Daddy’s Dying, Who’s Got the Witch?
Daddy Lost His Head And Other Stories, Volume 20 in Fantagraphics EC Artists’ Library is devoted to the works of Jack Kamen. As both the introduction by Thommy Burns and the endtro profile by S.C. Ringgenberg note, Kamen is rather unsung when it comes to the EC Horror Artist Stable, despite (or perhaps because of) his prolific output. In fact, this is only the third volume of his works in the Library, where less prolific artist have as many volumes. This volume, filled almost exclusively by stories penned by Al Feldstein (with one Ray Bradbury adaptation thrown in) should go a long way to rectifying his frightening image.
The argument for Kamen comes down to this. Kamen is not Jack Davis or Graham Ingles or Wally Wood. To couch this instead in Silver Age terms, he’s not Bernie Wrightson or Tom Sutton or Ploog. He has the sharp pencil lines of someone coming from the romance comic school, asked to stretch to another genre. In one sense, it’s as if John Romita dropped his Spider-Man gig and went full on horror title. And while some may cringe at that vision, it’s that very juxtaposition of the glamorous, the chic, with the dark horror that makes Kamen so effective. We may think of Romita’s sinewy Mary Jane, but his Green Goblin is as terrifying as the character will ever be. Similarly, the dark monstrosity of “A Fatal Caper!” or the splash panel titular animal of “What the Dog Dragged In” simply cook. It’s the heightened glamor, and the glint of normalcy, that Kamen brings to the characters that allows for the underlying horror to slowly, inexorably, manifest itself.
Like much of the EC output at the time, the panel work is very much tiered and boxed, but Kamen knows his way around the form for the best. His lines drag the reader steadily from the beginning, the pace picking up through to the dreaded end of the line, that end more often than not accompanied by the Old Witch herself cackling. You know what you are getting in for, and yet, you keep on the ride.
The reproduction quality of the book, at least in electronic form, is stellar. The simple, clean black and white are a boon to those that want to inspect Kamen’s linework. The deep darks, the lush brushstrokes really pop when viewed so starkly. Perhaps more than any of the other EC artists, his work really benefits from this reprinting. You can spend more than a few just following the waxwork grotesques in “The Grave Wager” or the feverish faces of “Board to Death!”
A brief final note on the text portions of the collection. Burns’ introduction contains some excellent notes on each piece reprinted, although you may want to save until the end to avoid any surprises the first go around. Ringgenberg’s profile neatly encapsulates the life of Kamen. The only outlier is Ted White’s piece on EC Comics, which seems overly broad, especially for the 20th volume of the collection.
Daddy Lost His Head And Other Stories is out now from Fantagraphics. You can order it from Amazon.com. Check it out!