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Johnny Craig (1926-2001)

Comic book artist and writer Johnny Craig died late last week. Craig worked in all genres, but was mainly identified with horror and crime comics, and primarily with EC.

After breaking into the field in the 1940s as an assistant and production artist, Craig graduated to artist, then artist and writer, scripting stories for himself as well as for others. He was for a period the editor of THE VAULT OF HORROR, one of EC's most popular titles, and stories he wrote and/or drew for it were adapted into movie form by Amicus Productions in the 1970s. Craig's covers for VAULT, though rarely gory, were among the most horrific in the business. One, featuring a cleaver-split head, was used as evidence in Congressional anti-comics hearings, and another, a close-up of a hanged man, figured prominently in the Fredric Wertham's book SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT, a key component in the anti-comics movement. Craig also drew and wrote for other EC titles, including TALES FROM THE CRYPT, THE HAUNT OF FEAR, CRIME SUSPENSTORIES, WAR AGAINST CRIME and EXTRA! (which he also edited). He drew and wrote at least one of EC's authorized Ray Bradbury adaptations: "Touch and Go!"

After EC's collapse, Craig worked briefly for Atlas (which later became Marvel) and then transitioned into commercial and advertising work. He came back to comics intermittently in following decades, producing super-hero and mystery work for ACG, DC and Marvel. His Marvel output included inking a substantial run on IRON MAN. (Comics artwork is often collaborative, with one artist providing pencil drawings and another rendering them in ink. For most of Craig's career, he filled both roles). More reminiscent of EC were his stories for Warren Publishing's black-and-white titles, CREEPY and EERIE, for which he drew and wrote stories, sometimes under the pseudonym "Jay Taycee." These moody entries revisited the themes of his earlier work, but demonstrated even greater technical skill. Except for an homage illustration or two, Craig's comics output ended sometime in the 1980s.

Craig was a meticulous craftsman and not a fast worker, but his stories are regarded as some of the best ever in comics. His art was relatively low-key and restrained, effectively staged and featured impeccable draftsmanship. The scripts he wrote tended to be literate and cerebral, and generally relied on solid construction and implacable internal logic, rather than on contrived snap endings. His horror work made more use of psychology and mood than of the supernatural, and his crime comics owned more to James M. Cain and Cornell Woolrich than to gangster movies.

--Pierce Askegren

Posted September 21, 2001

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