Today we had Kirk O’Brien, a Richmond cartoonist, come to give a Lunchtime Lecture. Kirk gave a talk titled “The Role of Government in Comics.” I have heard Kirk talk about something similar in the past, but I felt that I learned a lot of new things from this talk as well. The talk took the same jumping off point that I had previously learned about, this is the Comic Code Authority. The Comic Code Authority was a group, separate from the government, who began self-regulating comics. The CCA had a very strict set of guidelines on what they considered to merit the seal of approval. Much of this push for CCA seals out of fear for the minds of the young people reading the comic books.
Before today, I had not know that the creation of the CCA and push for “G” rated comics only is often linked to the start of a series of Senate hearings lead by Estes Kefauver. As I learned through researching it, these hearings specific to the comic books occured in 1954. The Senate hearings lead by Estes Kefauver as a part of the United States Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency. The group of people in the Senate who spearheaded these hearings believed that the graphic “crime and horror” shown in the comic books of the time period was contributing to the higher rates of juvenile delinquency.
I thought that Kirk gave a measured assessment of the CCA and the Senate hearings. He talked about how the two most definitely qualify as censorship. This was a bad thing when it meant that the censorship by the CCA specifically targeted comics showing Black people, LGBTQIA+ people, and other marginalized or deemed “unseemly” and objectionable groups. However, Kirk also pointed out that some of the comic books were rather graphic (for example the cover above where a man is shown in opioid withdrawal) and these themes or images may have been upsetting or too mature for young kids. I agree with Kirk. I do think there is an important distinction to be drawn between the outright censoring (not allowing them to be published) of content and the warnings for content that may be upsetting for some. As well, I had not wondered what happened to the CCA. Someone at the lecture asked this question, and I thought that it was a good point. Kirk told us that the CCA was basically dead by the 1990s and fully faded out by 2010. Overall, I am not really a comic fan and have very little interest in the artform, but I found it pretty cool to hear about the role of government and censorship in this realm of the art world!