Celebrated comics historian Craig Yoe is no stranger to comics censorship, and just in time for Banned Book Week and the new Forbidden Comics Humble Bundle, he took time to write about the dangerous comics of his youth, his own personal experiences with book burning, and the ridiculousness of the Comics Code and censorship in general.
At the ripe old age of 13, Yoe had a toy chest on which he installed a padlock and wrote “Keep Out! This Means You!” The flashy display was meant to discourage anyone from opening the chest and discovering its contentious contents — a secret stash of comics and men’s magazines!
“It WAS filled with terribly embarrassing stuff that I didn’t want anyone to see because it would reveal emblematic objects of my conflicted, tormented adolescence: ‘men’s magazines’ and ‘children’s comic books,’” recalls Yoe in a recent article for BoingBoing. “Both types of opposing fare were dishonorable possessions for a 13-year-old. Men’s magazines were impure and could incite youthful lusts, and comic books were a symptom of some kind of sick arrested development.”
Needless to say, despite Yoe’s best efforts, the chest was opened. “Dad then made me haul my shame to the backyard incinerator and light a match to that terrible, terrible contraband!” writes Yoe, adding:
As the men’s mags with the girly pics and the comics with the kiddie fare went up in flames and big tears streamed down my zit-marked adolescent face, my dad assured me I would someday be proud of this moment because I was now ceremoniously joining the esteemed ranks of the Grown Ups.
The “esteemed ranks of Grown Ups” that Yoe would join, though, would not include those that embraced censorship, book burning, and the unjustified attempts to destroy an entire industry. Instead, Yoe would go on to collect the pre-Code comics of his youth and become one of the world’s premiere pre-Code comics historians. “My avocation became my vocation as I now make my living publishing collections of vintage classic comic books,” Yoe writes. “It doesn’t take Doc Freud to realize that this is obviously a thinly disguised psychological and pathetic way to symbolically preserve the hijacked comics of my youth that were burned at Fahrenheit 451.”
In his lifetime, Yoe has seen many drastic measures taken to prevent people from reading the books that they want. From the 1954 Senate Subcommittee Hearing on comics and juvenile delinquency that had candy stores and newsstands pulling comics from their shelves, to the Comics Code and Comics Code Authority, which was “a self-censoring initiative that sanitized for our protection the beleaguered 10-cent funnybooks,” Yoe has had a front row seat to all of the ways that comics have been censored.
But censorship didn’t just stop in 1954, after the institution of strict rules and regulations that publishers needed to abide by to return to newsstand shelves. Modern comics continue to fall prey to censors. Yoe writes, “Why, comics in this very Humble Bundle have been criticized and removed from library shelves and school curriculums by people who want to tell others what they can and can’t read!” He adds:
Yes! True! Fascists or their henchmen, ill-meaning and sometimes even well-meaning fellow citizens, want to saw the locks off of our toy chests and march us to the backyard incinerator and make us burn our comics — even today!
Yoe reminds us, though, that this doesn’t have to be the case. We don’t have to watch our comics get pulled from our school and library shelves, listen as other people dictate what we should be allowed to read, and in the worst case scenarios, watch our books go up in flames. “RESIST!!!” During this Banned Book Week, as well as any week, speak out just as loudly as an advocate for your right to read as those who would attempt to stifle that right. With a rallying cry, Yoe invites “comic book lovers of the world unite!”
Hold onto your right to read whatever precious junk or hi-falutin’ lit-ter-a-chur you want to read!
Read Craig Yoe’s full article on BoingBoing here.
Join the fight for the right to read by picking up the Humble Comics Bundle: Forbidden Comics Supporting Banned Books! Today, Humble added even more challenged and banned goodness to an already awesome bundle, and a portion of the proceeds benefits CBLDF’s fight against censorship!