From Caligari to Wertham: When EC's Horror Comics Feared for Their Own Survival

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


This chapter argues that EC Comics’ use of classic horror imagery to address modern fears entailed not only a degree of socio-political commentary, but also a growing self-reflexivity related to fears over the survival of EC’s own publishing project. The (implicit and explicit) dramatization of McCarthyism’s climate of anti-communist paranoia and of the ensuing practice of red-baiting became interlinked with an indictment of the anti-comics panic spurned by the work of Dr. Fredric Wertham. The latter panic culminated in 1954’s institutionalization of the Comics Code Authority, which especially targeted EC’s horror comics, leading to their demise. The chapter provides a close-reading of two stories published that year. ‘You, Murderer’ (Shock SuspenStories #14, by Otto Binder and Bernie Krigstein) reworked the German expressionist film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, textually and visually placing the reader in the position of a victim of hypnotism manipulated into killing a man falsely accused of being a communist. ‘The Prude’ (Haunt of Fear #28, by Carl Wessler and Graham Ingels) depicts a 19th-century moral crusader as a tragic fanatic overcompensating for past sins, eventually attacked by zombies. By fictionalizing the fear of EC’s own extinction, these comics appealed to readers’ identification with the publisher’s anxiety.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCritical Approaches to Horror Comic Books
Subtitle of host publicationRed Ink in the Gutter
EditorsRandy Duncan, Matthew J. Smith
Place of PublicationNew York
Number of pages13
ISBN (Electronic)978-1-003-26155-1
ISBN (Print)978-1-032-19944-3
Publication statusPublished - 2022

Publication series

NameRoutledge Advances in Comics Studies


  • Horror
  • Comics
  • Cold war
  • Censorship


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