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Banned books: Barrick exhibit details the life of comic books and the controversial ‘50s boycotts

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In the 1940s and ’50s, a hysteria snowballed across the U.S., leaving in its wake the powdery ashes of burned books. Which books? Comic books. Not just bloody crime and horror books, but also the Batman tales (deemed “homoerotic”) or the scantily clad Wonder Woman.

Leading the charge against the comics were politicians looking for an edge, PTA groups and church organizations. Even school-aged children staged boycotts and collected publications to destroy, while millions of other kids were absorbed by the visual stories. At the helm of the messy American culture war was Frederic Wertham, a psychiatrist hell-bent on getting “smut” off the racks, arguing that the books were directly linked to juvenile delinquency.

The Details

Seduction of the Innocent
September 30-October 29, free. Opening reception and guided tours September 30, 6-9 p.m.
UNLV’s Barrick Museum, 895-3381

Wertham (author of the 1954 book, Seduction of the Innocent) never proved his theory, but his alarmist tales advanced the anti-comics cause. Retailers were fined, codes were enforced and many comic book companies shut down.

Seduction of the Innocent: A Visual Exploration of Banned Comics opens September 30 at Barrick Museum in conjunction with Banned Books Week (September 24-October 1). Conceived and curated by writer/illustrator PJ Perez, Seduction offers a visual time line of comic book censorship told through the images of comic book covers and interior art, along with rare photos—spanning from the pre-comic book era (example: The Katzenjammer Kids strip) to the dawn of the alternative press and underground comix to contemporary works.

It’s indeed an interesting chapter in American history, yet despite Senate hearings and headlines that dominated the era, the tale of comic book censorship is not commonly known today, Perez says. “The one big thing I’ve noticed in talking about this exhibit to different people is that they had no idea there was such a thing as censorship in comic books, let alone with such a rich history.”

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Kristen Peterson

Kristen Peterson joined the Las Vegas Sun in 1998 as a general assignment reporter. In 2003, she turned her focus ...

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