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October 18, 2008

Sarah Palin is horror-fied in ‘Tales from the Crypt’

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"Tales from the Crypt" is about to take a whack at the nation’s most famous hockey mom.

The next issue of the horror comic book has Sarah Palin, GOP vice presidential candidate, depicted on its cover swinging a hockey stick and rousting the ghoulish "Crypt" characters made famous in the book’s gory glory days back in the 1950s.

"Didn’t we get rid of you guys in the 50′s?" the Alaska governor asks with a sneer as she scatters the Vault-Keeper and his creepy mates from a stone castle doorway. The poltician is wearing a campaign button that reads "Palin-McCain" — as well as a red top with a plunging neckline.

The cover is a reference to two instances of content debate, one that played out on a national stage and the other a seemingly minor moment in Alaska that has been made major by the current political season.

"Tales from the Crypt " became one of the signature names in horror and American pop culture after five years of memorable mayhem that ended in 1955. That was after months of intense pressure and new industry regulations targeting the lurid comics, spurred by televised Senate subcommittee hearings on juvenile delinquency and its causes.

Palin, meanwhile, has taken heat for some overtures she made in 1996 while as mayor of Wasilla, Alaska. Criticized after reports that she sought to ban books from a local public library, the GOP candidate has said that on two occasions she asked "a rhetorical question" about removing objectionable books from shelves, but that she never pursued it or mentioned specific titles.

But any White House candidate who even entertains a conversation about book banning is a natural enemy to "Tales from the Crypt," according to Jim Salicrup, editor-in-chief of Papercutz, the publisher that revived the classic title about 16 months ago. "This was not a partisan thing. People tend to think of everything as black and white these days — you are either for or against one of the parties 100%. But for us this was about the history of EC Comics, the original publisher of ‘Tales from the Crypt.’ Anyone who knows that history knows that even of whiff of banning books is going to get us angry."

Johnny_craig_cover_crime_suspenstorSalicrup may have a sense of that history, but "Tales from the Crypt" isn’t the book it used be. And Papercutz isn’t putting out anything like the old EC Comics (such as this nasty 1954 classic on the right, with its infamous cover by Johnny Craig).

The Palin cover on "Tales from the Crypt" issue No. 8, for instance, is far closer to "MAD Magazine" in its caricature style and spoof sensibility than the old EC issues with their lurid carnage and moldering corpses. Papercutz specializes in "all ages" comics and published "Nancy Drew," "The Hardy Boys," "Bionicle "and "Classics Illustrated" as well, and its resurrected "Crypt" is far sunnier than its long-dead namesake. The comic book line has favorable reviews, too: The Boston Herald, for instance, said of the less-musty, less-messy "Crypt": "Along with chills and laughs, this tale delivers a smart, sharp jab at celebrity obsession — proving once again that comics are for smart kids."

Parents of young readers may feel better knowing the meat cleavers don’t get used in the "Crypt" revival, but how will they feel about an overt (and one-sided) political parody intruding into the new issue? There’s also an editorial in the Palin-cover issue that was written by Cathy Gaines Mifsud, daughter of the late William Gaines, of EC Comics fame. She also echoes the "this is not partisan" mantra: "Tales From the Crypt is not endorsing any political candidates, nor are we attacking any candidates. What usually seems to be behind banning books is an attempt to repress ideas that may offer alternative political views. This is not only un-American — blatantly violating the very concept of free speech — but it is assuming that people are unable to come to their own informed conclusions."

Salicrup and his team notified retailers in advance about the hot-button comic book on its way to their stores. Most reacted with a shrug, but Dr. No’s, a store in Marietta, Ga., not only declined to carry the book, Salcirup said, they canceled their orders for the entire Papercutz line. Salicrup said that’s the cost of taking a stand. "That’s their right, just as it’s the right of any retailer or library or publisher to make decisions about what is appropriate. It’s not the decision of politicians. That’s our point."

– Geoff Boucher

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Cover of "Tales from the Crypt" No. 8 courtesy of Papercutz.

Crime SuspenStories No. 22 from May 1954 from 2002 handout art from Gemstone Publishers. 


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