Comic Books and the Youth

Are comic books kids-only fare ?

The answer begins in the time period for 1900-1940 American comic books. It was here that newspaper comic strips began to emerge, in the form of Thimble Theatre and Little Orphan Annie. But if kids were flocking to the Sunday paper, entire families were huddled around the radio, and this had an impact on comic books of the 1930's, with radio-born titles like "The Shadow". This would lead to a grotesque genre of graphic comic books – the crime comics, and with its gothic comic book cousin, horror. These dark and bloody cautionary tales had a built-in audience: the many servicemen overseas. Comic book sales quickly rose to their highest level ever.

Though golden era comic books were booming with Batman comic books and other superhero comics, the audience was largely an adult one. After the war, this adult audience disappeared when the troops came home. To make matters worse, in the 1950's a psychiatrist named Frederic Wertham discounted comic books as harmful to children. Wertham's actions would ensure the relationship of comics and the youth would continue, albeit in the form of sanitized comics strictly censored by the Comics Code Authority.
It would be the Spider-Man comic books which dealt the biggest blow to Comics Code Authority. In 1971, the Department of Health, Education and Welfare hoped to use the special relationship comic books and the youth in an ongoing effort against drug abuse, and contacted creator Stan Lee to pen an anti-drug issue on the pages of Spider-Man. Despite the nature of the request, however, the Comics Code Authority refused to allow the story to continue, and in response Lee and publisher Martin Goodman brought the issues to the stand without the Comics Code Authority. The issue was a hit and the Comics Code Authority was shattered.

DC Comics Green Lantern and Green Arrow were among those running socially conscious stories ranging from drugs to corruption and racism. The adult genre slowly re-emerged, especially in the 1980's and 1990's with the Sandman comics and even works like the Evil Ernie comics later. Today, publishers still focus on special relationship between comic books and the youth, but many good comics books are aimed at other audiences spanning from teens into their adulthood, and with the rise of digital comic books, this trend isn't likely to change soon.

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