A study that explores the history of comic book censorship
For the past forty years the content of
comic books has been governed by an industry
self-regulatory code adopted by publishers in 1954 in
response to public and governmental pressure.
This book examines why comic books were the
subject of controversy, beginning with objections that
surfaced shortly after the introduction of modern comic
books in the mid-1930s, when parents and teachers accused
comic books of contaminating children's culture and
luring children away from more appropriate reading
It traces how, in the years following World
War II, the criticism of comic books shifted to their
content, and the reading of comic books became linked
with the rise of juvenile delinquency. This resulted in
attempts at the local, state, and national level to ban
or license comic book sales.
A major figure in the crusade against comic
books was the psychiatrist Dr. Fredric Wertham. While he
played a significant role in the postwar attack on
comics, his accusations against the comic book industry
have been misunderstood by comic book fans and media
scholars alike. They have accused him of being a naive
social scientist who saw direct causal links between the
reading of comic books and delinquency. In fact, Seal of
Approval shows that Wertham's work is much better
understood in the intellectual tradition of media
criticism of the Frankfurt school and their critique of
The negative publicity aroused by the
controversy, coupled with fears that the government would
pass censorship legislation, led publishers to adopt the
self-regulatory code. It has been changed only twice,
once in 1971 and again in 1989.
The legacy of the comics code is that it
continues to define the comic book medium as essentially
juvenile literature. While the code offers protection
against those who attack the media (and not just comic
books), it also reaffirms the public perception of comic
books as children's fare. As a result, the comic book has
yet to achieve legitimation as a unique form of
expression that blends words and pictures in a way that
no other medium can duplicate.
In tracing the evolution of the controversy
and the resulting code Seal of Approval examines
important issues about children, media effects, and
censorship. It is the first booklength scholarly study of
this period of comic book history.
Amy Kiste Nyberg is a professor in the Department of
Communication at Seton Hall University.