Many of us in the “Baby Boom” generation remember collecting soda pop bottles and turning them in for a few cents each or saving our allowance to buy one of our favorite comic books for a dime. In the 1950s it could be anything from Archie, Superman and Lois Lane, or Blackhawk, to Tales from the Crypt or G.I. Joe. We would sneak off somewhere and devour the latest adventures of our choice.
The truth is we had our noses in comic books like young people of today have their eyes and thumbs glued to their electronic devices.
According to historian Michael A. Amundson, there was an altruistic rationale for some comic books. Familiar comic book characters helped ease young readers’ fear of nuclear war and neutralize anxiety about the questions posed by atomic power. For example, characters from the Blondie comic strip were used in the Educational Comic (EC) book Dagwood Splits the Atom. It was also during this period that long-running humor comics debuted, including EC’s Mad comics and Carl Barks’ Uncle Scrooge in Dell’s Four Color Comics (both in 1952).
Little did we know something more sinister was brewing to which most of us were totally oblivious.
In 1953, the comic book industry hit a major setback when the United States Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency was created in order to investigate the problem of juvenile delinquency. This was a publicity thing to satisfy the passions of the do-gooders.
Estes Kefauver, who had run for the Presidency in 1952, and held hearings on organized crime a few years before, extended the reach of his committee and met in New York City to investigate comic books. They had several people testify.
This was followed by the publication of Fredric Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent the following year (that claimed comics sparked illegal behavior among minors) comic book publishers were subpoenaed to testify in public hearings. As a result, the Comics Code Authority was created by the Association of Comics Magazine Publishers to enact self-censorship by comic book publishers.
The word quickly spread about what the new standards would be. In fact, this served the interests of concerned parent groups, who were active locally. That would be where the real action happened—not from the top, but from the pressure of people on the stores, on the distributors, from churches and PTAs and others. For example, kids were encouraged to trade in (“swap”) “bad” comics for “good comics.”
Other communities collected comics and burned them! Trashed them! Some kids tried to protest, saying this was like the Nazi book burnings, but folks didn’t believe them. The main result, though, was the production of a new “Comics Code.”
For most kids of that era, comic books would still be bought, traded and read. The political winds of Washington would have little effect on them.
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