By hrdwrkngXsoldier 1 Comments
Been a bit busy, so I didn't get these up the last couple weeks. Moving is a pain.
This is part for in the series of blog entries I am doing of an edited down version of my senior paper on 20th Century American Comics and Politics. I have stated before it may be boring for some people, but the purpose is to inform and educate. This section's focus is on World War II and the role comics played durring that era.
To recap the rest of the series:
Post World War II Politics and Comics
The atomic age of comics was a short lived time for the superhero. The troops had come home, rebuilding had started, women went back to being home-makers, and the demands of society had changed. There had been a shift in interest as injured Soldiers, physically and mentally, tried to adapt to post-war America. The war didn’t just deplete the man power of the manufacturing industry; many of comic's founders were also called to serve their country. Superhero comics dwindled in popularity. The culture of America had changed, with it the demand for stories featuring battles between caped heroes and Nazis. The economic recovery of the nation was fully underway with the boom in technology and the concept of a dual income home.
With superhero books not meeting the expectations of readers any longer the market shifted. Crime, science fiction, horror, and even romance comics had taken over as top sellers. There still may have been the occasional Nazi sleeper agent featured in one of these books, but the new enemy was the other competitive superpower in the world the Soviet Union. The battle between Allies to divide territories of control came mostly out of the socio-political battle between democracy and communism. This competition wasn’t forgotten about. There were many stories regarding the uncovering of communist rings, and even horror stories making political statements regarding harsh consequences of McCarthyism.
The fear in America wasn’t just that of the building nuclear arms race with the Soviet Union. Americans began to find other issues at the home front. A rise in juvenile delinquency, (probably mostly due to population increase), became the center of attention as the US began to enter a more conservative age. Any abnormality or rebellion from the conservative ideals of the perceived “American Dream,” became subject to psychoanalysis and criticism. Post war “experts” were blaming the rise in crime and violence on comic books. Years before many today remember similar claims regarding Rock and Roll, Television, Heavy Metal, Rap, or video games; comics for some time was the subject of similar scrutiny and ridicule. The industry’s main opponent in this conflict would be psychiatrist, Dr. Frederic Wertham.
Dr. Wertham started his attack on comics shortly after he wrote a book regarding the negative effects of cinema on society. He featured articles in many popular magazines at the time constantly bringing up allegations against the comic industry in which he blamed writers and their bad taste for some of the crimes being committed. These included everything from breaking windows to burglary and murders. He claimed the writers of crime, horror, and suspense comics were laying out blue prints for these crimes to be committed. Performing much of his study and research in the realm of juvenile delinquency he found a correlation between troubled youth and their habitual reading of comics. There were no mention in his most famous work, “Seduction of the Innocent,” that almost 90% of adolescents; both male and female, read comics during this point in America. Based upon this it would have been rarer to find a child who did not read comics at all.
He was not negligent in perceiving there was a role to be played by the parental unit to censor and monitor their children. However, he laid the majority of the blame on the industry itself. Conservative America was reading his articles and books. Parents prompted to investigation, were finding out the stories their children were reading, and an all out assault on the industry began. The two most useful books to read on the subject are Wertham’s own “Seduction of the Innocent” and a modern publication, David Hajdu’s “The Ten-Cent Plague.” As a historical reference examining the past, Hajdu tells tales of city-wide comic book bonfires, and takes a close look at the ramifications of Dr. Wertham’s war against comics.
In 1953 the Senate Justice Committee on Juvenile Delinquency was called into special session to examine Dr. Wertham’s claims. During this famous meeting many comic creators ensured they would be able to attend and speak before the Senate regarding the comics industry. This historic Senate hearing showed the power of the conservative movement. The comics industry had standards previously which were loosely followed. As a result of the hearing the magazine industry created the Comics Code Authority. This became a broad form of censorship which publishers claimed were clear violations of the 1 Amendment freedoms of press and speech. (Note: support in the creator's favor was not noticed until comics cases on obsinity and censorship reached the US Supreme Court in the 80's and 90's.)
With the comics code it was decided instead of legislation being passed to censor the industry, the industry would have to create its own decency inspection. If a comic passed the inspection the book would be labeled with a seal of approval. The censorship was so stringent; covers of comics were not allowed to have the words crime, weird, or horror on them. The art was censored as well. Even beads of sweat could be considered too excessive. (Gaines cited later in the documentary Comics Confidential, it was changed because it made the astronaut depicted look “African American.” The creator said, “Yeah…so.”) There were not to be any portrayals of relationships other than general marriage or dating. There was to be no mention of rape, incest, or fornication. The conservative code was so strict many publishers went out of business.
For the most part the comics industry was in shambles. They effectively neutered many characters and their appeal to the public. Many of them, including Wonder Woman and Batman had to be revamped slightly, to fit into the new “proper” standards of polite society. The companies which did survive turned more toward romance comics, westerns, and light science fiction. The publisher EC comics eventually stopped producing comics and instead took their satire and crudeness to a larger magazine-size format, (Mad Magazine), in order to avoid being subject to the code. Few continued to publish books and sell them in what would be dubbed the “underground” market. The other survivors included a handful of superheroes which still held some of the market’s interest.