William Gaines was the publisher of EC Comics — the only comic book in the 1950s that I liked. (I’m not that old; in the late-1970s, the comics were reprinted and better than any of the mainstream comics of the day.)
As we face every generation, there was outrage over how comics in general and EC, in particular, were “destroying the youth of today. You would think we would learn but we never do. There are always people of a conservative bent (I’m not particularly talking about politics here, but these do tend to be politically conservative) who think that because they don’t like something it must be stopped — usually in the name of protecting “the children.”
At the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency hearing (1954), Gaines’ opening statement was:
What are we afraid of? Are we afraid of our own children? Do we forget that they are citizens, too, and entitled to select what to read or do? Do we think our children are so evil, so simple-minded, that it takes a story of murder to set them to murder, a story of robbery to set them to robbery? Jimmy Walker once remarked that he never knew a girl to be ruined by a book. Nobody has ever been ruined by a comic.
The Comics Code
The Comics Code Authority (CCA), which Gaines had the original idea for, would be taken over by conservatives who would do more than just censored basically anything worth reading. At least once the CCA tried to censor an EC title for a purely racist reason. Eventually published as Incredible Science Fiction #33, it was about an astronaut who visits a planet that is home to two “races.” At the end of the story, the astronaut decides that the planet won’t be entered into the federation type organization that he represents because of the planet’s racism. Then he takes off his helmet to reveal that he is black.
It was only allowed to be published because Gaines threatened to go public with the information that the administrator of the Comics Code, 40-year-old Charles Murphy, was a bigot. It was published Feb 1956. Sadly, it was the last comic that EC published.
Note how crazy this is! The elite, white, self-appointed defenders of morality weren’t concerned about the explicit racism and terrorism against African Americans. They were worried about comic books destroying Jack and Jill. And those comic books were my first introduction to Edgar Allan Poe, H P Lovecraft, and even Oscar Wilde (although not directly).
The only title that lived on was Mad. But it was converted to a magazine to remove it from the strictures of the CCA. That’s right: even Mad Magazine was too much for these Very Concerned Citizens.
The CCA Gets “Liberal”
Over time, of course, the Comics Code updated what was acceptable in comic books. I remember a full-page image in one Marvel title from around 1976 that was truly destressing. It was the picture of a man who was in a motorcycle accident and slid 50 feet on his face.
The fact that they had to do that shows that none of this was ever about protecting kids or any concern about morality.
Indeed, the reason the Code changed over time was to maintain its power. So it came as no surprise in early 2011, it died when even Archie Comics stopped using the Code. Of course, it had been decades since it had been relevant anyway.
Target: the Most Edifying Comic Books of the 1950s
The truth is that the purpose of the CCA was always singular and short-term: to put EC Comics out of business. Sure, there were other publishers that the Titans of Morality hated. And obviously, removing people of color and sexy women was great. But that was all icing. Making an example out of Gaines was always its purpose.
But these kinds of people never go away. It’s impossible for them to learn. Indeed, if they got their way and moved society back to 1980, they would immediately start working to set it back to 1940. And so on. That’s because they have an insatiable need to control others. It isn’t enough for them to live by their own morality. They have to push it on others.
Of course, the racist Charles Murphy and the CCA are dead. Meanwhile, those old EC Comics are as good as ever.