Attracting Mature Readers
By Peter W. Y. Lee
Among the 1954 Comics Magazine Association of America’s Comic Code’s many regulations was a directive to company admen: “Liquor and tobacco advertising is not acceptable” (Nyberg 168). The ubiquity of alcohol in mainstream media certainly concerned social guardians in post-war America (Rotskoff). However, liquor manufacturers did not solicit to minors in the comics, but another demographic group: their parents.
The first part of my article looked at how Lev Gleason Publications responded to the public alarm over comic books. Gleason and his chief editor, Charles Biro, pushed comics as a progressive medium with educational and artistic merit. This second part explores their second strategy: courting adults. Gleason hoped that an expanded readership would bolster support and offset rising production costs. However, critics rejected comic books’ potential beyond that of disposable children’s entertainment. The Comics Code sanitised comic books and stigmatised readers beyond middle-school age.
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Tags: Abraham Lincoln, adult readership, Alan Valentine, Amazing Adult Fantasy, anticrime comic magazines, Association of Comic Magazine Publishers, Atlas, Boy Comics, Charles Biro, comics code, comics industry, crime comic books, Crime Does Not Pay, Dell Comics, economics, education, educational comics, Frederic Wertham, Fredric Wertham, Great Depression, Henry E. Schultz, History, juvenile delinquency, Lev Gleason, Lev Gleason Publications, mature readers, Mortimer Smith, pre-code, sexual imagery, social progressivism, St. John Publishing, superheroes, USA, violence, WWII
Countering Critics through Social Reform and Education
by Peter W. Y. Lee
The 1954 Comics Code was intended to protect children by curtailing comic book content that contributed to juvenile delinquency. However, historians have pointed to how overzealous red-baiters wielded the Code to attack the industry as a figurative whipping boy for Cold War anxiety (J. Gilbert, Nyberg, Wright, Hajdu). EC Comics stands out, noted for its “New Trend” of social criticism, horror and crime in severed jugular veins that provoked readers (Whitted). Scholars have pointed to EC’s publisher and editor William Gaines’s testimony before the Senate Subcommittee’s hearing on juvenile delinquency as a show trial of sorts, in which Gaines had hoped to counter the criticism levied against his company, but caved in shortly afterwards instead. But Gaines was not the first to defend the industry, nor was EC representative of many publishers flooding the market. By looking at different titles, scholars can gain a greater appreciation of how other creators negotiated the post-war public role of comic books.
This is the first part of a two-part article that looks at publisher Leverett Gleason’s comic books. Gleason’s publishing house, alternatively known as Comic House or Lev Gleason Publications, used various means to elevate comic books in the public eye. This part examines how Gleason and his gung-ho editor, Charles Biro, predated EC’s touting the educational merits of crime suspense stories and the medium’s potential as an art form. Gleason tried to pass off his crime-centred titles as progressive and artistic literature, belying the genre’s contemporary and enduring reputation as perpetrators of violence. The second article details Gleason’s tactics to expand the scope of comic books as serious literature by appealing to grown-ups.
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Tags: Alex Raymond, art, Association of Comic Magazine Publishers, Bob Bernstein, Bob Wood, Boy Comics, Charles Biro, classism, Comic House, Comics Art, comics code, Crime Does Not Pay, crime suspense stories, Crimebuster, Daredevil, EC Comics, education, educational comics, Frederic Wertham, Fredric Wertham, Henry E. Schultz, horror, Jim Crow laws, juvenile delinquency, law enforcement, Lev Gleason, Little Wise Guys, marketing, Milton Caniff, morals, National Cartoonists Society, National Comics Publication, New York City Board of Education, pre-code, romance comics, sexual imagery, social criticism, social reform, Tony DiPreta, USA, violence