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.