Graham Ingels was one of the grandmasters of horror comics, and one of the staples of the classic EC titles of the 1950s. His graphic depictions of decaying corpses and other gruesome creatures were groundbreaking. Ingels took the horror to the extreme, and was not exaggerating when he started signing his work with "Ghastly". While his comic book work is remembered to this day, little is known about the man behind the artist. Ingels has never given any interviews, and spent a large part of his later life in seclusion, far from his fans and former co-workers.
Graham J. Ingels was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, and was partially raised in Georgia and New York. Ingels' father was a commercial artist, who encouraged his son's artistic ambitions. His father died when he was fourteen, so Ingels had to take several odd jobs to support his family. He began freelancing as an artist at the age of twenty, although no specifics are known of his activities during this period. He started working for the pulp magazines published by Fiction House in 1943, making illustrations for Planet Stories, Jungle Stories, Wings Comics and Action Stories, which included painted covers. He soon also found his way to the comic books of this company, drawing features like 'The Lost World' and 'Auro, Lord of Jupiter' for Planet Comics, 'The Sea Devil' for Rangers Comics, and 'Clipper Kirk' for Wings Comics.
After his military service in the US Navy, he returned to comic books by working for Magazine Enterprises and Famous Funnies. He became an editor for Ned Pine at Better-Standard-Nedor, where he wrote and drew for Thrilling Comics, Wonder Comics and Startling Comics, including covers and features like 'Lance Lewis, Space Detective'. He also worked for Fiction House, Avon and Western Comics/Youthful, but found a steady home at EC Comics in 1948. He was one of the first artists to come to work for EC after Bill Gaines took over the company from his father. He initially drew covers and stories for the war and western titles War Against Crime!, Crime Patrol, Gunfighter and Saddle Justice. While Ingels was an average artist for these titles at most, he found his true métier in horror stories.
Bill Gaines, Al Feldstein and Johnny Craig revamped their older titles to what was called the "New Trend" line of comic books in 1950. This included the horror comics The Haunt of Fear, Tales from the Crypt and The Vault of Horror, to which "Ghastly Graham" became one of the most loyal contributors. Swampy surroundings, mutilated cadavers and vengeance-seeking zombies became his trademark. He was instrumental in the graphic appearance of The Old Witch, one of the three hosts of EC's horror line. He also filled the 'Haunt of Fear' feature in Crime SuspenStories, EC's crime comic book which started later in 1950. He furthermore made all the covers for The Haunt of Fear from the 11th issue.
But Ingels was also battling his own personal demons. He was an alcoholic, and often dropped off the radar for days in a row, missing his deadlines. He furthermore had a desire to become a fine artist, and was a talented painter of lanscapes, portraits and still lifes. He was however typecasted as a horror artist, and when Gaines was forced to drop the crime and horror comic books in 1955 due to the new Comics Code, Ingels was largely out of work. He did draw stories for EC's short-lived "New Direction" line of comic books (Piracy, Impact, Valor, M.D.) and the Picto-Fiction books with illustrated short stories, but most of the gory magic was gone.
Ingels started teaching painting classes from his Long Island studio shortly afterwards. His EC colleague George Evans introduced him as an inker to the 'Classics Illustrated' comic books of Gilberton. He also penciled the adaptation of Émile Erckmann and Alexandre Chatrian's novel 'Waterloo' (1956) and contributed stories to Gilberton's 'The World Around Us' (1959), and also to 'Treasure Chest', a comic book published by the Catholic Church. He subsequently became a teacher with the correspondence courses of the Famous Artists School in Westport, Connecticut. His personal problems got the upper hand however, and by 1962, Ingels left his family and dropped off the face of the earth.
It wasn't until ten years later that his fans learned that Ingels was living in Lantana, Florida, where he was instructing the art of oil painting from his home studio. Attempts to contact and interest him for interviews and attending conventions were woeful failures. Ingels expressed having warm feelings for his old colleagues, but felt no desire to relive his days as a comic book artist. He even refused Gaines' payments of his share of the profits from the auctions publisher Russ Cochran held of the original New Trend material. In 1989, Cochran finally managed to persuade Ingels in making oil paintings of The Old Witch, which he could sell through his auctions. Ingels painted four large paintings and ten smaller studies between 1989 and 1991, after which he turned ill. He was diagnosed with advanced stomach cancer and passed away on 4 April 1991.
Although his tenure as a comic artist was short, Graham Ingels has left a lasting impression on the horror genre. All of his fellow EC authors have expressed their admiration for his work; Bill Gaines has even labeled him as "Mr. Horror". Jim Woodring affectionately described his work as "the product of a diseased mind or something", while horror novelist Stephen King has mentioned Ingels and his art in his 1973 short story 'The Boogeyman'. Since 2011, The Ghastly Awards are annually awarded to honor excellence in horror comics, with Ingels being the first Hall of Fame inductee. He was followed by Al Feldstein, Bill Gaines and Berni Wrightson in 2012, Archie Goodwin and Gene Colan in 2013, Jack Davis, Al Hewetson and Peter Normanton in 2014 and Stephen R. Bissette in 2015.