An Interview with William M. Gaines, Part One of Three

Posted by on October 12th, 2010 at 12:01 AM



GROTH: Two questions: did you ever think of paying Harvey more money for doing the breakdowns and paying the artists who drew it less because they didn’t have to do the layouts?

GAINES: No, I didn’t, and I think the artists would have been very aggrieved had I done it, because their position would have been, “Who asked for…” Most of them really didn’t want to work that way. Some of them enjoyed it, some of them liked it; some of them recognized that probably what Harvey wanted was better than what they would have done. But still, it was an imposition on their freedom of action.

GROTH: Another question about how Al worked. You said he gave them blank pages, but when he had balloons, he had to have the tail of the balloon going somewhere.

GAINES: Well, he didn’t do the balloons. The balloons were lettered in place, but he let them put the balloons in so they put the tails. You’re right, some letterers put the balloons in, but we never did. The letterer would letter the balloons, but the actual balloon tail was the artist’s problem. And it would have to be that for that reason.

GROTH [to Decker]: I’m just rolling. Do you have any questions that might get up back to an orderly interview?

DECKER: When did you have the Writer’s Digest ad? I understand that didn’t bring in too much response, but is kind of an eye-opening look into what EC was looking for.

GAINES: What Writer’s Digest ad?

DECKER: Your book mentions an ad placed in Writer’s Digest looking for scriptwriters…

GAINES: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. That wasn’t anything I did. Either Writer’s Digest came to me and suggested it, or Lyle Stuart who was my business manager for a time back then did it. Maybe it was Lyle. We never advertised for anything. Almost everybody that ever came to EC walked in. It was still the same with Mad. With the exception of Norman Mingo. We advertised for a cover artist many years ago, and Norm Mingo answered the ad. Of course we hired him and he was with us so many years until he died at the age of 84. But that’s the only time I can ever remember looking for somebody. Everybody else looks for us, which is the way we like it. Crandall walked in; he was the last EC artist to walk in. He walked in, he said, “I’m Reed Crandall,” I said, “So what took you so long?” [laughter] “We’ve been sitting here waiting for you.” He was great. He’s still alive out in an old folks’ home out in Topeka. [Since this interview was conducted, Reed Crandall has passed away.]

DECKER: Anyway, it did seem to me that the Writer’s Digest ad was done tongue-in-cheek…

GAINES: It may well — I really don’t know. I don’t remember it, I don’t recall seeing it, if he put it in there, he must have found it, Frank Jacobs, but I don’t even remember seeing the damn thing. What did it say?



DECKER: I just had two of the stipulations for the stories here: “And we relish the conte cruel story of sadism and virtue doesn’t always have to triumph.”

GAINES: That sounds like something we might have said. EC stories differed from a lot of stories in comics because virtue did not have to triumph. Although our stories were really quite moral, and a lot of people have written on that. If somebody did something really bad, he usually “got it.” And of course, the EC way was he got it the same way he gave it. Some kid — and this is like a classic between AI and I, we just laugh about it — some kid walked in, he was kind of a simple kid, he walked into the office, and said, “Uhhh, ya stories gimme da same idea…” “What?” “All ya stories, dey gimme da same idea. You sharpen a pencil, a pencil sharpens ya head.” And he was right. [Laughter.] That was the way it was: you sharpen a pencil, the pencil sharpens your head. You broil live lobsters; you end up getting broiled alive. This kind of thing, just to take an example. And we did have this kind of morality that somebody got back what they gave. Now if we had somebody get away with a crime it was usually because they deserved to get away with the crime. Like if somebody beat the shit out of a kid for a long time and the kid finally got to where he couldn’t take it anymore, he plotted a murder and did away with the guy… well, so what’s wrong with that? The guy had it coming. Other comics probably wouldn’t have done it.

DECKER: Yeah, there is a lot of controversy… I read a whole stack of press clippings last night about the days of the Senate investigation, and one story in particular was mentioned in a number of articles, in which a little girl frames her faithless mother and drunken stepfather for a murder she actually committed so her two parents die in the electrical chair and the little girl gets to go live with her aunt who is a nice woman.

GROTH: And becomes a lesbian.

DECKER: What? [Laughter.]

GAINES: Well, that’s exactly the kind of thing I’m talking about. The world might think that’s a terrible story. I didn’t think it was terrible. I probably plotted it. Well, so what? They got what they deserved. The fact that it’s against the law is something else. It’s the Death Wish mentality. Now the whole picture Death Wish was about that very same thing. Some punks are doing terrible things; he shoots them between the eyes. Well, there’s much to be said for that point of view. [Laughter.] We can’t really have it, but it’s nice to think that — it gives you a feeling of satisfaction to see the movie, although you wouldn’t do it yourself.

GROTH: Of course, your stories were a lot more humorous than Death Wish. There’s a difference there.

GAINES: Well, yes, we did almost everything tongue-in-cheek.

DECKER: Yes, there was an almost raucous good humor in EC, even the most serious stories, you sort of got the idea that back at the EC office the guys were kind of chuckling about it.

GROTH: Cackling.

WHITE: Fiendishly.

GAINES: Oh, yeah.

GROTH: Was there any discussion in the office about the morality of the horror stories? For instance, I know Jack Davis never felt comfortable, and Harvey had moral qualms about it.

GAINES: Harvey hated ’em, Harvey hated ’em. Jack never felt comfortable, but Jack was such a sweetheart, he just did ’em. He did them because he liked us, and if that’s what we wanted, OK, but he really wasn’t comfortable with them. Marie Severin hated them; Johnny Severin didn’t like them — but he wasn’t around too much, and he never did horror for us — Bernie Krigstein toward the end didn’t like them, and I remember one story that Bernie started and he wouldn’t finish.

GROTH: The Krigstein horror story: That was for the Picto-Fiction, wasn’t it?

GAINES: Yes, that was for Picto-Fiction, and we got Crandall to finish it, because Crandall was a pro, he didn’t give a shit what it was. Bernie was very upset. Well; I think Bernie thought he might have gotten into trouble, which he wouldn’t have, but he thought he would…



GROTH: Were there any serious moments around the office when you really had to debate the points with artists and writers and talk to them…?

GAINES: No. That didn’t come up.

DECKER: There was a quote in the book that your friend William Woolfolk said to you, “If you keep your horror comics going, you’re going to bring down the whole industry. I hate censorship, but even I get a little uneasy when I read a comic in which a man eats the corpse of his fiancee.”

GAINES: Well, it’s a funny thing, that same question was asked me at the convention last Saturday, I hardly even remember the quote, but I guess he said it. This is an old, old theme in horror. I think the first time I ran across it was when some guy was trying to prove that there was no such thing as true love, that people really loved themselves best. And his way to prove it was to take this loving couple and put them in a room together to the point where one of them got so hungry that he ate the other one. And EC used a lot of variations on that old chestnut. So much of the stuff was classical, and that was one of them. It just doesn’t bother me [laughter]. It may bother some people.


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