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 www.crimeboss.com, 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.
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