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Hunter Gorinson and Sierra Hahn detail Oni-led relaunch of EC Comics

Comic Books

Hunter Gorinson and Sierra Hahn detail Oni-led relaunch of EC Comics

The iconic line returns with two new titles and a game plan to conquer comics.

EC Comics (publisher of everything from Tales from the Crypt to The Vault of Horror) is legendary in this industry. While the line hasn’t been published in some 70 years (there’s heaps of reprints available), it has defined a massive part of not only comics’ general outlook and outsider status, but also horror at large. It is an institution for the weird and faithful.

“My great passion is EC comics,” said Hunter Gorinson, president and publisher of Oni Press. “For whatever reason, that’s my thing. Some people are very into Spider-Ham, what the X-Men are up to these days, or the minutiae of Batman. The thing that I always came back to was EC Comics, which I got exposed to very early on as a child, and it totally changed my conception of what comics could be.”

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Gorinson added, “EC Comics is one of the raw materials at the center of American pop culture. It’s on a very short list of stuff like the Ramones, the Velvet Underground, the beat poets, Sun Records, and rockabilly — these things that are central that every other piece of our culture was derived from…EC’s central to all of that. And, frankly, even with all of the reverence that’s been given to it over the course of the past 30 or 40 years, I still don’t think it’s fully appreciated like how deep EC is [to the] American cultural DNA. Sorry, that concludes my TED Talk.”

So it’s no wonder, then, that when Gorinson took over at Oni a couple years ago, one of his very first plans was to relaunch EC Comics.

“Through my travels in the comic book industry, I was very fortunate to be introduced to Cathy Gaines Mifsud and Corey Mifsud, who are [former owner/editor] William Gaines’ daughter and grandson,” said Gorinson. “And we’ve worked on various projects over the years. But somewhere along the way, they did me a great kindness and indulged us [with Oni’s editor-in-chief Sierra Hahn] in the exercise of ‘What if we did new EC comics? What would EC Comics look like for the 21st century?’ And they were excited by that. From there, we actively began developing this idea, which effectively began within the first couple of weeks, certainly, of me and Sierra working together on what the future of Oni would look like. This was always on the agenda.”

And after years of work, and “lots of paperwork” according to Gorinson, EC returns from the comics grave with two massive new anthologies: the horror-leaning Epitaphs From the Abyss #1 (due out July 24) and Cruel Universe (out August 7), which features more sci-fi tales. Each book is packed with a veritable who’s who of comics talent, including Chris Condon, Matt Kindt, Jorge Fornes, Kano, Artyom Topilin, Stephanie Phillips, Phil Hester, and Peter Krause.

The FOC for Epitaphs From the Abyss #1 is July 1, while the FOC for Cruel Universe is July 15.

And throughout that recent Zoom chat with Gorinson and Hahn, I got the sense that they understood how massive and historical this campaign was not only to comics but pop culture at-large. EC Comics is a cornerstone to modern fiction and storytelling, and to resurrect is to tempt the ire of nerds everywhere.

“I think everyone at Oni considers EC to be as close to a sacred territory or a hallowed ground that we have in common,” said Gorinson. “You’re mixing with strong primal forces of the history of the comic book industry. And there’s been points in this process where Sierra and I have sat back and gazed at each other, through bloodshot eyes, thinking, ‘Can we do this? What have we done? Are we about to be in an EC story ourselves?'”

At least for Gorinson, though, the path forward boiled down to one especially burning question that demanded an answer.

“But ultimately it goes back to one thing, which is that I, as both a comic book fan and a reader, always felt that the ending of what happened to EC comics in 1955 and 1956 — if you know anything about comic book history — it’s this pregnant pause or this great unanswered question of what would have EC done if it had continued into the future,” said Gorinson. “There’s an entire alternate universe out there somewhere where if the Comics Code Authority doesn’t happen and EC continues making crime, horror, and sci-fi, which continue to be the dominant genres in comics. Stan Lee never decides to do superheroes. Like, what would an EC comic in the Modern Age be like?”

But there’s also something that Hahn discussed that really spoke volumes about why they put in the work and why it’s so essential for Oni as both a publisher and a facilitator of culture.

“I think it’s something we talk about when we talk about having this renegade spirit that has been part of Oni since the earliest days,” said Hahn. “And I think that is complimented perfectly with the EC Comics legacy. While that may not have been their intention to be renegades, that’s certainly where they ended up.”

Added Gorinson, “Gaines didn’t even like comics before he was forced in, some sense, to take over EC in the shadow of his father’s death. He said, ‘If I have to do this, I might as well do something that entertains me.’ And in doing that, he elevated comics for the first time to an art form. It had been done, but what we now recognize is the artistic crescendo of the medium. And in doing so, because they had created that space, there were no parameters there.”

Gorinson also took Hahn’s idea one step further: Oni has some deep awareness of what the EC folks went through when trying to make weird, groundbreaking comics.

“We at Oni are, for better or for worse, publishers of the most banned book in America, experiencing a kind of distorted echo of what Gaines and the EC family and team went through in the 1950s with the Comics Code Authority and seeing the exact same issues play out over again, as well as just taking a look at the state of comics in the year 2024.”

That very connection and attitude helps inform and encapsulate why Gorinson, Hahn, and the rest of the Oni team are such perfect candidates for what’s effectively “EC Comics 2.0.” It’s not only connections and spiritual associations, but it really centers around how EC approached horror for a new generation.

“What I’ve always found fascinating about what EC introduced into American horror is, for the very first time, they were not telling stories about essentially creatures of folklore, like not the Wolfman and Dracula and Frankenstein,” said Gorinson. “The monsters in EC Comics are the neighbor next door, right? They’re the milkman who secretly wants to kill you in your sleep, or the child who has turned against you or the dark secret that your wife harbors.”

Oni Press sheds light on EC Comics' 'Epitaphs from the Abyss' #1

Main cover by Lee Bermejo. Courtesy of Oni Press.

Gorinson added, “So whether consciously or unconsciously, it came to embody every single American anxiety lurking behind the picket fences of 1950s Eisenhower America, where supposedly we just won World War II, and everything was supposed to be perfect, and America was going to win the Cold War. EC fearlessly pulled back the curtain on that and said, ‘No, actually we’re all deeply traumatized. Let’s explore that a little bit.'”

The issue, then, became about how do they update that very approach for American life in 2024.

“I think it’s about exploring the anxieties of the day across a spectrum of ages and communities while grounding it in something that’s hopefully entertaining and that might take you by surprise and has some foundational heart, humor, and maybe something a little grotesque in between,” said Hain. “But that’s what’s entertaining and fun about it. The fact that you can get lost in a six- to 10-page story as easily as you could in those original EC pieces is really powerful. And so the challenge that we have is how do you carry that sensibility into today? And we have a lot of anxiety around us socially, personally in the world that we inhabit. So it just feels like the perfect time to bring EC back to its readership.”

As it turns out, though, the changes maybe aren’t as grand or significant as you’d expected.

“Not a lot that has to change from what the original formula was in EC, I think, or Tales from the Crypt, if we want to focus on that title in particular,” said. Hahn. “Those stories, if you read them today, are just as resonant today. We’re still dealing with unruly neighbors or some sort of technology in our lives gone awry or political disruption or environmental disruption, be it a fire or something that wipes out your farm. All those things can be brought into what we’re dealing with today. So, in some sense, it’s like nothing really needs to change except that the way we talk about those issues are more contemporary, be it AI, be it different types of violence that we’re dealing with today that happen via social media. And then the tone remains intact. I think that’s what’s so vital to what’s going to set the EC’s anthologies apart from other horror anthologies that are on the market right now…that tone is really, really important. And how you carry these characters through a story and you have that twist that you may not see coming until you get to that very last panel and you sit back in your seat and go, ‘Oh my God, how did they get us here?'”

For even more about Oni’s future, check out Gorinson and Hahn’s March appearance on the AIPT Comics Podcast.

It’s less that anything had to change and rather that the creators and Oni team had to recognize what this new “era” could and couldn’t look like as a whole.

“There’s a purity and clarity of intent at the center of what EC did so well,” saisd Gorinson. “I hesitate to call it a mean spirit, but there’s an edge, obviously. There’s an edge to what EC did. And that’s what we’re hoping to cultivate. Like I’ve said before, we would consider this to be a failure if we simply did a retro-obsessed, nostalgia-facing ‘all the stories have to be set in 1954.’ Or, we’re going to try and do our best to find artists that draw exactly like Graham Ingels and Johnny Craig and Reed Crandall, which would be impossible to do…Western comics have changed, obviously, in the seven decades since EC was no more. The art styles are gonna be a little bit updated and they’re going be in a lineage and continuity with what came before, certainly. But even for the things that may be different on the surface, that tone and clarity of intent and that edge is central to what we have viewed this mission as from the beginning.”

Some things, however, must remain eternal.

“That being said, the lettering is going to be almost exactly the same,” said Gorinson. “It’s going to be almost as close as we think to the original lettering.”

EC Comics returns this summer in new partnership with Oni Press

Main cover by Greg Smallwood. Courtesy of Oni Press.

But the legacy of EC Comics isn’t just that it was great, often bloody fun; it also gave a kind of form and language to subsequent creators that transcended mere inspiration.

“That’s what John Carpenter picks up in Halloween. That’s what Tobe Hooper picks up with Texas Chain Saw Massacre,” said Gorinson. “It’s the power of satire as both a therapeutic and philosophical tool. EC is shot through with that, whether conscious or unconscious. It’s certainly conscious at times, like an almost postmodern approach to the way that it’s going to skewer something that should be deadly serious. There’s definitely a lot of Dr. Strangelove inside of EC Comics. Or vice versa, I should say.”

Comics have achieved a similar level of significance in general. The medium is no longer the “absolutely disposable garbage” of EC’s heyday, said Gorinson, and there’s a certain lineage of greatness involved.

“Not to be the world’s most pretentious person in an interview, but comics have obviously shaped our pop culture and in ways that we don’t fully comprehend or regularly talk about,” said Gorinson. “They’ve shaped our political discourse as well. Like look at the V for Vendetta mask, and the way that’s reverberated. It all started in Warrior magazine and now is the face of political subversion internationally.”

However, even a student and veteran like Gorinson can recognize when comics has clearly reached an existential fork in the road. EC Comics may be the kick in the rear needed to address some core issues and perhaps continue that robust lineage of forging truly important art.

“I took a look around and I feel like comics were, for me as a reader and a fan, going through almost a bloated prog rock period,” said Gorinson. “And I really felt like what could be the antidote to that is going back to first principles — to use a music analogy, to fast, punchy three-chord songs. And there’s something perfect about the format of EC comics. They are like three-minute pop songs distilled down to just the perfect marriage of form and content. So I took a look at everything that we’re dealing with currently, and the thing that I felt deeply was maybe what we need right now is some more goddamn EC comics. That’s the mantle that we’ve taken up for ourselves. It’s the biggest of big shoes, but we approach it with a huge amount of reverence and certainly stand in that shadow.”

It’s a mission statement complicated by the existing marketplace. There’s no denying that horror, and especially horror anthologies, have been experiencing a heyday in comics in recent years. The Oni team recognize that entirely, and they’re trying to be smart about how they work.

“Horror is probably the most popular genre in comics behind superheroes,” said Gorinson. “That being said, we’ve made no bones about it from the outset of this. Not everything we do is going to be horror. That’s part of the genius of the original EC melange of genres. You had horror on one side and science fiction and satire and war. And then occasionally some other drips and drabs of other things. But those things all balanced each other out into a weird tonal combination. I think that’s part of what we viewed as very important was maintaining and perhaps expanding that wheelhouse of genres of what could be typified of as EC.”

Hunter Gorinson and Sierra Hahn detail Oni-led relaunch of EC Comics

“Killer Spec” by J. Holtham and Jorge Fornes, from Epitaphs From the Abyss #1. Courtesy of Oni Press.

If anything, Oni is actively counting on this increased desire for great horror to help EC Comics truly flourish.

“As you said, there’s clearly an appetite for material in that medium, for horror in the comics medium,” said Hahn. She noted that the “groundwork and that success…comes from EC” and horror’s subsequent popularity then “lays the track for there to be success here.”

Hahn added, “We have the opportunity to compliment that [and] to build off of that. I think something we also talk about a lot with what we’re doing at Oni is how we put ourselves in a position to not be chasing trends but creating trends. And with EC again, be it telling science fiction stories that are really grounded…but have that darker twist, you’re bringing your horror audience into sci-fi. So, what other genres can we take that formula or that tone and bring in the audience that’s maybe under-reading in those spaces and comics? How can we be creating those trends while using these really incredible narrative tropes from the EC?”

It’s why EC will eventually have a third line, said Gorinson, one that “EC [originally] had dabbled in but never specifically had a standalone devoted to before.” It ultimately goes back to the idea of not preserving but adding on to and extending.

“So we view our mission here as, again, we’re not trying to preserve EC in amber,” said Gorinson. “We want to take that tone and then over the course of the first year, first two or three years, ’cause we do have a pretty long-term plan here, pull back the iris a little bit of what EC can encompass and then introduce some new things into the formulation. So that’s part of the fun, too.”

They’re also really leaning into one specific function of EC — it’s the thing that really makes this whole “universe” different from many other purveyors of great horror.

“One of the special qualities of EC is existing in this godless universe with no God and no Satan and no angels and no demons,” said Gorinson. “Like, if you’re going to be a zombie who’s resurrected from the grave, it’s not because the devil sent you there. It’s because your internally-willed vengeance forced you back from the grave, and there’s something incredibly personal about that. I find it intriguing when most other horror is supernatural to some extent. EC stories can be supernatural, but not in that kind of grand mythological way.”

Similarly, they also recognize the role that anthologies (those outside of horror) have played in comics and how that format is also having a renaissance of sorts. It’s once more about paying respect to the past but also doing something new/novel.

“I think people haven’t been vocal enough in celebration of the anthology format, but that’s been my experience,” said Hahn. “And so now we’re seeing a lot more out there, and people are really embracing it and getting behind it. From the editor or publisher’s point of view, it certainly gives us the opportunity to work with writers who might otherwise be really busy with more long-form graphic novels or long series. This is the palette cleanser between some of that longer form work and those bigger commitments.”

Hunter Gorinson and Sierra Hahn detail Oni-led relaunch of EC Comics

“Family Values” by Stephanie Phillips and Phil Hester, from Epitaphs from the Abyss #1. Courtesy of Oni Press.

Added Gorinson, “Historically, comics were anthologies for the first 30 or 40 years that they existed. Action Comics #1, Detective Comics #27, Sensation Comics #1 — all anthologies. That form was pretty much perfected by EC, I would say, in the 1950s. And it’s funny that you mentioned Ice Cream Man, too, because I think that’s probably my favorite ongoing comic, and it’s exceptionally hard to do. In some ways, writing a 12-issue arc is a lot easier than having to deliver a 10-pager that people are going to think about in the shower for the next four weeks because it was so psychologically devastating.”

That last point, about stories that truly hang around to truly devastate readers, is really essential. Because the Oni team aren’t about defining what EC Comics should look like, or the genres it’s tied to upon release. Rather, it’s about being the most ruthless with its readership as humanly possible.

“I’m going to think of a nice way to say this, or it might not be one: It’s comics that can f**k you up,” said Gorinson. “We all read comics, and you get to the end of them, and you’re like, ‘Yeah, it was OK..’ The point with these books is like, ‘Holy shit. How did that happen?’ Like, it’ll carve out the inside of your brain and leave it hollow.”

That means it would appear, to lean into rules and structures the way the “old” EC Comics creators would have and still balance those ideas and approaches in the best ways possible.

“Usually, Gaines had a checklist of like the five do’s and don’ts of EC comics,” said Gorinson. “We have actually been referencing that pretty thoroughly as we go on. I could probably do a 40-minute presentation on the differences between different kinds of EC stories. I’d rather not try to apply super firm parameters at the outset other than, ‘You’ve got to get in and out and keep it tight.’ You’re working toward a deeply upsetting or shocking or surprising conclusion, and you want to start in something recognizable of an everyday scenario most of the times.”

The process, the team has found, has been incredibly freeing for the creators — it’s been a chance to really push boundaries and comfort zones, much like those earlier EC pioneers.

“I think with the writers that we’ve worked with thus far, there are some very basic parameters like what Hunter outlined,” said Hahn. “But some of them are traditionally science fiction writers, and they’ll send a pitch, and the pitch is 50 words. And I’m like, ‘This isn’t a sci-fi pitch. This is a horror pitch.’ And they’re like, ‘Oh, I never thought of myself as a horror writer.’ And it’s like, ‘Cool, we’re going to put you in this.’

Hahn added, “It’s surprising and really fun and gratifying to go through that process and plumb the depths of other aspects of their personalities in writing these tales. Because again, while genre is this frame that we’re working with, what’s at the heart of these stories are characters dealing with uncanny situations in an everyday sort of scenario. So I think that’s partly what we’re discovering.”

Hunter Gorinson and Sierra Hahn detail Oni-led relaunch of EC Comics

“The Champion” by Matt Kindt and Kano, from Cruel Universe #1. Courtesy of Oni Press.

And it’s not just about supporting creators to make truly good stories, but to also help build the larger EC Comics “brand” as an increasingly viable option.

“[Creators are] telling their friends like, ‘Hey, do you want to get in on this?’ And I’m like, ‘Really? That person wants to play in the sandbox, too? Let’s bring them in, and let’s figure it out,'” said Hahn. “And so we’re having a lot of fun putting all those pieces together. I think people are discovering new things about themselves along the way, too.”

That connection with the creators may really be the lynchpin of this entire EC Comics “experiment.” Because, sure, there’s been some highlights. Like, the Kindt-penned “The Champion” from Cruel Universe #1, where “every single person who’s read it has wept incredibly powerfully,” said Gorinson. Or that Chris Condon wrote “like, ten stories, and they’re all fucking incredible,” as Gorinson also explained.

Rather, it’s this idea that everyone’s excited to put in the work. They know the true EC Comics legacy, the sheer competition in the marketplace, and how this could all go horribly wrong. (And if it all goes wonderfully, how there’s still challenges in the regards.) Yet they all march on unphased, ready to bring the weird magic of EC Comics into the hands of eager readers.

“What I want to add is just having the opportunity to work with Klaus Janson is such a huge honor,” said Hahn. “He’s one of the nicest and most knowledgeable people in comic books that I’ve had the pleasure of knowing the last few years. Still, getting to work together in this capacity is just an honor. And to have him come in and say, ‘Put me in coach — where do you want me? How can I help?’ I want to do this forever.”

Once more, the FOC for Epitaphs From the Abyss #1 is July 1, while the FOC for Cruel Universe is July 15.

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