Comical Cleansing


Two resolutions designed to protect the housewife and mother were passed at the biennial conference of the Australian National Council of Women, which ended yesterday. They were:

That all State councils urge their Governments to pass identical legislation preventing the sale and publication of comic books and strips considered unsuitable for children by a censorship board. The grounds of censorship are to be Obscenity, undue emphasis on horror, glorification of crime, distortion of English language and spelling and drawing and painting detrimental to eyesight.

Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), Saturday 19 May 1951, page 8


In common with all other Ballarat public schools, St. Patrick’s College has banned “comics.” A strong denunciation of “comics” was made in the report of the Principal, Rev. Bro. Healy. The report said that most “comics” were vile in their sex appeal and others were objectionable because of their debased language. The Superman type, if not vicious, tended to lead youths into ‘a world of unreality’.

Southern Cross (Adelaide, SA : 1889 – 1954), Friday 9 January 1953, page 1

Censor comics?

An interstate conference of under-secretaries of Chief Secretaries’ departments decided in Sydney yesterday to recommend to their State Governments a censorship of comic strips and comic books. The conference saw lantern slides of strips claimed to be offensive. Many of the strips placed undue emphasis on violence and crime, according to those who saw the slides.

Censor comics? (1952, November 12). The Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 – 1954), p. 3

Cleanup on comics is coming

By a Staff Reporter

The State Government is preparing legislation to deal with the flood of trashy comics on bookstalls. Stronger police action is likely to seize virtually banning it from shops. It is estimated that more than a million comic books a month pass through Brisbane distributors’ hands for the Queensland market. Most of it is printed in Sydney.

The Queensland Government move is being made along with similar moves in other States. In Federal Parliament this week, Mr. H. G.J. Pearce (Lib, Capricornia) will suggest that the Federal Attorney-General confer with the States on uniform laws to deal with offensive books. This week, I checked on the class of comic books being carried in shops in Brisbane.

‘Toning-down’ noted

My impression was that the sex, crime and horror angles were not being stressed as much as they were a year ago. This suggests that the Australian comic-book industry is doing some cleaning-up on its own. One thing I noticed was the increasing number of prurient paperbacks coming in from New Zealand. But the vast majority of offending comics are American, or of American origin, but printed in Australia. Many of them are harmless, but many over-stress sex, crime, and horror angles.

Federal Customs Minister Senator O’Sullivan said in Brisbane yesterday that the Commonwealth could not ban the entry of comics into Australia, without opening all private mail.

Police could check

Many comics came out to Australia as films or photostats, carried in ordinary letters.

We have urged the States themselves to act, said Senator O’Sullivan. There is no reason why policemen should not have a check on the bookstalls, while they are putting chalk marks on parked cars.

Churches in Queensland — Catholic and non-Catholic — have been active in trying to get the bookstalls cleaned up. A ‘Committee for Decent Literature’ was formed recently at Toowoomba, where a public meeting sought a ban on imports of trashy comic books. With their usual political perspicacity, even the local Communists also are climbing on the band-waggon.

Sunday Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1926 – 1954), Sunday 6 September 1953, page 7

Judge Charles Murphy: Administrator; Comics Magazine Association of America

Psychiatrist Fredric Wertham’s 1954 book “Seduction of the Innocent” argued that much of the crime, sex and violence depicted in comic books was harmful to children and the topic was central to a US Senate Sub-Committee investigation of  ‘Juvenile Delinquency’ in the same year.

While the Sub-committee did not find that comic books caused delinquency, it suggested that the industry regulate itself. Hence, in 1954, the Comics Magazine Association of America was formed. The CMAA introduced a ‘Code’ as a form of comic industry ‘self regulation’. The Code required that…

  • Crimes shall never be presented in such a way as to create sympathy for the criminal, to promote distrust of the forces of law and justice, or to inspire others with a desire to imitate criminals.
  • If crime is depicted it shall be as a sordid and unpleasant activity.
  • Policemen, judges, government officials and respected institutions shall never be presented in such a way as to create disrespect for established authority.
  • Criminals shall not be presented so as to be rendered glamorous or to occupy a position which creates a desire for emulation.
  • In every instance good shall triumph over evil and the criminal punished for his misdeeds.
  • Scenes of excessive violence shall be prohibited. Scenes of brutal torture, excessive and unnecessary knife and gunplay, physical agony, gory and gruesome crime shall be eliminated.
  • No comic magazine shall use the words “horror” or “terror” in its title.
  • All scenes of horror, excessive bloodshed, gory or gruesome crimes, depravity, lust, sadism, masochism shall not be permitted.
  • All lurid, unsavory, gruesome illustrations shall be eliminated.
  • Inclusion of stories dealing with evil shall be used or shall be published only where the intent is to illustrate a moral issue and in no case shall evil be presented alluringly, nor so as to injure the sensibilities of the reader.
  • Scenes dealing with, or instruments associated with walking dead, torture, vampires and vampirism, ghouls, cannibalism, and werewolfism are prohibited.
  • Profanity, obscenity, smut, vulgarity, or words or symbols which have acquired undesirable meanings are forbidden.
  • Nudity in any form is prohibited, as is indecent or undue exposure.
  • Suggestive and salacious illustration or suggestive posture is unacceptable.
  • Females shall be drawn realistically without exaggeration of any physical qualities.
  • Illicit sex relations are neither to be hinted at nor portrayed. Rape scenes as well as sexual abnormalities are unacceptable.
  • Seduction and rape shall never be shown or suggested.
  • Sex perversion or any inference to same is strictly forbidden.
  • Nudity with meretricious purpose and salacious postures shall not be permitted in the advertising of any product; clothed figures shall never be presented in such a way as to be offensive or contrary to good taste or morals.

[Ed: So THERE!! Take that comic books! My emphases in red above.]

Comics and the innocent

The issue is not simply that comic-book superfolk exploit improbability and far-fetched magic to achieve authoritarian ends or that they justify repulsive crimes on the flimsy basis of high-spirited adventure. What they demonstrate clearly and repeatedly is that the real guilt lies in getting caught. To those who would point out that sundry nursery rhymes – for example, Little Miss Muffet (a horror story), Three Blind Mice, (sadism), and Ten Little Nigger Boys (colour prejudice) and assorted tales by the brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen are not calculated to bestow great moral benefit on youngsters, Dr. Wertham comes back with a sharp retort.

Are there heroin addicts in Grimm? he asks. Marihuana smokers in Andersen or dope peddlars in Mother Goose? And are there advertisements for guns and knives?

In any case, he argues, the classic fairy-tales were written for literates. His view of most comic books is that they represent a “retooling for illiteracy.” They can be “read” almost without any understanding of words at all. Such vocabulary as they use is limited; conventions of grammar and spelling are torn to shreds; invented “words” thrive like rank weeds. From one comic book alone, Dr. Wertham extracted the following (among others):


COMICS AND THE INNOCENT (1954, November 13). The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), p. 6

[PS: Both a 2001 and 2010 study demonstrated that Frederic Wertham  fabricated, falsified and exaggerated evidence printed in “Seduction of the Innocent”.]

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