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Part Six

In 1950 comic publisher William Gaines was experiencing an anxiety attack. It was in the form of a malaise in sales of his comic books. The books he was marketing just weren't money makers anymore, if they ever were, and he needed a new formula. It didn't take long for he and editor/artist Al Feldstein to figure it out. In the next to last issue of his Crime Patrol title, he had introduced a particular story "from the Crypt of Terror" in a blurb on the cover. The issue sold better than any issue before it. On the next cover there was an obvious horror content, and it sold better than the previous issue. They had found what they were looking for.

By the middle of 1950, EC had three horror titles on the stands. Crypt of Terror (later Tales from the Crypt), Haunt of Fear and Vault of Horror. But they weren't ordinary horror books. They were horror with a bent. Each story had a strange twist ending as if it were written by O.Henry with help from Kurt Vonnegut. This simple addition catapulted horror comics to the fore.

Publishers were scurrying to get horror titles on the stands. Some were good, most were not, but that didn't matter. It was similar to the turn of the century when, as comic strips were being established, cartoonists were putting together any idea they could muster and the public ate it all up because they couldn't get enough!

Another genre that exploded was science fiction comics, but not with just EC's help. Avon and other publishers also put forth many science fiction titles that were of fairly high quality.

But the early fifties however the war on comics was about to go all out in an attempt to eradicate comic books if possible. By this time the public outcry was almost a roar. The Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency had released a report very critical of comics, and it was widely circulated. But nobody was prepared for what came next.

Readers Digest had published a scathing article by a paranoid psychologist who all but claimed outright that comic books and other media were responsible for the degradation of the American youth. It was comics that made teenage boys rob and rape. It made adolescent's grades drop. It made them use drugs. Comic books made every child a thief, a bully - a killer! These were the claims of this paranoid. His name was Frederic Wertham.

American mothers could not believe what they were reading. Then it got worse, Wertham published a book that contained purported examples of sex and violence in comics. The book, entitled "Seduction of the Innocent" fanned anti-comic sentiment all over America. It was a death knell for the field.

The resulting hysteria caused many schools and PTA groups to hold (shades of Nazi Germany) public comic book burnings. Comics were banned in many cities and even store owners would refuse to put out for display anything else but Bugs Bunny, Archie and Walt Disney's Comics. Even Superman's super strength couldn't get shelf space in some places.

The backlash sent comics into a tailspin from which most would never recover. By 1955, all comic publishers had sharply curtailed their output. Many had totally phased out comic publishing, if they remained in business at all. Bill Gaines had left comic publishing for Mad magazine. DC had only a couple dozen titles and Atlas (which later became Marvel) was almost out of business. It was comic's darkest hour

coming soon: From the ashes, rejuvenation & revitalization.

A Pictorial History of Sequential Art from Cave painting to Spider-Man

The History of Comic Art

A Chronological History of Comic Art in America

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