Tales from the Vault of Fear

There have been some dark, serious posts recently, so I thought I’d lighten things up by posting about comic books.

Horror comic books.

Specifically, the horror comics published by EC (Entertaining Comics) from 1949 until 1954, when the government got involved. More on that in a minute.

First, a little background in comics history. Superman appeared in 1938 and launched a blitzkrieg of superhero titles. World War II started. World War II ended. Interest in superheroes waned. Western, crime, and horror titles were popular. A few superheroes remained (Superman, Batman), but not many.

EC was at the top of its game, with arguably the best writers and artists in the business. Their horror titles, Tales from the Crypt, Haunt of Fear, and Vault of Horror, were gory and usually ended with some sort of ironic twist, with the bad guys (or gals) getting what they deserved.

There were no restrictions on what could be portrayed in the comics, so many titles went for the shock value. It wasn’t long before someone noticed, and feared what would happen to the impressionable juveniles that were the comics target audience. That someone was psychiatrist Dr. Fredric Wertham.

he looks like he would be a very slow driver.

In 1954, Wertham published Seduction of the Innocent, a book that blasted the comic book industry. He trashed everything from portrayals of crime and horror elements to Batman and Robin, believing that the Dynamic Duo had a thinly disguised gay partnership.

not that there's anything wrong with that, but i don't know where wertham got the idea . . . oh my. that can't be right.

That has to be an isolated incident.


All right, never mind. (The above cover reminds me of the Ambiguously Gay Duo.)

Wertham’s book was published, people bought it, there was a Congressional hearing on juvenile delinquency, comics were mentioned, the Feds investigated, and sales plummeted. The Comics Code Authority was established, a group that monitored what went on the pages. They had a number of laws, one of which was that no titles could be published that contained the words “horror”, “terror”, or “weird” on its covers. Also no depictions of monsters, such as vampires or werewolves. And unless a comic carried the Code’s seal of approval (a literal seal that appeared on the covers), no stores would carry the comic.

ah, censorship. i crave your approval.

EC, with most of its titles verboten, switched gears. They focused on publishing only one title, a humor magazine called MAD.

Oh yeah, during the outcry over comics’ content, church and youth groups organized funny book bonfires.

toss 'em in! no one's gonna wanna keep that action comics #1!

As a point of interest, in 2010, a copy of Action Comics number 1, the first appearance of Superman, sold for 1.5 million dollars.

Until next time, boils and ghouls . . .

. . . keep your head up!

<for more on this topic, check out The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America, by David Hajdu. Even if you’re not into comics, it’s a good book on a little-known case of censorship.>

4 thoughts on “Tales from the Vault of Fear

Add yours

  1. Great picture of Nazis burning books. Oh wait, that’s middle class Americans torching comics! Though the tale of Wertham has been told many times, it’s good to remind people now and again that this kind of madness happened in our own country. EC Comics Rule!

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