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EC Comics, Crime Suspenstories No. 22, estimated at $6,000-$9,000 at PBA.

Horror comic that scandalized a senator could scare up $9K at PBA April 25

BERKELEY, CA — PBA Galleries will present an EC, MAD, Pre-Code Horror and R. Crumb sale on Thursday, April 25 featuring scandalous horror comics of the 1950s, early MAD comics featuring the work of legendary illustrator Harvey Kurtzman, and a selection of Robert Crumb and countercultural Underground comix. The 429-lot catalog is now available for bidding at LiveAuctioneers.

Leading the sale is the infamous EC Comics CrimeSuspenStories April-May 1954 issue that landed publisher William Gaines (1922-1992) a date with the Senate Subcommittee On Juvenile Delinquency, which was investigating whether and how comic books might be warping the minds of America’s young people. With cover art by Johnny Craig (1926-2001), the issue caused a sensation with the depiction of an axe murderer holding the severed head of his female victim. Gaines was always overweight, and was dieting at the time of the hearing by taking dexedrine, then a popular diet drug better recognized now as an amphetamine. Flying high initially, Gaines later said he “crashed and burned” as the hearing dragged on, becoming unable to offer coherent answers to senators on the subcommittee. His most famous interchange where he was still amped on speed was with Senator Estes Kefauver (1903-1963) of Tennessee:

SENATOR KEFAUVER: “Here is your May issue. This seems to be a man with a bloody ax holding a woman’s head up which has been severed from her body. Do you think that’s in good taste?”

GAINES: “Yes, sir, I do – for the cover of a horror comic. A cover in bad taste, for example, might be defined as holding the head a little higher so that the blood could be seen dripping from it, and moving the body over a little further so that the neck of the body could be seen to be bloody.”

The example of the comic book on offer at PBA is estimated at $6,000-$9,000.

Just two years earlier, Gaines launched what would become his star franchise, MAD Magazine. Dated October-November 1952, MAD Magazine #1 is coveted by all comics collectors. Its cover was penned by Harvey Kurtzman (1924-1993), who had been upset that fellow EC illustrator Al Feldstein was making more than he was. To allay the situation, Gaines suggested a solution: EC would launch a new title for Kurtzman to edit, boosting his pay by 50%. As the lot notes attest, ‘The result was sheer MADness.’ The book is estimated at $2,500-$3,500.

The sale also includes a Charles Plymell first printing of ZAP COMIX No. 1. Released in November 1967, this was the publication that exploded the Baby Boomer “counterculture comix” revolution. With an initial printing of 5,000, this is “the Action Comics #1 of the underground,” according to Jay Kennedy’s Official Underground and Newave Comix Price Guide. Original-run copies have a 25¢ cover price and bear the words ‘Printed by Charles Plymell’ on the back cover. It is estimated at $1,500-$2,500.