicted with a mouth full of sticky drool, in keeping with Johnny Craig's influential rendition of the character.
  • Picked Flowers Are Dead: The story "Gee, Dad... It's a Daisy!" (Shock SuspenStories #2): "Flowers and plants are alive! Just because they don't cry out doesn't mean they don't feel pain!" This leads to a Space Whale Aesop, with Plant Aliens picking apart a human.
  • Placebo Effect: In "Sweet Dreams" from Crime Suspenstories #14, a man, tired of his hypochondriac wife's constant complaining, mixes a massive dose of the new powerful sleeping pills her doctor had prescribed her into the tea they're drinking. When she reveals that she'd seen him dosing her cup and switched them, he figures he has nothing to lose and smothers her to death. He feels exhaustion sweep over him and passes out, knowing he won't wake up...but, miraculously, he does and figures that the switch was was just a dream and his wife really did take the pills. He calls his wife's doctor to tell him that she'd accidentally overdosed, and the doctor tells him that, knowing the wife was a hypochondriac, he'd given her sugar pills rather than sleeping pills. Then the doctor calls the police.
  • Prematurely Marked Grave: In "Impending Doom!" (Tales from the Crypt #20), a man comes across a stonecutter cutting his name into a gravestone. The date of birth is his own, and the date of death is today's date, which turns out to be prophetic...
  • Prophecy Twist: In the story "Dead Right!" (Shock SuspenStories #6), a woman marries a rude, fat slob, because a Fortune Teller told her that he will inherit a large amount of money, and die violently soon after. Eventually, she wins twenty-five thousand dollars, and decides to leave her husband. When he hears this, he kills her in a fit of rage. Thus, he inherits her money, and dies violently soon after, when he's executed for the murder.
  • Prospector: One is the central character of "Gas-tly Prospects!", murdered by a claim jumper, he refuses to stay buried... without coming Back from the Dead!
  • Robot Names: In "Judgment Day", a human astronaut visits a planet inhabited by robots. At one point, his guide mentions that the car they're traveling in was developed by a robot inventor named N-R-E-Phord.
  • Robots Enslaving Robots: "Judgment Day" has robots who are prejudiced based on the color of their casings.
  • Second-Person Narration: This shows up from time to time, such as in "The Thing from the Sea", and perhaps most notably in "Master Race".
  • Self-Made Orphan: "The Orphan". She kills her abusive father and frames her mother, who was planning to abandon her.
  • Severed Head Sports: In the story "Foul Play", an evil baseball player is murdered by the members of the opposing team. After killing him, they play a game where they use his head for as the ball, his leg as the bat, his intestines to mark the base liner and his organs to mark the bases. They even use his scalp to dust off home plate. Predictably, this story was among the ones cited most often by parents' groups and legislators as proof of EC's depravity — as they saw it, impugning the noble American pastime of baseball with such gory filth — and made an appearance at Gaines and Feldstein's day in court.)
  • Shout-Out: In "Tales from the Crypt #37", one of the stories is named "The Rover Boys", a title directly borrowed from a series of classic books.
    • In "The October Game" (Shock Suspenstories #9), during a family Halloween party, Mitch Wilder, the stories antagonist, invites the young guests into "The Tomb of the Witch" (his cellar), and quips "Abandon Hope...all ye who enter here."
  • Shrunken Head: Haunt of Fear #8 had the story "Diminishing Returns". Greedy New Yorker Vincent Beardsley goes to Ecuador to steal a tribal diamond. When the locals catch on, he sells out his friend, who is made into a shrunken head. Vincent gets his in the end, of course.
  • Spiritual Sequel: Warren Publishing's Creepy and Eerie titles, as well as Stephen King's and George A. Romero's Creepshow.
  • Splatter Horror: The stories used the visual medium to the fullest, illustrating gruesome themes such as cannibalism, murder, live burial, and body horror with the sort of loving detail that the pre-Comics Code era allowed.
  • Suddenly Ethnicity: The human protagonist of "Judgment Day" wears a space suit for the entire story, only removing the helmet in the final panel to reveal that he is a black man.
  • Take Me Out at the Ball Game: "Foul Play"
  • Take Our Word for It: In Crime SuspenStories #5, a mystery writer discovers an airtight way to sneak in a house, commit a murder, and sneak out with all doors and windows shut in a locked room. Naturally, although it drives the ensuing plot, the method is never revealed.
  • Terrible Ticking: "Thump Fun" (Haunt of Fear #20) features the "Tell-Tale Heart" variant, where Marvin Courtney kills his brother Luther and begins to hear a persistent thump that's on the verge of driving him mad... until by chance he happens to read the Poe story, realizes the noises are all in his head, and calms down. What ends up making the police suspicious is that Marvin insists he doesn't hear the thumping disembodied heart that the rest of them do, thinking they're trying to bait him into a confession.
  • Time-Travelers Are Spies: "...For Us the Living" (Weird Fantasy #20) begins with an atomic scientist being arrested as a spy for a foreign power. The scientist admits his identifying documents are all forged because he came from an alternate time-branch in which Abraham Lincoln escaped assassination and brought peace to the world.
  • Twist Ending: Almost all variations, to the point of being the Mandatory Twist Ending. Usually examples of the Karmic Twist Ending.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Although they'd deny it, the GhoulLunatics lean closer to this than anything
  • Walls of Text: Notoriously, the script was always written first, often directly on the storyboard, so that the art was stuck wherever it could fit.
    • This was averted, however, by Harvey Kurtzman who storyboarded his scripts before giving them to other artists. His work employs very different pacing and tone than the other stories.
  • Weight Loss Horror: In the Vault of Horror story “Dying to Lose Weight!”, a traveling doctor offers to help a town’s overweight residents through use of a special pill. It works too well - those who take the pill lose weight to the point of wasting away and dying. When the doctor returns to the town six months later and is chased into the mausoleum by its angered residents, he comes face to face with the thing that had killed his victims - a giant tapeworm.
  • Wham Line: "Caesar!" from Frontline Combat features Julius Caesar's wars and assassination with an emphasis on brutality. At the end, two Roman soldiers previously shown killing children and chopping hands off prisoners comment that it's so nice being civilized.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: "The Precious Years".
  • Wouldn't Hurt a Child: The Bad Santa serial killer in "And All Through the House" is explicitly stated by the radio to never harm children, averting some Fridge Horror regarding the fate of the little girl who unknowingly lets him inside.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: In "Thump Fun" from The Haunt of Fear #20, Marvin begins hearing a thumping coming from the walls after murdering his abusive brother. Believing at first he is still alive, Martin goes to finish the job before happening on The Tell-Tale Heart. Upon reading Poe's work, Marvin laughs off the episode as his nerves playing up on him. Later, when some policeman come by and hear the noise, Marvin assumes they're trying to bait him and plays dumb. They weren't...
  • You Are Not Ready: The ending of "Judgment Day". The story depicts a human astronaut, a representative of the Galactic Republic, visiting the planet Cybrinia inhabited by robots, who are divided into functionally identical orange and blue races, one of which has fewer rights and privileges than the other. The astronaut decides that due to the robots' bigotry, the Galactic Republic should not admit the planet. In the final panel, he removes his helmet, revealing himself to be a black man.

Alternative Title(s): Tales From The Crypt