New Yorker on the 1950s comic book panic

Earlier toady, I posted Dale Dougherty's essay about the wifi health scare in Sebastopol. In a similar vein, here's a New Yorker article about the crazy comic book inquisition of the 1950s.

From a congressional hearing in 1954:

200803241235[EC comics publisher William] Gaines was not a stupid man, but, as Hajdu points out, he was in the position many liberals find themselves in when they set out to defend the freedom of artistic expression: he claimed that comic books that treated social issues in a progressive spirit were good for children, and that comic books that were filled with pictures of torture and murder had no effect on them. If art can be seriously good for you, though, it follows that it can be seriously bad for you, and that is the point at which censorship enters the picture. The committee was not interested in debating the merits of comics that treated social issues in a progressive spirit; it was interested in the claim that horror and crime comics were merely anodyne entertainment, and they twisted Gaines like a pretzel. "Let me get the limits as far as what you put into your magazine," the committee's junior counsel, Herbert Beaser, asked him. "Is the sole test of what you would put into your magazine whether it sells? Is there any limit you can think of that you would not put in a magazine because you thought a child should not see or read about it?"

GAINES: No, I wouldn't say that there is any limit for the reason you outlined. My only limits are bounds of good taste, what I consider good taste.

BEASER: Then you think a child cannot in any way, in any way, shape, or manner, be hurt by anything that a child reads or sees?

GAINES: I don't believe so.

BEASER: There would be no limit actually to what you put in the magazines?

GAINES: Only within the bounds of good taste.

BEASER: Your own good taste and saleability?


Kefauver spoke up. He pointed to one of the covers, from an issue of "Crime SuspenStories," on display in the hearing room.

KEFAUVER: Here is your May 22 issue. This seems to be a man with a bloody axe holding a woman's head up which has been severed from her body. Do you think that is in good taste?

GAINES: Yes, sir, I do, for the cover of a horror comic. A cover in bad taste, for example, might be defined as holding the head a little higher so that the neck could be seen dripping blood from it, and moving the body over a little further so that the neck of the body could be seen to be bloody.

KEFAUVER: You have blood coming out of her mouth.

GAINES: A little.

As I recall from reading the (sadly, out of print) Mad World of William M. Gaines many years ago, Gaines has taken a fistful of tranquilizers before he testified, which made him break out in a sweat and act loopy. The overall effect did not help his case.