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Evan R.

Ash -- Objectionable: The Cincinnati Committee for the Evaluation of Comics

and the American Anti-Comics Movement, 1940-1956

One of the great forgotten grassroots movements of the 20th century, the anti-comics movement
united a wide range of pressure groups across professional and ideological lines. The
movement’s makeup fluctuated as frequently as its accusations, but some notable groups
involved included the National Congress of Parents and Teachers, the National Organization for
Decent Literature (a Catholic group), and the American Legion. Sparked in 1940 by an article
from children’s writer Sterling North where he referred to comics as “sex-horror serials” and
“graphic insanity” and reignited in 1948 by psychiatrist Fredric Wertham, who accused
suddenly-violent comic books of contributing to juvenile delinquency; the anti-comics
movement’s critiques were palatable not just to moral conservatives, who saw the content of
comic books as a communist plot to degrade the morals of children, but also to antiviolence
liberals genuinely concerned with children’s potential exposure to violent or sexual imagery.
This project makes a case study of the Cincinnati Committee for the Evaluation of Comics, a
civic group founded in 1948 that graded comics on moral, cultural, and aesthetic grounds.
Through a partnership with Parents’ Magazine, a popular periodical for the postwar generation,
the Cincinnati Committee’s critiques, reprinted in Parents’ possessed a circulation and agency
unsurpassed by any other civic or ecclesiastical decency group of the time. Rather than using
volunteers to coerce newsdealers into removing objectionable publications, as the National
Organization for Decent Literature did, the Cincinnati Committee saw its mission instead as
educating parents on proper reading material for children. The committee frequently
corresponded with comics industry personnel, including the staff of the nascent Comics Code
Authority, which saw its own code influenced by the Cincinnati Committee’s criteria.
This project does not contend that the push to regulate comics was wholly unnecessary, as
comics were the least-regulated medium of the postwar era and contained crude violence and
racial stereotypes. However, as the movement took place against the backdrop of the early Cold
War, this project examines the ways in which members of the anti-comics movement used their
duplicitous, yet ultimately successful campaigns not just to insert anticommunism into domestic
life, but in service of their ultimate end goal--social control of children. This project also
contends that rather than be a simple localized response to comic books, that the Cincinnati
Committee decisively shaped the national discussion over comic books and childrens’ reading.