No Harm In Horror.

Dark Horse Comics, publishers of, among others, the Sin City and Hellboy comics, is now republishing a classic comic book called Creepy, one which, ironically, was first published in 1964. That’s ten years after the infamous hearings held by the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency–hearings which were spurred by the “excesses” of 1950’s comic books. At those hearings, comic book publisher William Gaines was asked if it did children “any good” to read stories about murder and robbery. Gaines replied, “I don’t think it does them a bit of good, but I don’t think it does them a bit of harm, either.” It was an exchange Gaines had with Senator Estes Kefauver of Tennessee, though, that may be most memorable. Here’s how it’s described in the essay ‘No Harm in Horror’: Ethical Dimensions of the Postwar Comic Book Controversy, by Amy Kiste Nyberg, in the book Comics As Philosophy:

Gaines insisted,“My only limits are bounds of good taste, what I consider good taste.” His remark sparked outrage from Senator Kefauver, who seized a copy of a comic book featuring a man with a bloody axe holding the severed head of a woman.“Do you think that is in good taste?” he demanded.Having just said he applied the standard of good taste to his choice of material to publish, Gaines had no recourse but to answer, “Yes sir; I do, for the cover of a horror comic.”

Sometimes it’s okay to judge a book–especially a comic book–by its cover. And I love the cover of this first republished issue of Creepy. That “hell hound” is very reminiscent of a scene from John Carpenter’s The Thing.

As far as the issue of whether comic books are “appropriate”, here’s something to consider: there’s plenty of sex and violence in The Odyssey, the hero of Oliver Twist joins a gang of pickpockets, and Gulliver’s Travels is excessively obsessed with bodily functions. And yet these classics are often considered good reading for children. So why couldn’t a comic book like Creepy be just as much of a classic? Maybe someday it will be.