Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi A Brief History of Comic Book Censorship

By Devin D. O'Leary

SEPTEMBER 8, 1998: 

The 1950s--Dr. Fredrick Wertham publishes his book Seduction of the Innocent, which purports that comic books cause juvenile delinquency. The U.S. Senate promptly holds hearings, and Sen. Estes Kefauver (fresh from his bloody battle against that other American scourge, the mob) takes up the cause. Within months, the Comics Code Authority, a rigid set of rules for industry self-censorship, is formed. As a result, industry giant EC Comics is all but driven out of business, canceling most of its ghoulish line including Vault of Horror and Tales From the Crypt. The books are considered classics today.


The 1960s/1970s--Dodging the Comics Code Authority, the underground comix movement sweeps across a hippie-era America. Led by edgy cartoonists like Robert Crumb, Gilbert Shelton and Robert Williams, the comix scene produces an acclaimed body of adult work. In New York, one of the more prominent underground titles, Zap No. 4, is prosecuted for obscenity. In 1973, after numerous appeals, the book is finally branded obscene and banned. Since then, most of the artists involved have gone on to achieve mainstream success--their work has even appeared in the Museum of Modern Art.


The 1980s--An outgrowth of the undergrounds, "alternative" comics like RAW, Love & Rockets and American Splendor become widely popular. Creators like Frank Miller and Alan Moore, meanwhile, are pushing the boundaries of mainstream "superhero" comics into more intelligent and mature territory than ever before. Religious and conservative leaders decry the trend. In 1986, Friendly Frank's, a comic book store in Lansing, Ill., is busted for selling "obscene" comics. The titles in question are Omaha the Cat Dancer, The Bodyssey, Weirdo and Bizarre Sex. The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund is founded to support the defense as it moves to appellate Court. The store's owner is acquitted of all charges.


The 1990s--Following the Friendly Frank's case, the CBLDF remains as an active watchdog organization. Prosecution of comic shops escalates. Two shops in Florida are busted. One is accused of selling the adult collection Cherry Anthology to an undercover officer. Charges are dropped. The other shop goes to court for selling a "mature" title--The Score, published by DC's Piranha Press--to a 14-year-old boy accompanied by his mother. The judge rules in favor of shop owner Bill Hatfield. In 1992, police raid Amazing Comics outside of San Diego, seizing 45 titles. No charges are filed. In 1997, after years of appeals, writer/artist Mike Diana is convicted on obscenity charges for his 'zine Boiled Angel. Later that year, two comic shop owners in Oklahoma plead guilty to trafficking in obscene material after two police raids turn up several "adult" comics being sold to adults.


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