The Beat talked with Oni Press President and Publisher Hunter Gorinson about the company’s plans regarding EC Comic’s most epic return. In this exclusive interview, Gorinson breaks down what’s made this unique launch very different compared to the rest of the comic book industry and discusses why the return of EC Comics matters not just to comics, but to culture in itself.  

The following interview was shortened and edited for clarity. 

EC Comics covers for epitaphs from the abyss where an axe murderer with a mutated foot walks across as kids hide under the bed and a man with a chainsaw searches to the left

CHRISTIAN ANGELES: Given what we see in the state of the industry right now why are you revisiting EC comics today?

HUNTER GORINSON: A couple reasons. One is, on a personal and professional level, EC has been extremely influential to me. From a comic’s history standpoint EC makes for a fascinating case study. The company hasn’t produced a new story in 70 years, and yet its work continues to be printed by three major publishers at Fantagraphics, Dark Horse, and IDW. People continue to learn and appreciate EC’s stories with each passing generation. A rare case for a comic produced back in 1955. 

It’s also a major part of comic book history. The way the company was rather unceremoniously taken out of commission because of William Gaines and the comics code authority and the congressional investigation is like one of the foundational creation myths of comics. It’s up there with Siegel and Schuster signing away the rights to Superman to DC

So in an industry where everything is picked up, relaunched, and rebooted infinity times over, it always seemed crazy no one had ever revisited EC. With that in mind, we took up this task with Oni but gave ourselves some barometers to operate with one of which was to not go back and do a pure nostalgia play. No TALES FROM THE CRYPT #1. Instead, we wanted to inhabit this unique elevation of the comic book artform bringing back the unique tone and intensity of EC injected into culture on the whole. 

When we look at the industry right now there’s more high quality work being produced than ever before. Comics, from a quality and craftsmanship standpoint, are at a peak, and yet, everything feels absolutely safe. You need to introduce this element of danger to them. Introduce the propensity not to sidestep the third rails of our culture but to latch onto it with both hands. I find that extremely exciting. Especially at this moment not just in comics but in society.

“I’m not sure if you noticed but America is kind of in a fucked up place right now.” 

I take a look around at the way EC comics impacted and shaped culture in the 1950s, when America was also not so in a perfect place, and EC didn’t shy away from that. I look at the landscape of comics and pop culture and maybe see what we need right now is EC. 

ANGELES: I agree, but unlike other brands EC has a legacy to uphold. How are you planning to balance its history while bringing something fresh to the horror scene?

GORINSON: Well our first title to come will be Epitaphs of The Abyss. It’s not a page-for-page panel-for-panel pastiche recreation of Tales From The Crypt or Vault of Horror, but it’s like a continuation of that lineage. There are also threads of some of the other great EC titles. A little Shock SuspenStories. Some Crime SuspenseStories. We’re doing all that with Epitaphs.

In terms of differentiating ourselves in the marketplace, first and foremost we’re starting our place in the EC line with our horror anthology: Epitaphs from the Abyss. The comic anthology format is something EC perfected and executed on a higher level than anything that came before it and so the goal is to start there. The beauty of those stories is that they’re almost like three-minute pop songs, perfectly dispensed units of culture all going part and parcel with that distinctly American, maybe even slightly New Yorker tone that’s equal parts cynical as it is comical. There’s an almost philosophically existential world view with each story that all starts with meeting someone that’s about to experience the worst day of their life. 

It’s going to be about these people’s crimes against their family. Their crimes against society. How it’s all about to come sweeping back upon them in the most horrific way possible. There’s a kind of melody that runs through all the original EC comic stories that we’re revisiting here but with a modern undertone. We’re going to capture the timeless quality that these stories have.

ANGELES: You’re starting with an anthology. What about after? What are your grandstanding plans for EC down the line? 

GORINSON: We’re going to be publishing at least 2 EC comics titles for the foreseeable future at Oni Press. We’ll start in a recognizable place, because obviously it’s a heavy lift to tear into sacred territory like this, and so I want to be respectful of what made EC great: the anthology format. So we’re starting with our twin anthologies. One in horror with Epitaphs from the Abyss. One is science fiction with Cruel Universe. But that’s not all. 

A lot has changed in storytelling convention and pop culture since EC shuttered several decades ago. As we extend into the next several months you’ll start to see the iris of what EC can be in the year 2024 as we slowly expand. I’ll also say this: 

“The third book we’ll introduce will be an EC comics genre story that never had a consistent book devoted to it.” 

I’m excited to tell people more about it so stay tuned to SDCC! I’ll also say that after the first year of publishing not every book will be an anthology. I’ll admit, I would consider this initiative to be a failure if we only did horror books, and if this were another publisher, we’d only be getting Tales from the Crypt #1. 

To me, the beautiful alchemy of what EC Comics was is that it represented a multifaceted gem with its other genres. Horror is just one facet of that diamond. EC also had incredible Harvey Kurtzman war stories, incredible science fiction books, satire with MAD, crime books, and so much more. We’ll try and keep that magical combination but not as 1-1 recreations as we’re trying to celebrate EC and bring it forward. I don’t want this to feel like a nostalgia play or historical reenactment. The example I use is if a modern theatre company in London were to put on a modernized contemporary reimagining of Titus Andronicus, is that nostalgia or a celebration of the classics? 

ANGELES: Okay, now for the big question. EPITAPHS FROM THE ABYSS #1 and CRUEL UNIVERSE #1 are limited to first printings. I have to ask… are you sure about this? It’s been 70 years, not only are people going to want this comic, but if I had to guess, the speculator market is going to want in too. Are you certain you’ll have enough copies?

GORINSON: We’re not limiting them per se so your copy won’t be like the number X out of the number of thousands we print. There are really 2 primary reasons we’re doing this. 

First, is that as the publisher of Oni Press, I’ll say that the amount of variants that are flowing into comics now is probably untenable. Think about your average #1 launch from a major publisher now has like 15 variants at least. Let’s say a big A-list title has 25 variants when factoring in retailer exclusives, incentive variants, and virgin variants. In total, that’s an extra comic book. That’s an entire comic in itself we could have been working on. 

“If I’m being candid, I’d love to get back to doing a book with just one cover per issue.” 

Unfortunately, it’s commercial suicide. Every time I’ve tried it just doesn’t work because people say they want it but those books always sell for less than adding another cover. EC is a company who’s had some of the best comic book covers of all time. Wally Wood’s Shock SuspenStories #6 was one of the highest-selling pieces of original cover art to ever sell at auction at one time and EC has produced some of the best covers of all time. 

It makes my skeleton want to leave my body to try and get on the variant train and ride that into the sunset. But what we can try to do is put forward the most consistent variant program for these books. So there’ll be a consistent A and B shelf cover, a 1 in 10 cover by Jay Stephens that’ll homage EC classic covers of years past, a 1 in 20 black and white variant artist edition that the great Rian Hughes has done a lot of work on each of these to make them look like original paystubs. Rian’s also designed a 1 in 50  archive edition variant that’s like a file copy or if a Marvel Masterworks were a single-issue comic. You can get all of these that lists the creative credits that look great when assembled as a set. 

All of this is to say I don’t want to make any more variants after that. 

The second reason we’re doing this is I want people to go into stores on July 24th to buy Epitaphs from the Abyss #1. Look, we need to go back to a place in the comic industry where people are excited to visit their local comic book shop. I think every retailer I’ve spoken to in late 2023 or 2024 noticed a trend where, while people were still coming to the store, they’re letting the books pile in on their pull boxes. There’s not a Wednesday sense of urgency anymore of “OMG CIVIL WAR #1 just dropped I have to be there the day it comes out.” 

“I want people to be so anxious to go into stores on July 24th that if they don’t read Epitaphs of the Abyss when it comes out they feel they might die…”

However, I do also want people to have the ability to continue to discover it so we will generously overprint based on what our initial numbers are so that the books will be available for reorder. Don’t get me wrong, there are other titles we will continue to do second printings for but for these 2 specifically: it would be wise to go into your LCS on July 24 for Epitaphs #1 or on August 7th for Cool Universe #1. 

Also, I don’t know if you noticed but that’s a great day for releases. Jason Aaron’s TMNT #1 will be out the same day. So will Jonathan Hickman and Esad Ribić’s  Aliens vs. Avengers #1. This is really the Wednesday to go to your LCS.

ANGELES: Let’s break down format. These are 40-page comics with about 4 writers on each. What’s the length of each story and will they be interconnected in any way? 

GORINSON: The first two issues for Epitaphs and Cruel Universe are 40 pages and will be oversized for no extra cost. Each will feature 4 stories and so will Cruel Universe #2, but after that, most of the books after will usually be 3. There’s also this big secret thing we haven’t announced that Dustin Weaver put together for Epitaphs #1. We’re having fun putting these together like little mix tapes collages of incredible creative teams in a way that inhabits the EC spirit. I think it’s a good rhythm per issue. 

ANGELES: What about page length per story?

GORINSON: So the original EC tales ran somewhere between 6-10 pages long and alternated between that. We’ve got a cadence depending on the story, of about one 6-pager, one 8-pager, and one 10-pager. The comic itself is longer than your standard at 24 pages. 

Now will there be non-EC ads or Oni content in Epitaphs or Cruel Universe? I don’t even think of these as Oni Press comics as they won’t even have an Oni Press logo on the cover. We’re treating them like EC comics so there’ll be a ton of special content in Epitaphs #1 and will have some very specific plans for ads in the future that the great Rian Hughes is helping design.

ANGELES: Okay, I’ve seen zombies, a pet T-rex, and a hostage crisis from the previews thus far. Looks fantastic but any favorite stories people should be excited about?

GORINSON:  There’s Phil Hester’s pages from a story by Stephanie Phillips that’s one of the most nihilistic things I’ve ever read in my entire life. I loved it as more of a classic Shock SuspenStories styled story about the existential dregs of humanity. When you read it prepare to be disturbed… it’s an absolutely devastating story.

Then the dinosaur story is called ‘The Champion’ which is in Cruel Universe #1 from Matt Kindt and Kano, an excellent artist who did Gotham Central, Immortal Iron Fist, and Superman over the years. Everyone who read the script has cried about it as it’s an incredibly emotionally wrenching story about a gladiator in space. Not the thing you’d think will make you well up but it does, which goes to show just how powerful 10-page short-form can be when executed right. 

Then there’s Matt Kindt and Klaus Jansen who are working on an incredible story for issue 2. Their story ties into the Adam Pollina cover where a guy gets a nail hammered into his head.

Jason Aaron and Jorge Fornes are working on a story for #2. Jay Stephens is making his debut. He’s known for his work on Dwellings and will make his writing debut on issue 3. And a shoutout to Corinna Bechko who just delivered on some of the most spot-on EC stories for the  21st century. Suffice to say, each of these stories is great on tone and the creators have spent lots of time on them. 

ANGELES: I see J. Holtham is here as well. I like J., I interviewed him in the past.

GORINSON: J. is a super-talented writer. He was doing Nighthrasher and Bishop a while ago and is an accomplished screenwriter as well with a Handmaid’s Tale and Supergirl. J. did a story with Jorge Fornés called “Killer Spec”. It’s the most Tales from the Crypt/Vault of Horror story. Jorge and him killed it. 

ANGELES: Alright, so this all started with the Comics Code Authority and how their censorship killed the EC line. In your opinion, how important was that occurrence to EC’s demise and rebirth into what it is you’re doing now?

GORINSON: There’s a strange synchronicity to it. We currently publish the most banned book in America: Gender Queer, so if anyone’s picked up this torch in the 21st century it is probably Oni. It’s just a strange echo of the past, but it also, gives us the gumption to be fearless about how we take up the torch with what EC was doing. 

EC was influential in both mainstream and underground culture, not just in comics, but in music, comedy, film, and fiction. Our culture is replete with pastiche and homages to EC and yet, what those pastiches frequently miss is they go for the shocking horror edge. The grizzly throughline… 

But what they overlook is the strong sociocultural political edge that EC, when done right, were often the only ones to go there. 

It’s the horrors of reality and fiction. That’s the one place we thought: these are the two sides of the coin that need to be brought back together. So there’ll be strong real-world elements in several of these stories, and quite frankly, it’s going to piss some people off. And I’m totally ok with that. Not every story will be that but this will be the multifaceted alchemy of what makes EC work: socially conscious science fiction stories, somewhat progressive horror stories, and war stories that were anti-war stories. That’s part of the legacy we strive to live up to.

ANGELES: I’m inspired. Any specifics you’ll tackle about contemporary culture today?

GORINSON: Just wait. We have more than enough stories. Maybe good for EC Comics. Bad for America. Or bad for the world – I should say. We have more than enough thorny issues to deal with the horrors of modern reality. There’s no shortage of those fortunately, or unfortunately. 

ANGELES: Is there anything else you’d care to share?

GORINSON: Just shoutouts. To our editorial team who are spending many sleepless nights working on these books. Our EIC Sierra Hahn, editor Matt Dryer, and assistant editor Jung Lee, who are putting their hearts, souls, and lots & lots of blood and sweat and tears and especially blood — did I mention blood? — Into these books. 

We all recognize what a significant responsibility it is to be trusted with the EC lineage in these times. It’s truly an honor, exciting, and daunting but we’re excited to get these books in people’s hands. Also, to the great Dustin Weaver who is designing a new fleet of horror hosts variants and has just grafted a cover for issue 1. Dustin is one of the most talented sequential storytellers and character designers working right now and is also a massive EC fan who clearly understood the assignment. Excited to share what he’s been cooking up. 

Finally, shout outs to our lead cover artists for the introspective series which is Lee Bermejo for Epitaphs of the Abyss and Greg Smallwood on Cruel Universe. They are operating on a mindblowing level. Every time these guys turn covers it makes me want to leap for joy and there couldn’t be two better representatives of what EC comics could be.