Arriving at EC in 1948, Al Feldstein began as an artist, but he soon combined art with writing, eventually editing most of the EC titles. Although he originally wrote and illustrated approximately one story per comic, in addition to doing many covers, Feldstein finally focused on editing and writing, reserving his artwork primarily for covers. From late 1950 through 1953, he edited and wrote stories for seven EC titles. As EC’s editor, Feldstein created a literate line, balancing his genre tales with potent graphic stories probing the underbelly of American life. In creating stories around such topics as racial prejudice, rape, domestic violence, police brutality, drug addiction and child abuse, he succeeded in addressing problems and issues which the 1950s radio, motion picture and television industries were too timid to dramatize. While developing a stable of contributing writers that included Robert Bernstein, Otto Binder, Daniel Keyes, Jack Oleck and Carl Wessler, he published the first work of Harlan Ellison. EC employed the comics industry’s finest artists and published promotional copy to make readers aware of their staff. Feldstein encouraged the EC illustrators to maintain their personal art styles, and this emphasis on individuality gave the EC line a unique appearance. Distinctive front cover designs framing those recognizable art styles made Feldstein’s titles easy to spot on crowded newsstands. Those comic books, known as EC’s New Trend group, included Weird Science, Weird Fantasy, Tales from the Crypt, The Haunt of Fear, The Vault of Horror, Shock SuspenStories, Crime SuspenStories, Panic and Piracy. After the New Trend titles folded in 1955, Al Feldstein edited EC’s short-lived New Direction line, followed by EC’s Picto-Fiction magazines.
After industry and government pressures forced Gaines to shut down most of his EC titles, Feldstein was briefly separated from the company. But when Harvey Kurtzman left Mad in 1956, Gaines turned to his former editor. Feldstein spent the next 29 years at the helm of what became one of the nation’s leading and most influential magazines. It is unclear what the circulation of the magazine was when Feldstein took over but it is estimated to be between 325,000 and 750,000. By the 1960s, it had increased to over a million, and by the 1970s, it had doubled to two million. Circulation multiplied more than eight times during Feldstein’s tenure, peaking at 2,850,000 for an issue in 1974 (and an average of 2.1 million for that year), although it declined to a third of that figure by the end of his time as editor. Al Feldstein has been credited with giving the magazine the personality of a “smart-alecky, sniggering and indisputably clever spitball-shooter.” Many new cartoonists and writers surfaced during the early years of Feldstein’s editorship. This process leveled off in the 1960s as the magazine came to rely on a steady group of contributors. Feldstein’s first issue as editor (#29) was also the first issue to display the twisted work of cartoonist Don Martin. The following issue, #30, marked the debuts of longtime cover artist Norman Mingo and artist Bob Clarke. Kelly Freas first appeared in issue #31. Issue #32 brought artists Mort Drucker, George Woodbridge and Joe Orlando, while issue #33 introduced readers to writers Frank Jacobs and Tom Koch. Al Jaffee, who had appeared in four of editor Kurtzman’s last issues before leaving with him, returned just a year and a half later. Larry Siegel and Arnie Kogen began writing for the magazine in 1958-59. By the end of 1962, with the additions of Antonio Prohías, Paul Coker Jr., Jack Rickard, Don Edwing, Dick DeBartolo, Stan Hart and Dave Berg, he had fully established both the format and the talent pool that kept the magazine a commercial success for decades. Al Feldstein died on April 29, 2014 at his home in Paradise Valley, Montana, near Livingston. No cause of death was released.
- October, 24, 1925
- Brooklyn, New York
- April, 29, 2014
- Livingston, Montana