A Crisis of Innocence

On May 8th, 1940, the Chicago Daily News ran a scathing editorial by admired children’s author Sterling North, entitled “A National Disgrace," which sounded the alarm to parents and educators about the horrific content of the “funny books” their children were reading.  North’s piece was widely reprinted and demand for off-prints was so high the newspaper’s printers could not keep up with requests.  His essay was the precursor to a flood of comic book critiques that would follow in the post-WWII era.  Commentaries and articles decrying violent, sadistic, and ultimately corrupting comics began appearing everywhere - in other newspapers, leading popular magazines (including Collier’s, The Saturday Review, Time Magazine, Ladies’ Home Journal among others), and in the trade and academic journals of teachers, librarians, sociologists, psychologists, psychiatrists, and educational policy makers.  The comic book industry was a mass media phenomenon on an unprecedented scale, with children as its primary consumers, and the public reaction against it was extraordinary in its scope and intensity. As Martin Barker notes, campaigns against American comics are "known to have occurred in at least seventeen countries across three continents and has led to legislation in some five countries” ("Getting a Conviction" 69). In Canada, the U.K., France and elsewhere, legislation restricting the reproduction and sale of American comics was passed successfully. In the U.S., such legislative attempts at censorship were thwarted by the First Ammendment. However, mounting public pressure and a Senate Subcommittee Hearing on comics and juvenile delinquency in 1954 led to the institution within the industry of a self-censoring body called the Comics Code Authority. At the very heart of all this controversy was a profound anxiety over the status of our culture’s most prized childhood ideal: innocence. 

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