Horrifyingly Funny – EC’s Legacy Lives On

By: Kyle Twadelle

When EC Comics’ horror titles first became popular in the 1940s with strips such as Tales from the Crypt and The Vault of Horror, it introduced a new spin on horror media. While terrifying elements were still front and foremost, “hosts” such as the Crypt Keeper would bookend the comics with humorous remarks regarding the story’s gruesome contents, somehow using the horror of the story as a source of humor. This popular trend almost disappeared, however, with the popularity superhero comics gained in the 60s and afterwards, but EC’s unique, and disturbing, brand of humorous horror has found a resurgence in today’s comics.

Although the current comic market is still cornered by superheroes, there is a growing fad of “funny” horror that continues to inspire new titles and even worm its way into the superhero universes. One of the most famous examples is Preacher, published in the 1990s by Garth Ennis. Preacher, in my mind, is the most horrifying comic in print, not shying away from cannibalism, incest, rape, and graphic body horror, to name a few, in its story of a former preacher’s quest to confront God for abandoning humanity. The content goes far beyond what many comics, and even movies, consider horrifying, but Ennis still manages to suffuse the comic with a slapstick sense of humor that allows truly funny moments to exist between the most terrifying scenes.

With Preacher as the sadistic frontrunner, more and more horror/comedy comics are appearing and gaining popularity in the new millennium. Examples include Criminal Macabre, a tale of a Han Solo-esque paranormal detective’s adventures with his sidekick, a sarcastic, wise-cracking ghoul Mo’Lock, as they fight disemboweling demons and other creatures of Hell. The Goon, by Eric Powell, chronicles the day-to-day lives of a good-hearted mob boss, “The Goon”, and his foul-mouth, perverse, intoxicated buddy Franky. The two fight creatures both terrifying and laughable, ranging from an undead mother’s unborn baby to a trash-talking Mexican lizard-man. Mentioned in class, another horror-humour mashup that is becoming extremely popular is Chew, which tells the adventures of Tony Chu, a former police detective and “cibopath” who solves crimes by eating parts of its victims, from which he can discern moments from their pasts.

As this genre of comic increases in popularity, it raises the question of how humour can be successfully mixed with truly horrifying content, without seeming too forced or heavy-handed as comic relief. One answer to this, seen in all the titles mentioned above, is the fact that even the most humorous moments can be based on something otherwise terrifying. For instance, a running joke in Preacher is that Herr Starr, the main character’s arch-enemy, continuously encounters grievous and permanent bodily harm, such as losing a leg, splitting his head open, and having a dog attack the family jewels. In The Goon, the two heroes crack wise while fighting back hideous monsters, making fun of their enemies’ deformities that, in real life, would be terrifying to behold.  This successful formula of blending humor into horror allows for the reader to enjoy a good scare while simultaneously cracking up, an impressive feat that harks back to the days of the Crypt Keeper, whose legacy is kept alive by these comics’ growing popularity.

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6 thoughts on “Horrifyingly Funny – EC’s Legacy Lives On

  1. I have never read comics before this class. I didn’t think I would like them, but turns out that I do. I especially like the Tales from the Crypt and The Vault of Horror because of the humor mixed in with the horror. I think that mixing humor and horror makes it easier for a story to become scarier and for a reader/viewer to get through the text/movie. Whenever I am watching a scary movie and there are humorous snippets throughout it, I am always more scared when something terrifying happens. I think this is because the funny parts make me think the movie is less scary than it is. Also, I wait for the light-hearted parts to come for a small sense of relief as I spend my time with a pillow over my eyes. What makes you like the humor sprinkled into horror?

  2. That’s really awesome that humor is mixed into horror comics! I think it’s good to break up the terrible horrible-ness once in a while, but it probably also gives the reader a sense of relief that the writer can then exploit. I’ll definitely be checking out these comics, they look really good!

  3. I think humor and horror are two great things to mix. Some of my friends already tend to laugh when they are scared and anxious. My favorite comic that we read in class was the baseball one but other than that I do not read comics. The titles of all these comics are so witty!

  4. I never read comics before taking this course, but I do think thats its a good idea to mix the two genres especially if this comic is really that scary and sense the topics covered within the comics are so intense. I may just check this one out!

  5. I think one reason why humor is so often mixed into horror is because it allows horror to reach a wider audience. Growing up, getting a friend to watch a horror movie was always a bit easier if there was a promise of a few good laughs. For me especially, this is true. I have trouble getting through horror movies that are completely terrifying and never have any sort of comic relief, such as Saw. I think the use of humor allows the author to get away with more in the long run by helping the audiences make it through.

  6. My roommate has a copy of Chew, so I knew a little bit about it. But these comics sound really interesting, especially in the grotesque humor. It kind of reminds me, although not exactly the same, of the Jack Ass movies, where they do horrible things and yet we find them funny. I think it could be part of our desensitization towards horrific things, as we continue to create graphic images but make some sort of joke about them as well. I think a lot of tv shows are doing the same as well, allowing viewers to watch something gross without being completely turned off by the show. Or maybe we’re just giving in to a really grotesque form of schadenfreude.

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