In the last ROC we described how the self-appointed guardians of public morality in the 50's utilized the tactics of "censorship through intimidation" to destroy the impetus of the comic book industry of that period, leveling the field of the great EC comic line as well as other classic horror and crime comics, leaving only such innocuous books as Archie, Disney, etc., in their wake. It's in fact, only been in recent years that the "leash" of the Comics Code has slipped. The critical success of D.C.'s adult-oriented novel THE DARK KNIGHT by Frank Miller has opened possibilities of greater mainstream, adult respectability for comics, as well as happily, greater creative freedom for the comics' creators.
But hark! The anal-retentive ghost of Dr. Frederick Wertham, 50's comics' nemesis, stirs....
With the comics' creative envelope being pushed further open, however, it was a sure bet that forces were to come to the fore to try and push that envelope back closed.
On the heels of various fundamentalist broadcasters' wailing against elements of sex, violence and the occult popping up in comic stories (focusing, at the time on Marvel's X-MEN in particular) and calling for a return to the more strident code standards of former years, the comic companies began getting jumpy. Around the same time, a comics distributor from Texas, Buddy Saunders, sent out a now-notorious "open letter" to the industry complaining about the state of "morality" in current comics. When, a few months later, 2 comic book shops in Illinois were busted for selling comics labeled "for mature readers," the comics industry began fearing a "rising tide" of repression forming, a la 50's.
In response, D.C. soon after announced a "new set of guidelines" would be initiated in 1987, with Marvel rumored to be planning similar, arbitrary guidelines, as well.
"(The evangelists' criticism) was enough to cause a great deal of fear. It's hardly unusual. Since the 50's, the comics publishers have made it clear that any pressure group can come and get us anytime they want. As far as I know, the comics industry has never done a fucking thing for the 1st Amendment. We've got to stop looking at ourselves as worthless and impotent. We are active participants in what's going on in the media." --FRANK MILLER
It was in the face of the "new announced set of guidelines" that 26 freelancers issued a petition protesting that neither D.C. or Marvel had bothered consulting them in formulating the "guidelines," which D.C.had unveiled in December '86 as containing 3 ratings, Universal, Mature Readers and Adult. The petition was published in the Comic Buyers Guide. Later, artists Frank Miller and Howard Chaykin, writer Alan Moore and editor Marv Wolfman, considered money-making 'stars' within the D.C. orbit, were to sign a letter to D.C. stating that should the company implement the new "ratings" system, they would not consider any further work with the company once their contracts were up...
With their freelancers and producers of the best selling books putting D.C.'s backs to crumble: the fundamentalists failed to lead any kind of "charge" against comics, and D.C. backed down on their rating proposal...
A case-in-point of what happens when the creative community stands together against the censors as well as weak-kneed corporate management who would rather seek the road of appeasement and capitulation. Mssrs. Miller, Moore, et al: THE ROC salutes you; you hit 'em right between the eyes!
...SHOP SUES CENSORS; AWARDED $15,000
A happy post-script to this article, re: the aforementioned case of Friendly Frank's Comic Shop prosecuted by the town of Lansing, Illinois for sale of so-called 'obscene' comics. Turns out the shop's manager Michael Correa won a major victory when he took the town to court over the arrest and was awarded $15,000 in an out-of-court settlement. Another case study in how to deal with censors: SUE THE BASTARDS!