Johnny Craig is one of those artists we'd call mid list if he was an author. Prolific, talented, a cult favorite, but unable to adapt to a new publishing house. Tales From The Crypt, the Crypt-keeper, if you're a child of the 80's you may not recognize these horror icons as originating in the comic aisle. EC Comics was a casualty of the CCA but back in the day it was up there beside Marvel and DC and a host of other companies as a major player for your Saturday dime. Craig was one of their best artists, but he was also one of their slowest and least adaptable. When the horror line folded he wasn't suited to cross over into superhero work. With the 1950's on the rise, I hope work like Craig's gets a second life. Fantagraphics is doing their part by issuing a number of EC collections based on specific artists instead of specific titles or years.
Fall Guy For Murder and Other Stories is focused on Johnny Craig. Artistically, Craig was a very precise artist. His characters are ugly-pretty in the popular noir fashion of the day. As collected in Fall Guy they are predominately white, which was typical of the books as well. Craig's women have sharply angled faces with slashing brows and nipped waists. They're angry gold diggers looking out for themselves, taking the steps necessary to get what they want. His men are a series of failed Don Drapers, tired of the nagging, unable to meet the demands placed on them. Domestic violence is part and parcel of the murder plots. And yet. Craig's women are also sympathetic. They're placed in worlds they may have little control over and they lash out because of those limitations. Many of them are deeply loved by the men they are exploiting. Some of them reciprocate.
While Fall Guy For Murder focuses primarily on white characters there was a very interesting piece set in Haiti. I'd like to see if Craig had more non-white characters in his horror because what looks on the surface like a typical colonization story turns into something far more interesting. I'd like to think it's by design, but the few pages of the tale don't support a wide reading of his intent. The early depiction of the childlike Haitian people so eager to please their "B'wana-Steve" is typical of the period. They speak in childlike and imperfect english. They beat their drums and dance in joy while the white people marry. Their joy is in serving the white man as completely as they can and yet... In the end, he is betrayed. In itself, this isn't so interesting. The black servant shown as duplicitous is typical. Even the method of betrayal fit established stereotypes. What gives me pause and made me wish for more to examine was the reasoning behind the betrayal. The Haitians give "B'wana-Steve" exactly what he claimed to want. They don't inform him of the horrific repercussions of his desire, they only fulfill it. His word is his bond. Even his death won't free him of his fate as they solidify his punishment into an eternal sentence. They deliver him into hell with a joyful heart. I think Craig offered this revenge fantasy deliberately, and I'd like to think it brought a moment of pause to the young readers who encountered it.