Interestingly, in light of the recent discussion about hyper political correctness on GMG, Wednesday an interview aired on NPR with Paul Levitz, former DC Comics president and author of the new book The Golden Age of DC Comics. He spoke about the Great Comic Book Scare, and how censorship of comic books stifled the creativity of the authors and artists for nearly 20 years. Through the 1930s-1940s comic books were often thought to be violent, weird, and scary. American psychologist and morality crusader Fredric Wertham led the charge in censoring comics with his book Seduction of the Innocent, published in 1954. One particular noteworthy claim of Wertham’s is that Wonder Woman’s strength and independence made her a lesbian.
Wertham blamed comics for causing maladjusted and juvenile delinquents (sound familiar to video gamers?). The movement to censor comics grew and soon schools were holding comic book burnings, distributors refused to sell comic books, and senate subcommittee hearings were held. Subsequently 75% of the comic book publishers were forced out of business. In order to appease the morality police and stay in business, the remaining comic book publishers formed the self-regulating Comics Code Authority. The use of words such as “horror,” “ zombie,” and “terror” were banned.
Both my kids loved from a very young age (and still do) the comic albums by Hergé, The Adventures of Tin Tin (published 1929-1976). I worried about the salty and perpetually drunk Captain Haddock, racial stereotypes, and colonialism. On the other hand, Hergé’s drawings are exquisite, the characters utterly engaging, and around-the-world adventures well researched and exciting. We explained to our kids that The Adventures of Tin Tin were written in the spirit of the time.
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