AL FELDSTEIN – EC Comics Logo Designer

From TALES FROM THE CRYPT #24, June-July 1951, EC Comics. All EC images © William M. Gaines Agent, Inc.

Few traditional newsstand comics have been as controversial as the New Trend titles from Bill Gaines’ EC Comics in the early 1950s. They set high standards for artistic excellence, and new lows for violence and gore. Readers loved them, parents and lawmakers, as well as other publishers, did not, and eventually those other publishers drove them off the stands, but for a few years, they sold like hotcakes, from what I hear (I was an infant at the time). One factor in the success was the writing, art, editing, cover design, and logos by Al Feldstein, and it’s the last of those elements I’ll focus on here. Horror comics had appeared before, but there was something about Feldstein’s logos and covers that grabbed readers. His very drippy CRYPT above is a good example. His logos were well designed, and mostly based on block lettering, but with creepy styles that matched the art well. They were also large, and in a uniform layout that made the logo and trade dress demand attention, always a good thing among the competition on newsstands, and if a reader liked one EC title, the others were easy to spot.

Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein, 1950, image found online

Albert Bernard Feldstein was born October 24, 1925 in Brooklyn, New York to Jewish parents who encouraged his interest in art. After winning an award in the 1939 New York World’s Fair poster contest, he decided to pursue a career in art and attended the High School of Music and Art in Manhattan. While in high school he began working for Jerry Iger in his shop, the S.M. Iger Studio, learning the business of making comics from the ground up. After high school he attended Brooklyn College and the Art Students League. He was in the Air Force in World War Two, and afterward became a comics artist and packager himself for publishers like Fox, Fiction House, and Quality.

From MOON GIRL #2, Winter 1947, cover art by Johnny Craig

M.C. Gaines had been the co-owner of All-American Comics, a sister company of National/DC Comics. In 1946, he was bought out by National and started his own company, Educational Comics, which put out things like PICTURE STORIES FROM THE BIBLE. Gaines was tragically killed in a boating accident in 1947, leaving his son Bill to run EC. Bill moved away from educational comics and focused on another existing name, Entertaining Comics. At first he imitated other publishers, following whatever trend was popular. He hired Al Feldstein in 1948. In a 1995 interview with Steve Ringgenberg published in The Comics Journal #177 (May 1995, Fantagraphics), Feldstein remembered:

I was going to do a magazine for them called GOING STEADY WITH PEGGY. Then the sales on the teenage market were showing weakness. It was an industry of a few innovators and a lot of followers. So I said to Bill, “Well, let’s tear up the contract.” He put me to work writing and drawing whatever I could. I was doing westerns and crime, and I came to him one day and said, “Look, Bill, why are we following these idiots, and when the trend dies, getting caught? Why don’t we innovate, and why don’t we have people follow US?” Bill was a science-fiction and horror fan, and I was a horror movie fan, and I said, “Why don’t we try horror?”

They did, and it was a hit, but first let’s see what EC was doing before that. Above is a cover from MOON GIRL that shows the basic template for the EC covers trade dress was in place before Feldstein got there, with the title small in a vertical side banner, a large logo in a solid color box, and the EC symbol or bullet. I don’t know who did the logo, but it’s quite good. I think it might be by cover artist Johnny Craig.

From GUNFIGHTER #6, Fall 1948

The logos ranged widely in quality, though, this is a perfectly awful one. If it’s by Craig, he definitely lost this gunfight.

From MODERN LOVE #1, June-July 1949

Here’s an early cover by Feldstein, and I’m guessing he probably did the logo as well as the large lettering in the two captions, while the small lettering is done using the Leroy system by Jim and Margaret Wroten, who Bill Gaines had inherited from his father. There’s something a bit mechanical about Feldstein’s art, and he liked the mechanical look of Leroy lettering. He used it often on covers, and for nearly all the stories he wrote as well. The logo is bland, using standard block letters, though the addition of telescoping on LOVE adds depth and interest. The side banner is meant to be a genre or category in this case, rather than just copying the title.

From MODERN LOVE #2, Aug-Sept 1949

The second issue has a different and more interesting logo with somewhat Art Deco styling and a drop shadow to add depth. The art is a collaboration by Craig and Feldstein, and the small lettering is by the Wrotens. I surmise the logo and cover design is again by Feldstein, and shows he was thinking about how he might improve rather than just sticking with his first idea.

From A MOON, A GIRL…ROMANCE #9, Sept-Oct 1949

MOON GIRL changed to this romance title for a few issues before ending, and the logo again looks like early work by Feldstein. The title is too long and awkward, but he does pretty well with it anyway. ROMANCE has similar style points to LOVE in the cover above. But things were about to change at EC, with existing titles becoming horror ones in early 1950. Numbering often continued to preserve second-class mailing permits.

From THE CRYPT OF TERROR #17, April-May 1950

CRIME PATROL became THE CRYPT OF TERROR with this issue. Johnny Craig did the art, and may have done some of the lettering, but I think the logo and the large caption is by Feldstein. TERROR in the left side vertical bar is again a genre marker, THE CRYPT OF is a bit rough, but TERROR in the logo is effective, taking the kind of ragged-ended open letters being used by Artie Simek at Marvel to wider widths and a higher level of distress, with telescoping to add depth. SUSPENSTORIES is a word I think coined by Feldstein, suspense being another pointer toward horror comics. Since combining the two words didn’t change the pronunciation, it worked better than Charles Biro’s idea over at Lev Gleason, “Illustories.” This is the first New Trend title, though it lasted only three issues.

From THE VAULT OF HORROR #12, April-May 1950

The second New Trend horror title, continuing the numbering from WAR AGAINST CRIME, has open telescoping on the rough block letters of HORROR that was later filled in solid black, which I think worked better. The top line has a black drop shadow to add depth. The large caption is the same as on THE CRYPT OF TERROR, while the balloon lettering is by the Wrotens. The sign lettering might be by cover artist Johnny Craig.

From THE HAUNT OF FEAR #15, May-June 1950

The third horror title, changed from GUNFIGHTER, has FEAR in a wavy style that Artie Simek was also using at Marvel, but the line above that is more original. Feldstein is still finding his way with logos, I think, and the somewhat more ragged look of FEAR in the side banner I find the most effective. This was perhaps EC’s first big hit, and it lasted 28 issues, until the company was forced out of newsstand comics. So far we’ve seen nothing very graphic on the covers as far as gore, and only the threat of violence. The Old Witch horror host may have been inspired by a spooky radio show, “The Witch’s Tale.”

From TALES FROM THE CRYPT #20, Oct-Nov 1950

CRYPT OF TERROR changed to this title, with a new horror host, the Crypt Keeper, seen in the circle right of the logo. TALES again goes with wavy letters, CRYPT is fairly similar to the previous logo, but a bit softer. I like STRANGE in the side banner best of all. Johnny Craig was the go-to cover artist for these books at first, and he did an effective job, though his work isn’t very scary. This title also sold well, and later became the best known EC title because of its use as a movie title and TV series based on the comics.

From CRIME SUSPENSTORIES #2, Dec 1950-Jan 1951

EC had done crime books before, but under Feldstein’s editorship, this new title took it to even more violent territory. CRIME uses wavy letters again, and SUSPENSTORIES, his made-up word, becomes part of the title, with the third S larger to get meaning across. I think Al also did the large caption.

From WEIRD SCIENCE #5, Jan-Feb 1951

With this book, EC entered the science fiction genre with what I feel is one of the best Feldstein logos. WEIRD is in a ragged but controlled brush style with black telescoping, SCIENCE is wonderfully electric and energetic, and I love FANTASY in the side bar made of smoke. The word balloon is by the Wrotens, but I think Feldstein did the banner lettering, and his cover is full of depth and fearful events.

From TALES FROM THE CRYPT #22, Feb-March 1951

A new logo on this issue of TALES FROM THE CRYPT is one I find creepy and effective, with drippy letters on CRYPT and very rough block letters on TALES. Feldstein’s cover art is more gruesome than what came before, and the three horror hosts he created are in boxes at the left side. That idea of creepy characters introducing stories and talking directly to readers is one that Feldstein and Gaines came up with as far as I know, and it was soon copied by others. (Though, as Sant Farrell pointed out, “Mr. Crime” from Charles Biro and Bob Wood in the Lev Gleason titles like CRIME DOES NOT PAY is a similar idea.) It was even imitated on TV with horror movie/anthology hosts like Zacherly and Vampira, and possibly even Alfred Hitchcock. Certainly Hitchcock brought the same kind of droll humor as the hosts in the EC comics.

From WEIRD FANTASY #6, March-April 1951

A second science fiction title, and the logo simply switches the words SCIENCE and FANTASY from the WEIRD SCIENCE logo. I don’t find this FANTASY as effective, but I love the cover image. The large caption is a mix of Feldstein lettering and type, the bottom one is by the Wrotens.

From WEIRD SCIENCE #9, Sept-Oct 1951

Wally Wood’s art is fantastic here, and more violent and gruesome than early New Trend covers, showing the direction things were going. The amount of detail is staggering. SCIENCE-FICTION in the bottom banner is by Feldstein, the other words are type.

From SHOCK SUSPENSTORIES #1, Feb-March 1952

A second “crime” comic with another amazing logo. I don’t think there has ever been a more energetic and electrically charged word on a comic than this SHOCK. Who could pass it by without a closer look? Feldstein was smart to start with standard block letters and then embellish them heavily with bursts all around, and the thick border makes it even better. EC’s New Trend was barely more than two years old, but the caption talks about the “EC Tradition.” Their books certainly did have impact, but not always a positive one.

From THE HAUNT OF FEAR #12, March-April 1952

With this issue, Feldstein did a rougher, ragged version of FEAR that adds energy and creepiness. By now, he and Bill Gaines had found other artists adept at their extreme approach, like “Ghastly” Graham Ingles. You can see why parents might have objected to comics like this.

From SHOCK SUSPENSTORIES #6, Dec 1952-Jan 1953

Wally Wood was no slouch at fine cover work either, and this one gets into political territory with villains suggesting the Ku Klux Klan, though the idea came from Gaines and Feldstein.

From WEIRD SCIENCE #17 Jan-Feb 1953

Kind of off-topic, but EC managed to get permission to adapt stories by Ray Bradbury for their comics. Bradbury was not as well known then as he is now, but it was still a coup. He was a comics fan, and obviously reading their titles. In the Feldstein interview, he said:

Bill and I adapted an idea that we thought was different, and it turned out that it was pretty close to Mr. Bradbury’s story, and I didn’t know anything about this. See, I was not the springboard guy, Bill was. He wrote to us and said, “Hey you guys, you stole my story.” And Bill says, “No we didn’t. But here’s $25 and can we steal some more?” So he allowed us to, because he liked what we did.

From WEIRD FANTASY #21, Sept-Oct 1953

With wonderful cover art like this by Al Williamson and Frank Frazetta, EC’s science fiction titles were showing they could do more than just scare. If I were a teenager when these were coming out, I would have bought them.

From THE VAULT OF HORROR #33, Oct-Nov 1953

The horror titles, even on some later issues like this one, weren’t always going for the gross stuff. This scene by Johnny Craig is emotionally powerful without that, and effectively chilling.

From PANIC #1, Feb-March 1954

I’ve not mentioned the EC titles edited by Harvey Kurtzman, the war books FRONTLINE COMBAT and TWO-FISTED TALES as well as the humor comic MAD, because I think Kurtzman designed those logos and covers, but this humor comic was edited by Al Feldstein, and I think he did the logo and left side vertical banner as well as the cover art. By this time, EC was being heavily scrutinized by everyone, including lawmakers, and this issue was banned in Massachusetts because of its parody of the beloved poem, The Night Before Christmas by Clement Clark Moore. I don’t think the logo is as effective as Kurtzman’s MAD, and this book only lasted 12 issues. Feldstein would have more success with humor when he took over the editing of MAD later, and for many years.

From PIRACY #1, Oct-Nov 1954

In 1954, the publication of Frederic Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent and a highly publicized Congressional hearing on juvenile delinquency cast comic books in an especially poor light. Several comics publishers formed the Comics Magazine Association of America and its Comics Code Authority. The CCA code was rigorously enforced, with all comics requiring code approval prior to their publication. Gaines refused to join the association. Among the Code’s new rules were that no comic book title could use the words “horror” or “terror” or “weird” on its cover. When distributors refused to handle many of his comics, Gaines ended publication of his three horror and the two SuspenStory titles on September 14, 1954. EC shifted its focus to a line of more realistic comic books known as the New Direction titles. PIRACY, above, was the the first. While still violent, it at least avoided the gore of the horror and crime books, and was more like popular swashbuckling films. I think the logo and top line are by Al Feldstein, though it’s possible letterer Ben Oda had a hand in them. The ship wheels around the EC bullets are a nice touch.

From ACES HIGH #1, March-April 1955

Four more New Direction titles came out in early 1955. The logo on this one by Feldstein is very traditional block letters with thick outlines, the size of ACES is what grabs the most attention. It seems Gaines and Feldstein were trying to follow popular trends in film now other than horror. Air battles were still violent, but perhaps more acceptable. The hype of the large caption sounds a bit desperate.

From IMPACT #1, March-April 1955

EC had been using the word impact in other places, here it seems to stand in for drama and action. The story featured on the cover, “Master Race,” was one of EC’s best and most celebrated. Written by Gaines and Feldstein with art by Bernard Krigstein, it’s about a World War Two Holocaust survivor. While the cover by Jack Davis is intriguing, the book’s title is perhaps intentionally vague, and the logo by Feldstein is slightly similar to Harvey Kurtzman’s MAD logo.

From VALOR #1, March-April 1955

Armed combat in the style of Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant was the theme of this book and cover, and the logo is the best of the New Direction titles in my opinion. Feldstein had to look no further than Valiant for inspiration, but his logo, top line, and banner caption are all excellent work.

From MD #1, April-May 1955

The last of the New Direction titles has the shortest logo, just two letters, and that allowed Feldstein to go really large with them. The caduceus art between is also well done. Sadly, while these titles might have worked early in EC’s life, the company was now fighting an uphill battle with distributors and retailers, who had been turned against them by the bad publicity. Gaines tried a few other things, but then his distributor, Leader News, went bankrupt, and at that point he threw in the towel and cancelled all newsstand comics, keeping only MAD as a larger magazine that could be placed with a different distributor, and which kept its distance from comics, at least as far as the look of it goes.

Al Feldstein, 1978, © E.B. Boatner

At first Harvey Kurtzman continued as the editor of MAD, but when he decided to leave, Gaines called Feldstein back in to edit his remaining magazine. Under Feldstein, sales continued to rise until it was selling in the millions of copies, and supporting a creative crew of talented writers and artists, including a few from the EC days like Jack Davis. Feldstein finally left in 1984 when he couldn’t convince Gaines to go with his ideas about expanding MAD into other media, something that eventually happened anyway. He took up painting and became a successful wildlife artist until his death in 2014. EC Comics and MAD would not have been as successful without him.

Continue to next article. Back to The Art and History of Lettering Comics.

6 thoughts on “AL FELDSTEIN – EC Comics Logo Designer

  1. Thommy

    Great post, it’s nice to see writer/editor/artist Feldstein getting deserved credit for his innovative logos.
    If I may point out one historical inaccuracy (minor, but a personal pet peeve), Bill did not change EC from Educational to Entertaining – both versions existed well before Max’s death, depending on title.
    (BTW, I came here due to a share on the EC Fan-Addict page on Facebook)

  2. Sant Farrell

    Great read as usual!
    About the GhouLunatics, I’d say Crime Does Not Pay’s Mr Crime fulfilled a similar host role a couple years prior, even if not exactly in a horror setting (although you could fool me by how some of those gangsters ended up)

  3. Jim Kosmicki

    As I recall, Shock SuspenStories was a sampler book – they had a sampling of horror, war, SF and crime, with each issue having a “preachie” story that was very Twilight Zone like in being about a social issue, but overtly. It’s always been my favorite EC book because it has the most variety. It’s not really just a second crime book.

  4. Nicholas Burns

    Love the info on the logos and lettering, as always. While taking graphic arts in Junior High and discovering EC comics for the first time, I wondered why the logos looked so different from the outstanding artwork. I agree that Feldstein’s art looks stiff and mechanical, as do his logos and lettering. That said, both had an obsessive, rigid intensity about them that often suited the subject matter.

    I was under the impression that the racially, economically, and politically progressive stance in some EC horror stories –and many of their unglamorous war stories too– were as infuriating to 1950s parents, politicians, and pundits as the blood and gore. Feldstein, Gaines, Kurtzman, Krigstein and others who worked at EC were Jewish, so they had no love for the Klan, slum lords, crooked cops, and other greedy, evil “figures of authority” that were staples in EC stories, and at other publishers. Isn’t that’s why the 1954 comics code was written the way it was?

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