Wednesday, May 07, 2014

AL FELDSTEIN (1925 - 2014)

There were perhaps more flashy, superstar artists of E.C.'s classic "New Trend" era in the 1950's but Al Feldstein was the backbone of the line and the bedrock on which it's legacy stands to this day.  Often described as spiky and difficult to work with by his comic-book colleagues, Feldstein was just the opposite when it came to his fans.  Al Feldstein first met William Gaines when the latter was taking over E.C. Comics after the death of his father.  At first, Gaines leapt onto hot trends such as teenage (a la ARCHIE) comics until Al suggested they lead with something different rather than follow the pack.  On one of their many trips to the roller derby, Feldstein mentioned how he loved the old radio horror programmes when he was a boy:  INNER SANCTUM, LIGHTS OUT and THE WITCH'S TALE among others.  Wouldn't it be a good idea to bring that to comics? 
Gaines was a little tentative at first and tried out the idea in already existing comics:  "THE CRYPT OF TERROR" began as a one-story feature in E.C.'s "CRIME PATROL", "THE VAULT OF HORROR" auditioned in "WAR AGAINST CRIME" and "THE HAUNT OF FEAR" tried out in "CRIME SUSPENSTORIES".  The horror stories became so popular that they branched out into three titles of their own (the former morphing into "TALES FROM THE CRYPT").  The "New Trend" titles also included such now-legendary titles as the sci-fi "WEIRD SCIENCE" and "WEIRD FANTASY" and the crime-thrillers "CRIME SUSPENSETORIES" and "SHOCK SUSPENSTORIES".  All of the most famous E.C. titles were co-created and usually written (or at least plotted) by Al Feldstein.  Into this mix was also added the irreverent satirical humor comics "PANIC" and "MAD"; the latter would change to a full-size B&W magazine once the Congress and the Comics Code Authority had crushed the life out of E.C.'s horror and "New Trend" line-up of titles. 
While Harvey Kurtzman for years got the sole credit for making "MAD" into the cultural icon it became, his association with the title was brief -- ending in 1956.  Al Feldstein, however, was the editor of MAD MAGAZINE for decades until his retirement in 1984.  Al retired to a life of painting western and nature art in Montana as well as becoming an elder statesman of the comic book world and appearing occasionally at conventions.  Al Feldstein writing for those classic E.C. comics is unparalleled but his superb artwork was also the equal of any of the legendary artists for which the comic book company became famous.  I thought I'd include just some of my favourite E.C. covers by the late, great Al Feldstein.


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