The Fabler Blog Presents: Four Famous Comic Book Real-Life Witch Hunts

-Written by Kevin de Vlaming

Well folks, Halloween is just around the corner.

Frenzy-eyed scavenger children are preparing to scour the streets in search of sugared sustenance to fill their insatiable hunger.  But seriously, with bite-sized festive Coffee Crisps up for grabs, who can blame them?

Horror-genre comics are enjoying a month in the limelight, with titles new and old generating substantial buzz across the comic book internet. (A couple of titles worthy of mention here would be Calgarian Todd McFarlane’s project with Robert Kirkman, ‘Haunt‘, and the recently announced Stephen King/Scott Snyder title, ‘American Vampire‘.)

Comic blogs and news sites are getting in the spooky spirit of All Hallows as well, with distinctly Halloweenish-themed posts popping up over the interweb.

For instance, Sequential Tart posted their list of Comics That Go Bump in The Night, and Robot 6 has shared a top six list of Vampires They’d Like to Share a Drink With, another of Six Great Paranormal Investigators, and a list of creeptacular webcomics.

IGN has been working on a list of comics they’d like to see made into horror movies, over on 13 Days of Fright: Horror Comics-to-Film.

With October 31st just a few days away, it’s only appropriate for the Fabler to get in on the action.

While vampires are the undisputed trend-leaders this Halloween, and zombies are receiving their usual star treatment, another devilish horror sect is, sadly, falling by the wayside.

Witches just don’t get the coverage they used to. When I think witches, I think witch-hunt – and it just so happens that witch hunts aren’t an uncommon phenomenon in comics.

In fact, an example of a recent witch hunt was reported by WTVQ just last week. If you hadn’t heard about it, two librarians were fired for refusing to allow a young girl to read a particular graphic novel, on grounds of the book containing pornographic content.

So, without further ado, the Fabler Blog presents Five Famous Comic Book Real Life Witch Hunts, beginning with the recent kafuffle surrounding two librarians in Nicholasville.

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

1) Librarians Fired for Deeming Alan Moore Graphic Novel not Gentlemanly Enough.

The details: As I mentioned, last month two librarians were fired from the Jessamine County Public Library for not allowing a girl to check out Alan Moore’s book, “the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” (vol.1).

The girl was allegedly eleven, and the two librarians in question, Beth Bovaire and Sharon Cook, decided the book’s content was too ‘pornographic’. They were fired due to strict library policies which state the responsibility to deem what books are suitable for what age group lies with the parents, not with the library.

The response: Contrasting opinions on the incident came pouring in from around the net, both on WTVQ’s actual page for the article and on a multitude of comic-related blogs. People seem to generally be in agreement that the book probably isn’t suitable for an 11 year old, but divided as to whether the librarians were in the right.

Much ado? This is a more subtle form of witch hunt than comics have faced in the past. Yes, the comic does contain a degree of sexual content – such as several panels in which an invisible man ravishes a woman in a boarding school. The big issue here is that the graphic novel was targeted because of the visual depiction of sex, when countless other non-pictorial books with far worse subject matter could be checked out indiscriminately.

To suggest that graphic novels should be an exception to a policy implemented across all other forms of literature is to play to a misconceptions that they don’t have the balancing literary value which other books possess to offset the sexual content.  The funny thing here is that if it was a comic by anyone other than Moore, I’m guessing we wouldn’t have seen nearly as big a deal made.

Seduction of the Innocent

2) From Seduction of the Innocent to the Iron Fist of the Comics Code Authority.

The details: THE most-cited example of a comic book witch hunt revolves around a Dr. Fredric Wertham and his book, Seduction of the Innocent.

In 1953, behavioural psychologist Wertham asserted that comics were corrupting the minds of America’s youth. He saw comics solely as children’s novelty items, and ones which were increasingly filled with offensive depictions of sex, violence, and general indecency. Horror and crime genre comics were on the rise thanks to an increase in adult interest in comics, and EC Comics (which notably published Tales from the Crypt, alongside other titles) was at the forefront of the industry.

Wertham published a book called Seduction of the Innocent, in which he drew links between comics and juvenile delinquency; between ‘funny pages’ and the steady decline of society.

The response: Wertham’s assertions were heard loud and clear by the general public, who were already nervous to a degree about the relatively new medium which many didn’t fully understand.

The outcry against the comic industry led directly to some severe changes – most notably of which was the establishing of the Comics Code Authority in 1954 by a U.S. Congressional Committee.  For a long while after, the CCA had tremendous influence in the comic book world: many distributors would only carry comics with the CCA’s hard-won stamp.  This led to DC adopting a much lighter approach to its character properties, and eventually drove EC Comics out of business entirely.

Much ado? Fredric Wertham’s name still haunts the comic book industry decades after his passing. The impact his diatribes had on the industry is both immeasurable and enduring.

In addition to forcing countless creative minds to either limit their idea output or cease production entirely, Wertham proposed some downright offensive ideas that live on in popular culture for years. He argued that Batman and Robin’s relationship had distinct homosexual connotations, which  encouraged a breakdown of family values in society. He similarly asserted that Wonder Woman’s strong, independent personality identified her as a lesbian, and that comic artists frequently hid depictions of genitalia in their pictures.

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

3) The Trials of Omaha.

The details: Omaha the Cat Dancer is an alternative comic book that was illustrated by Reed Waller and written by his significant other, Kate Worley. It stars as its titular character an anthropomorphical  cat who works as an exotic dancer, and is notable for its lewd depictions of sexual acts between characters.

It’s exactly for that that fact that Omaha, which would go on to become a well-loved and near legendary indie comic, has been met with such discrimination throughout its publication.

One example of this occurred in 1988, when Diamond Comics refused to carry the title on grounds of its obscene content. Many retailers didn’t carry the title in the first place for the same reason, completely overlooking the pro feminist subtext and well woven plots about meaningful, realistic depictions of relationships.

Omaha again found infamy in 1989, when Canadian police raided a Toronto comic shop and confiscated Omaha (among other titles) on grounds of it being ‘bestiality’. This wasn’t the first time Omaha had been the target of a police raid on a comic shop.

The response: Fan outcry and backlash from First Amendment advocates led Diamond Comics to back down from its ban of the title. Curiously, while North American authorities continued to decry Omaha up until its extended publishing hiatus in 1992, New Zealand  authorities famously ruled that the title be given a ‘G’ rating, since behind its sexual content there were substantial plots and ongoing emotional relationships.

Much ado? The controversies around Omaha the Cat Dancer presented a new spin on an old theme – unfamiliar concepts in comics being targeted because of their visual content by authorities unwilling to look at the value of the message or story in a given title. The fact that North American authorities were so judgemental of Omaha while other nationalities had no problem with it just goes once again to show some of the lingering impacts left on the comic industry here from Dr. Wertham’s personal crusade.

Mike Diana

4) Mike Diana – Convicted for Comics

The details: This is an interesting case that dates back to March of 1994, when indie comic zine distributor Mike Diana became the first artist ever to be convicted on charges of obscenity in the States. He had been creating and distributing a zine called ‘Boiled Angel,’ which featured graphic depictions of various subjects generally considered offensive; rape, extreme violence, scat, aggressively anti-religious sentiments, et cetera.

His limited run material somehow found its way to the office of a Florida State’s Attorney, who deemed his material not only obscene, but also capable of inspiring and being appealing to serial killers. He was convicted on three counts of obscenity; for publishing, for distributing, and for advertising his material.

The response: The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, a not-for-profit group designed to protect the First Amendment rights of comic creators, rushed in to assist Diana with court fees and preparing/financing a defense. Despite a costly battle that was waged in Mike’s defense, he was sentenced to three years of probation with community service, and a $3000.00 fine. He was also required to undergo (and pay for himself) psychiatric evaluation.

In 1997, the CBLDF tried to have Diana’s case appealed, but their efforts were denied.

Much ado? Censorship in any artistic medium is worth taking note of, and in this case it hits especially close to home as the creator in question was arrested for charges relating to comic books. Allegedly, the prosecution used comparisons to Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath” and Picasso’s “Guernica” to discredit the literary and artistic value of Diana’s work.

Seriously ridiculous. The judge said that Diana should be using non-offensive vehicles to convey his messages about some of the raw, horrible problems that plague society.

As Mike has said himself, “child rape & abuse has been around way before I was born, I just get ideas from real life”.

Now there’s a positive note to go out on! But really, folks… while the comic book world has ample examples to draw from when we’re talking about comic book witch hunts, it obviously isn’t all gloom and doom. There are plenty of examples out there of comics increasingly receiving more and more attention as a valid literary/artistic medium. Why, even just recently 14 libraries in New Jersey were given a $3000 grant to expand their graphic novel collection. So keep your chins up, kiddies! And most of all, have a spooktacularly rad Halloween this weekend. The Fabler wishes it so.

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4 Trackbacks

  1. [...] strangers) to decide what is suitable for other people to read. Other than the fact it’s cost people their librarian positions for making that decision, it’s just morally [...]

  2. [...] strangers) to decide what is suitable for other people to read. Other than the fact it’s cost people their librarian positions for making that decision, it’s just morally [...]

  3. [...] Blog, (perhaps to our detriment)  but since last October we offered up a Halloween-themed list of Four Famous Comic Book Real-Life Witch Hunts, I figured hey – why fight with [...]

  4. [...] unfortunate influence on comics  in the 50’s, I recommend you further check out some of the controversy that surrounded Omaha the Cat Dancer or Mike Diana’s obscenity charge for cartooni…. Or, if you wanted something more recent, you could read up on comic collector Christopher [...]

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