How a Case of Perfect Timing Gave Us the EC Classic, 'Master Race'

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"Master Race" only barely got published by EC Comics.



In 1955, Impact #1 came out from EC Comics, featuring one of the all-time classic comic book stories, "Master Race." Written by Al Feldstein and drawn by Bernard Krigstein, the story sees a man haunted by the memories of a Nazi concentration camp while he is on a subway in the United States. He thinks back to all the horrors of World War II and how he can't get past it, but then someone gets on to the subway and the man recognizes him as someone who tried to kill him during the war. Of course, as it turns out, the star of the story is actually the former commandant of the concentration camp!

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So much for the "master race," huh? Since I only had four pages to share, I couldn't get in all of the amazing Krigstein art for this story as well as the stuff about how the narrator hated what the Nazis were doing but he didn't feel like he could stop them, so he just went along for the ride. Topical stuff even today.

Anyhow, as I discussed in an old Comic Book Legends Revealed years ago, this story was notable in the fact that it broke from the standard format of EC Comics of the era. You see, Feldstein would write the stories with so much detail that they were actually lettered BEFORE the artist drew the story, since Feldstein allotted a certain panel for each drawing, so that they could letter it ahead of the actual drawing of the panel, since Feldstein knew what would be in that given panel.

In that old Legend, I noted that they made an exception for "Master Race," but the truth of it was that the exception only came because Krigstein pushed for it heavily. He thought that the story was great, but he thought that it was TOO good for just a standard art job. He initially wanted DOUBLE the amount of pages, so that he could use extra panels to heighten the tension. Feldstein didn't want him to get any, but publisher Max Gaines eventually gave him an extra right pages. However, since it was already lettered, it was up to Krigstein to make sure that the lettering made sense.

Looking at the original art, you can see where Krigstein had to make cut and pastes to fit the lettering into his new layouts...

Here's the other issue, though. Feldstein wrote the story as specifically a SIX page story and that meant that he only had six pages to work with for the 1954 comic book that he had hired Krigstein to put the story in (I don't know what comic book it was originally going to be published in. Anyone? EDITED TO ADD: My pal, Keith Alan Morgan, noted that it was Crime SuspenStories #26). Once Krigstein went to eight pages, it could not run in that first comic book. Thus, Feldstein needed to find a future comic book to put it into. Knowing, then, that the comic wouldn't be making it into a comic book any time soon, Krigstein took a whole month on the art (about twice as long as he normally took). Gaines gave him a little bonus on his page rate, as I think everyone realized that the final story WAS gorgeous.

Feldstein, though, was in no rush to push things around to find a space for the revised story. Plus, EC Comics was right in the midst of having trouble with the uproar over comic book content.

Eventually, EC Comics canceled all of their regular titles and in 1955, launched a bold "New Direction" of titles. Gaines was insistent that they not buckle down and go with the Comics Code, for the first issues of these new series all went without Code approval.

Impact #1...

had "Master Race" in it.

Here's the problem, though, the public was not into non-Code approved books from EC at ALL.

Gaines was forced to change tactics and went with the Comics Code starting with the second issues of the title.

Impact #2 famously was forced to have a gun removed from the hand of the guy on the cover due to the Code...

Going with the Code saw EC Comics' sales double...but just from about a 10% sales rate (non-existent) to a 20% sales rate, so Gaines soon ended his comic book line entirely and concentrated on magazines, like their hit series, Mad Magazine, which had gone into magazine format for non-Code reasons.

The Code would have NEVER approved "Master Race," though (the concentration camp scenes alone would have been a non-starter), so if it were not for Gaines trying to go Code-less for the first issue, we might have never gotten to see "Master Race!" Well, I'm sure it would have been published EVENTUALLY, but you know what I mean. It's impact would certainly have been much less, well, impactful (pun unintended that it was published in Impact).

Thanks to the great Krigstein collection, Messages in a Bottle: Comic Book Stories by B. Krigstein, for the information!

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