Mondo Asks, 'You Wanna See Something Really Scary?'
EC Comics and 'Tales From the Crypt' get tribute show
By Richard Whittaker, 8:00AM, Thu. Oct. 24
When Mondo Gallery creative director Justin Ishmael came face-to-face with the Cryptkeeper, he was in for a shock. "It's surprisingly big," he says.
That same cackling, desiccated TV host (or at least the infamous puppet) will be on hand at the Mondo Gallery this Friday for the opening of the latest exhibition: "It Didn't Rot Our Brains", a tribute to the gore connoisseurs of EC Comics and Tales From the Crypt.
Earlier this year, Mondo shocked, thrilled, and terrified with its tribute to the Universal monsters. Ishmael called that show "a bittersweet thing." While he called it one of his favorite shows, it left the gallery team with a new conundrum: How could they top that for Halloween?
The initial idea was an homage to old-school horror hosts: "The Crypt Keeper and Uncle Creepy and Cousin Eerie and Ghoulardy and Zachely and Elvira," says Ishmael. That idea hubbled and bubbled until the final ingredient came in the unlikely form of movie producer Joel Silver, who produced the original TV series. "We met with him in L.A. a couple of times, and he's a super-super fan and was cool with us doing stuff with Tales From the Crypt."
The group show will celebrate the gloriously corrupting influence of EC and the 1990s TV show based on its horror comics. After all, if Universal has been the gateway to horror for generations, EC and Tales are the secret handshake for initiates.
Founded in 1944, Entertaining Comics published everything from war comics to Mad. It remains best known for its rogues galley of horror comics: In five short years, it produced some of the greatest and ghastliest tales of terror the printed medium ever saw. Then in 1954, Senate hearings about how comics were warping children's fragile little minds caused EC and other firms to back away from the bloodshed. However, the damage was already wonderfully done: British gore studio Amicus used the comics as source materials for two anthologies, then in 1989 Silver and a coven of friends like Richard Donner (Superman), Walter Hill (Last Man Standing, Southern Comfort, The Long Riders), and Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future, Flight) cracked open the tomb to resurrect EC's Tales From the Crypt title as an anthology series for HBO.
With this gallery show, Ishmael is reminding audiences not just of John Kassir's classic cackle as the Cryptkeeper, but the whole history of EC and everything it spawned. He says, "Remember the Nineties show? It was great. If you've not heard of it, this is where it came from, and the comics are just as good. You should read them."
The comics were also the training ground for some of the most significant American graphic and comics artists of the last half of the 20th century. Ishmael says. "When you talk about EC, it's Frank Frazetta doing covers, and Al Feldstein and Jack Davis, all these legendary artists. It's intimidating, but I think all the guys in the show did awesome, awesome jobs."
Ishmael even managed to lure Davis into the show, so the grandmaster's work will be hanging next to new menaces like Mondo regulars Phantom City Collective and Italian comic artist Francesco Francavilla. Davis hasn't done horror in years, but has maintained a remarkable career of film posters, magazine covers, and editorial cartoons. To reflect his importance, his piece will get the position of honor, right opposite the front door. "It's a testament to his talent," says Ishmael, "that he can have different styles at each stage of his career and still be considered one of the best."
As always, Ishmael gave the artists free rein over what they portrayed. He said, "You could draw the old witch or the Cryptkeeper or the Vault-Keeper or you could recreate a cover or you could make up a new story for a cover or you could so stuff with the TV show. Anything goes."
Surprisingly, many artists avoided the obvious supernatural horror themes, instead heading into the perils of battles or merciless space with EC's intergalactic titles. "We had a good number of Weird Science and Weird Fantasy, a lot of sci-fi horror that people were picking up on."
And if the threat of more Mondo prints to infest your walls isn't terrifying enough, their fledgling vinyl label will be releasing a 7" of the show's theme music. Scarier still, Ishmael intones, "The B-side is 'The Crypt Jam,' the rap song the Cryptkeeper did."
The opening reception for "It Didn't Rot Our Brains: A Tribute to EC Comics and Tales From the Crypt" will be held Friday, Oct. 25, 7-10pm, at Mondo Gallery, 4115 Guadalupe. The show runs until Nov. 23; visit www.mondotees.com for complete details.