In recent days, more or less coinciding with the hotly contested choices of the CBR top 50 artists/writers thread, I have been looking through some of my EC reprints (I have a bunch from both the Gladstone and Gemstone runs of a few years back). I must say I included two greats from the historic EC “bullpen” on my top 10 artists list (and Kurtzman came a hair’s breadth from my writers list). Browsing through a cross section of different CBR threads, and especially through my “home” here at Classic Comics I know that it is somewhat contentious as to “who is your favourite” EC artist? Or for that matter your least?
I thought it might be fun, to have a microcosm of that other CBR event-- to throw the question out to the many EC devotees on this forum -- to just see how some of the other uber-intelligent classic comic fans would vote if they were asked to choose a favourite or worst (if you can’t pick among your most loved children, but have no problem turning the evil eye toward one:evilsmile ) artist from among this immensely gifted crew.
The thing with EC is that they seemed to be the first publisher (certainly before Marvel knew that putting up Kirby, Ditko and Colan's name in marquee fashion would sell a book) to recognize the power of the star system. Mini biographies of their artists would often be featured in their titles. Artists would hardly fail to sign their names to their work. Even if signatures were absent, so distinct and recognizable was the work, an artist could count on his panels being identified and lauded as his own, in era when anonymity still prevailed in many instances. The penciller's and inkers responsible for EC's titles were indeed artists in every sense of the word. The fine lines of Reed Crandall and George Evans, the genre defining and detail rich space-tales of Wally Wood, Al Williamson and Joe Orlando, the horror and mood pieces of Graham Ingels, Jack Kamen and Johnny Craig, the cartoony grotesques of Jack Davis, the superlative war stories of Harvey Kurtzman, the adventure and period pieces of John Severin, and of course the innovative panel layouts and quasi-expressionistic work of Bernie Krigstein... I know I haven't got them all, but I'll try and list a few others below.
Ok... If anyone is game I'll tell of my favourite first. And he is...
It was tough. I almost said Wally Wood (surely he must crack the CBR top five!), and maybe next week I will change my mind, but for now I am handing the ribbon to none other than Johnny Craig.
Now I am not an expert on any of these guys, but I’ve read what I could. Apparently, this master of the horror book pretty much taught himself his craft, and from all I have seen he is both student and teacher par excellence. Famously slow, Craig always took his time to do it right. Part of what eventually drove him out of comics was hatred of deadlines. No Jack Kirby, Craig laboured away at a panel, often erasing his work and restarting a multitude of times until he felt had achieved the desired mood (mood was all with JC) and then met his own difficult standard of near-pefection in draftsmanship. Craig's personal baby was the Vault of Horror (he devised the memorable imagery of both the Vault Keeper, and Drusilla), and he created nearly all of the covers for that series. Some were absolutely seminal, playing a key role as citations in Wertham's Seduction of the Innocent campaign. But though he was capable of it, Craig tended to leave the more ghastly and gruesome aspects of horror to his fellow EC artists. Craig was always much more into the psychological elements of the genre, leaving the blood and guts to off-panel imagination. His specialty seemed to be zombies, the "horror" of middle class marriage, and so too of affairs and their spawn of nasty revenges. He was a master of urban noir, gangsterism, the electric chair, cupidity and its ill rewards, and might I say beads of sweat. Other than colleague Al Feldstein I don't think a comic book artist put a niagra of sweaty angst and terror to better effect than Johnny Craig (Really, it seems to me it wasn't until Paul Gulacy revived the efficacy of the sweat bead in Master of Kung Fu has it much graced our comic world, but I rely on others, more knowing, to correct me here). Craig's stories were always tightly plotted and relied on a lingering chill, rather than an overly wound twist (as was the frequent EC devise) to conclude a tale. Craig went off into advertising and commisioned work (more to his speed) after he left EC, and, I think, it wasn't until his later 60's work for Marvel (mainly Iron Man) and later DC work that he returned to the comic book fold. Alas, he arrived as a bit of anachronism in this latter world. His loathing of deadlines still with him, and exercising a style not suited to the superhero genre Craig's comic book revival mostly served to illuminate the glorious run he had with EC comics in the fifties.
Well, there is my bit for Johnny Craig. If others care to pitch in, with a sentence or two of praise for their guy, I'd love to here your thoughts on this all too brief, but historic gathering of talent.
Here are the EC names I recall, in no particular order, other than my guy at the top (I'm sure a forgot a great or two, so suggest away if you wish). Also sorry… I don’t know how to do one of those nifty poll calculator things.
1. Johnny Craig
2. Reed Crandall
3. George Evans
4. Jack Kamen
5. Jack Davis
6. Graham Ingels
7. Wally Wood
8. Joe Orlando
9. Al Williamson
10. Roy Krenkel
11. Harvey Kurtzman
12. Al Feldstein
13. John Severin
14. Bill Elder
15. Bernard Krigstein
16. Frank Frazetta