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From Dick Tracy to 'Crime Does Not Pay' — early crime comics packed a wallop

“Sin City” film is based on comics inspired by classic crime tales.
by Matthew Price Published: August 22, 2014

Hajdu writes that while there was plenty of blood and disturbing images, crime was not glamorized. The stories delved into the psychological mind of the criminal and explored the drama of his journey and his eventual capture. Dark Horse Comics currently is reprinting the “Crime Does Not Pay” comic series.

As World War II ended, the growing tension of the atomic age led to crime comics that became ever more graphic. Still, many comics in this era — now called “pre-Code” because of what followed — are among the most respected and reprinted, particularly those from EC Comics.

Crime comics push the envelope

The year 1948 saw a proliferation of crime comics, according to writer Nicky Wright at, a site about crime comics of the 1940s and 1950s. Multiple publishers jumped on the trend started by “Crime Does Not Pay.”

Although EC Comics were frequently among the best written and drawn comics on the stands, they also sometimes pushed the boundaries of good taste.

Comic books came under attack as crime and horror comics pushed the envelope to a growing readership. Some critics attacked comics for corrupting impressionable youths and promoting juvenile delinquency.

Psychiatrist Fredric Wertham excoriated comics as the cause of juvenile delinquency in his 1954 book “Seduction of the Innocent.” While later examinations have debunked many of Wertham’s conclusions, at the time it led to significant uproar in and around the comics industry. Reaction to the book led to several comic-book burnings across the country and a U.S. Senate investigation. The cover to EC’s “Crime SuspenStories” No. 22, featuring a woman’s severed head, was entered as evidence in the Senate subcommittee hearings on crime comics. The comic industry’s resulting self-censorship led to the Comics Code, which put almost all crime and horror comics away for decades.

Between the “Seduction of the Innocent” pallor and the competition from television, it would be the 1970s before crime comics made a significant comeback in the U.S., which I’ll cover in next week’s column.

by Matthew Price
Features Editor
Features Editor Matthew Price has worked for The Oklahoman since 2000. He’s a University of Oklahoma graduate who has also worked at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and was a Dow Jones Newspaper Fund intern for the Dallas Morning News. He’s...
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Check out this week’s review of “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” on page xx


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