Johnny Craig was one of the leading artists and writers for the "New Trend" comic book line of EC Comics, especially known for his work for Crime SuspenStories and The Vault of Horror. His crime noir style drew influences from Will Eisner and Milton Caniff, and made him the master of suggestion. In Craig's stories, the killings, horror and other gruesome acts mostly happened off-screen, leaving much to the reader's imagination. Craig's artwork was clean and uncluttered, and gave his stories a spine-chilling Hitchcock-like atmosphere.
Jonathan Monroe Craig was born in Pleasantville, New York, and raised in the Washington Heights section of New York City. Craig was twelve years old when he did his first work in the comic book industry. For a mere one dollar a week he assisted Harry Lampert on his work for All-American Comics, a company co-owned by M.C. Gaines. When Lampert went into the Army in 1941, Craig went to work directly for All-American editor Sheldon Mayer, cooperating on the lettering of the 'Scribbly' feature and doing other paste-up, correction and lettering chores. During World War II, Craig was in the Merchant Marine and then in the Army, where he was stationed in Germany.
He returned to the USA wounded in 1946, and started freelancing for comic book companies like Lev Gleason, Magazine Enterprises and Fox Comics. He also joined Gaines again at the new company Educational Comics in 1947. Craig initially worked in the art department, doing lettering and correcting artwork. Max Gaines was killed in a boating accident that same year, and the company was continued by his son Bill under the name Entertaining Comics (EC). Craig became a regular artist in the western and crime titles 'Gunfighter', 'Saddle Justice', 'Crime Patrol', 'War Against Crime!' and 'Moon Girl'. Gaines and Al Feldstein launched a series of groundbreaking horror, crime and science fiction comic books in 1950, which are known as the "New Trend" line. Johnny Craig was closely involved in the development of the horror titles 'The Vault of Horror', 'Tales from the Crypt' and 'The Haunt of Fear', and became a regular artist of covers and stories. He was also an essential contributor to 'Crime SuspenStories', which was launched later in 1950.
Unlike other EC artists, Craig not only drew but also wrote the scripts for his own stories. He became instrumental in the look of 'The Vault of Horror', for which he drew the covers of 29 issues. He enhanced Al Feldstein's design of the title's mascot character The Vault Keeper, and later also created the hostess Drusilla, while serving as editor for the later issues. Many of his covers for 'The Vault of Horror' and 'Crime SuspenStories' were controversial. One of Craig's covers, which features a man hanging on the gallows, was slandered by psychologist Dr. Fredric Wertham in his book against comics, 'Seduction of the Innocent' (1954). Another Craig cover, depicting a man with a bloody axe and a severed woman's head, was presented at the Sentate Subcommittee hearings against the influence of comic books on children.
Johnny Craig was considered the most talented of the EC gang by his fellow artists Al Feldstein, Wallace Wood and Al Williamson. He was however a very slow draughtsman and highly critical of his own work. Where Al Feldstein edited seven titles and wrote about four stories a week, Craig barely managed to write and draw one story a month. Feldstein tried to help Craig out by making stories together under the joined pen name F.C. Aljohn, with Feldstein pencilling and Craig inking. The effort didn't help Craig in his perfectionism and ongoing struggles with meeting deadlines.
When the "New Trend" titles closed down in 1955 due to the restrictions and censorship imposed by the Comics Code, Craig was also involved in the "New Direction" line of comic books and the "Picto-Fiction" books with illustrated stories. He was the editor of 'Extra!', a newspaper/adventure comic book in the New Direction line. He wrote and drew two stories per issue, including the 'Dateline' feature starring newspaper reporter Keith Michaels, and provided the cover art. He also drew the covers for the medical comic book 'M.D.', and experimented with hued pencils in the Picto-Fiction books. These new EC titles lasted only a few months, however, after which Johnny Craig left the comic book industry.
He became Art Director and later Vice President of an advertising agency in Pennsylvania. Still having troubles with deadlines, he became a freelancer in 1963. He returned to comic books with a critically acclaimed story in the 36th issue of 'Unknown Worlds' by the American Comics Group ('The People vs. Hendricks!'). He also returned to the horror genre as a contributor to Eerie and Creepy, two comic magazines published by James Warren. He used the pen name Jay Taycee, which was derived from the "Deep South" pronunciation of his initials, to avoid conflicts with his clients from the advertising field. He tried his luck with the superhero titles of DC Comics ('The Brave and the Bold', 1967) and Marvel Comics ('Iron Man', 1968), but the genre didn't suit him. He remained an inker for both companies until the early 1980s.
Craig went into semi-retirement, but continued to paint EC-related artwork in commission of fans, although with a strict demand of no deadline pressure. Johnny Craig died on 13 September 2001, at the age of 75. Although Craig has produced less than 150 short stories during his career of four decades, he remains one of the quintessential EC artists, whose work is far from forgotten and still influential.