The EC Archives: Extra! Johnny Craig, John Severin, Colin Dawkins and others (writers and artists) Dark Horse Comics April 11, 2018 This collection presents the entire run of Extra! which ran for five issues in the mid 1950s, each one comprised of a number of short comics stories and some sojourns into short prose fiction–what
The EC Archives: Extra!
Johnny Craig, John Severin, Colin Dawkins and others (writers and artists)
Dark Horse Comics
April 11, 2018
This collection presents the entire run of Extra! which ran for five issues in the mid 1950s, each one comprised of a number of short comics stories and some sojourns into short prose fiction–what we would now call flash fiction. Johnny Craig is listed as the writer and artist for several of the stories, and while other artist and writer names do recur, they are not so frequent in the table of contents as his. The stories themselves are interspersed with EC’s advertising pages for their “new” 1950s magazines, lending a time-capsule feeling to reading the collection.
As John Arcudi says in his forward, “The conceit of Extra! is that the stories are, essentially, all torn from the headlines.” What that means is further explained by the editorial introduction to the first issue, telling readers they are about to experience “the thrilling world of newsdom” in these pages, where they will meet “special correspondent Keith Michaels and his secretary Vicky [often spelled Vicki thereafter], who with rough and ready cameraman Slick Rampart, receive and fulfill the assignments given them by Pat MacDonald, editor-in-chief of the World Press news service.”
Reader, this introduction doesn’t even mention “Jock MacDuff, a rovin’ newspaperman born o’ the highlan’s!” whom we meet shortly thereafter, or Geri Hamilton, a woman reporter “whose pretty nose didn’t look it, but it was a nose for news.” And Keith Michaels loves spear-fishing! What a guy.
The story “Stromboli!” is a standout. Compared to most of the stories in Extra!, this one about a brash American news photographer convincing a doctor to put his own despair aside to help others has surprising psychological depth. But generally, aside from a few such standouts, the stories are consistent in quality as well as content. If you like one fast-paced punching adventure in an “exotic” locale, you’ll like the rest. Extra! presents “being a newshound” in the same way Raiders of the Lost Ark presents “being an archeology professor”—that is, as a premise for travel, excitement, and fighting, rather than a career that requires rigor, book learnin,’ and ethics.
That’s fine if you want a book of 1950s era genre stories: the bad guys are often leftover Nazis, there is so much cigarette smoking, and while many of the women are competent and fearless, the “good” ones don’t really engage in any of the action adventure. Even Geri, “a reporter who also happens to be a female,” only does so once.
Also, virtually everyone is white, but the mentions and depictions of people of color are jarringly racist. For instance, Algiers is described as being populated by “shifty-eyed Arabs” and “ugly, brazen women.” Later on in this same story, there is a character who is described as both a “native girl” and a “beautiful woman,” so we can add those stereotypes into the mix as well.
The collection is presented in digitally remastered color that seems anachronistically smooth. There’s a note after the table of contents that says “Most of the coloring on the original versions of these stories was done by EC Colorist Marie Severin. Although all of the stories have been digitally recolored for this new edition, her coloring style was followed to retain the integrity of the original EC comic books.” I find, however, that the newly bright and varied digital coloring, with its greater emphasis on shading, clashes a bit with the heavy black linework, especially the black line shading of the original, in ways that are sometimes distracting. The original inks are heavy, and designed for cheap ink on rough, off white paper. Large areas of black indicate shadow, and lines that indicate shading are all of a similar weight. I can easily imagine how it looked with flat color printing in the original.
In the new volume, however, thanks to digital inks and no newsprint as the background, blacks are blacker and whites are whiter. Some panels look oddly lit. In one story Vicki’s swimsuit changes color from panel to panel, and in another Geri must be reapplying her lipstick slyly in the gutter since it goes on and off again between panels. However, I greatly appreciate the newly streamlined quality of the lettering, which increases legibility.
Overall, the collection is a fun historical artifact, interesting in its assumptions about what made a good story for EC’s intended readership in the mid-1950s, though the historical racism may be an understandable dealbreaker for some readers.