Comics: the Horror in the Nursery! Saved by the Comics Code Authority!
February 12, 2020 8:04 AM   Subscribe

Some 60 years ago, during the era of McCarthyism, comic books became a threat, causing a panic that culminated in a Senate hearing in 1954. [...] The reaction to the suspected scourge was the Comics Code (CBLDF) — a set of rules that spelled out what comics could and couldn't do. Good had to triumph over evil. Government had to be respected. Marriages never ended in divorce. [...] What adults thought was best for children ended up censoring and dissolving years of progress and artistry (Buzzfeed News), as well as comics that challenged American views on gender and race. Consequently, that cemented the idea that this was a medium for kids — something we've only recently started disbelieving. The insane history of how American paranoia ruined and censored comic books (Vox)

Another excerpt from the Vox article:
The man in charge of tying comic books to society's ills was a bespectacled German-American psychiatrist and author named Fredric Wertham.

Wertham was working in a Harlem hospital treating juvenile delinquents when he noticed that those he treated read comic books. At the time everyone was reading comic books, so the fact that the delinquents were doing so was not particularly noteworthy — except to Wertham.

Comics became his crusade. According to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, Wertham's public attacks on comic books started in a 1948 interview with Collier's Magazine called "Horror in the Nursery." From there, Wertham spoke at a symposium called "The Psychopathy of Comic Books," explaining his belief that comic book readers were sexually aggressive and that this led to them committing crimes.

Going back over his research now, it appears Wertham fudged and disingenuously represented what he had found. But at the time, people trusted him. They followed his lead, resulting in events like a public comic book burning by a Girl Scout troop from Cape Girardeau, Missouri (The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America, by David Hajdu; preview via Google books).

Wertham's crowning achievement against comic books came in 1954. He published his book The Seduction of the Innocent (2nd edition on Archive.org). Seduction also featured bad research (summary by CBLDF, NYT, NYT archived). It made hard-to-substantiate claims, suggesting Wonder Woman was a lesbian (Lost SOTI*), Batman and Robin were gay (Comics Alliance), and comic books were leading children into danger. Wertham's comic book witch-hunt coincided with McCarthyism in the US, adding fuel to the fire.
In the decades since, there have been a number of efforts to bypass or break the Comics Code. The first revision came in 1971, then in the 1980s, greater depiction of violence had become acceptable, and there was another Code update in 1989 (CBLDF x2). By the 2000s, advertisers no longer made decisions to advertise based on the appearance of the stamp, but the impact of Seduction of the Innocent persists, though in a different way.

*Lost SOTI is a site dedicated to dedicated to the comic book censorship crusade of the 1940's and 1950's, Seduction of the Innocent, and the works of Dr. Fredric Wertham. The site has a detailed timeline of events, and archived copies of notable publications that related to the censorship of comics in the 1940s and 1950s in the U.S. The site takes its name from comics that were referenced in SOTI, but lost, or not yet identified by fans. A number of titles have been identified, or found.
posted by filthy light thief (40 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
 
Previously:
- When comics were weird and progressive -- Saladin Ahmed explains how censors killed the weird, experimental, progressive golden age Of comics (Buzzfeed article, previously)
- The horror! -- A post about the 1948 Collier's article, "Horror in the Nursery," complete with staged depictions of what happens when the influence of comics goes too far
- Vault of McCarthite Terror -- The pictures that horrified America - how comic books tipped 50s America into a moral panic.

Also previously - collections of Golden Age comics in the public domain:
- Digital Comic Museum
- Comic Book Plus

See also: Internet Archive's comics archives
posted by filthy light thief at 8:12 AM on February 12 [5 favorites]


YES.

I took a class on comics in college (yes the teacher remains the coolest person I have ever met to this day, I can't remember her name but if this sounds familiar and you taught at UDel in autumn 2000, you are still shaping my life), and I remember learning about Wertham and the CCA and I think we even read part of Seduction of the Innocent?

This is extraordinary, and I'm so excited to dive into these links, thank you!
posted by kalimac at 8:16 AM on February 12 [1 favorite]


Wow. Great post. Going to take a while to digest this.
posted by dazed_one at 8:16 AM on February 12


From the Lost SOTI link: In general, comic books cited by Dr. Wertham in Seduction of the Innocent are more sought-after by collectors, and are worth more, than comics not mentioned in Seduction of the Innocent.

Wertheim, meet Streisand.
posted by chavenet at 8:20 AM on February 12 [6 favorites]


Wertham was working in a Harlem hospital treating juvenile delinquents when he noticed that those he treated read comic books. At the time everyone was reading comic books, so the fact that the delinquents were doing so was not particularly noteworthy — except to Wertham.

I’ve noticed that upwards of 95% of criminals wear socks. Coincidence?
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:28 AM on February 12 [8 favorites]


Yes, this is the story I keep getting told about how comics were squashed under the Code thanks to Wertham as mustache twirling villain, and I don't really buy it. If comics were the only media dealing with censorship, that would be one thing - but the reality was that in the 40s and 50s, all media in the US was being censored in a similar fashion - you had the Hays Code in Hollywood, and similar rules were right there at the dawn of television. If not even the movie industry (which had much larger war chests than the comics industry) was safe from this, what hope did comics have?

To put it bluntly, the Code would have happened with or without Wertham, because the culture was primed for it. Instead of looking for villains to blame, we should look for cultural and societal movements, because those still exist, and still operate on us.
posted by NoxAeternum at 8:44 AM on February 12 [17 favorites]


Politicians got great ratings by hunting commies in Hollywood, so they thought they could do it again with comics. I agree that Wertham was a useful tool, but he provided a "scientific" club on which to bash comics as opposed to the likely moral route they would have gone without him.

I think some version of the Code would have existed without him, but without Seduction of the Innocent, you don't get William Gaines testifying and rolling a series of Natural 1s when it came to Persuasion checks.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 8:53 AM on February 12 [6 favorites]


It's a shame because the CCA (and, as NoxAeternum points out, the cultural movement that gave impetus to it) utterly crippled not just the American comics industry, but the very way in which the American public viewed comics, in the same way that the movie codes crippled American animation. For decades mainstream American comics and animation was only and could only ever be baby garbage for children. There was no chance to grow and mature in the mainstream, whereas the European and Japanese comic and animation industries were at least allowed to strive for something more. Sure there were indie and underground works pushing the boundaries of these mediums, but they were relegated to the fringes that most people would never even know about, let alone see.

We're only just emerging from this freeze, but the effects are still sadly obvious in how so many people, especially older people, instantly and reflexively dismiss anything from these two mediums no matter what the work is.
posted by the legendary esquilax at 8:55 AM on February 12 [3 favorites]


Wertheim, meet Streisand.

Thanks for that note -- I meant to mention that after noting that "the impact of Seduction of the Innocent persists, though in a different way."


I keep getting told about how comics were squashed under the Code thanks to Wertham as mustache twirling villain, and I don't really buy it.

Good point, but I'll say that by providing (badly sourced) research to validate his statements, he brought validation to the censorship that it didn't otherwise have. Sure, some other questionable scientist or doctor could have stepped into that void, but because of his actions, he doesn't get a write-off from me. Just like the Motion Picture Production Code is also known as the Hays Code, after Will H. Hays, who lead Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA) from 1922 to 1945, and and for a more extreme example, McCarthyism wasn't a sole effort of Joseph McCarthy, but in both cases, they're named and remembered for their leadership roles in censorship and more.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:08 AM on February 12 [6 favorites]


I still find the phrase "injury to the eye motif" evocative.
posted by rewil at 9:13 AM on February 12 [1 favorite]


Wertheim?

To be fair to Wertham, it’s been well documented that the Joker was regularly pulling boners.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:59 AM on February 12 [9 favorites]


"Blazing Saddles" turned film and TV censorship on it's head. I wonder if there was a specific comic series that did something similar here?
posted by Brocktoon at 10:09 AM on February 12 [1 favorite]


The Comics Journal massive document dump from Wertham's 1954 correspondence about the hearings and his book here. It includes letters to him from various comics publishers threatening legal action if he continues to repeat his lies about them, a long letter from Wertham's own attorneys lawyering the book for potential libel actions and a wealth of contemporary press clippings. It's worth a skim at the very least.
posted by Paul Slade at 10:14 AM on February 12 [4 favorites]


"Blazing Saddles" turned film and TV censorship on it's head. I wonder if there was a specific comic series that did something similar here?

Amazing Spider-Man, during the Green Goblin/Death of Gwen Stacy arc. As part of that, Stan Lee had a B plot meant as an anti-drug message involving Harry taking psychedelics and having a bad trip - but the Code refused to allow any depiction of drug use. Lee stuck to his guns, and the issues that the plot was in shipped without the CCA seal - and sold well. The CCA realized their fuck up and rewrote the code to allow negative portrayal of drug use (the Green Lantern arc dealing with Speedy's addiction to heroin was printed under CCA imprimatur, for example), but the damage was done - the CCA was mortally wounded.
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:19 AM on February 12 [15 favorites]


"Blazing Saddles" turned film and TV censorship on it's head. I wonder if there was a specific comic series that did something similar here?

Spider-man #96, published in 1963, was the book that effectively killed the Comics Code. The book showed Harry Osborn taking drugs, which meant the book could not carry the CC's approval stamp on its cover. Marvel went ahead and published it anyway and, when the sky didn't fall in, the code was exposed as the toothless tiger it had by then become.
posted by Paul Slade at 10:25 AM on February 12 [7 favorites]


The extra-stupid thing about the Amazing Spider-Man #96 CCA incident is that the anti-drug story was put in that issue at the specific request of Nixon's Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. That probably helped Marvel's conviction in holding the line against the CCA.
posted by the legendary esquilax at 10:33 AM on February 12 [12 favorites]




It made hard-to-substantiate claims, suggesting Wonder Woman was a lesbian, Batman and Robin were gay […]

How ridiculous. Wonder Woman and her dear chums just didn't know about men, while in Bruce Wayne's more formal milieu, being "a gay bachelor" simply meant that he was formally unattached. It would have been far more offensive had Wayne brought women back to his mansion he shared with his ward, and besides: where would they have slept? In his and Robin's bed?!
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:47 AM on February 12 [5 favorites]


I would argue that the rise of the direct market in the 1970s (that is, comics being sold by comic book stores rather than from racks in grocery stores or on newsstands) is what really defanged the Comics Code. DC and Marvel could sell books direct to a more mature audience, without having to worry as much about some parent complaining about objectionable material at their five-year-old's eye level while they were buying milk.
posted by Etrigan at 1:40 PM on February 12 [2 favorites]


The direct market was the end, but without Lee exposing the CCA as toothless, it's very possible that they could have forced direct market sales to also carry the CCA seal. Lee made it clear that consumers didn't care about the seal (we saw similar reactions defang the Hays Code and the rules governing TV shows.)
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:01 PM on February 12 [1 favorite]


> It made hard-to-substantiate claims, suggesting Wonder Woman was a lesbian

Nah. Not at all. Wonder Woman is the creation of [a dude who was totally into BDSM and powerful women](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Moulton_Marston). Wonder Woman is there to get tied up or hypnotized, prevail via the strength of her awesome femininity, and then tie up the bad guys. Wikipedia only scratches the surface of this.
posted by egypturnash at 5:23 PM on February 12 [4 favorites]


Spider-man #96, published in 1963 1971

FTFY
posted by StarkRoads at 5:29 PM on February 12


For decades mainstream American comics and animation was only and could only ever be baby garbage for children. There was no chance to grow and mature in the mainstream, whereas the European and Japanese comic and animation industries were at least allowed to strive for something more.

You know, I used to go along with that version of the story. Quote-endquote serious comics fans just sort of knew that European comics were generally better, because of what they saw in Heavy Metal, and that awareness eventually spread to Japanese manga, as well. I had some limited exposure to both growing up, but not much more than that, until some years ago, when a buddy gave me his Heavy Metal collections because he didn't want his kids finding them. I took them and set them aside, and didn't get around to looking at them until relatively recently. When I did, I noticed a couple of things. One, the art was really, really good--easily on a par with the very best that any American artist working in the medium had done.

The other was that the male gaze fanservice was absurdly blatant, maybe even more so than the most fanservicey manga; you'd have a fairly involving story with excellent art, and then boom, naked lady shows up, either having sex with the fairly ordinary-looking protagonist or just being naked. Over and over and over again. What passes for fanservice in American comics--lordotic spinal curvature, gravity-defying boobs, thong-based costumes--seems almost prim by comparison. There's the occasional male nudity (Richard Corben's Den is kind of notorious for this), but not nearly anywhere as much as female nudity. The over-the-top fanservice excesses of manga and anime does not really need to be gone over. Not all of the Eurocomix were this egregious--I've never seen anything of Moebius' like that, for example--but for every Moebius, there was usually a Serpieri or Manara, whose work sometimes approached straight-up porn, almost always involving skinny white dead-eyed women.

Sure there were indie and underground works pushing the boundaries of these mediums, but they were relegated to the fringes that most people would never even know about, let alone see.

See above. Who's the best-known of the American underground artists? Robert Crumb.

My rant should not be taken as support for Wertham, the CCA, or generally the kind of absurd ruts and tropes that the mainstream American comics industry fell into. Nor am I opposed to erotica comics or erotic subjects in comics. (In fact, I've supported some Kickstarters for comics that otherwise wouldn't have been published, probably, because of their frank approach to sexuality.) It's just that I'm getting a little tired of this narrative that European and Japanese comics were this unalloyed treasure because they didn't have the CCA, or likewise with undergrounds, or that things would have been any less male-gazey in America if we hadn't had it--those EC artists sure liked their buxom dames with their dresses painted on. The triumph of the end of the CCA wasn't that more people read Crumb, it's that Alison Bechdel--previously known for an alt-weekly strip about lesbians that died along with the alt-weeklies--became a best-selling author whose autobiography became a Broadway musical.
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:48 PM on February 12 [10 favorites]


Some of these folks jumped from pulp comics to Mad Magazine, so it's not all bad.
posted by Beholder at 5:58 PM on February 12 [2 favorites]


So, I've been thinking about why this proposed "insane history" kept ringing so false to me, and after reading the piece over, my sense for this is that there seems to be an effort to turn the Code into The Villain That Destroyed American Comics that just doesn't stand up to scrutiny. It starts with the attempt to depict the Golden Age as some sort of lost progressive era, which really doesn't hold up if you've ever taken a look at some of the stuff that came out of the Golden Age. The namedropping of Golden Age female protagonists without any further context reminded me of a scene in Overly Sarcastic Productions' recent video on antiheroes, in which Red notes about lists of top antiheroes online being "seventy white dudes, three anime dudes, Blade, Black Widow, and Electra" - just pointing out that these female characters existed says nothing about if they really were a significant presence, or were just blips in the medium. Also, while the Golden Age comics industry allowed creators in who were shut out of other mediums, it also exploited them horrifically - DC's fucking over of Schuster, Siegel, and Finger started in the Golden Age for one notable example.

But beyond that, there's the argument of the impact of the Code (and again, do not take this as a defense of the Code, which was part of a wider cultural push to censor popular media) that in many ways seems disconnected from wider cultural trends. The article talks about Western comics vanishing in the 60s as being a victim of the Code, but ignores that traditional Westerns as a genre were vanishing from American media as a whole - while the Code probably hastened their departure from the scene, the reality is that Western comics in the 60s were not long for the world. I also don't buy the theory that the industry went Oops All Superheroes because they were a "safe" way to work within the Code - you saw superheroes become the "rock stars" of the industry in the Golden Age, and it would be no surprise that they would be a go to staple in the Silver Age, and their target audience be actively courted over others (which is how romance comics mostly died out - hard to maintain a genre when the target audience is no longer being courted.)
posted by NoxAeternum at 6:15 PM on February 12 [5 favorites]


It's not all bad, but the David Hajdu book refers to a long list of artists who dropped out of professional illustration careers as a result of the CCA.
posted by ovvl at 6:26 PM on February 12 [1 favorite]


Trying to compare Comics Code to Hays Code wildly misunderstands the impact of both, and the industries they are a part of (then and now). The Hays Code was always far more nuanced, for example, and was something that pushed increasingly interesting methods of talking around the issues - see screwball comedies vs romantic comedies, in terms of what the restrictions meant in terms of how women were portrayed, and how damn good the dialogue was, and what it became once you could get some titties on screen.

Comic Code was a different beast, in terms of intent, relationship with creators, longevity, and what it meant to the content created to have those restrictions.

Some of the best film, best dialogue, best acting came during the height of the Hays Code. Films that still dealt with social issues with nuance, care, and precision. I don't know how much of the same creative work arounds apply to comics under their code.
posted by geek anachronism at 8:15 PM on February 12 [1 favorite]


I don’t want to derail, but I feel like someone should point out that Japanese and French comics and graphic novels are huge industries and what you would find reprinted in vintage issues of Heavy Metal is, uh, not representative of what bandes desinees or manga have been able to accomplish as literature.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 8:34 PM on February 12 [5 favorites]


I finished reading Jill Lapore's biography of William Moulton Marston, "The Secret History Of Wonder Woman," and egypturnash has it right. After Marston's death in 1947, DC scaled back the BDSM/feminist atmosphere around Wonder Woman. I often wonder what would have happened if Marston had been alive when the CCA was being formulated.
posted by lhauser at 8:35 PM on February 12


I am always surprised when people start defending Wertham. He was not the only voice against comics (and violence and sex in American publications), but he is a prime example of the kind of parasite that attaches to these issues and keeps them going. Wertham began writing about violent children during WWII when he had an advisory post in New York City as a resident expert. Discovering that child violence drew an appreciative adult audience, he specialized. The US goes through recrimination and anti-violence after every major war; the post-WWII reaction (headed by folk like Gershon Legman and aimed at books such as Mickey Spillane novels) ended with Korea. But when that war ground to a halt, Wertham was right there to take on comic books. Later, in the 60s, he attacked television. He wasn't active in the video game and rock music censorship battles that came after. Wertham was astonished when comics fans, now grown, expressed how much they disliked him. He never understood how upsetting it was to be labelled as a juvenile problem because you read comics. He never accepted that the children he was writing about were people. And that attitude was demonstrated, for example, by the testimony he gave in the trial of Robert Peebles, a black teen-ager who was accused of murder. (IMO: the kid didn't do it; it was another tenant in the building, but...) Peebles had been interviewed ("treated") by Wertham, who showed no sign of honoring any kind of doctor-patient relationship. On the stand, he turned this kid into a violent criminal and talked about comic books. Aside from doctoring his research findings and giving over to BS that made him famous, he treated his patients like dirt -- after all, they were poor urban blacks, where else could they go?
posted by CCBC at 8:50 PM on February 12 [2 favorites]


FTFY

My mistake - and a pretty idiotic one at that. Apologies.
posted by Paul Slade at 11:57 PM on February 12


I came here to say exactly what moonlight on vermont said. Seriously, if you're basing the entire creative output of two of the largest markets for comics on a single magazine's choice of material to fill its' pages, especially a magazine with such a narrow demographic, you're going to get a skewed view no matter what the magazine was.

Oh, and back on topic, in the words of the wonderful Cartoonist Kayfabe, "Frederic Wertham can eat a @*#!"
posted by ninthart at 2:07 AM on February 13


I am always surprised when people start defending Wertham.

It is not so much defending Wertham as noticing he was used as a stalking horse for the big comics publishers of the day to get rid of the competition, most controversially EC comics with its very succesful horror/crime line.

Wertham and the CCA supposedly nobbling US comics is a nice excuse for the industry's own failings but doesn't really hold up. The direct cause of the fifties bust was simply the collapse of the independent distributors network which supplied comics to the newsstands, while in the longer term it was the inabilitity for comics to stay profitable on these newsstands that lead to the almost collapse of the industry in the late seventies. Comics stayed cheap and dropped pages all the way from the forties to the seventies, leaving little profit per issue but making up for it in volume; as inflation ran rampant that trick became harder to pull off.

It was only the rise of the comic shop and direct market that saved comics. For a while. Because the direct market meant that now the shop was on the hook for unsold issues, not the publisher or distributor. Which worked well as long as there were enough readers for the books the shop bought, not so well once the speculators got involved. Marvel and DC encouraging this behaviour by releasing "collector editions" and "variant covers" to the point that X-Men #1 'sold' eight million copies when the regular series sold 300,000 copies and many of them hoarded by collectors already.

So we had the black and white bust (where everybody was trying to get their hands on the next Cerebus or Turtles) in the mid eighties which shouldve been a warning, but then Marvel & DC tried to flood the market in the early nineties, Valiant and Image happened and now everybody wanted their own superhero universe and then readers said naah and it all collapsed.

And on the meantime Marvel thought it wanted to be a vertical monopoly, bought the 3rd largest distributor in the market, found out it had no clue how to run it, but managed to bankrupt itself as well as the 2nd largest distributor and left Diamond (1st) as the sole one for the direct market....

Soooo some 1000 or so comic shops were lost, DC/Marvel got increasingly conservative and focused on a slowly dying out pool of aging fanboys but nobody cared because hey, every new Marvel movie made a billion dollars anyway.

Meanwhile manga publishers as well as imprints like First Second aimed at proper bookstores, sold millions of $10-15books there rather than a few thousand of $3-5 dollar floppies in comic stories and are largely ignored by the ever insular comics industry as not really comics.

But Wertham did it.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:09 AM on February 13 [9 favorites]


The comics industry boom and bust history is not the issue, rather the article(s) claim that comics as a form was crippled in the US. Besides Heavy Metal/Metal Hurlant, there was a lot of very interesting stuff printed in other countries. American artists had to be underground for a while.
posted by CCBC at 4:44 AM on February 13


American artists had to be underground for a while.

Honestly, I don't see much difference between the American "underground" market (which was very much a business in of itself) and things like the Japanese dojinshi market. Again, to take one example made in the Vox piece - did romance comics die off because of the Code, or because the industry chased off the people - women - who made up the primary readership for it. Given a) the longevity of series like Mary Worth in newspaper syndication, b) the incredible success of shojo and seinen manga both in Japan and the world, and c) the rank misogyny that has infested the American comics community for decades - my money's on the latter.
posted by NoxAeternum at 6:14 AM on February 13


what you would find reprinted in vintage issues of Heavy Metal is, uh, not representative of what bandes desinees or manga have been able to accomplish as literature.

They may not be what you'd want to represent Eurocomix with, just as, if someone asked me to recommend some American comics, there's a lot of things that I'd pull off my shelf before I'd get around to your average superhero comic. But Serpieri and Manara are hardly obscure, fringey cartoonists. (I could also toss Enki Bilal in there, since the Nikopol books--and Immortel, the movie adaptation of them, is very much of the mode that I was talking about above. For that matter, Luc Besson's very Eurocomixy The Fifth Element, while being about 1000% the movie that Immortel tried to be and failed, and maybe not coincidentally was vastly less fanservicey, does have a very brief scene where Leeloo strips down.)

I mean, I know that there's better European and Japanese comics out there. But this very easy stereotype of European/Japanese comics being always innately superior because they didn't have a Wertham ignores some of the really incredible work being done in the States despite the ongoing domination of the Big Two (although it's really questionable as to whether they're even that dominant any more; AFAIK, the best-selling graphic novelist in America now is Raina Telgemeier.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:03 AM on February 13 [2 favorites]


But this very easy stereotype of European/Japanese comics being always innately superior because they didn't have a Wertham

But no one here or in the articles ever said that. Your and other comments here insinuating this, or talking about the boom and bust cycle of American comics, are orthogonal to the simple point that these other markets didn't have the kind of restrictions that the American market.

It's not that everything non-American was great and everything American suuuucked, it's that creators in other markets were able to make choices and strive for artistic expression denied to mainstream US creators. That's not to say that Japanese or European markets didn't have their own cultural/legal restrictions, or that every work from these places is unvarnished perfect genius. 90% of everything is crap, but they were allowed to make things without the restrictions America had.

So all this discussion of the American market cycles and WELL ACTUALLY other places have bad comics too is...so? It's a simple fact that the American industry was hobbled in ways the industry in other markets weren't. Entire genres were strangled whereas they were able to continue to develop and flourish elsewhere.
posted by the legendary esquilax at 8:50 AM on February 13 [3 favorites]


I also don't buy the theory that the industry went Oops All Superheroes because they were a "safe" way to work within the Code - you saw superheroes become the "rock stars" of the industry in the Golden Age, and it would be no surprise that they would be a go to staple in the Silver Age
NoxAeternum

But this is wrong. Superhero comics were the "rock stars" of the early "Golden Age", but actually went on the decline by the late 40s as the industry diversified with war, Western, science fiction, romance, crime, and horror comics. They were already waning long before Wertham and the CCA. Going into the 50s, for example, romance comics were the big top sellers, moving many millions of issues a month. It was not clear or inevitable at all that superheroes would continue to dominate the market in the US pre-CCA, let alone be essentially the only genre of mainstream US comics.

Given a) the longevity of series like Mary Worth in newspaper syndication, b) the incredible success of shojo and seinen manga both in Japan and the world, and c) the rank misogyny that has infested the American comics community for decades

Again, you have this backwards. The CCA led to romance publishers self-censoring content, leading to bland and childishly innocent content that reinforced traditional gender roles, sexuality, and marriage, because that's that what the CCA (and the wider cultural forces behind it), required. Mary Worth is exactly the kind of bland pap that resulted, just as Beetle Bailey and the rest of newspaper comic mainstays aren't exactly on the radical cutting edge pushing the boundaries of the medium. Meanwhile, as you note, in places like Japan where content was not strangled by this censorship, romance shoujo and josei comics continued to be mega-popular. But that's evidence for the influence of the CCA on American comics, not against it. People wanted to read good romance comics in the US, just as they do elsewhere, they just couldn't, at least not in the mainstream.
posted by the legendary esquilax at 9:00 AM on February 13 [2 favorites]


Honestly, I don't see much difference between the American "underground" market (which was very much a business in of itself) and things like the Japanese dojinshi market.

One major difference is that doujinshi isn't and never was, well, underground. At least since the 70s it's always had a symbiotic relationhsip with the pro industry. Comiket, the mega doujinshi convention, is a major component of the Japanese manga world. These aren't creators struggling outside in the fringes of the mainstream like in the US. It's true that one reason people make doujinshi is to work outside the commercial demands of the mainstream manga publishers, but it's also a major pipeline and well-worn path for creators to the mainstream for up-and-coming manga creators.

It's just a completely different beast than underground comics in the US.
posted by the legendary esquilax at 9:06 AM on February 13 [1 favorite]


The comics industry boom and bust history is not the issue, rather the article(s) claim that comics as a form was crippled in the US.

Like I said, it was the American comics industry that crippled the American comics industry far more than Wertham could ever do. And that includes "comics as a form", whatever that means.

Case in point: the idea that the US was somehow unique with Wertham and the CCA doesn't hold water, as censorship in both France and Japan was as strong if not stronger in comics in the same period the CCA was first formed. Comics as a moral panic was a world wide phenomenon in the fifties.

So why did both manga and B.D. flourish in the decades afterwards in ways that eclipsed the US's silver age comics boom? That's on the industry.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:42 PM on February 13 [2 favorites]


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