Listen up, true believers! We’ve talked about superheroes and we’ve talked about Nick Fury. But comics aren’t all fun and games! Since the first modern comic book was published around the turn of the 20th century, they have been attacked by the powers-that-be for their content, their quality, and their artistic value. In 1954, faced with the possibility of government censorship after heated Senate hearings on the impact of comics on juvenile delinquency, publishers adopted the Comics Code, a self-censorship mechanism modeled after the film industry’s restrictive Hays Code. The comics industry was forever changed.
The exhibit “All Lurid, Unsavory, Gruesome Illustrations Shall Be Eliminated: The Comics Code as seen through the UMBC Comics Collection,” currently on display in the Special Collections Department of the Albin O. Kuhn Library isn’t just about looking at some cool rare comics. It’s a chance to see the ways in which the industry has changed over the past 70 years, from pushing the envelope of taste in order to sell comics, to wilting under restrictions on its creativity, and back to pushing the envelope. We see how rare pre-Code, Silver Age and underground titles led to non-Code magazines and today’s graphic novels.
This exhibit is also an opportunity to see some fantastic original comic art from the 1970s, from legendary artists such as Jack Kirby, John Romita Sr. and Joe Sinnott. Straight out of the Special Collections vault, these pieces have almost never been seen in public! Paired with the finished published books, they are great examples of the process of the comic book artists of the time.
So come on down, superfans! This exhibit will be on display until May 16th, so you’ve got plenty of time. Special Collections, located inside the library’s first floor gallery, is open Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday from 1-4 pm, and Thursdays from 1-8 pm. Other hours are available by appointment. Please provide advance notice if you will be arriving via invisible jet.
To browse all of the comics available at Special Collections, enter “comic books” in the “Collection” field in the following search; or put in more specific search terms to find the exact comic you’re looking for: http://umbc.pastperfect-online.com/37467cgi/mweb.exe?request=advform
by Steve Ammidown, Special Collections Student Assistant
Image from Planet Comics #30, May 1944