VAULT OF HORROR #30 May 1953
Johnny Craig original artist
Of all the renowned artists in the EC Comics stable in the early fifties, Johnny Craig probably had the cleanest, most traditionally commercial-friendly style of that entire immensely talented group. Which somehow makes it all the more amusing when one thinks back on the most infamous of the EC horror and crime covers--the ones that clearly, even defiantly, went TOO far-- because a majority of them were by Craig!
There's the fellow with the pistol to his head, trigger pulled, brains a-splattering--all reflected in a mirror over his shoulder, the better to double your fun, double your pleasure, no doubt! Or that nifty close-up of the hanging victim, eyes rolled back, swollen tongue protruding from his lifeless mouth. And let's not overlook those pair of point of view illos with A.) the wild eyed maniac about to slash your throat with a gleaming razor blade, and B.) the clearly insane assemblage gleefully about to bury you alive in a custom made coffin! But it would unforgivably remiss to forget about the duo of covers that publisher Bill Gaines himself felt the need to self-censor: the zombie at the door whose meat cleaver accessory was belatedly disposed of by the EC production department before reaching the nation's newsstands; and of course, the justly infamous drawing of the gent holding his ex's head in one hand and the axe he used to sever it from her body-- plainly lying there on the floor--in the other. You all know what was censored in that case, right? The art was--you should pardon the expression--cut off at the bottom, cropped as it were, so as not to show the oozing entrails and the gore dripping out of our unfortunate damsel's neck, thus rendering it, as Gaines would so memorably go on to tell his pals in Congress, a "tasteful" cover!?! Gang, if you've seen any or all of those covers, chances quite good that you'd remember them. And guess what? They're all by Craig.

The one we have represented here today isn't QUITE in the same class as those aforementioned classics. For one thing, you might even consider this cover to be FUNNY! Okay, okay, funny in a sick way, true, but compared to that dude with the noose around his neck, this here is a million laughs, believe me! Even Craig seemed to sense the inherent humor of the situation, as he plastered his subway car interior with ads that very pointedly inquire, "Stomach Upset?" Well, yeah, Johnny, as a matter of fact...

I guess it came down to the fact that while you might've expected this sort of excess from a Graham Ingels--whose every drawing seemed to focus on something in an advanced state of decrepit decay, with all sorts of disgusting pustules oozing out of every available orifice on the bodies of his unfortunate characters--it had far more of an impact on me coming from a man who could just as easily have been drawing an Arrow Shirt ad as one of his own, highly taut horror scripts. Johnny Craig has been, almost from the time I first discovered EC Comics through a series of mid-sixties paperback reprint collections, my favorite creator associated with that legendary publishing house, and as much for his writing as for his art. All kudos to runners-ups Wood, Kurtzman, Davis, and the rest, but Craig's ability to harness his deceptively normal style and repeatedly send it slowly but irrevocably off into the most blood-curdling of pananoic scenarios--well, that beats a (yawn) fetid Ghastly Ingels corpse clawing it's way out of a freshly filled grave every time, y'know? But, hey, that's just me...

So I think it's time we show a little bit of appreciation for the woefully underrated Johnny Craig, don't you? This may not be one of his stone-cold greatest moments, but I still think the man deserves a round of applause for his work on the piece. So how about it folks? Let's give the EC stalwart a hand!!

After all, as you can plainly see, he gave US one!?!...

(...insert Crypt Keeper-like cackle here...)