Howard Waldrop, the guestblogger at the Infinite Matrix, is one of the all-time great short-story writers in science fiction. He's been writing long essays about the 1950s lately, and his new installment is beautiful:
1954 was a GREAT time to be a kid. I know, I was one. I was the most enthusiastic 8-year-old that ever was or ever could be.
There were a couple of hundred reasons, For one, it was the last year of glory, before things got so bad, because of congressional investigations and Reader's Digest articles by Dr. Wertham, and the adoption of the Comics Code Authority (the publishers' equivalent of the Motion Picture Production Code that had kept movies from having any ideas that would shock the vicar since 1934…) In late 1954, there were still all the great horror comic books around. ECs — filled with puns, good writing, great art, and gore! — go get some of the hardcover reprints and look at Shoe-Button Eyes or By George! or some of the adaptations of Ray Bradbury's stories from The Martian Chronicles in them, and see what I mean. Besides the ECs, there were crime and horror comics by publishers ranging from the near-EC level to that of the barely literate. There were something like 300 different comic book titles a month published, 52 or 48 pages, all in color for a dime (except Classics Illustrated, a.i.c. for 15¢) Gore! Bats! Skulls! Guys in tanks disintegrated into green goo by acid in Blackhawk! Airboy, and The Monster of Frankenstein were still running. Airboy had The Heap in it, a sort of Old Testament revenge-minded haystack golem. Dick Breifer's Frankenstein was sui generis; it had started as a horror feature in Prize Comics in the 40s, then transmogrified into a humor comic in the late 40s, and changed back to a horror comic in the early 50s. Guys feeding babies to man-eating plants! Guys pinned to town clocks by the broken-off hour hand! Fights with mummies in the tunnels beneath the pyramids! Gah! (I remembered when I'd covered my eyes to keep from seeing the Queen transform into the witch in the 1952 release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs; the next day, with a rare dime I'd gone out and bought a Frankenstein comic book. My mom had a shit-fit: "How can you not watch Snow White and then go out and buy that!?" As I said somewhere else, being a kid I didn't have time to explain the difference between the low and high mimetic modes of narrative…)