Comic Books of the
1950sby Don Ensign
Little Lulu, Rawhide Kid, Jann of the Jungle, Caspar the
Friendly Ghost, Archie & Jughead, Captain Video, Davy
Crockett, Crime Canšt Win, Howdy Dowdy, Frontline Combat,
Wyatt Earp, Beware Terror Tales, Young Love, Mad, Rex the
Wonder Dog, Sad Sack, Roy Rogers and many more were comic
books of the 1950s.
Most comics historians place the birth of the American
comic book industry with Funnies on Parade (1933) which
lead to Famous Funnies. These comic books reprinted
current newspaper comic strips like Joe Palooka, Mutt &
Jeff, Dixie Dugan and others.
Comic books became a
publishing phenomenon when Superman appeared in Action
Comics #1 (June 1938). 1939-1943 saw an explosion of
Superman inspired characters like Batman, Wonder Woman,
Flash, Green Lantern, Captain Marvel, Captain America,
Human Torch, Sub-Mariner, Shield, Steel Sterling, Black
Terror, and numerous others. Toward the end of World War
II super-heroes declined in readership and genres like
romance, jungle, funny animal, western, teen, war, science
fiction and others had their surges in popularity from
Two genres that earned the wrath of social critics were
the infamous crime and horror comics of this era. In 1952
approximately 150 horror and dozens of crime comic book
titles choked the nationšs newsstands. Titles like Haunt
of Fear, Tales from the Crypt, Adventures into Terror
showed graphic images of gore, severed heads, cannibalism,
and torture. A leading critic was Dr Fredric Wertham
whose highly controversial and influential book, Seduction
of the Innocent (1954) claimed that crime and horror comic
books were a major factor in escalating juvenile
delinquency. In April 1954 Wertham and comic book
industry spokesmen testified before the US Senate
Sub-committee to Investigate Juvenile Delinquency.
While no overt government action occurred the publishers
realized the need to clean up their act. In October 1954
many publishers banded together to form the Comics Code
Authority to regulate the moral contents of comic books.
Most publishers signed on with the Code and those that
didnšt (with some exceptions) went out of business. The
Code was very strict concerning the contents of comic
books and for the next twenty years mainstream comics were
safe (and tame).
The latter half of the decade was dominated by Mickey
Mouse, Donald Duck, Uncle Scrooge, numerous Disney TV and
movie related comics, Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd, Woody
Woodpecker, Andy Panda, other movie and TV tie-ins.
Marvel Comics, the current industry leader, almost went
out of business in 1957.
By 1950 except for Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Captain
Marvel (RIP 1953), Plastic Man (RIP 1956) and a few others
super-heroes were nearly extinct. DC Comics decided to
revive some of their second string super-heroes. The first
was a successfully revamped Flash (1956) and then Green
Lantern (1959). This lead to a major super hero revival
called the Silver Ages of Comics.
The 1950s were a time of upheaval and stagnation for the
American comic book. By the decadešs conclusion change was
in the air.