Oh, hello there comic fans! Now, I know I promised a blog dedicated to the wonders that is the Hawkeye Initiative, but I would be remiss if I didn’t write a blog related to Banned Books Week, which (as luck would have it) is this week. So allow me a moment to briefly relay some comic history, and I promise some levity at Hawkeye’s expense (or benefit?) can proceed next month.
I don’t think comic fans are at all foreign to the tired argument that comics are not literature. However, what many fans may be unaware of is the recent push by English scholars across the country to change this perception. Libraries (both public and private university) are dedicating shelf space to comics and graphic novels, while folklorists are recognizing the legitimacy of comics as an American cultural artifact. Heck, teachers are even assigning them in classrooms now because they believe comics engage students on a more sophisticated level by illustrating words in conjunction with visuals elements. With such a dramatic changes taking place in the academic field, one begins to wonder why comics were written off in the first place. And I believe I might have an answer.
Shortly after the Golden Age of Comics and just prior to the Silver Age, comics underwent extensive scrutiny. German psychiatrist, Fredric Wertham, strongly believed that comics were harming the mental development of young children during the 1950s. He did not believe that the reading material did not provide enough stimulus, rather he felt it provided too much! In his book Seduction of the Innocent, released in 1954, he explains how comics promote violence, hyper-sexuality, homosexuality, and even pedophilia through subversive and subliminal means. The grotesque scenes depicted in the EC comic Tales From the Crypt, and the potentially homosexual and pedophiliac relationship between Batman and Robin was enough to throw considered parents in a tizzy.
Comics began being burned at book burning rallies, and there was heavy discussion of banning comics altogether. This issue was brought to the Senate, where Wertham testified, and the Comics Code Authority was created. In order for a comic to be published, it had to be approved by the aforementioned board. To do that, comics needed to be less violent, less sexual, less profanity, less perversion, less crime, less horrifying, and so on. Essentially, comics needed to be less serious. This is not to say that only these elements can lead to great storytelling. Rather, such restrictions really impede complex storytelling options and create an ideology that children are too innocent to be introduced to such real life complications and troubles.
But more than anything, this censorship lead to the belief that comics were only for children, and therefore immature. Thank goodness that all changed! (Right?)
Over time, the Comic Code was rewritten and eventually abandoned. Comics are no longer banned from the public and are even being accepted into the scholastic community, creating an audience base that accepts all ages. And, slowly but surely, this audience base is attempting to be inclusive of all genders, races, sexual orientations, and so on. Whelp, enough of this history lesson, let us all enjoy this ridiculous commercial aired during this tumultuous time for comics!