In 1886 Yellow Kid became the first comic strip to appear in a newspaper. The public gave it that name when the newspaper, World, tested its new yellow ink by printing it on the image of the Kid’s clothing in the comic strip. Comic books soon developed from comic strips. The first collection of strips was published in 1897 in a magazine called Yellow Kid Magazine. In 1933 the first comic book, rather than a collection of newspaper strips, appeared. The boom of comic book publishing began with New Comics, Fun Comics, Popular Comics, and Famous Funnies. More than 150 titles were published in 1940 and more than 200 million copies sold.
In 1948 Time magazine described how several copycat crimes were committed by children who had read crime comics. Crime comics were implicated in influencing juveniles to commit burglary, a hanging, and a murder by poisoning. In the same year Dr. Frederic Wertham, a senior psychiatrist for the New York Department of Hospitals, headed a symposium, The Psychopathology of Comic Books. Wertham concluded that comic books glorified crime and violence, and he found them to be “abnormally sexually aggressive.” Additionally, an ABC radio broadcast, “What’s Wrong with Comics?” was one of the many factors that influenced the formation of citizen’s groups for regulating and in some cases banning of certain comic books from local newsstands. Some public schools joined in and even had comic book bonfires on school grounds.
In reaction to criticism of their comic books, publishers Bill Gaines, Leverett Gleason, and others formed the Association of Comics Magazine Publishers (ACMP) in July, 1948. The ACMP formed a code of standards for decency in comic books. Any comic book that met the standards could carry the ACMP stamp of approval. This attempt at self-regulation was not successful, however, because major publishers boycotted the ACMP. Smaller publishers who relied on blood and violence to sell their books were not interested in going out of business. The media and grassroots groups continued to criticize the industry. In 1949 Parents’ Magazine published the findings of the Cincinnati Committee on the Evaluation of Comic Books. It found that 70 percent of all comic books contained objectionable material, which included images ranging from sadistic torture to sexually suggestive and salacious actions.
In 1950 a U.S. Senate committee investigated the effects of violence in comic books in juvenile delinquency rates from 1945 to 1950. The results did not establish a clear connection between comic books and delinquency. The report reprimanded those comic books that glorified violence and that made some criminals into heroes. There were three central factors that contributed to censorship of comics. The first was Wertham, who published Seduction of the Innocent in 1954. This book describes the alleged negative consequences of reading comic books about crime, sex, and violence. Wertham’s book is generally regarded as a classic example of research based on anecdote rather than science. His conclusion was that abnormal and delinquent children read comic books; therefore, comic books caused aberrant behavior and delinquency. Public hearings were held by a Senate subcommittee regarding the harmful effects of comic books on children. Thirty- two bills introduced in sixteen state legislatures had a negative effect on sales of comic books to children. The second factor in comics censorship was the Code of the Comic Books Association. Its objective was to eliminate all traces of violence, crime, horror, and sex in comic books. Horror and crime comics dramatically decreased in quantity, Westerns became less violent, and romance lost its sexual overtones. The third factor was mothers in America. They were inspired by Wertham and encouraged by the code. Bridge clubs changed into committees pressuring news dealers into suppressing offensive material.
The Comics Code Authority seal of approval was first affixed on the covers of...
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