‘Tain’t the Meat… It’s the Humanity! and Other Stories
Illustrated by Jack Davis; written by Al Feldstein
(The EC Comics Library) Fantagraphics Books
Tales from the Crypt was a series of horror comics published by Entertaining Comics in the early to mid 1950s. Although it’s fair to say that EC (as it is more frequently known), and other comic book publishers of the time, won the war for the Hearts and Minds of America’s youth, the company stopped publishing them in 1955 after 27 issues. The storied early years of Maxwell Gaines and his comics company, and the trials and tribulations that the nascent comic book industry endured in those years has been well-documented. Shortsighted moralists, hard-line conservatives and righteous clergymen had decided that comics were rotting the brains and corrupting the souls of America’s youth. They needed to be stopped. Horror comics in particular were an easy target in these early battles. Replace “comic books” with “video games” in the Twenty-First Century and you have the same crusade against the blood and gore that male adolescents just never seem to get enough of.
Enter into the fray, the congenial Georgian, Jack Davis. Prior to joining the EC staff, and well before he would become a member of the “usual gang of idiots” at Mad Magazine, Davis was traveling a similar career path to other illustrators of his generation. He did his time in the US Army during WWII. He went to college on the GI bill. He contributed illustrations to his college newspaper and after school he moved to New York City to try his luck there, picking up a few odd jobs while unsuccessfully trying to get his own strips published. Davis was about to pack his bags and head back Georgia when fate brought him into the office of EC’s Al Feldstein. After taking a look at his portfolio, the like-minded editor hired Davis on the spot and put him to work on the Crypt series. As Davis cut his teeth with the Cryptkeeper, he gained a reputation as a fast, reliable illustrator, and a bit of a workhorse, no doubt endearing him to publisher Bill Gaines who paid his artists as they turned in work.
Published by Fantagraphics Books as a part of the EC Comics Library series, Tain’t the Meat… It’s the Humanity! And Other Stories, is a collection of these strips, written by Feldstein and illustrated by Davis. Taking its name from a particularly morbid tale created by the pair (and included in the book), this collection compiles 24 tales of humor, horror and bad puns that typified the writing and artistic style of the series. It’s entertaining in the juvenile delight it takes in grossing out readers. You also get to witness Davis’ style as it improves with every story: his lines get sharper, there’s more detail and contrast in the panels. Some stories are more dialogue heavy than others, but Davis always makes expert use of the space provided. Included in the book are biographical notes, essays and a reprint in 2D of a 3D story from Three Dimensional Tales from the Crypt of Terror #2 published in 1954.
A major theme of these horror comic tales is: greed kills. Also, the hunter will inevitably become the hunted, and one’s comeuppance will be swiftly forthcoming, so its a good idea not to be a dick all the time. These are morality tales after the Grimm Brother’s own hearts and they’re pretty Old Testament when you get right down to it. It’s surprising that the religious zealots of the time couldn’t see the value in the way these comics could scare kids straight.
Davis enjoyed a long and productive career in his post-Crypt days. Many know his work from Mad’s movie and TV parodies. He has also worked in advertising, helping create ads and packaging. He was a contributing cartoonist for some of the biggest magazines of the day (Playboy, Time, Ladies Home Journal) and was known to create the occasional Hollywood movie poster, but Tain’t the Meat… is a good introduction into the artist’s own indoctrination into professional, commercial art. It might also provide a good trip down memory lane for some, reminding them of late nights spent with smuggled comics contraband and a flashlight under the sheets. It’s a good introduction as well to a genre that may today seem corny and hackneyed, but I’ll be damned if it still ain’t pretty creepy, bad puns an all.
- Chris Auman