Writer, journalist and comics expert Eduardo
Serradilla Sanchis discusses the fate of EC Comics.

Writer, journalist and comics expert Eduardo Serradilla Sanchis strikes again! Choosing once more the comfy and most accessible premises of Kirjasto 10, his latest exposition gets darker in tone but as deep and interesting in content as we have come to expect from him.

¡Hola, Eduardo! What do you have for us this time?
This time around we can enjoy a revised and updated exposition that was mounted last year in Spain, called EC at War! The central focus is indeed war, but not limited to the battlefield, nor to the military comics Entertaining Comics (EC) used to offer between 1952-54, but also about the war America had to endure against U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy and the Un-American Activities Committee, the witch-hunt, blacklists and censorship, the Senate’s sub-Committee Against Juvenile Delinquency (which was the one to give the publisher the final blow) and others.

Why did you choose EC as the focal point?
First off, because of the caliber of the artists that converged there: editor and owner William “Bill” Gaines, Harvey Kurtzman, Al Feldstein, Joe Orlando, Jack Davis, Frank Frazetta, and so many others… And then because, whenever EC is mentioned, the same people are blamed and the same tired reasons are brought up. But it turns out that after a year investigating the records of the committee’s hearings and many other documents, a broader perspective appears. You see, it is assumed that Senator Estes Kefauver was the one who brought down the curtain, but the truth is a bit more complex. As leader of the committee he was indeed responsible, but he was not the only one. And after perusing much of his writings it’s possible to form a mental image of the man and the complex situation he found himself in. He was, I believe, genuinely worried about the state of affairs. In those times juvenile delinquency was reaching alarming levels, social psychology was very experimental, racial segregation was the norm… Difficult times, for sure.

Kefauver is remembered as the one who closed down EC and targeted pornography (he didn’t like pin-ups nor Bettie Page). But he also investigated organized crime and refused to sign, along with Al Gore, Sr. and Lyndon B. Johnson, the terrible Southern Manifesto that promoted racial segregation at schools and public places. He was an old-school type of guy, and he was fighting to defend certain values that were perhaps outdated. But when EC published the issue with the severed head in its cover, Kefauver took offense that editor Gaines would ridicule the parents’ association, because he believed parents were the pillars of the family.

Why was it that EC Comics came to be under attack?
It happened for several reasons. From the end of WWII to the beginning of the Korean war, a great deal of innocence was lost, people began to move on, and too many changes came in too fast. Many of those who returned from the fight in Europe had a new mentality and customs; they evaluated the situation at home and realized many things didn’t make sense. Much attention was devoted to the paranoiac chasing of communist spies, while at the same time the issue of granting Afro-Americans the same rights whites enjoyed was blatantly delayed. Essentially, America came to be at war with itself. I remember an American critic suggesting that the book/movie The Body Snatchers by Jack Finney was really about the fear of losing traditional values, more than about a communist invasion. But it turns out that McCarthy and his followers were using nothing but the same tactics that Stalin used during the times of the Soviet Union, or the Nazis during WWII. And after so much ado, they could only present charges against ten people.

In terms of juvenile delinquency, many parents bunched together and tried to find easy solutions for complex problems. They saw specters where there were none and blamed comics for the mounting delinquency, which is as reasonable as saying that all delinquents were black. And in those times the German-American psychiatrist Fredric Wertham published a -poorly written, by the way- book called Seduction of the Innocent, in which the author postulated that comics were the source of juvenile delinquency. Time has demonstrated that the author picked facts which supported his claims but discarded those who challenged them, and distorted his “scientific” findings to his advantage. Nevertheless, at the time the book was widely read, parents rallied behind it, and the Comics Code Authority to censor comics was created as a consequence.

Many literary critics also began to notice how comics were selling more and more (no surprises there, as Superman used to sell two million copies per month during the forties) and they felt threatened by them, by TV, and by movies. When literary critic John Mason Brown affirmed in a literary journal that comics were like “marijuana for children”, famous author and humorist Al Capp (Li’l Abner) replied with a fantastic letter to the man. The letter describes a normal couple, living in a normal neighborhood with normal children, while the TV and the newspapers broadcast all sorts of madness and… nothing happens. The letter was so demolishing in his arguments that, as far as I know, the critic never deigned to reply. This letter can be read at the expo, by the way.

And the truth is EC was selling very well, and other publishers were jealous and used the witch-hunt to their advantage. One of the most deplorable statements that can be found within the 350 pages of transcriptions of the testimonies recorded during the hearings, was that of Milton Caniff and Walter Kelly. They affirmed they didn’t know the authors at EC, and that they would never accept them within their innermost circle! They were reneging on creators as huge as Jack Davis (one of the most amazing illustrators and caricaturists ever) supreme Alex Toth, Wally Wood, John Severin, Frank Frazetta, or the very Harvey Kurtzman, who was an incredible visual narrator if not a ground-breaking illustrator. But Caniff and Kelly drew newspaper strips and sat on their ivory tower, I guess. It’s also curious how sacred cows such as Hal Foster (Prince Valiant, Tarzan) and Alex Raymond (Flash Gordon, Rip Kirby) were never called to testify.

How is all of this articulated in the exhibition?
The theme is sensitive, so the expo is pretty sober and more intimate than the previous one. EC was very vocal in denouncing abuse, racism, and intransigence, so the goal is not to amuse (it certainly isn’t for children). The only light note is given by two covers of Mad magazine, whose function is to indicate the viewing order (Mad magazine was the only remnant of EC after its closure).

We have lots of images, but they are not huge in size. The largest is an original poster (which was pretty difficult to obtain) of Paths of Glory, the film directed by Stanley Kubrick in 1957. This is also a recognition to the ending of blacklists, and to Kubrick and Bryna Productions, who also got Dalton Trumbo to pen the script for Spartacus (even though Trumbo was blacklisted at the time).

Visitors will also see items which are usually presented only in museums, such as authentic medals of the Korean war given to American and Korean soldiers, lots of previously unseen photos and letters from soldiers from that war, photos from the Imperial Museum about Manfred Von Richthofen, propaganda designs in Chinese, Russian, and Korean; and of course many beautiful cover prints of EC issues and complete stories to read. I am also delighted to present the work, previously unseen in Finland, of three incredibly talented authors (two Spaniards and one Argentinian) with a thematic of war: Perdidos (The Lost Ones) by Enrique V. Vegas, Dragón de Fuego (Fire Dragon) by Kenny Ruiz, and As de Pique (Ace of Spades) by Juan Giménez. Moreover, all the complete texts of the exhibition are available to be read here and, if anybody asks, I can send them personally over email.

Anything to add, Eduardo?
Only that this expo is dedicated not only to Bill Gaines and the people at EC, but also to Edward Murrow, the journalist who dared to challenge McCarthy, to the screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, who refused to testify before the committee, and to all those who have had to endure censorship and repression. Here in Scandinavia people can’t begin to imagine what it is like to live under decades of censorship, just like we had to go through in Spain and Latinamerica, so I think it’s a good thing to talk about it.

This exhibition can be enjoyed at Kirjasto 10, Elielinaukio 2G, from the 4th to the 20th of September 2014. Free entrance, of course.