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History of Comic Book Censorship

A Short Timeline

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Comic books are often considered a children's medium, which gives would-be government censors far more political capital than they would otherwise have.

1940

Sterling North condemns the content of crime and horror comics in the Chicago Daily News, writing that:
...[V]irtually every child in America is reading color "comic" magazines—a poisonous mushroom growth of the last two years. Ten million copies of these sex-horror serials are sold every month. One million dollars are taken from the pockets of America's children in exchange for graphic insanity ... [T]he effects of these pulp-paper nightmares is that of a violent stimulant ... Unless we want a coming generation even more ferocious than the present one, parents and teachers throughout America must band together to break the "comic" magazine.
North's strong words reflect growing national concerns about the content of comic books, and trigger a 15-year national effort to regulate them.

1948

As of 1948, New York Law 1141 states that any
person ... who [p]rints, utters, publishes, sells, lends, gives away, distributes or shows, or has in his possession with intent to sell, lend, give away, distribute or show, or otherwise offers for sale, loan, gift, or distribution, any book, pamphlet, magazine, newspaper or other printed paper devoted to the publication, and principally made up of criminal news, police reports, or accounts of criminal deeds, or pictures, or stories of deeds of bloodshed, lust, or crime; is guilty of a misdemeanor...
The U.S. Supreme Court overturns the law on First Amendment grounds in Winters v. New York, closing one of the few legislative loopholes that might have allowed local law enforcement officials to arrest and/or prosecute distributors of violent comics.

1949

Family Circle publishes the article "What Can YOU Do About Comic Books?," in which Harvey Zorbaugh and Mildred Gilman suggest that greater parental involvement, and not government regulation, is the most effective answer to the public controversy surrounding crime and horror comics. "You may take your choice in the current controversy," the article argues, "but one thing you must reconcile yourself to—the comics are here to stay."

1950

The New York Joint Legislative Committee to Study the Publication of Comics publishes the first of three reports claiming a link between crime comics and juvenile delinquency.

1953

Following New York's lead, the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency begins to suggest a link between controversial comic books and juvenile delinquency. A year later, it will dedicate two months of hearings to the issue.

1954

Frederic Wertham's Seduction of the Innocent, which suggests that comic books are corrupting the minds of youth, is published. Typical of Wertham's approach to comic books is the claim that the relationship between Batman and his teenage sidekick, Robin, promotes homosexuality.

In response to the national controversy, the comic book industry voluntary adopts the Comics Code Authority—essentially, comic publishers' answer to the film industry's Hays Code—as a way to regulate content and discourage government censorship. This strategy protects major comic book publishers, but leaves underground and independent publishers vulnerable to local prosecution.

1986

Michael Correa, manager of Friendly Frank's in Lansing, Illinois, is arrested on obscenity charges for selling controversial underground comics, including the award-winning Omaha the Cat Dancer (1984-1993). The charges are overturned in 1989.

1990

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund is founded using surplus donations from Michael Correa's defense fund.

2000

Jesus Castillo, owner of Keith's Comics in Dallas, Texas, is arrested by local authorities for "selling obscene materials": Japanese hentai comics. Incredibly, the conviction is upheld by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals—in part because Keith's Comics is located across the street from an elementary school, suggesting that children are a large part of the store's audience. The Supreme Court declines to hear the case.

2001

Marvel Comics withdraws from the Comics Code Authority, establishing its own ratings system.

2011

DC Comics and Archie Comics withdraw from the Comics Code Authority, ending its influence. The Comic Books Legal Defense Fund purchases intellectual property rights to the CCA, including the logo.
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