Monday 03rd August 2015,
Comic Booked

The Terrifying History of Horror Comics Censorship

Comic Booked Guest Writer 10/27/2011 Features, ZDONOTUSE

My favorite holiday, Halloween, is just around the corner.  This is the time of year that I like to watch The Nightmare Before Christmas, go on a horror film binge, scare the diaper-gravy out the neighborhood children (I’m joking), and of course, read horror comics.  I am always thankful that we can even read horror comics today.  At one point in the history or comics, the horror genre was essentially banned by the Comics Code Authority in the United States!

Seduction of the InnocentHorror comics have a much maligned history.  I am confident that if you are taking the time to read this article, that you likely know the story, but let us recount the tale, lest we ever forget.  At one point during the 40’s and 50’s, horror comics were insanely popular and represented a large percentage of total comic sales.  Then in 1954, the Comics Code Authority reared its ugly head, due to public concern that such comics were corrupting the youth of America.  Thanks in no small part to psychiatrist Fredric Wertham’s sensationalistic book, Seduction of the Innocent (just the title alone conjures up images of a seedy publisher luring children into a panel van with promises of comics and candy), fanning the (literal) flames of fear and censorship, the comic industry was about to begin a dark chapter in its history. 

comic book burningBook burnings, Senate inquires, pseudo-science, scapegoating, and backlash ruled the day.  Backed into a corner, the comic book industry agreed to form a self-regulating (censoring) body, the Comics Code Authority, to scrub comics of any content that could be deemed offensive, in an effort to save itself from potential dismantling.  “Excessive violence,” along with the popular werewolf, zombie, vampire, and supernatural stories would no longer be permitted in the brave new world of comic books under the CCA. 

EC Comics and other publishers suffered devastating financial losses.  Many publishers went under.  The ban on horror comics, no doubt, helped to usher in the proliferation of the superhero genre, as well as the shorter lived cowboy and romance titles of the period.

Comics Code Authority seal and propaganda

In the end it proved to be impossible to drive a stake through the heart of the beloved horror genre and free speech.  Horror comics started to reappear in underground comics quite a bit during the late 60’s.  In 1971 the Comics Code Authority was finally relaxed, and the floodgates opened with characters that remain well known even today, such as Blade and Ghost Rider.  The industry continued to evolve, and thankfully today we are able to create or read comics about whatever we wish (for now).

Blade art


So enjoy your Halloween!  Read some horror comics to get into the spirit of the holiday.  As you’re getting your fill of gore, monsters, and mayhem, remember this: some things (like censorship) are more terrifying than any monster could ever be.  Here’s to the persistence of horror comics and free speech!  Be sure to check out Comic Booked for all manner of horror and Halloween comic coverage this spooktacular holiday season, including some upcoming horror comic recommendations from yours truly.  Thank you for reading.  Happy trick-or-treating!

No Comics Code Authority

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While the writer of this article may not be a part of our official writing staff, we hold them in the highest regard and felt that they should be published here for your reading pleasure! If you are interested in writing an article (or a series of articles) for Comic Booked as a Guest Writer, please contact us. [email protected]

  1. Kyle J. Kaczmarczyk 10/27/2011 at 7:09 pm

    Great little article. Anyone interested in learning more about this ought to check out the book The Ten Cent Plague by David Hajdu.

  2. James Victor Von Hal 10/27/2011 at 8:35 pm

    William Gaines didn't go out without a fight though, he stuck to his guns. Most other publishers threw him to the wolves.

  3. Skott of Fables 10/28/2011 at 12:03 am

    Ironically it was Gaines who came up with the concept for the Code. His only mistake was in thinking the industry would actually circle the wagons and protect their own. Instead the industry was very competitive and the demise of any other publisher was seen as good. The original Code was, more or less, specifically designed to kill EC which was enjoying sales that rivaled DC's Superman comics.

    With such restrictions as the banning of the words "Terror" "Horror" and "Crime" being prominently featured on the covers of comics there was no way EC line of titles with names like The Vault Of Horror and Crime SuspenStories would survive.

    With the specifics on how authority figures were to be portrayed the EC Preachies would not survive as would the bulk of the sort of stories featured in titles like Shock SuspenStories.

    It was the man behind EC who wanted the Code to protect the whole industry but it was turned against him because he had found a successful formula. I don't fault the other publishers, however, in those days the mindset was different. But in the end, Gaines won out. The EC's have outlasted the Code in reprints and collections that introduce new generations to the pure sequential perfection that were… Entertaining Comics.

    (Sorry for the long post, I simply love EC and I take any and all chances to talk about them)

  4. Robb Orr 10/28/2011 at 4:28 pm

    No appologies needed! I find this period of comics history absolutely fascinating.

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