Comics Censorship Crises Past, Present, and Future – an Inside Look at CBLDF


Last week Adam Adler from Escapist Magazine sat down with Comic book Legal Defense Fund’s Executive Director Charles Brownstein to talk about censorship in comics, both the history and the current crises. Escapist is a journalistic take on an amalgam of interests for the grown-up geek, including comics books. The questions Adler prepared prompted a behind the scenes look at CBLDF not often known. Here’s a brief look at a few of the responses, but the answers are truncated, so make sure you check out the full article for a great read.

Adler: What kinds of legal issues does the CBLDF encounter?
Brownstein: CBLDF is dedicated to protecting First Amendment rights in relation to the comics medium.

At the moment, we’re most frequently called upon to protect access to comics and graphic novels in school and library settings. Frequently, individual community members will object to the content in a library or classroom resource and attempt to have it banned. CBLDF provides guidance, letters of support, and one-on-one counseling to protect access to these resources, which are most often very mainstream content, including acclaimed books for kids like Raina Telgemeier’s Drama or the Tamaki cousins’ This One Summer.

We are also frequently called upon to help manage or consult in relation to First Amendment emergencies. This can range from legal action involving material alleged to be obscene or harmful to minors, to cease and desist actions against fair use, to searches and seizures of constitutionally protected material at customs. Most of this work is executed without publicity because we’re able to achieve a successful resolution before the matter goes to court.

AA: What is the most important legal challenge facing comic book creators or consumers?
CB: We’re currently in an environment where we’re seeing a steady stream of challenges to legitimate speech in a way that affects the readers and educators using comics. For example, there’s a trend in proposed legislation that aims to treat pornography as a public health and safety concern as a way to mandate intrusive filtering of devices that access the internet. This kind of constitutionally unsound thinking poses a significant risk to a great deal of legitimate content, and to the rights of individuals to access information in a way that could threaten comics readers, retailers, and makers.

This following quote is taken from a discussion about the origin and eventual collapse of the Comics Magazine Association of America. This picks up following Bill Gaines famous testimony to the Senate subcommittee:

CB: Faced with an angry public and the threat of regulation by the government, the comics industry was backed into a corner. They responded by establishing the Comic Magazine Association of America (CMAA), which instituted the Comics Code Authority, a censorship code that thoroughly sanitized the content of comics for years to come.

Almost overnight, comics were brought down to a level appropriate only for the youngest or dimmest readers. Horror, crime, science fiction, romance and other genres appealing to older and more sophisticated readers were functionally hobbled for a generation. Longer in the case of romance comics.

AA: I noticed on your website that CBLDF obtained the intellectual property rights to the Comics Code Authority materials. Can you tell us how that happened, and how you’re using the materials?

CB: As the CMAA was closing shop, we got a call from a legal executive at DC Comics who told us the Code was winding down and that they wanted to contribute the IP in the Seal of Approval to CBLDF. We were told, This has been a symbol of censorship for almost 50 years. We want to see you use it to fight censorship.” So we have, by continuing to produce educational resources about the history of the Code and to produce fundraising merchandise with the Seal to help support our mission.

Please check out the full article, How Lawyers Defend the Comic Book Community*.

  • For more information about the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, check out our F.A.Q., or poke around!

  • For more information about Bill Gaines, EC Comics, the CMAA, false moral panic incited by Seduction of the Innocent, and more, watch Charles Brownstein at the Library of Congress – it is an engrossing period in comics history.

  • For (a lot) more information on the Comics Code and the Comics Magazine Association Authority, check out


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