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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