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29 November 2008 @ 04:46 pm
The Importance of Being Ernest  
Over at The Beat, Heidi MacDonald recently shared a photo taken in a comics shop in 1967. She found the photo at the UCLA Charles E. Young Research Library Department of Special Collections, which has digitized 5,746 images from its photographic archives which originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times and the Los Angeles Daily News from the 1920s to the 1990s.

As fascinating a photo as that is—you can see a copy of Action Comics #1 out on a table rather than under glass—I'm not going to share it with you here, since you can wander over to Heidi's site and check it out for yourself. But as soon as I heard of the existence of those UCLA archives, I immediately went and did some research of my own. I found this fascinating photo of Los Angeles city councilman Ernest Debs holding horror comic books which he had purchased in his district.

I have no idea what Deb's role was during the comics censorship scare, but from his expression, I'm guessing that he didn't enjoy the experience!

With a little browsing at The Grand Comics Database Project, I was able to identify all six comics. They are Tales From the Crypt #43 (August-September 1954), Chamber of Chills #24 (July 1954), Forbidden Worlds #31 (July 1954), Marvel Tales #125 (July 1954), Strange Mysteries #17 (May 1954), and Fight Against Crime #20 (July 1954). I'm not 100% sure that's the correct Chamber of Chills issue, since so much of the cover is obscured, but the other IDs are definite.

And here they are!

In his right hand (our left):

And in his left hand (our right):

Note that the final cover features a severed head, just like the issue of Crime SuspenStories about which Bill Gaines, the publisher and co-editor of EC Comics, had to testify before the 1954 Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency.

Here's a excerpt from that testimony:

Chief Counsel Herbert Beaser: Let me get the limits as far as what you put into your magazine. 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?

Bill Gaines: No, I wouldn't say that there is any limit for the reason you outlined. My only limits are the 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?

Gaines: Yes.

Senator Estes Kefauver: ... 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.

Gaines' unapologetic answers did him no favor, and ended up hastening the end of EC Comics. But as that Fight Against Crime cover shows—everybody was doing it!
~twilight~_twilight_ on November 30th, 2008 06:53 am (UTC)
He looks upset, but I can't tell if that's being caused by the comics or the flagpole.
jcovillejcoville on December 3rd, 2008 07:08 pm (UTC)
I have the full 1954 transcripts online right here.

And then there is this photo:

scottedelmanscottedelman on December 3rd, 2008 07:34 pm (UTC)
I can see that he's holding the September 1948 issue of My Life: True Stories in Pictures:

But as for the one other comic on the left, there isn't enough of it to tell what it is.

And why there are nudie magazines there, I have no idea! Those aren't comics at all—right?
jcovillejcoville on December 3rd, 2008 08:35 pm (UTC)
IIRC, LA was trying to restrict romance comics as well as horror/crime. Their way of selling it to the media was to display nude girl magazines along side romance comics in hopes people would assume they were one and the same.

scottedelman: Jack Davisscottedelman on December 3rd, 2008 07:36 pm (UTC)
And thanks for that link to the testimony!
jcovillejcoville on December 3rd, 2008 08:36 pm (UTC)
No problem, there is plenty of comic history related stuff at the site.