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Bridget Baker
Abstract - Graphic Novels
    I have found myself to be very interested in the creation, use of and eventual discarding of the Comics Code Authority. Fredric Wertham's book Seduction of the Innocent (1954) hit the nation at a vulnerable time - McCarthyism was at its height, and people were afraid that the United States was being corrupted from the inside out. When the book was published, Wertham took to task the genre as a whole, regarding the violence, sexual innuendo and horror thematic elements to be encouraging children to commit similar acts of amorality. This effectively wiped out some of the most popular types of comics at the time - horror and mystery stories - leaving only a squeaky-clean, bad guys get punished superhero element left. What could have been a crippling blow to the graphic narrative instead encouraged it to thrive, and it ushered in what was known as the Silver Age of Comic books (1956 until the late 1960s or early 1970s.)
    Additionally, I want to explore the similarities between the comic book censorship for the second half of the 20th century and the current censorship battle over violence and sexuality in video games, as well as the evolution of certain characters (especially long-term villains) through and beyond the Comics Code Authority's reign. When discussing this with some friends, they have suggested that I should look into the history of the villain The Joker from the DC universe.

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3 Comments

  1. Of all the things you say here, I think the parallel to video games leaves you the most room for original analysis.  Although I'm not an expert on the subject, I'm aware of at least a few studies of F. Wertham and the panic over comics in the 1950s ("The Ten-Cent Plague"; "Secret Identity Crisis"; "Seal of Approval").  Most of the writers, I recall, share your opinion that anti-comic hysteria might be compared to McCarthy and his demagoguery.  Having read up on this history, you'll now want to consider what will differentiate your essay from a report on the subject-- that is, what will be your original argument, materials, etc.?  Juxtaposing the comics panic of 1950s with video game rating system, etc. seems plausible; do you think people get as worked up about it, though?  I feel like the threshold we find acceptable for graphic violence probably is a bit higher than in 1950s -- witness Heath Ledger's Academy Award.  Which brings me to your Joker idea.  That might be quite interesting.  Although I don't think he was a central figure in Wertham's book (might need to check that), as a recurring figure of psychopathy he gives you a way to look at America between 1930s and now.  At times he seems to cross the boundary into real life (John Wayne Gacy).  What's the fascination?  Anyway, hope at least some of this helps!  I see your top priority as framing a topic that will let you work with primary sources & formulate your own conclusions, not simply citing secondary sources....

  2. Unknown User (anb2)

    Bridget,

    I think this is a really interesting topic choice.  I hadn't really considered the development of comics as a genre as an area for exploration.  Anyway, here are some of my ideas:

    First of all, if you are going to pursue this paper, I suggest some further research into long term characters, and yes, the Joker is probably as deranged and amoral as they come.  If you are interested, I have DC's most recent publication on the Joker, titled simply Joker, which delves further into the psychchotic nature of the Joker individually with Batman as a backdrop, as opposed to other books that deal with Batman as a primary figure.  I also have here at school the Marvel Comics anthology, which goes through the development of several characters throughout the various comic book eras, such as the silver age and gold age.  In particular the sections on Nick Fury (an inspiration for Watchmen's Comedian) and the Punisher should speak to what you are doing if you would like to take a look at it. 

    What I find most interesting about your topic is the inclusion of the era of McCarthyism.  I feel that if you are going to parallel this with the censorship that occured in the world of comics, you need to delve into the deeper psychological issues to be dealt with here.  What are we really afraid of?  What does this fear say of human nature? and so on and so forth.  I would suggest watching Good Night and Good Luck (which I have a feeling you have seen) but also Jim Carrey's film The Majestic (not the whole thing, but the portion that deals with HUAC).  I think ultimately your paper will need to deal with what our beliefs about human nature are, and how we deal with the representation of it in art.  If you're really ambitious some reading on ethics and aesthetics (particularly Nietzsche) should help you out.

  3. Unknown User (dcb4)

    You bring up a lot of interesting ideas.  I could see you focussing on the Comic Code Authority and using some of these examples to strengthen your point, or I could see you focussing on one of these points and then explaining it back to the Comic Code Authority.  I guess what I'd urge you to do before writing is to decide what you want to spend the most time talking about, then possibly alter your thesis to match that.  For example, I could see you focussing on the evolution of the Joker, showing the differences between the old silly comics ( the ones where Joker would throw Batman into a pool of chattering teeth and constantly talk about "boners") and the newer comics where Joker is a homicidal maniac who's goal (if there is one) is to ruin Batman's life. I'm not saying you should definitely focus on the Joker, you could focus on any of the ideas/themes you've presented (McCarthyism, the Silver Age, etc.).  I just think an analytic lens would allow for a more personal investigation of the Comic Code.

    If you need any help finding sources, I can certainly help.  For example, if you decide to focus on the Joker, I have a copy of "The Killing Joke" by Alan Moore.  In it, the Joker "goes on vacation," which involves him shooting Barbara Gordon in the abdomen (paralyzing her), taking leud photographs of her and displaying them with a large projection for her father to see while he's wearing only a doggie leash, being held hostage by the Joker in a carnival tent where midgits in bondage torment him.  Yes, it is derranged, but it could be quite useful in showing his evolution after the Comic Code.

    Also, if you're going to talk about the Silver Age, make sure you give some love to my boys, the Flash and Green Lantern.  If not for them, we'd be reading Western and Sci-Fi comics.