The longest thing I've read in the last few weeks that could even resemble a book is a graphic novel checked out from the library. I wouldn't be surprised if I've completely forgotten how to read if the text isn't in word balloon form. But when I decided to actually read a book, the library only had one copy of the one I was looking for and it was in audio form. And that book was about comic books. Bonjour, Monsieur Cercle Vicieux.
Fortunately, the book(CD) is incredibly good. The Ten-Cent Plague narrates the controversy-plagued history of comic books between when Captain America punched Hitler to Stan Lee taking credit for inventing every superhero in the 60's. Caped heroes comics weren't selling too well back then so the publishers relied on true crime stories, fake crime stories, stories about reanimated corpses and other things coming from swamps, high school romance, cowboys, jungle queens and all of the above on the moon or somewhere else in space.
The problems arose in the late 40's after some community do-gooders started to notice the severed heads, rotting flesh and general misogyny on the covers of the crime and horror books. Comic book burnings became all the rage in some small rural towns and even some of the larger cities drafted legislation concerning their distribution and sales. Senate subcommittee investigations were held. It all came to a head in the mid-50s and the negative attention forced the most popular books (in terms of sales) out of production.
While important to the comic book industry, this culture skirmish gets lost behind the other major battles being fought around the same time. The Congressionally led communism, juvenile delinquency and organized crime investigations all occurred within two years of the comics scare and draw more attention in the history books. But it did lead directly to the Comics Code Authority and caused the immediate scrubbing and near destruction of the industry. For example: Scenes dealing with, or instruments associated with walking dead, torture, vampires and vampirism, ghouls, cannibalism, and werewolfism are prohibited. (Yeah! All but the walking dead comics are kinda lame) or Females shall be drawn realistically without exaggeration of any physical qualities. (Booo! Where are young boys going to develop their unrealistic expectations of the female form?)
The CCA’s restrictions were so stringent that they pretty drove the industry’s top publisher out of business. And there was little wiggle room for other editors to maneuver. Either they eliminated “all scenes of horror, excessive bloodshed, gory or gruesome crimes, depravity, lust, sadism, masochism” or the books went unpublished. That was pretty much everything popular outside of Archie and talking animals.
The book touches on how the Comics Code Authority differed from the other self-regulating organizations established by the entertainment industry around the same time. For instance, the movie industry’s Hays Code had the same restrictions but the Hollywood writers were deft enough to get the message past the censors. In fact, it forced a whole generation of scriptwriters to develop a visual medium based on allusion and imagery. In the mid-50’s, writers and artists in the comic horror and crime industry could not achieve that sort of finesse. The industry collapsed.
I “read” most of this book at the beach last week during a reunion of the Iowan side of the family. Early one evening, I was treated to a concert by my cousin’s four-year old daughter. (That’s my other cousin on guitar playing an unrelated song by 311 or whatever other shitty band he’s into right now.) It went a little something like this…
I was casually aware that there was a song floating around the Top 40 about a barsexual kiss between two girls. I did not know it was the #1 song for some 1000 straight weeks. Huh.
Creating a CCA-like censorship board that would cleans the lyrics of Clear Channel pop songs is probably a bad idea. But, man, I wish there was some way to force some subtlety into the songs available to our nations four year olds.