Lance Roger Axt Talks EC Comics Presents…The Vault Of Horror

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Enter The Vault Of Horror

EC Comics Presents…The Vault Of Horror is a series of audio dramas that adapts classic EC comic stories and Tripwire spoke to Pocket Universe Co-Founder Lance Roger Axt about its genesis and development…

What was the genesis of The Vault of Horror?

Lance Roger Axt: This was a project that our late partner, William Dufris, was determined to do. And by that I mean do one of EC’s horror titles. It was no secret that Bill was a horror fanatic. He lived for well-made horror audio.

Which brings us to EC: this is the company whose comics output inspired Stephen King, Joe Hill, Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante, and I’m talking about the company’s entire output: the stories in their crime titles, war titles, the sci-fi books, were breaking societal norms this way and that. I mean “Master Race” in their short-lived Impact! was the first comic book story to directly deal with the horror of the concentration camps in a mature manner and is thought of as the Citizen Kane of comic book stories. I mean in the annals of comicbookdom, EC is legendary.

So back in 2007, Bill looked into acquiring the rights to one of the EC horror titles. That fell through but in 2017, after surviving a bout with esophageal cancer, he wanted to look into them again, the proverbial “now or never” moment. We had a connection to EC through a sound effects artist we both knew from the National Audio Theatre Festivals, Butch D’Ambrosio, who wrote for MAD Magazine for close to 20 years. One phone call led to another and another after that and before we knew it we’re doing The Vault of Horror as an audio drama and Bob’s your uncle.

TW: How did you gather your voice talent?

LRA: In the case of our Vault Keeper, Kevin Grevioux came to us through our friend, producer David Uslan. We were looking for a voice that was the complete opposite of John Kassir’s Crypt Keeper to separate what we were doing from HBO’s Tales from the Crypt. And I’ll tell you, when we heard Kevin’s voice we were floored. He is so much fun to work with. As is Phil Proctor, who came to us through Butch: Phil is of course the co-founder of “the Beatles of comedy” The Firesign Theatre, one of the greatest comedic troupe…well pretty much ever. I actually directed him and his wife in a live audio drama at an NATF Workshop in 2011, the first audio drama ever written by comics scribe JM DeMatteis. Turns out Phil is also an old-school EC fan, and we had the perfect piece for him to do, a one-man show from the sixth episode called “Rats Have Sharp Teeth!” Both Kevin and Phil were recorded in Los Angeles as they didn’t need to interact with the other actors. Which brings me to Maine:

Bill lived in So. Portland; his studio was and still is in So. Portland. And Portland is home to an active and serious theatre community, actors who are really committed to their craft. I spent five years in New York, and I found the actors in Portland that Bill working with to be as good as and sometimes more professional than those I worked with in NYC, no kidding. Bill cast the first season “EC Ensemble” out of Maine, including Denise Poirier from Æon Flux and Jonathan Woodward who was on Firefly and Angel, and is now a part of Pocket Universe. And finally two of our favorite people from the world of audiobooks, Peter Berkrot and Steven Jay Cohen, drove up from Massachusetts to have some fun with us for a day.

TW: Why do you think EC lends itself to radio drama?

LRA: Well, I think any work can be an audio drama; novels, comics, what have you. It just requires a different way of looking at the work and how to make it happen in this particular medium. Now if you’re specifically talking about EC’s horror titles, the answer’s simple: the genre’s even more conducive to audio than film. At least that’s how Bill thought about it. Sound travels faster than what we receive through our sight. Combine that with mood, silence, the right auditory queues to elicit that shiver from the listener and you have something very cool: we did that with Locke & Key for Audible, Bill did that with his Midnight Matinees series.

What’s even more interesting is that there’s a direct connection to audio and VoH as publisher William Gaines and his collaborators were highly influenced by, wouldn’t you know it, horror audio! In this case the radio dramas of the 30’s and 40’s like Lights Out! and Inner Sanctum. So in a way everything’s come full circle.

TW: How long did it take to record all of the episodes to date?

LRA: A day-and-a-half in Los Angeles for Kevin and Phil. I think it was a total of 7 days in the studio in Maine. Because of the shortness of the pieces we were able to, for lack of a better word, bang out three to four adaptations a day.

TW: If you had to pick a favourite adaptation from your run, which would it be and why?

LRA: One? Oy… I’m going to cheat a little and do two, one I adapted and one Butch adapted. From my batch of stories, “The Dead Will Return” which is as much a character study as it is a horror piece. From Butch’s batch, “Fitting Punishment” for the same reason. And Ed Romanoff’s performance as Ezra the miserly undertaker… it just has to be heard. So good!

Are there any plans to do any more EC adaptations?

The only EC title we would be working on is a second season of The Vault of Horror, and we’re not sure when that’s going to happen. Hopefully sooner than later, but in addition to dealing with a pandemic we are personally dealing with Bill’s passing earlier this year. Rather than looking at the future we’re focusing on the present, and encouraging everyone to give the series a listen. You can find it on Apple, iHeartRadio, Stitcher, Acast, wherever you listen to podcasts. The collected production is also available on Audible, Apple Books, and Serial Box. Bill directed more than his fair share of audio dramas in his life, but we think this, one of his last, was also one of his best. So go give it a listen!

Visit EC Comics Presents…The Vault Of Horror here

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