A little while back, I wrote about the Comics Code Authority, and how - from 1954 until just a few years back - the un-elected group had the power to more-or-less completely define what could and couldn't be published in the comic-books we know and love. There was, though, a part of the story I didn't mention.
Y'see, when the CCA was founded, there was a comic-book company that was deemed so dark, so inappropriate, and so horrifying that it couldn't be allowed to continue publication. A company, in the eyes of those in power, that couldn't be allowed to exist.
This is the story of how that comic-book company was censored, attacked, and ultimately hounded out of business...in part by two of the most beloved comic-book companies of all time.
This is the Story of EC Comics, and Why It's Gone
Founded in 1944 by Max Gaines, EC Comics was originally a publisher of Educational Comics (hence the name). When Max died in 1947, though, his son William took over the company, and - taking advantage of the growing demand for more adult-themed comics - began publishing a wider range of stories and themes. Soon, EC Comics became renowned for its horror, sci-fi, crime and war stories, as well as for a willingness to tackle the key social issues of the day, including segregation, anti-semitism and police corruption.
Then, in 1954, Everything Changed
Dr. Fredric Wertham (above), a now widely discredited psychiatrist, published Seduction of the Innocent, a book in which he charged comic-books with having harmful effects on children. Despite the book containing several notable errors, and more than one example of seriously misleading misinformation, it became a sensation - and led to calls for government censorship of comics.
Which is Where William Gaines Stepped In
As a publisher of exactly the sort of comics that Wertham was attacking, Gaines (above) was conscious of the risks that'd come with official government censorship - and so called a meeting of his fellow publishers. Together, they formed the Comics Magazine Association of America, and with it the Comics Code Authority - with Gaines intending it to take a hands-off approach, much like its ineffective predecessor, the Association of Comics Magazine Publishers.
The CCA Rapidly Took Over the Industry
Gaines quickly realized that the CCA would, in fact, be rigidly enforced - and since it included such clauses as...
"No comic magazine shall use the word "horror" or "terror" in its title."
...he soon realized that it would be used to put him, and EC Comics, out of business. After all, the majority of their most successful titles featured exactly those sort of words - and with horror comics being more-or-less entirely prohibited by the code, there was little he could do to get around it.
And so, he refused to join the organization he had helped form...
And So, the Fall of EC Comics Began
Without the CCA stamp of approval, many retailers refused to stock EC Comics' publications, and soon, the company hit a whole lot of financial trouble.
With sales plummeting, Gaines reluctantly agreed to submit EC's comics to the CCA - with their titles changing accordingly. That, though, was to lead to the final nail in EC's coffin:
When, in February 1956, EC Comics' Incredible Science Fiction #33 reprinted an earlier story named Judgement Day, all hell broke loose.
The cause? It was a science fiction story about an astronaut from the Galactic Republic, who traveled to a planet populated entirely by robots. The planet, however, was divided into orange and blue 'races' of the robots, one of which was treated by the other as inferior, and granted fewer rights accordingly. As a result, the astronaut decides that the planet is not worthy of joining the Galactic Republic after all.
The biggest problem, though? The final panel (above) revealed the astronaut to be black.
The Comics Code Authority Had a Fit
As comics historian Digby Diehl put it in Tales from the Crypt: The Official Archives, the CCA head honcho Judge Charles Murphy was far from happy:
"This really made 'em go bananas in the Code czar's office. 'Judge Murphy was off his nut. He was really out to get us', recalls [EC editor] Feldstein. 'I went in there with this story and Murphy says, "It can't be a Black man". But ... but that's the whole point of the story!' Feldstein sputtered. When Murphy continued to insist that the Black man had to go, Feldstein put it on the line. 'Listen', he told Murphy, 'you've been riding us and making it impossible to put out anything at all because you guys just want us out of business'. [Feldstein] reported the results of his audience with the czar to Gaines, who was furious [and] immediately picked up the phone and called Murphy. 'This is ridiculous!' he bellowed. 'I'm going to call a press conference on this. You have no grounds, no basis, to do this. I'll sue you'. Murphy made what he surely thought was a gracious concession. 'All right. Just take off the beads of sweat'. At that, Gaines and Feldstein both went ballistic. 'Fuck you!' they shouted into the telephone in unison. Murphy hung up on them, but the story ran in its original form."
It was the last comic-book EC Comics ever printed.
Why, Though, Was EC Comics Hounded Out of Comics?
Well, it's long been argued that the real intention of the Comics Code's strict stipulations when it came to Horror actually had little to do with the protection of children at all.
Instead, they had a lot to do with EC Comics' main competitors, DC and Archie, seeing the company's horror output as a threat to their more family-friendly fare.
And so, the story goes, they found a way to put EC out of business...
There is, Though, One Final Part to the Story...
Y'see, while EC Comics stopped publishing comic-books in 1956, they still had one major asset which they clung on to, and which kept them going until 1960, when Gaines sold the company. That asset?
Throughout the era of the comic-book crushing Comics Code, the satirical Mad Magazine thrived, and remains popular to this day.
And EC Comics? Well, it ended up being owned by the Kinney National Company, which also ended up owning...DC Comics (and Warner Bros. as a whole).
And, so, a few corporate divestments and mergers later, DC and EC have ended up in the exact same place - nestled in the bosom of Warner Bros - and the Comic Book Code - largely rendered impotent from the 1970s on - has been dead and buried since 2011...