"There'd be no sense in doing this if we were going to pull our punches": Hunter Gorinson reveals why Oni Press is reviving the most controversial comics imprint of all time

Tyler Crook's art from Epitaphs from the Abyss #2
(Image credit: Oni Press)

EC Comics is back from the grave in 2024! The infamous horror and science fiction imprint was one of the most controversial - and most successful - comics publishers of the 20th century, but the rise of the censorious Comics Code Authority in the mid '50s put an end to its reign of darkly comic terror. 

But now, almost 70 years later, EC is back with a new home in the form of Oni Press. The first of a wave of new EC comics arrives in July this year and, as we discovered when we sat down to talk with Oni president Hunter Gorinson recently, this is just the beginning... Read on to find out more about the origins of this exciting relaunch, the upcoming Epitaphs from the Abyss and Cruel Universe anthologies, and just how "hardcore" the new EC will be.

Newsarama: OK, let's start at the beginning Hunter. What led to Oni Press reviving EC Comics?

Hunter Gorinson: I think everyone has their one thing and my great passion has always been EC Comics. I still remember exactly where I was when I discovered them: I was at Barbarian in Wheaton, Maryland, probably in 1993 or 1994, and my dad handed me a Gemstone reprint of a Vault of Horror comic and said, "Keep your Green Lantern, keep your Thor, keep your X-Men, this is the good stuff!" I kind of scoffed at that, but then I took it home and read it and it absolutely blew my mind that comics could be that intense and powerful. 

EC just always stuck with me as I got into movies and underground music and comedy. I was constantly seeing where the tendrils of ECs influence had spread into pop culture: everything from John Carpenter's Halloween to Saturday Night Live to The Onion to James Gunn's Guardians of the Galaxy movies. It's an intensely powerful thing. 

So how did this comeback happen?

One of the great things about working in comics is you get to meet fantastic people whose work you admire. I was introduced to William Gaines' daughter and grandson, Cathy and Corey Mifsud, who indulged me when I began pitching them on why the time was right to potentially bring EC back for the 21st century and if we were going to do that how we could bring a new vision to it. And that is currently the project that we are up to our eyeballs in. They've been fantastic partners to work with.

So this has been a real passion project for you?

Yes. I worked briefly with Cathy and Corey a few years back - there was a brief period where I worked for a production company called Hivemind, which produced The Expanse and The Witcher and The Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark movies. During that period we worked for several years on a Weird Fantasy TV show and that began the process of me thinking about how you modernise EC sensibilities for the modern day. Someday, we will tell the entire story of that project, which was an extremely cool thing that likely will never be seen at this point. That was the first stone in the pond and now we're seeing the ripples reach the shore with Epitaphs from the Abyss and Cruel Universe publishing this summer.

Tell us a little bit about those two books...

So Epitaphs from the Abyss is our horror anthology beginning in July, and Cruel Universe is a science fiction anthology, both of which wholeheartedly embrace what I would call EC's specific tone and format. The mandate was always: let's start in a familiar place with the anthology format and the two genres that predominate EC: horror and science fiction.  

Epitaphs has a 40-page first issue with some incredible creators contributing to that - in #1 we have Brian Azzarello, Stephanie Phillips, Chris Condon, and Jason Holtham on the writing side, and interior artists include Peter Krause, Vlad Legostaev, Jorge Fornés, and Phil Hester. A really great combination of folks! We're threading all of those sensibilities together and hopefully putting together some compelling - and probably a little bit hardcore - comics for the year 2024. As we've been telling the creators, there'd be no sense in doing this if we were going to pull our punches - Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein certainly never did - so if you think you've gone too far with the stories that you're working on, please keep going!

You've mentioned a specific EC tone a couple of times now. Could you elaborate on that a little?

Yeah, there's some humor and some existential dread and they're almost two sides of the same coin - the crushing reality of the circumstances you've found yourself in, but also the humor that spins out of that hopelessness. The tone and intensity and the point of view is very specific. I don't think it's pessimistic, but there's a certain hard-edged, distinctly American sensibility that bled out into the films of John Carpenter, and some of the films of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. 

One stylistic thing that is vitally important to maintain is the lettering. There's a visually distinct lettering style to the original stories called the Leroy Lettering format - they used a machine for it. We have the great Richard Starkings who is doing his best to update that EC lettering style, but it's still very recognizable.

How did Oni select the creators for this project?

We had a wish list in the beginning of folks who we thought could inhabit that specific EC tone and most of them have come along for the ride. We're very fortunate to have everyone from Brian Azzarello and Jason Aaron and Rodney Barnes and Matt Kindt as well as people who we've worked with for years at Oni like Cullen Bunn, Jay Stephens who just did Dwellings for us, Zac Thompson, Joshua Fialkov, all contributing stuff. We've also had a bunch of folks reach out and be like, 'EC's incredible, can I come along and tell a tale or two?' Klaus Janson is doing a story in #2 which still blows my mind! 

What's been special about this process is finding just how many other folks in the comics community also share this deep reverential love for EC. There's few greater pleasures as a publisher than being able to pick up the phone and call someone whose work you really admire and say, 'Hey, here's a sentence you probably didn't think you would hear this morning when you woke up. 'Would you like to write a new EC Comics story?' And then watching people's eyes light up.

How far do your plans for the line stretch?

Our intention was to start in a recognizable place, essentially where EC left off, but then over the course of our initial round of titles we have a plan that extends probably about three years into the future at this point. We'll continuously be running at least two EC Comics titles a month for the near future.

We're going to pull back the iris a little bit of what EC can be in the year 2024. There will probably be some news coming out of San Diego Comic-Con, but I will say this: the next book that we do, the third book, will not be in a genre that EC specifically did stories in before. They dabbled in it, but they never had a title fully committed to it before. And then not everything we do over the course of the next year will be an anthology. We think we can take that EC tone and apply it to some other dimensions of modern publishing that haven't been fully explored before.

That's the exciting part of doing this. That's part of the reason why we're not doing Tales from the Crypt #1. Let's not do a complete template replica of what EC was 70 years ago. Instead, let's pick up that torch and hopefully expand the horizons of what it can do into the future.

Epitaphs from the Abyss #1 is published by Oni Press on July 24. Cruel Universe #1 follows on August 7.

EC employed some incredible artists, including some of the names that make up our guide to the best horror comics artists of all time.

Will Salmon
Comics Editor

Will Salmon is the Comics Editor for GamesRadar/Newsarama. He has been writing about comics, film, TV, and music for more than 15 years, which is quite a long time if you stop and think about it. At Future he has previously launched scary movie magazine Horrorville, relaunched Comic Heroes, and has written for every issue of SFX magazine for over a decade. He sometimes feels very old, like Guy Pearce in Prometheus. His music writing has appeared in The Quietus, MOJO, Electronic Sound, Clash, and loads of other places and he runs the micro-label Modern Aviation, which puts out experimental music on cassette tape.