Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Fall Guy for Murder: The Comics Horror and Noir of Johnny Craig

Fall Guy for Murder and Other Stories: Illustrated by Johnny Craig (The Fantagraphics EC Artists' Library Volume 5: 1951-53/ Collected 2013): edited by Gary Groth and Michael Catron; written by Johnny Craig, Ray Bradbury, Al Feldstein, and William M. Gaines; illustrated by Johnny Craig; essays by Bill Mason, S.C. Ringgenberg, and Ted White:

Johnny Craig was the artistic king of noir and the hard-boiled at EC Comics during that company's brief time of greatness in the early 1950's. His art was slick but evocative, and he could write his own stories as well as illustrate those of others. He was also notoriously slow as an artist, which makes his EC output a smaller body of work than contemporaries that include Wally Wood and Graham Ingels. But what work it was!

The Fantagraphics EC Artists' Library reprints its stories in black and white, which takes the gore quotient down a notch while allowing one to more clearly experience the art. The reader also gets helpful biographical and critical essays on Johnny Craig and the history of EC Comics.

Johnny Craig's most infamous EC cover
Highlights written and illustrated by Craig include "One Last Fling," about as loopy a vampire story as one could want. "Split Personality" offers a perverse story of dating and two-timing with a suitably bloody conclusion. "Silver Threads Among the Mold" has an extraordinarily goopy climax to end a sort-of Pygmalion-in-reverse story. 

"Touch and Go" adapts the Ray Bradbury story "The Fruit at the Bottom of the Bowl" in memorable fashion, though it goes a bit too wordy at times (EC Comics were intensely, immensely, densely wordy). The last, eponymous piece, "Fall Guy for Murder," was written by EC Publisher Bill Gaines and EC mainstay Al Feldstein. It's a brilliant twisty, metafictional piece of work that represents one of the high points for EC. 

The selection of stories is solid throughout. The reader may groan at times at the sarcastic, punny narration that appeared perhaps a bit too much in the EC books. But the overall effect is sound, beautifully rendered work -- the sort of thing that can still work as Comic Books for People Who Don't Like Comic Books, without losing any appeal to People Who Like Comic Books.

Throughout Fall Guy for Murder and Other Stories, Craig gives his all on art and stories. He's a marvelously 'clean' artist, which makes the moments of graphic horror all the more menacing. Highly recommended for fans of good comics and noir.

No comments:

Post a Comment