Welcome to the ninth part of our multi-part look at the great EC cartoonists!
In previous columns we discussed the comics of:
- Jack Davis
- Al Feldstein
- Jack Kamen
- Bernard Krigstein
- Harvey Kurtzman
- John Severin
- Al Williamson
- Wally Wood
And this week we discuss the comics of "Ghastly" Graham Ingels.
"In the early days of EC we had Graham typecast into the western books, and when we started the love books we used him there for a few stories, but he didn't seem to fit. When we started the horror titles, we didn't use Graham because we thought he'd be good at it, we used him because whenever an artist came into the fold we had to use him for something. So we stuck him in the horror books…"
– EC Publisher William M. Gaines
Graham Ingels is the poet laureate of the EC horror comics. His stories are some of the most iconic of the entire line, full of newly revived corpses, horrific villains and some of the scariest moments that have ever been put down on the comics page. When fans think of EC horror, chances are that they think of "Ghastly"'s phantasmagorias.
Along with his brilliant depiction of the dead, Ingels was equally adept at drawing the lives of the living (and those who were soon to be dead), nearly always in the midst of a spell of fury, confusion or fear. Leafing through Fantagraphics's glorious collection of 25 of Ingels' 110 EC horror tales, Sucker Bait and Other Stories, reveals page after page of characters screaming at each other, or crouching in fear, or screaming in unfathomable horror. The most fearsome images may have been Ghastly's famous animated corpses, but the real terror was in the faces of those dealing with the evil.
Literally opening this book to a random page reveals moment after moment of scenes like that. Notice the expression of fear on the faces of the children depicted in "Sugar 'n Spice 'n…", a latter-day "Hansel and Gretel" story:
Or the frenzied look of the doctor's face in this sequence from "The Rover Boys!":
Ingels seemed to have a special intensity when depicting arguments between couples, like the manipulative schemer of "Squash… Anyone?""
Or the torturing husband of "Notes to You":
Or the frenzied panels of "Pipe Down!"
It seems that everyone in these short stories is close to a complete mental breakdown, judging by the intensity on their faces and the fury in their eyes. Even if they weren't dealing with the effects of their crimes or errors, it's clear that these are profoundly troubled people who would be getting themselves into terrible trouble. They're the comic book equivalent of characters from film noirs, which similarly explored the dark underside of American life during the seemingly placid 1950s.
And though the film noirs usually didn't feature the dreamy, stately tableaux that Ingels often depicted:
(and man, notice the glorious bleakness of that image above, from the famous origin of EC's recurring Old Witch character in "A Little Stranger". That's one of the most haunting imageries I've ever seen)
… the film noirs shared with Ingels a love for deep, all-encompassing blackness that reflected the bleakness of their characters' souls:
But the noirs never contained material like the stuff that Ghastly is best-known for, like the resurrection of the dead:
Or his thoroughly unsettling depiction of rats (can't you practically smell the Plague insects living on these creepy critters?)
Or just plain general crazy weirdness:
And the noirs never matched the demented brilliance of some of Ingels's finest splash pages:
It's no surprise, then, that the final story shown above, "Horror We? How's Bayou?" was voted "best EC horror art" at the 1972 EC Fan Addict Convention, judging by the dreamlike terrors of the story – surely one of the most influential single comic stories of its era.
Unfortunately, the artist who was voted "favorite EC horror artist" and who was a deep influence on many artists who came after him was little-seen apart after his time at EC. He did some work, much scaled back, for the very conservative Classics Illustrated and Treasure Chest (which was distributed by the Catholic Church), before turning to teaching and then, sadly, to alcoholism. Unlike most of the other classic EC artists, Ingels never appeared at a comics convention. He died in 1991 of stomach cancer, estranged from his son and without ever being interviewed about his time at EC.
It was a tragic – dare I say fearsome – ending to the life of one of the great cartoonists of his era.