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A Crisis of Innocence

4.1 Children in Horror and Crime

Given that the idea of innocence effectively predetermined the kind of reader the child could be - immitative, vulnerable, prone to influence and dangerous identification - it is little surprise that the content of Crime and Horror comics elicited outraged responses from concerned adults. If the preservation of innocence depends on the child's ignorance of and distance from 'adult' knowledge and experiences such as sex, marital discord, violence, cruelty, addiction, and death, comic books were violating a sacred trust. What was perhaps even worse, Crime and Horror comics not only revealed 'secret' adult vices to impressionable readers, they effectively dramatized (and seemingly revelled in) the dangers to young people of such exposure. Comics of the period featured a parade of what Anne Higonnet might describe as 'knowing' children: young people not only aware of the world of adult knowledge but able and keen to participate in it.

The murderous child, deliberately portrayed in diametrical opposition to the period's idealized innocent child, was a common trope in the period's comics. Often victims of adult injustice who exact revenge on their tormentors, or figures with unnatural or even demonic pedigrees, such figures were clearly meant to appeal to young readers as much as they were meant to shock adults. Part of the effectiveness of such an appeal lies in the child reader's awareness of adult expectations of innocence and the pleasure of defying them. Comics publishers, who were quite responsive to the interests and preferences of their predominantly young readers (see section 5), recognized this appeal and were happy to cater to it.