EC Comics Revival Introduces 3 New Horror Hosts in the Tradition of the Crypt-Keeper | Exclusive

The relaunched EC Comics’ horror anthology series “Epitaphs From the Abyss” will introduce three new horror hosts, TheWrap can exclusively reveal, filling the shoes of horror icon the Crypt-Keeper. The three hosts, designed by artist Dustin Weaver, are the Grave-Digger, the Tormentor and the Grim Inquisitor, helping Oni Press to introduce the horror arm of their revived EC Comics imprint.

“We’ll have the Grave-Digger setting the stage,” Oni Press editor-in-chief Sierra Hahn told TheWrap, “but with a little bit of that fun EC edge that’s a little bit dark, that’s a little bit playful.” The first issue begins with the premise that “every tombstone tells a tale,” the Grave-Digger leading the way.

The characters are reminiscent of the horror host characters of the original 1950s EC Comics, which sold millions of copies and became a cultural touchstone: the Crypt Keeper, the Old Witch and the Vault Keeper, respectively.

“What we’ve tried to do … is figure out how we create new horror hosts who aren’t Xeroxed facsimiles of the original trio,” Oni president and publisher Hunter Gorinson told TheWrap, “in the same way that we’re trying to create books that exist in a spiritual lineage with the original EC canon without directly replicating it or creating some sort of nostalgic simulacrum.”

That’s not to mean that they’re throwing out the baby with the bathwater. “There will be areas where they’re very similar to the classic three,” Gorinson said. “My fave’s the Old Witch — the Old Witch, for life. But there’ll be areas where they definitely carve — no pun intended — their own path.”

The Tormentor’s role will be as a “bloody Victorian-era butcheress,” Gorinson said. “Dustin Weaver really went insane in the best possible way with all of her different tools and implements. So you will see her rusty shears and red hot pokers and hammers and nails all come out at various points.”

The initial books from the relaunched EC will feature self-contained short stories, with the hosts being the connectors from one issue to the next.

“Boy, I wish that they were ongoing, because that would make it a lot easier,” Hahn wryly noted. “I can’t say that that will always be the case — you never know — but right now, one-and-done, very, very tight. Six, eight and 10-page stories.”

“They’re like perfect units of comic book entertainment,” Gorinson said. “They’re like the three-minute pop song. Being able to tell a story in that concise format is really hard, and really hard to do at a high level.”

The EC legacy

The new EC Comics horror hosts
A look at the new horror hosts’ designs, from artist Dustin Weaver: the Grave-Digger, the Grim Inquisitor and the Tormentor. (Courtesy Oni Press)

This line has a big reputation to live up to, as the original EC Comics broke ground with mature horror and science-fiction stories before the introduction of the industry-wide Comics Code Authority led to the demise of the groundbreaking comics. It received a much-beloved revival with the 1990s “Tales From the Crypt” HBO series, hosted by the Crypt-Keeper, but now Oni is looking to resuscitate the brand for a new generation.

“Now more than ever, EC is needed — that point of view is needed,” Corey Mifsud told TheWrap. He’s the grandson of EC publisher William Gaines, the eccentric editor behind the original, groundbreaking 1950s run of EC Comics. Mifsud said that this revival helped him to understand what his grandfather had done back in the day. “I think he’d be very proud of this.”

The original line fell in part due to the moral panic of the ’50s.

“EC was doing stories about anti-racism or anti-segregation 1952, 1953,” Gorinson noted. “‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ didn’t come out for a decade after that. These were still very taboo red lines in American society. And they were doing them in the pages of horror and science-fiction comics that were intended for an audience of 10-year-olds, essentially. You did not come to comics to find those kinds of hefty, intellectual, progressive messages.”

“There’d be no point in doing this if we did the mealy-mouthed, pull-your-punches version of EC for the 21st century,” Gorinson added. “We have to go there. … Part of our conversations with talent have been is, if you feel that you’re coming up against a third rail, do not push away from it — grab it with both hands and hold on for dear life.”

Speaking to the current political climate, Hahn said that in these books, creators can “use these genre tropes to really explore what’s going on in the world.”

Mifsud said, “We’d be doing this brand a disservice if we were not reflecting modern times, and unfortunately, part of that is the moral panics that are still happening that are very similar to what was happening in the ’50s.”

Gorinson also pointed to Oni’s own work coming under fire from reactionary forces, noting that the graphic novel memoir “Gender Queer” is one of the most banned books in the country.

Oni’s EC Comics plan

Oni has set a multi-year plan for the EC Comics line, with multiple series across horror and other genres yet to come and at least two titles in print throughout this initial run.

“We have a secret roadmap that goes for maybe two or three years into the future of ideas of what we’re going to do,” Gorinson said. “Not every book we do over the course of the next year or two is specifically going to be an anthology, but that’s obviously part and parcel with what made EC great.”

More of Dustin Weaver’s design work on The Grave-Digger. (Courtesy Oni Press)
More of Dustin Weaver’s design work on The Grave-Digger. (Courtesy Oni Press)

While one EC Comics book will remain a horror title throughout, the other spot will include other genres.

“The magic of what made EC work was that it wasn’t entirely focused on horror,” Gorinson said. “You always had science-fiction, you always had war, you had satire, ‘Mad [Magazine],’ and at various points crime.”

The second comic to come from the new EC will be “Cruel Universe,” a sci-fi anthology in the tradition of “Weird Fantasy” and “Weird Science.”

“Over the course of the next year, you will see us introduce other genres,” Gorinson said, “some that EC dabbled in, but specifically never devoted titles to independently before.”

“You’ll see other horror hosts have their moment to shine hopefully over the course of the next year or two,” Gorinson said.

Where lies the Crypt-Keeper?

The Crypt-Keeper remains yet to be seen, but the new EC Comics has the rights to bring him back if they choose. However, the team looks to be staying focused on moving forward rather than pulling old toys from the toy box.

“The Crypt-Keeper is practically a household name,” Gorinson said. “I think if any other publisher was doing this EC line, it would be ‘Tales From the Crypt #1,’ relaunch, and it would probably be nothing but horror.”

Mifsud jumped in to note that, as the person responsible for the rights to EC Comics, that’s completely true from what he’s seen.

“The reason why we decided to do brand new titles, brand new characters, is because I don’t want to touch the legacy of those [original] five to six years” led by his grandfather, Mifsud said. “I don’t want people to read this and already have this idea in their head of what these will be. We want these to be totally fresh, but still celebrate the EC spirit.”

“So I mean, is it possible we could use old characters? Yes,” Mifsud said. “But, I’m more eager to flesh out these new ones.”

The original “Tales From the Crypt” launched out of the comic “Crime Patrol,” which changed its name to “The Crypt of Terror” before finally finding the well-known monicker with issue #20. It ceased publication with 1955’s issue #46.

“We could totally do throwback month at some point,” Gorinson said, “but I think there’s 46 perfect issues of ‘Tales From the Crypt.’ I don’t ever want to be the next, the third Wikipedia entry down where it’s like, ‘and then, 2024 Relaunch.’ Let’s let those perfect things that have been in print for 70 years continue to find an audience and be their own distinct thing.”

“The end of EC in 1955 and 1956 is this big question mark in comic book history,” Gorinson said. “What would have happened next if EC had been allowed to continue, to thrive instead of being shut down and suppressed by outside forces? And the quest, the way that we’ve looked at it with ourselves is like, what if Marvel Comics had stopped publishing in 1967 and you never got Luke Cage and Daredevil’s red costume and the All-New, All-Different X-Men and the Defenders and Ghost Rider and the Punisher, and on down the line.”

Now, the team is investigating what would have happened if EC Comics had lived to create another age of comics.

While the Grave-Digger bears the greatest resemblance to the Crypt-Keeper, the Grim Inquisitor may be the character with the clearest comedic conceit. He captures that comedic tone that “Tales From the Crypt” is remembered for, both due to the comics’ haunting vision and the HBO show (which has yet to be successfully brought back, though M. Night Shyamalan tried). While he may seem imposing, the Grim Inquisitor is part of a complex bureaucracy and answers to an unseen Supreme Inquisitor.

“If the horror hosts had a Dwight Schrute, it would probably be the Grim Inquisitor,” Gorinson noted, also comparing him to the archetype of creepy characters played by Peter Lorre, as well as the satirical Marty Feldman version of Igor from “Young Frankenstein.”

Gorinson credited Mifsud with giving the creative team a note that helped them find that role for the Grim Inquisitor in his larger corporate-esque structure. Mifsud emphasized that the point of the horror hosts, just like the Crypt-Keeper’s trademark humor, is to “soften the blow” of the hard-edge horror tales.

The plan is for the Grim Inquisitor to lead his own book in the future — as Gorinson noted, “There’s something horrific about bureaucracy on its own. So now we get to see the bureaucracy of horror.”

“We really want to be grounded in that horror genre,” Hahn said, “in that discomfort, in that space of, ‘Oh my god, what did I just read? What is this feeling I’m having?'”

The publisher, founded in 1997, has had a contentious past few years. Oni merged in 2019 with Lion Forge, later facing changes in the executive team and widespread layoffs in 2022. But Gorinson, hired in December 2022, and Hahn, named editor-in-chief in 2023, have been hard at work to move the company in a more positive direction.

The new EC Comics horror hosts debut in the double-sized Epitaphs From the Abyss #1 on July 24, the Wednesday of Comic-Con International in San Diego. They’re featured on a variant cover from artist and designer Dustin Weaver. More details about what’s to come from EC Comics are expected to be announced the week of Comic-Con.

The full variant cover from Dustin Weaver featuring EC Comics’ three new horror hosts is below:

The first issue features stories from acclaimed creators such as writers Brian Azzarello (“100 Bullets,” “Wonder Woman”) and Stephanie Phillips (“Harley Quinn,” “Grim”), along with artists including Jorge Fornes (“Batman,” “Rorschach”) and Phil Hester (“Green Arrow,” “Family Tree”). Future issues include work from more big names including Jason Aaron, Matt Kindt, Klaus Janson, Corinna Bechko and more.

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