William Gaines fights comic book censorship
| Max Margulis
Censorship has been a extensive and relentless battle for artist of many mediums. This proves quite infuriating those creative minds who want nothing more but to enlighten, challenge, or to entertain the masses. To the young comic book publisher William Gaines, those three concepts were an essential part of story telling. Will mustered up the idea of telling stories of monsters and ghouls in place of the racist and bigoted ideals and people that were prominent around the forties and fifties. Unfortunately for Will, the public wouldn't be welcoming these beautifully horrifying tales with praise and open arms for him or his companies great work. They instead would be following the word of Dr. Fredric Wertham and his book Seduction of the Innocent. Wertham's book to many in the industry seemed to be written for the sole purpose of dismantling not only William gains comic publishing company but free speech all together. No one could have foresaw the after effects to come, and for Will, he would see his work burned just like the witches he had written about.
The year was 1947, a young William Gaines had abruptly inherited the comic company E.C. after his father Max Gaines abrupt death from a freak boating accident. This was quite daunting as Max gains was a giant in the industry and was considered the father of the comic book, as he created the first ( Famous Funnies ). When Will first became apart of the company he found he inherited poorly selling educational comics, hence the E.C. in the name. He was also unaware he was entering into a company that was one hundred thousands dollars in debt. The lack of profit and in-imaginative stories led gains to change the direction of the company. His first alteration was changing the name from educational to entertaining. He also sought to change the tone of the comics his father was publishing, from pansy romances and safe for all ages action stories to spine-chilling stories of horror, and the social satire of his science fiction stories. This change was forged do to Will's great love for the horror stories he'd listen to on the radio as a child, and a genre he was very found and passionate about.
This change, proved most fruitful, as Gaines had turned E.C from a company relying on mediocre sales of safe stories to one of the most profitable publishers out there. Printing the tales of suspense , horror and many stories of the supernatural and the outer limits, Will had ultimately but his signature and fingerprints all over his father line,making it truly his own .These stories instantly grabbed the attention of children and teens and made E.C. a power house of the industry. One of their smartest moves was creating a character that would introduce the story to readers who would prepare them for the terrifying tales within. The Twilight Zone had rod Serling and E.C Comics had the Crypt Keeper, and his many tales from the crypt. It seemed a vast majority of kids couldn't get enough of theses gruesome stories, but soon it would be revealed a great many unhappy parents and a certain German phycologist would soon be preparing a witch hunt on Gaines, and his many monsters too.
Unaware by Gaines and the many children who were reading his published stories, parents, doctors, and politicians where calling theses comics a disgrace, and claiming that theses horrifying tales for children were the main cause for juvenile delinquency. The most prominent voice among them was Dr. Fredric Wertham, a child phycologist from Germany, who would publish a book that would become infamous to all comic book publishers, Seduction of the Innocent. In his book he declared comics to be the main contributing factor to not only juvenile delinquency, but everything from promoting homo-sexuality through Batman and robin, or calling Wonder Woman a bad role model to girls because she promotes strength and empowerment rather than nurturing and support. His biggest target, the horror and shock comics line, in which he made clear with great clarity that he was pointing his finger right to Will and his brand of comics as he had the most successful of those comics. The public took to Wertham's book like words from the gospel , as many saw the M.D. after the name and took his words as uncompromising fact. His book created such an earthquake through the comic book business , in which the likes of the industry would never fully recover even till this day.
Seduction of the Innocent essentially blamed comic books for everything wrong with American youth. This made it very pleasing for parents and politicians to digest, since now all societal problems of children and teens was shortened down to one source, comics. “You read the book, it just smells wrong. It’s clear he got completely carried away with his obsession, in an almost Ahab-like way.” ( Michael Chabon, The New York Times). Wertham's words entranced people in such a way that schools, churches and neighborhoods created areas for comic book burnings. The next wave of ridiculousness hit when it was revealed that the government was investigating the effect of comic books, due to the disturbance it seemed to be provoking within the public. Within a few months of investigating , it appeared that Dr. Fredrick Wertham had added another supporter to his list, The U.S. government. The agreement of comic books being a source of Juvenile Delinquency with the two led to televised senate hearings lead by senator Estes Kefauver. Theses hearings proved as a precursor of government absurdity that would follow into the McCarthy hearings, witch would happen a couple months later. The star speaker was non other the Dr. Wertham himself along his now growing ego and words of utter delusion.
Feeling responsible for this outcry of the public while also determined to prove them wrong as well, Gaines' made the decision to speak on behalf of the industry and to defend his companies work. This proved a tall order for him as he soon found out he was the only one brave, or idiotic enough to put his face out there and tell the public that they are wrong."What are we afraid of? Are we afraid of our own children? Do we forget that they are citizens, too, and entitled to select what to read or do? We think our children are so evil, simple minded, that it takes a story of murder to set them to murder, a story of robbery to set them to robbery?"( Testimony of William M. Gaines, TheComicbooks.com) As much as Will's words seemed to appeal to common sense, Senator Kefauver would try his best to pick apart any sense that Gaines' was trying to speak. The most damning of these instances was when Kefauver lifted up the cover of "Crime Suspense Stories" issue twenty two, in which a man with an axe was holds his wife's head next to her body laying dead on the floor. Senator Kefauver stated " 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 this is in good taste?" Ganies' stately casually said, " Yes, sir; I do, for the cover of a Horror Comic. Ultimately exchanges like those would prove detrimental to E.C. comics as the committee of the hearings would create a self-censorship body that all comic book publishers would need to adhere to, known as the Comics Magazine Association of America.
The first act by the (CMAA) was banning the likes of words like "crime, horror, terror and weird " from comics. This was a serious steak through heart to E.C , who used those words featured prominently in the titles of all their flagship books. The code banned the use of " walking dead, torture, vampires, ghouls, cannibalism, and werewolves. This implemented bans from the Comics code proved to be the nails in E.C's soon to be coffin. With all these obstacles facing the company Gaines decide to suck up his pride and print stories that were more in line with what the (CMAA) was looking for. Will made the decision to cancel his line of horror suspense and continue printing his line of science fiction comics, though this only lasted a short while. The reason being was a due from news Gains had received from his main artist on his comics, Al Feldstein. Feldstein had just gotten back from showing his art to the Comics Magazine Association for approval to publish the images, this was to make sure it was in line with the code. He informed Will that the said everything was in line except the main character who was revealed to be black art the end of his story, the (CMAA) wanted changed to be white. This was the final straw for Gaines who upon hearing this news, marched strait down to the head of the association and , gave him his two cents. After his loud word of disapproval , he managed to get the book published by threating them filing suit of claims of racism and bigotry within the (CMAA). Though he succeeded, the experience left such a rotten taste in his mouth that he ended up walking away from the company, along with its goblins, ghouls and ghastly creations.
The abrupt death of E.C comics laid to rest many talented writers and artist, along with their most iconic member of the family of horror, The Crypt Keeper. Some of the lucky ones managed to put their skills to work for other publishers such as D.C, and Atlas comics ( now Marvel comics). And for William Gaines, he had a struck a luck as the sales of of his newly published humor comic series MAD proved quite high and profitable. With just a few issues he made the executive decision to change MAD from comic book to magazine format to appeal to a wider audience, a change that turned the title from a comic book doing decent sales to the best selling humor magazine the business. Although the effects of censorship would always stay with Gaines, and would later in his life be an advocate against it tell his death 1992. His fight against it would prove not in vein , as the Comics Magazine Association of America code guidelines would all be almost abandoned by , 2011 with D.C and Archie comics announcing they would be dropping the seal of approval, a move Marvel did back in 1989. That same year a certain pun spewing Crypt Keeper would be resurrected when Tales from the crypt aired on HBO. The show adapted the nightmarish fun tales to screen for new generations, along with those adults who spent many nights under a blanket, flashlight in hand when they were children. William Gaines, though not alive to see it through, would be victorious in the end with his battle over the vexatious fight over censorship from the (CMAA). One could even say that Gaines, and all his monsters and ghoulish friends are all with much joy, laughing in their graves.