1954 was a chilly year to be a Communist, a crackpot, or a comic book publisher all of whom were equally vilified.
Cold war temperatures had sunk to arctic levels, causing a frightened public into a hysteria worthy of a frenzied mob in some grade B horror movie.
When we weren’t looking under our beds for Communists, rooting out our closets for homosexuals, we were scouring our children’s bedrooms for comic books.
As much as crime, Communists and rock and roll were a plague on our society, there was one menace greater than then all.
More powerful than a locomotive, able to infiltrate children’s minds in a single bound…it was…comic books! Every child stood on the precipice of becoming a juvenile delinquent because of them.
Behind the innocence of the four-color printing was a darker depraved universe of plot-filled panels of vibrating pulsing cyan magenta yellow and black dots, lurking with lurid tales of sex, horror, murder and gore.
A thin dime bought you into a violent menacing crime-filled world of moral decay from which there was no return.
A national crusade against the “corrupting influence” of comic books was on the march including book burnings and protests. It reached fever pitch by 1954 culminating with a Senate hearing worthy of Joe McCarthy, led by that anti-crime crusader Estes Kefauver, and a crippling censorship of the comic book industry giving birth to the creation of a Comics Book Code.
Until the wholesome comics book code came to their rescue, every mid-century child was in grave danger of being forever morally corrupted …including me.
A Brave New World
1954 started with a bang and a boom.
Our arsenal of missiles was becoming as bloated as the ever-expanding bellies of the prodigious legion of pregnant women including my own mother Betty who by late spring would be pregnant with me.
Along with the birth of a boatload of baby boomers a bouncing new US Policy was born and they would grow up together. The proud Papa Secretary of State John Foster Dulles named his progeny Massive Retaliation leading to the doctrine nicknamed MAD, Mutually Assured Destruction.
Under the watchful eye of his rich Uncle Sam the policy would grow up big and strong.
What brave new world awaited me?
The world loomed large with the prospect of invasion on all fronts, undetected often disguised. Subversive Communists invading my country, unseen radioactivity from unseen bombs and most insidious of all – depraved comic books threatening to destroy the moral structure and our American way of life.
Together they would send a collective shiver down our Cold War spine
That year nothing struck the same terror as comic books. And for good reason- like a virulent virus, ghoulish, crime ridden comic books were attacking good clean wholesome American kids leading them astray and threatening to corrupt an entire generation.
It didn’t matter how rich or poor, corruption by comic books was the great American equalizer.
Innocent children were a dimes purchase away from juvenile delinquency, sexual perversion and mental illness.
The very nations well-being was at stake.
Comics were dangerous to a child’s health. A major menace to society of epidemic proportion was on the rise and needed to be stopped.
Calling All Doctors
It would take a doctor to cure the nation of this scourge His mission: intercept and render comic books inoperable.
Coming to our rescue was Dr. Fredric Wertham.a bespectacled German American psychiatrist who was certain that comic books were responsible for society’s ills.
The author of Seduction of the Innocent the best selling book published that year was a scathing indictment of horror and crime comics and its harmful effects on youth. The good doctor offered his grave diagnosis:
“Comic books themselves are a virus.”
He cited case after case of children committing crimes, murders and suicides after reading comic books. Not only that, but superheros were sending subliminal homosexual messages. “Batman and Robin were a wish dream of two homosexuals living together,” he claimed in his book.
A sad life of sexual perversion was right around the bend.
Comics destroyed one’s very moral fiber rendering you weak to resist, oh, say… communism.
With the same zeal others chased after Communists, Dr Wertham was convinced that hidden horrors were lurking in comic books.
For years, Wertham had alerted the public of the danger of comics books that had infiltrated our lives undetected.
And like communists who were hiding under the guise of good American citizens, comic books were hiding under the guise of harmless children’s literature.
Comic book writers and illustrators, he charged, were sneaky plotters carrying out covert actions in every continent, ready to subvert children into moral decay.
Just as Joseph McCarthy would liken Communists to a cancer cell, “…a monster gone berserk. Relentlessly increasing their numbers,” Dr Wertham explained how “cancerous comic books proceed to crowd out healthy minds.”
Who’s Mad Now?
And none were more evil, violent gory and horrific than EC Comics published by William Gaines, the future publisher of Mad Magazine, who would soon come under the hot glare of Dr. Wertham and the US Senate.
Comic books it was clear were no ordinary enemy and it was no ordinary struggle.
American mothers were mad! Who could save our children?
A panicked public called for action.
Next: Comic Book Tales From the Cold War Crypt PtII Censuring Comics
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© Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
A great read. 🙂
So glad you enjoyed it. Stay tuned for Part II
Looking forward to it. 🙂
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Even before 1954, my mother refused to let me read comic books at all — I had one, treasured, Donald Duck comic with Uncle Scrooge and Huey, Louie, and Dewey in a haunted house with skeletons, and I loved it and hid it at the bottom of my toybox! However, I did sneak into a local store to read comics on the newsstand — I was a very fast reader, perhaps because of the need to devour Superman comics “on the hoof.” And some of those “comics” were truly horrific, not images you want children to consider “normal.” I remember one cover with a man’s head being burst by a baseball bat, and his teeth flying out. Many grown men read comic books in the 1950’s — often people who read very slowly, while moving their lips. But the shelves in the stores might mingle the adult and kids’ comics, so they were all accessible and within reach of my 7 or 8 year-old self.
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There is no question that many of the comics at the time very very gory and not suitable for very young children who would be safer with the likes of Donald Duck. Lucky for me I would be born after the Comic Book Codes went into effect and could read all the wholesome comics to my heats delight!
Even before 1954, my mother refused to let me read comic books at all
Some time ago, I stumbled upon some wartime US “propaganda” posters, urging the US people to save this and that, to not have “loose lips” – and – a lot of posters warning especially soldiers on leave for VD. It seems, that about 95 percent of the blame fell on those “loose women” – who even was portrayed as agent saboteurs for the enemy! Unexpectedly – *the* Salvador Dali made one poster, and – would you believe – Donald Duck is on the verge of trisk getting VD! The texts on the posters are in the vein of “Juke joint sniper – syphilis and gonerrhea” – and the picture of a woman lighting a cigarette – out in the street!
One could be led to believe that the ladies in the bars was a greater danger than Tojo’s fanatical Banzaii soldiers and Hitler’s Waffen SS…
(You will turn up a fair amount, googling the search string [juke joint VD poster] )
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Thanks for sharing the information. Disney did contribute quite a bit to wartime public service ads, but it always is shocking to think of Donald Duck squawking about VD. Hope he was safe with Daisy Duck.
First the comic books, then Elvis Presley. My gosh, all these Satanic forces working to pollute our teenagers. What will come next? A Catholic President?
Yes, the country was clearly spiraling out of control!
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Have you done the pulp magazines yet? There are plenty of scantily dressed nazi or communist sadistic female jailers whipping muscular blonde men in torn shirts. 50 shades of pulp?