Confidential File: Horror Comic Books


In 1955, a the height of the moral panic about horror and crime comics the was sweeping the US at the time, a TV documentary by muck-raking crime reporter Paul Coates helped hammer the final nail into the coffin of EC comics and their rivals. In a broadcast that will feel eerily familiar to anyone who lived through the British video nasties panic a few decades earlier – or, for that matter, anyone who has observed a multitude of subsequent panics leading up to the present hysteria about internet porn. Coates – a vice columnist in the Los Angeles Mirror who also had a weekly show on KTTV – trots out opinion as fact, makes unproven connections between comic books and crime and tries to come across as taking a reasonable approach to a specific problem. In fact, as Coates admits, most of the publishers were already out of business or had cancelled their horror comics by this point – but back issues were still widely available. Our fearless reporter calls for some sort of civil uprising of concerned citizens to clean up the stores.

I must admit, Coates is good at the whole moral outrage schtick. His opening statement is dramatic stuff:

In this comic book is a love story, a boy and girl in love. They get married, and after an offensively lurid description (illustrated, of course) of the couple’s wedding night, the book shows how the bride murders her husband by chopping his head off with an axe.

This comic book describes a sexual aberration so shocking that I couldn’t mention even the scientific term on television.

Come on, admit it – you are itching to know what the sexual aberration is. I’m guessing necrophilia, but given that this is America in the 1950s, it could be anything from ‘making love with the lights on’ up.

Anyway, enjoy this ancient slice of mass hysteria. but before you laugh too much, remember that exactly the same thing, with most of the same arguments, is happening right now.

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