At the height of their popularity in the late 1940s and early 50s, crime comics were read by millions each month. With their graphic depiction of violence and criminal activity, the comics were eventually deemed too immoral for the public and were crushed by censorship.
Crime Does Not Pay is recognized as the comic that started the genre. First published in 1942 by Lev Gleason Publications, Crime Does Not Pay featured comics that visualized the lurid details of “true” criminal activity as carried out by all manner of hoodlum, including murderers. The publication had an immediate impact.
As the popularity of superhero comics declined in the years after World War II, more and more publishers sought to achieve the success of Crime Does Not Pay. New titles like Crime Reporter, Crimes by Women, Famous Crimes, and Murder Incorporated fed the public demand for stories with adult themes.
At this same moment in time, the comic book industry became the target of increasing public criticism. Crime comics and their horror genre contemporaries took the bulk of the assault, though even superheroes were under scrutiny. In 1948, an article published in the Saturday Review of Literature described comics as the “marijuana of the nursery; the bane of the bassinet; the horror of the house; the curse of kids, and a threat to the future.”
In 1954, Dr. Fredric Wertham published Seduction of the Innocent, the now infamous alarmist book that warned comics were a cause of juvenile delinquency. It was a minor bestseller when released but scared enough parents that a campaign for censorship started. Around the same time, a U.S. Congressional inquiry was launched to look into the comic book industry.
Several examples were given to demonstrate the obscene imagery, loose morals and negative influences of comic books. Arguably the most notorious was True Crime Comics #2. In Jack Cole’s “Murder, Morphine, and Me”, a female character’s eye is held open and threatened with a hypodermic needle.
The end result of the inquiry and mounting public concern in the United States was the creation of the Comics Code Authority in 1954. The Code placed limits on the content within comics. It was particularly hard on horror and crime comics, many of which folded. It was the sounding of the death knell for crime comics and, arguably, adult themes in general. The Golden Age of comics was over.
Superheroes rose in popularity in the late 50s and early 60s to fill the gap, a safer and presumably more kid-friendly era of comic books. This Silver Age lasted until the mid-80s.
I and the other writers / co-creators of Acts of Violence grew up during the Modern Age of comics. In the mid-80s to early-90s, mature themes and darker tones became increasingly prevalent and popular. Batman: The Dark Knight and Watchmenhad a profound impact on the industry, but so too did anti-heroes like Punisher and Wolverine, and small publishers like First Comics, Dark Horse Comics, and Image Comics, all of which leaned toward stories laced with darkness and nihilism, but also mature themes in general.
Robin was murdered by The Joker in the comics we read as kids. Within the pages of X-Men, storylines involved the genocide of super-powered mutants. This was serious stuff. By the time we were in high school and college in the 90s, changes in the industry and with comic readers’ tastes had made it possible for resurgence in horror and crime comics. A new generation of comic creators reignited the crime genre. Among those were Brian Azzarello, Brian Michael Bendis, Ed Brubaker, Frank Miller and David Lapham.
With Acts of Violence, we add our voices to the crime comics genre. We know the undeniable allure of tales that depict the forbidden, but we also know readers of the Modern Age require three dimensional characters and solid storytelling. We looked to both the past and present masters to find the correct tone for our scripts, and then sought out some of the brightest emerging artistic talents to bring our shady, violent episodes to vivid life.
Crime comics, and comics in general, no longer enjoy the large readerships of the Pre-Code Golden Age. Superheroes are still the dominant force in the market; but we know there is a collection of readers that seek out mature stories within many genres; readers like you. It is for you we created Acts of Violence. We hope you are entertained and engaged by our collective efforts.
[Acts of Violence will appear in the April edition of Previews. Mark your calendar and place your order with your local comic shop. Sources used for "A Brief History of Crime Comics" include CrimeBoss.com; The Mammoth Book of Crime Comics; Wikipedia; ComicsAlliance.com; and, ComicBookWebsites.com.]