The Comics Code Years

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The righteous right in the early '50s screamed louder than anyone else about the deterioration of youth and they put most of the blame on comic books. With the help of  psychologist Dr. Frederick Wertham, who, in his notorious book, Seduction of the Innocent, told America that every comic book panel contained sexual images that turned children's minds into those of criminals, perverts, and sadists. His book contains many examples of his "insight" into comic sex: extreme close-ups of a crease in a shirt that looks like a female crotch; the pencil that looks like an erect phallus; the shadow that looks like a couple making love (if you look at it upside down and through a magnifying glass).

As ridiculous as Wertham's arguments were, other more prominent psychologists were able to tell congressional hearings about case histories on young criminals and/or insane youth who read comic books once in a while. Therefore, these learned psycologists deduced that since they read comic books, the comic books influenced their acts. Congress, still on a roll with the McCarthy "witch hunts," and spurred on by the religious "majority" of the time, began talk of clamping down on the comic book industry.

The outcry frightened the comic book industry enough that, to curb the possibility of state or federal governments stepping in, they instituted their own code of comic book conduct. This Comics Code stated that all stories will be morally correct, all evil is defeated, and men and women never touch unless married. (Even Blondie and Dagwood had to have twin beds.) There will be no graphic violence, no sexual references, and no "adult" language. Most comic publishers were forced to adhere to the code, and to display the Comics Code Authority emblem on the cover, or face legal action. Several companies went out of business, and EC nearly did so too until they converted MAD from comic book to magazine format, which is the way it's still published today.

The stilted comics code years began in 1954 and continued until graphic story magazines and the underground comix industry entered the scene around 1965.

On the following pages are scanned covers from my collection with some historical notes and occasional insights into the artists and authors of the era.

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