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Good Grief! Another History of Comics? Part 5

Our epic journey through the rich history of comics continues. Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4 can be read here.

To Approve or Not to Approve

Comics Code Authority stamp of approval

After the devastating debacle of the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency the comic industry in the U.S. was backed into a corner. Publishers formed Comic Magazine Association of America, which instituted the Comics Code Authority, a list of what was acceptable or not before a comic was allowed to be distributed. The rules were strident and draconian, they relegated comics to the realm of children, destroying the industry for adult readers. Sanitized and denuded of any substance comics would take decades to bounce back.

EC Comics was wiped out after being at the top of the market. They went on to reformat Mad Magazine with issue #24, circumventing the Comics Code by publishing as a magazine outside the comics distribution. (Something Warren Publishing would do later when publishing Vampirella, Creepy, and Eerie.)

‘Ello, ‘Ello, ‘Ello!

Beano

In 1930’s Britain The Beano and The Dandy annuals were launched. Due to their irreverent and slapstick humor they were highly successful. The Beano is still in print today. They birthed several imitators.

In the 1950’s the same concerns and outcries about the influence comics were having on children. Mostly ascribed to American imports of horror and crime comics the outcry spread all the way to Parliament. Under the auspices of Geoffrey Fisher, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Major Gwilym Lloyd George, the Home Secretary and Minister of Welsh Affairs, and the National Union of Teachers, Parliament passed the Children and Young Persons (Harmful Publications) Act 1955.

The results were far more restrictive than the Comics Code Authority in the States. The act prohibited “any book, magazine or other like work which is of a kind likely to fall into the hands of children or young persons and consists wholly or mainly of stories told in pictures (with or without the addition of written matter), being stories portraying (a) the commission of crimes; or (b) acts of violence or cruelty; or (c) incidents of a repulsive or horrible nature; in such a way that the work as a whole would tend to corrupt a child or young person into whose hands it might fall.” In 1969 the Act was made permanent, and continues to be still on the books today, represented, for example, in the Royal Mail prohibition against mailing horror comics and the matrices used to print them. However, there have only been two convictions since 1955, and only less than 50 offenses.

In the 1950’s Eagle was published by Hulton Press. The most popular comic magazine for older aged boys it went on to spawn such imitators as TV Century 21, Look and Learn, and TV Comic. Boys adventure comics in general were still popular throughout the 50’s and 60’s. Such titles as Valiant and Tiger published by IPC saw new heroes become stars like Roy of the Rovers (eventually gaining his own title). Odhams Press was a company that printed new material but also reprinted Marvel Comics material in its Power Comics titles including Smash! and Fantastic. This boom would continue until declining sales in the 70’s.

Make Comics Not War, Man

Zap Comix

In the early 60’s the first underground comics were produced (not including the pornographic Tijuana Bibles of the 30’s and 40’s). These were small self produced comics for friends of the artists and reprinted in underground newspapers.

After 1967 underground comix (the change in spelling was to differentiate them from the mainstream and to emphasize their x-rated nature) began to flourish with the counterculture movement. The comix were in response to the dictatorial restrictions of the Comics Code and American suburban culture. They explored topics and themes of recreational drug use, politics, rock music, sexuality, sacrilege, taboos, and free love.

Robert Crumb, the most well-known underground comix art, said: “People forget that that [censorship] was what it was all about. That was why we did it. We didn’t have anybody standing over us saying ‘No, you can’t draw this’ or ‘You can’t show that’. We could do whatever we wanted.” The books were sold outside traditional distribution channels. They were sold in “head shops”, stores selling drug paraphernalia, independently.

Most of the underground artists were living in San Francisco, as well as the publishers Apex Novelties, San Francisco Comic Book Company, Rip Off Press, and Last Gasp with the Print Mint based in Berkeley. Then Robert Crumb self published Zap Comix #1. It was a financial success and began the mini boom of underground titles.

In the UK International Times and Oz, underground newspaper and magazine, reprinted American works but also created their own original works. Later the first UK comix was Cyclops. It was followed by Nasty Tales and cOZmic Comics.

The popularity of the undergrounds waned after 1975 but continued in various forms until the present. Their influence on alternative comics, independent comics, and subversive web comics, can’t be under-emphasised.

See You in the Funny Papers!

Peanuts, October 1950

While comic books were experiencing a rollercoaster ride of change and drama newspaper comic strips were quietly entertaining and endearing themselves to readers, and shrinking and shrinking and shrinking.

There was a time when individual comic strips would get an entire page on Sundays and the entire width of the newspaper page for the dailies. Comics like Little Nemo or Krazy Kat were weekly pieces of art. By the 1950’s these days were long past. October 2, 1950 nine newspapers saw the introduction of Peanuts, soon to be the most successful comic strip in history.

Peanuts early success was due to its sales feature for the syndicate’s sales reps. It was presented in a shorter format, could be reassembled in a square format. It set the future of newspaper comics.

The 50’s and 60’s and into the 70’s saw a minor silver age for comic strips. Along with Peanuts there was Beetle Bailey, Hi and Lois, Hägar the Horrible, Dennis the Menace, B.C., and Garfield.

Next time in part 6 we finish our romp of in this class on comics history. Be sure to read our own comics on the Stela app.

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