Legends Revealed: Pre-Code Holiday Comics Policing Uncovered

To celebrate the holiday season, Brian Cronin of Comic Book Resources counts down the top Christmas Comic Book Legends Revealed, revealing which are fact and which are fiction. Let’s take a look at a couple of our favorites…

Was Carl Bark’s classic Christmas story “The Golden Christmas Tree” censored by Disney before going to press?

Carl Barks is the American cartoonist most notably recognized for his work on the Disney comics line during the 1930s and 40s. His beautiful and lively art and narrative style forged the creative direction for Disney comics for decades to come and brought life into Donald Duck; the three duck nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie; and his personal creation, Scrooge McDuck (to name a few) in ways comics fans hadn’t seen before. Also a skilled classical painter, later in his life Barks created beautiful oil paintings of the Disney Duck family, which captured scenes of adventure and intrigue and kindled a sense of fantasy in both the young and old.

Barks often illustrated stories that veered into a complexity that extended past the superficial magic that Disney may have been going for and pushed the growing boundaries and restrictions of acceptable material for comics that began to be set in the late 40s and 50s. With stories ranging from Donald Duck as an arsonist to intense brawl scenes, Barks had no problem telling a tale that made narrative sense and Disney had no problem pulling the pages from the final publications.

As Cronin points out, this is exactly what happened with “The Golden Christmas Tree.” It turns out that Barks didn’t just want to make a story about the nephews’ Christmas wishes come true — if you were going to punish the wicked old witch threatening the Spirit of Christmas, you needed to do it with depicted violence and flair!

Instructing Barks to scrap whole chunks of the end of the story, only the last four panels of the comic are part of the original narrative that Barks wrote and drew. As Barks recalled in a later interview:

I felt sourly about the finished story because the editors had made me do some changes in the fight sequences between Don and the witch that I thought took the guts out of the story. I still gag when I read the last two pages of the story. But the rest of the tale was robust enough.


The comic still reads beautifully and no one would know about the missing portion of the story until Carl Barks told his side. Regardless, though, this is another instance where great comic story telling was edited and changed in order to fit the wholesome model and image attempting to be propagated in light of rising anti-comics sentiment — sentiment and fear that would eventually lead to the infamous Senate Subcommittee Hearing and enacting of the Comics Code of 1954 which strictly prohibited the graphic depiction of gratuitous violence in comics.

Carl Barks’ real Christmas story never got the chance to be told. But then again, Barks was no stranger to Disney altering his slightly more “mature” stories.

Was the first issue of EC Comics’ Panic banned in Massachusetts for it less than savory depiction Santa Claus and “nice” children?

Speaking of pre-code violence and the company that arguably sparked the comics scare of the 1950s, EC Comics, too, has their own holiday myth.

In light of the success of Mad in 1953, EC launched their slightly more mature bi-monthly humor comic Panic, which was edited by the famous Al Feldstein. Although there was controversy surrounding the comic from day one, one particular story — a satire of the popular Clement Clark Moore poem “Twas the Night Before Christmas” drawn by Will Elder — was a particular sore spot; a sore spot that would ultimately lead to Panic #1 being “voluntarily” banned from the state of Massachusetts.

From depictions of animal cadavers (“not a creature was stirring”), to innocents dreaming of busty women (“visions of sugarplums”), to a bumbling, expletive throwing, proudly divorced Santa Claus, all of these things the Massachusetts Attorney General George Fingold saw as “desecration” of Christmas. Due to constitutional law and freedom of speech, Fingold couldn’t outright have the books pulled from the shelves so he called for a “voluntary” ban, encouraging retailers to do the moral thing by refusing to sell the book. And that is just what they did the holiday season of 1953.

Once again, with the rising fear about the precarious moral state of America and its youths seemingly brought about by violent comics, there was no way that this comic could possibly be sold, and governmental and parental agencies would end up stopping at nothing to make sure that these comics weren’t, even at the expense of creator’s First Amendment rights.

Get in the Spirit of Giving! Help support CBLDF’s important First Amendment work by visiting the Rewards Zonemaking a donation, or becoming a member of CBLDF! When you support CBLDF’s Spirit of Giving drive, The Will & Ann Eisner Family Foundation will make a contribution of $2 for every donation and gift order placed on CBLDF’s website, and they will contribute $10 for each new membership and $5 for every renewing membership made by December 31! You will also receive an exclusive download of Neil Gaiman: Live At the Aladdin, the classic CBLDF benefit reading featuring performances of “Chivalry” and “Being an Experiment Upon Strictly Scientific Lines…” and much more!

Contributing Editor Caitlin McCabe is an independent comics scholar who loves a good pre-code horror comic and the opportunity to spread her knowledge of the industry to those looking for a great story!