August 19, 2010
I’ve only recently been alerted to the existence of this book which was originally published as far back as 1984. “A Haunt of Fears” goes into forensic detail about the Children and Young persons (Harmful Publications) Act of 1955. As might be expected this was a knee-jerk reaction to the similar Act passed in the USA. As might also be expected there was more to it than that. Many laws find their way into the statute books after intense lobbying by a small number of people with very strong convictions. This was a case in point. A handful of people enraged by a handful of comics were involved. Their initial desire to ban “American” comics by necessity had to adapt to a campaign to ban “Horror” comics. (Let’s face it… a lot of American comics were of the “funny animal” variety.) Their real ulterior motive seems to have been an attempt to stem the tide of American pop culture, with their dislike of teenage trends, teddy boys, rock and roll and the idea of the “juvenile delinquant”.
The main flaw in their argument centred on there being no definition of “Graphic Novels” or comics for adults in the early 1950s. A comic MUST by definition be aimed at an 8 year old. Therefore Crime and Horror comics must be being bought and read by 8 year olds. They did not grasp that those comics were most popular with adult USA servicemen rather than little children. Hence their describing Horror and Crime comic books as “So-called Comics”. Surely that was just their description. The books were written and drawn by adults and aimed squarely at adults…. (I recall when I first found a shop selling back issue comics in 1965. I thumbed past the “boring” horror/monster/crime books in my search for Superman Family fare.)
There weren’t actually that many “Horror” comics unique to the UK anyway. It was far easier to find the Beano or the Dandy. EC comics weren’t available in every newsagents !! Miller and Thorpe and Porter did reprint a handful of pre-code horror comics (from Avon, Prize etc) as black and white anthologies. Arnold published three or four comics reprinting EC horror material between 1952 and 1954 and it was these issues that were waved around repeatedly at the few meetings that were held by the pressure groups that instigated this act. Mostly though, it was copies of american comics that were waved about even though they were not regularly distributed in the UK !!
The only other book I have found which deals exclusively with British comics 1945 – 1955 is this. (Another one involving Mike Higgs.) It’s interesting to learn that many Canadian comics arrived in the UK at this time as well as the Australian comics. There’s not an awful lot of text, but there are lots of pictures of those British comics from the odder end of the spectrum. It’s got a big 68 pages (Don’t take less !) so it must be alright.