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Today, I am concluding my posts on some of Al Feldstein an Wallace Wood’s stories from EC Comics’ Shock SuspenStories by looking at “Under Cover” and “The Whipping!” Both of these stories deal with the fears surrounding interracial intimacy and the ways that these fears manifested themselves in violence. We need to think about each of these stories within the context of Feldstein and Wood’s “The Guilty!” as well as within the historical context of texts centering around the topic of interracial intimacy. This is a topic I have written about before, so I will not necessarily state everything in this post that could relate to the stories; rather, I will touch on some of the various aspects that warrant us reading them within this broader context.
What makes each of these stories interesting is their focus. In “Under Cover,” we only see the white woman being punished for her relationship with a Black man, thus the focus, while on the fears of interracial intimacy, suppresses the Black man’s voice in a similar manner that “The Guilty!” does with Aubrey Collins’ voice. While “The Whipping!” focuses on white womanhood as well, it centers around an interracial relationship between a Mexican American man and white woman.
To understand the cultural milieu in which all of the stories that I have been discussing appeared, we must remember that they appeared about sixteen years before Loving v. Virginia, a couple of years before Emmett Till’s murder, and during a decade where, according to Sheryll Cashin, “only 4 percent of Americans approved of marriages between blacks and whites.” It is within this moment that Feldstein and Wood penned tales that challenged wide held beliefs and fears about interracial intimacy by calling upon readers to question and reverse their own prejudices.
Ultimately, those in power feared these stories because they could affect and alter children’s perceptions of the world, thus challenging the generational prejudices being passed down. As Julian Chambliss pointed out on Twitter when commenting on one of my previous posts, the main fear of the establishment did not necessarily seem to be the gore; instead, they feared what the stories said about the changing society: “What has always struck me is the intersection between
#ECComics and the use of horror to explore changing social norms triggered a sense of danger. It was not the gore, to me it is about ‘impressionable youth’ questioning norms.”
Chambliss is right by noting that these stories sought to affect the youth reading them. For me, I see part of the backlash originating there, and the images serve as the entry point into arguing against the production of such stories. I say this because we can look at stories and texts by authors such as William Faulkner, Jean Toomer, Richard Wright, Gwendolyn Brooks, and more that tackle issues of racism and violence. While there may have been people who did not like the messages being conveyed, these texts did not undergo censorship in the same manner as comics. The addition of images such as the ones from “Hate!” and “The Guilty!” or these from “Under Cover” provide a deeper connection with the narrative and the characters. This identification calls upon readers to come face-to-face with the atrocities of racial violence in ways that the printed word cannot necessarily do.
These narratives highlight the ways that racism and prejudice seeps into the roots of society and affects everyone. In “Under Cover,” we see the effects that the fear of interracial intimacy creates from the opening panels when the members of the Black Vigilante Society whip the woman to death in the woods as a lesson for her “fool[ing] around with them!” The men want the woman to stop “consorting with . . . with that trash element in our town,” and they hope to teach her to “stay with [her] own . . . kind.” As stated earlier, we do not see the man that the woman has a relationship with, and this warrants more consideration. However, I do not have time to tackle that here.
Feldstein and Wood’s stories end with a moral message after the twist. These messages, and especially the one at the end of “Under Cover,” appear to be a sort of veiled afront to those who seek to censor these texts because of their ability to sway “impressionable youth” towards a more equitable society. After members of the Black Vigilante Society kill the under cover reporter who was going to expose them, the leader claims, “we’re safe!.” The narrator then intones,
Yes . . .safe! Safe behind their masks of prejudice, these hooded peddlers of racial, religious, and political hatred operate today! Mind you, they are shrewd and ruthless men such as those in our story! How long can we stay ‘cool’ and indifferent to this threat to our democratic way of life? It is time to unveil these usurpers of our constitutionally guaranteed freedoms!
Through this statement, Feldstein and Wood directly call upon the reader to act and to address these stereotypical fears that the powerful have concocted and injected into the masses. Only through confronting these issues can we actually defeat them.
“The Whipping!” directly addresses one of the “threat[s] to our democratic way of life” through the construction of the pure, white virginal woman. Normally thought about in regard to the South and interracial intimacy between Black men and White women, “The Whipping!” places this trope in a broader context by making the setting the suburbs and the relationship between a Mexican-American man and White woman. The framing of this mythological white woman served to stoke fears in the populace.
After Ed sees Amy kiss her Mexican-American boyfriend, Ed takes his daughter home and chastises her. As he does this, the narrator states, “All the way, his rage seethed within him. He’d kissed her! He of the olive skin and the raven hair had dared to touch his white white daughter.” Encased within this narration lies the Ed’s fear that the man contaminated his daughter.
Ed, to “avenge” the affront to his position, riles up the neighbors in the community by stoking the fear of interracial intimacy. He tells his neighbors, “Some of you have daughters of your own! Are we going to wait until something worse happens? Are we gong to let them start coming in here until it isn’t safe for our women-folk to walk the streets alone?” He succeeds in riling up a contingent of men who don hoods and enter the man’s house to kill him. Instead, though, they kill Amy.
Preparing to enter the house, one panel shows Ed, belt in hand and mask on, almost delusional. The narrator states, “The middle-aged man . . . the slightly balding one . . . the man with the grim face, now hidden behind the white mask . . . the one called Ed . . . the perpetrator . . . the creator of the fantasy . . . stepped forward, unrolling his strap.” Key here is that Ed created “the fantasy.” His fears are unfounded. They are based, solely, on his ignorance and desire to maintain some semblance of power amidst a changing world.
These fantasies are what Feldstein and Wood’s stories deconstruct. In the same manner that Frank Yerby and other authors work to debunk these unsubstantiated myths of superiority. Feldstein and Wood force the reader to confront the absurdities couched within these fears. Replying to the ludicrous testimony of psychiatrist Frederic Wertham who argued that “The Whipping!” stoked racial intolerance through its language, Bill Gaines stated, “This is one of a series of stories designed to show the evils of race prejudice and mob violence, in this case against Mexican Catholics. . . . This is one of the most brilliantly written stories that I have ever had the pleasure to publish.”
What are your thoughts? As usual, let me know in the comments below, and make sure to follow me on Twitter at @silaslapham.