Obituary: William Gaines

THE AMERICAN publisher William Gaines was a good deal more than just an overweight and cuddly maverick who fathered Mad magazine, and whose EC Comic Book company figures so prominently in the horror-comics scare of the mid-1950s, writes Jack Adrian (further to the obituary by Denis Gifford, 5 June).

Detested by his father, he spent much of his life, even when he was successful, in an endeavour to live down Max Gaines's strongly held belief that his son was a schlemiel. The events of 1954-55 would certainly have bolstered Max's view. Back in the 1930s he had virtually created the million-dollar American comic-book industry; 20 years later, his son, whose publications became a US Senate Judiciary Subcommittee's 'Exhibit A', all but destroyed it.

Yet, despite the anti-EC findings and a full-scale assault by a slew of bandwagon-jumping psychiatrists headed by Dr Frederic Wertham, Bill Gaines was not a corrupter of youth. He originated comic books whose storylines were certainly shocking and often violent, but were also literate, iconoclastic, absurdist, often hilariously funny (probably their chief fault in the witch-hunters' eyes), and beautifully illustrated by most of the finest young artists in New York City at that time.

Gaines and his chief editor Albert Feldstein wrote most of the material themselves, although under deadline pressure they were not above plundering other writers' oeuvres: Cornell Woolrich, Ray Bradbury, Poe, de Maupassant, HP Lovecraft, Katherine MacLean and William Fryer Harvey were all high on their swipe- list (Bradbury wrote in after an especially conspicuous plot-theft, mock-innocently wondering if they had perhaps neglected to put his royalty cheque in the post). Gaines got the point, paid up and thereafter blazened Bradbury, then the most bankable SF/fantasy writer, on his covers.

The genres in which Gaines and Feldstein were happiest were crime, SF, fantasy, horror and, what with hindsight may now be regarded as the very best of EC, the twist-enders and social-comment tails in Shock Suspenstories, in which anti-rape, anti-lynching, anti-bigotry, anti-racist and other dangerously (for the time) liberal themes were regularly explored. Gaines also let Harvey Kurtzman loose on two war comics, which, during the Korean War, became notoriously ambivalent towards their main selling-points, combat and killing.

Although Gaines's influence was profound - the EC fan, intelligent and articulate, tended, post- teens, to gravitate towards media employment, thus disseminating what had been absorbed from EC - it was out of all proportion to his sales, since his comic books included some of the poorest sellers in the field. Half a million copies per two-month period was EC's best shot (Gaines's superb SF titles were nowhere near even half that figure), while some of the crime titles put out by rivals were regularly racking up over four million copies a month.

Yet Gaines's name, and that of EC, will live on far beyond those of his rivals, for he created material that, even 40 years later, has still not been bettered.

ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Chief Executive

£28, 700: Whiskey Whiskey Tango: Property Management Company is seeking a brig...

COO / Chief Operating Officer

£80 - 100k + Bonus: Guru Careers: A COO / Chief Operating Officer is needed to...

HR Manager - Kent - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager / Training Manager (L&D /...

HR Manager - Edgware, London - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - Edgware, Lon...

Day In a Page

Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style