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 Johnny (John T.) Craig  (1926 - 2001)

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Lived/Active: New York/Pennsylvania      Known for: fearsome adventure comic artist-horror stories

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Johnny Craig
from Auction House Records.
Johnny Craig Crime SuspenStories #16 Cover Original Art (EC, 1953)
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Pleasantville, New York but raised in New York City, Johnny Craig had an illustration career almost exclusively devoted to comic books at EC Comics (Entertaining Comics).  He began with the company's predecessor in 1940, and stayed on into the mid 1950s, becoming the longest-term staff artist with EC.  When EC discontinued comics, Craig took a job in Pennsylvania as an art director but was impatient because he could not do much drawing.  As a result, he did some freelance work in the 1960s for Marvel and DC Comics and for Archie Goodwin at A.C.G., using the name of Jay Taycee.  Another pseudonym was F.C. Aljohn.

However, his later years as a comic book artist were frustrating to him because he found that so much of his work was retouched so extensively that little evidence remained of the artist's hand.  He took other jobs such as text book illustration and also did oil painting commissions, working into the 1980s.

Craig had little formal art education although he did attend the Art Students League in New York City, and just learned to draw by 'trial and error'.  His working method was so slow with so much attention to detail that Archie Goodwin said: "I don't know how he ever made a living in comics.  His work was so good, but every page took him forever."  In fact, his comic book writing with illustration output was not extensive as he did fewer than 150 stories, with each of them less than eight pages in length.

John Reilly stayed away from EC's standard horror subjects and focused on "voodoo, haunted houses, personality transference, and above all, the psychological aspects of fear.  . . . Some people are afraid of some things, some are afraid of other things.  But whatever they're afraid of is inside them", he said. (Goulart 84)

By 1947, he was writing and drawing for Saddle Justice and Crime Patrol, and then became the main storyteller and cover artist for The Vault of Horror, becoming editor in 1954 for its last four issues.   He created an eerie-looking host, the Vault Keeper, and his assistant Drusilla, which Craig later said was just an excuse to draw a sexy lady.

His boss, Bill Gaines said of Reilly: " 'He did some of our best covers . . . Including the infamous severed head cover, which may be the most famous cover ever in comics, and certainly the only one ever to be the focus of an inquiry before the United States Senate.' "

"What Gaines was referring to was the scene on Crime SuspenStories #22.  Drawn by Craig, it depicted an ax murderer looming over the body of a woman, holding a bloody ax in one hand and her amputated skull in the other.  When the publisher testified before a Senate committee investigating links between juvenile crime and comic books, Gaines wound up defending the cover to Senator Estes Kefauver who asked, 'Do you think that's in good taste?' "

"Gaines's reply — 'Yes, sir, I do, for the cover of a horror comic'  — became the key sound-bite from the hearings.  It was quoted extensively as an example of the company's (and industry's) supposed moral bankruptcy." (http://www.povonline.com/cols/COL365.htm) This exchange has also been cited as leading to the collapse of the EC Company.

Reilly's illustration style was cartoony, and generally clean and 'free from gore', meaning the work for which he was investigated was atypical.   He was much influenced by the classic cartoon style of Milton Caniff, Harvey Kurtzman and Will Eisner.  As a writer, he tended towards "meandering", but anchored his tales with strong illustration.  He was known for his sexy women such as Drusilla.

Craig's beginning career was 'jump started' by a store proprietor who saw him, as a young man, hanging around, spending much time looking through comic books.  The proprietor had a son who was a commercial art student, and one day he mentioned he had learned from his son that a comic-book artist, Harry Lampert, co-creator of All-American Comics, was looking for an assistant.  Johnny Craig was hired for one dollar a week.  Lampert's company, All-American Comics, was later absorbed by EC.  When Lampert went into the Army in 1941, the company editor asked Craig to stay on.  His early jobs were mostly lettering, but gradually he worked his way into full-fledged illustration.  However, his progress was interrupted by his being drafted in 1943 and serving until 1946.  Married, he resumed his employment, and his first comic book cover was for Moon Girl in 1947.

Johnny Craig died at age 75 in September, 2001.  On July 15, 2005, he was posthumously inducted into the Comic Book Hall of Fame at Comic-Con International's 17th Annual Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards.


Sources:

Ron Goulart, The Encyclopedia of American Comics From 1897 to the Present, pp. 83-84.

http://www.povonline.com/cols/COL365.htm

http://www.answers.com/topic/johnny-craig

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