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Over the past year, I have written about Al Feldstein and Wallace Wood’s EC Comics’ stories, specifically their realistic “preachies” that sought to counter racism and prejudice. Within these stories, they tackle interracial intimacy and the unfounded fears surrounding the hate some feel at these relationships. Specifically, they use “Under Cover,” The Whipping!,” and “Blood Brothers” to show that the fears surrounding people’s prejudices around interracial intimacy are nothing more than concocted fantasies meant to perpetrate fear and to maintain power. In “The Whipping!,” as Ed prepares to enter the house of his daughter’s Mexican-American boyfriend and attack him, the narrator details Ed’s psyche by proclaiming, “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.”
Today, I want to look at another story by Feldstein, “A Little Stranger!” Feldstein wrote the story with William Gaines and Graham Ingels provided the artwork. The story appeared in The Haunt of Fear #14, and it tells the the origins of the Old Witch, one of the narrators of the horror stories in EC Comics’ series. While the narrative serves as an origin story for the Old Witch, there is also an undercurrent evident beneath the surface that comments on the fears of interracial intimacy.
As a horror/Gothic story, we need to consider “A Little Stranger!” in the same way we would consider something like Edgar Allan Poe’s “Hop-Frog” or even “Judgement Day” in Weird Fantasy #18. It is within this context that I want to examine “A Little Stranger.” The story debuted in the summer of 1952, seven years after the end of World War II and about fifteen years before Loving v. Virginia. This is important because “A Little Stranger!,” underneath its Gothic exterior, comments on real-life issues affecting minorities and specifically African Americans in interracial relationships.
White supremacists viewed interracial intimacy as a contagion and an usurpation of their power and control. Speaking about her marriage in 1947 to Joseph in Natchez, MS, Martha Rossignol shows the racism her and her husband endured: “We just ran into a lot of racism, a lot of issues, a lot of problems. You’d go into a restaurant, people wouldn’t want to serve you. When you’re walking down the street together, it was like you’ve got a contagious disease.” As Sheryll Cashin notes about these fears during Reconstruction, “The real concern was black men acting like citizens. Black men who gathered political power or had economic success transgressed the racial line that had been drawn during slavery, and these were galling, unforgivable sins in the eyes of supremacists, as galling as the idea of a black man inserting himself between a white woman’s legs.” To maintain power and keep Blacks in submissions, the myth of the pure, white, Southern belle arose and took shape.
Even if a Black man and a White woman shared a consensual relationship, the fears of Black men obtaining power and position caused white supremacists to enact violence as a form of fear. Cashin continues by describing a Black man in Georgia who was living with a White woman. A mob dragged him out of his and took him to the woods, “drove a nail through penis into a wooden block, lit a fire around him, and left him with a knife and the decision of whether to slice off his own organ to escape the fire, which he did.” It did not matter that the man and woman cohabited; what mattered to the perpetrators was that a Black man had slept with a White woman.
It is within this history and period that “A Little Stranger!” first appeared. The story begins with two men coming across a dead body in the Bavarian Alps. At first, they cannot tell if a vampire or a werewolf murdered the person. Eventually, they realize that the victim succumbed to both a vampire and a werewolf. Next, the narration shifts to show the vampire Elicia and the werewolf Zorgo conversing. They exchange intimacies and Elicia lies in her coffin because the sun is about to rise. Zorgo tells her he will see her on the next full moon, and once Elicia falls asleep, he stands guard over her coffin so no one will kill her.
As he watches over Elicia, Zorgo falls asleep and thinks about how they met one another. He had stumbled across wolfsbane in the forest, and the scratch from the plant turned him into a werewolf. After his first kill, he hears Elicia walking down the path, and he hides in the bushes. He appears when Elicia tries to devour the dead body, but after talking, they agree that they can both partake of the corpse. This sparks their relationship, and the two plan to marry.
When they meet once a month, always when Zorgo is a werewolf, they feast and talk. At one point, Zorgo speaks in Elicia’s ear saying, “Someday. . . someday my dear, we will find someone who will marry us!” The couple’s desire to find someone who will marry them, due to their appearances and differences, echoes the story of Joseph and Martha Rossignol and many others. The Rossinols had to search for a priest willing to marry them.
As Zorgo dreams, the villagers enter the cave and kill the couple, taking them back to their hamlet and burying them. The villagers think they have eliminated the contagion and threat; however, when the villagers leave, the dead begin to murmur, proclaiming, “There’s going to be a wedding!” between Elicia and Zorgo. The dead arise from the ground “as foul odors of decay and rot waft through the night air. . . Elicia and Zorgo are wed!” The couple, in death, become one. They spend their honeymoon in a mausoleum, and one year later, the scene repeats, but this time, the dead arise to celebrate the birth of Elicia and Zorgo’s baby girl, the Old Witch.
The final scene shows Elicia, lying in her coffin, holding the baby while Zorgo stands, with a smile on his face. Around them, ghouls abound, looking on with joy and admiration. This scene, in some ways, plays upon the fears that interracial intimacy negatively affects the children of the relationships. This was the argument that the state of Virginia used in 1968 and it was the argument that Keith Bardwell used in 2009 when he refused to marry an interracial couple. While the final image is filled with horror imagery, it also highlights the love between Elicia and Zorgo. Both smile as they look at their baby girl, and Zorgo’s stance presents him as a doting father. As well, the final image, where the Old Witch tells the reader that this was her origin story, shows her smiling towards the reader as she brushes back her hood. Even amidst the horror, the story ends on a happy note.
Elicia and Zorgo’s marriage, even after their deaths, highlights the bonds that exist between the couple. Death and hate cannot destroy their bonds or hinder their ability to construct a family. In the face of adversity, the couple maintain and live. Read within the context of interracial intimacy, this is an important statement because it proclaims that love, not hate, will endure.
There is more that could be said, of course. What are your thoughts? As usual, let me know in the comments below, and make sure to follow me on Twitter at @silaslapham.