Mike Gold: Violence and Comic Books
Sure, this is a question some will ask in the wake of a tragedy like last Friday’s massacre in Newtown Connecticut – and a question soon-to-be-ex Senator Joe Lieberman asks every day. But let me put aside my deep-seated prejudice against book-burners for the moment and tell you who else is asking this question right now.
DC Comics is asking this question. Actually, it’s asking the question “Are DC Comics too violent?” And that’s a valid question, as long as those asking it are aware that they’ve been continuing a trend of some decades and that there is no real evidence that there’s a causal link. But that DC name, now synonymous with Warner Bros, is right there on the cover… as well as on all those movies, profitable and otherwise. But movies are a horse of another color: for one thing, children actually go to movies.
Way back in the fall of 1976, DC Comics published Action Comics #466, pictured above. I ran it slightly larger than our usual graphics so you can see what I’m talking about. This was a somewhat controversial cover: several big-name creators found it abhorrent. They felt we shouldn’t beat up babies on the covers of DC Comics. (No, causing harm was what those old Johnson-Smith ads inside were for.) The story was reprinted in a trade paperback back in 2000.
But at that time I was DC’s entire marketing and publicity department, so publisher Jenette Kahn brought me in, showed me the cover, and asked what I thought. “Well, to be honest,” I said paraphrasing like hell, “I hadn’t noticed it as untoward when I first saw the cover several months prior to publishing. Now that you mention it, I see the point. It doesn’t offend me, but little does. Professionally, unless one of the nut-groups is having a slow day I doubt it’ll be a problem.” It wasn’t.
Jenette said it didn’t bother her either, but we had a nice conversation about limits. That’s a good thing to do from time to time, particularly if you’re in the media racket and you are dependent upon the pleasure of mom’n’pop store-owners.
But you can’t please everybody.
Given some of DC’s recent comics – and by “recent” I mean “at least since the time they broke Batman’s back” – one wonders how they will evaluate the standards. Note that the Comics Code Authority, the guardian of comic book morality and the exorciser of four-color excess, approved the above cover. Today such decisions are made where they should be, in-house.
If, by way of example, it is deemed the current Batman mega-arc “Death Of The Family” crosses that revalued line, would DC alter it for the trade paperbacks and omnibus editions? Or forgo these editions entirely? If not, well, so much for the new standards.
Which is OK by me, but it’s not my call. It’s been a while since I’ve been on their payroll and, knowing me as well as I do, were I still in editorial I’d be pushing those new limits right up to that “you’re meeting with Human Resources tomorrow morning” point. Hey, I’m a brat.
I’m not expressing concern or outrage, nor am I screaming censorship. It’s good for such concerns to evaluate and reevaluate their standards from time to time and, besides, as the great A. J. Liebling said, “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.”
THURSDAY: Dennis O’Neil