Being a sucker for lurid comic book art, I devoured Jim Trombetta's The Horror! The Horror! Comic Books the Government Didn't Want You to Read!, a giant-sized book of utterly depraved 1950s comic book artwork. This is the sordid underbelly of the squeaky clean 1950s, which was readily available in drugstores to any coonskin cap-wearing kid with a dime in his pocket.
Not only is the book loaded with gruesome depictions of "Murder! Mayhem! Robbery! Rape! Cannibalism! Carnage! Necrophilia! Sex! Sadism! Masochism! ... and virtually ever other form of crime, degeneracy, bestiality, and horror"*, the artwork itself is fantastic. Artists featured include Johnny Craig, Reed Crandall, Jack Davis, Steve Ditko, Al Feldstein, Frank Kelly Freas, Russ Heath, Graham Ingels, Alex Toth, Wally Wood, and Basil Wolverton. I imagine these artists had a lot of fun drawing these twisted comics.
The Horror! The Horror! includes a bonus DVD: "Confidential File," a 25-minute TV show from 1955, about the corrupting influence of these ghastly comic books on our nation's youth.
*"Actual language from 'Comic Books and Juvenille Delinquency,' interim report of the Committee on the Judiciary's investigation of juvenile delinquency in the United States, 1955-56." The comics were also sometimes racist (the one aspect I find absolutely objectionable), but the government didn't seem to be concerned about that aspect, obsessing instead over the sexual depravity depicted in the comics.
Mark Frauenfelder is the founder of Boing Boing and the editor-in-chief of MAKE and Cool Tools. Twitter: @frauenfelder. His new book is Maker Dad: Lunch Box Guitars, Antigravity Jars, and 22 Other Incredibly Cool Father-Daughter DIY Projects