Comic Books of the 1950s

by 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 1946 -1954.

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.

 

 
 

 




 

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