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Arts & Entertainment

Book burning anyone? A look at LA's comic book ban of 1948

Just your typical comic book burning in Binghamton, NY (1948)
Just your typical comic book burning in Binghamton, NY (1948)
Just your typical comic book burning in Binghamton, NY (1948)
Just your typical comic book burning in Binghamton, NY (1948)
Just your typical comic book burning in Binghamton, NY (1948)

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UPDATE: Next week is Banned Books Week, and on Tuesday, Sept. 23, there's a free performance at the Central Library by Captured Aural Phantasy Theater bringing some banned comics to life. CAPT's Ben Dickow tells us the show will include a discussion about the ban, which was sparked by some pretty adult fare making its way into kids' hands.

"The performance focuses on the April 21, 1954, U.S. Senate hearings into the bad influence of comic books.  It was after these hearings that many comics were censored and banned. Captured Aural Phantasy Theater will perform excerpts of the actual transcripts from the hearings, a few of the stories that were mentioned by the Senators and some historical material that puts the hearings in the context of the times.  Includes live music and short comedic bits much like a variety show." -- Captured Aural Phantasy Theater

The event reminds us of this fine piece Robert Garrova filed last year telling us about LA County's 1948 comic book ban.

Today, 'crime' video games are violent enough to scare away plenty of parents, but back in the '40s, it was crime comic books that filled the violent media role. Comics of the era were getting more and more violent too, and, in September 1948, L.A. County passed a ban on comic books. 

Benjamin Dickow lectures on comics history at Otis College. He says the penalties for putting comics in the hands of minors were harsh. "Basically the ordinance said it was punishable up to a $500 fine and six months in jail if an adult gave or sold a comic to kids," Dickow says. 

According to Dickow, some of these banned comics were never really meant for kids in the first place. "In WWII, GIs were reading comic books and when they got back they were still reading comic books. A lot of the comic book writers had been in the war," he says. "These were never totally meant for kids." 

But, available at the grocery stores and five and dimes of the day, theses increasingly sensational comics provoked plenty of parents, and led to huge comic book burnings on the East Coast. Dickow says he can't help but see the comic book burnings of the '40s as a little paradoxical, as they happened just a few years after we defeated the book-burning Nazis. 

Benjamin Dickow is part of a group called Captured Aural Phantasy Theater that brings comics and other culture to life monthly at El Cid. Captured Aural is celebrating their fifth anniversary of programming this year -- their next show is November 3. More info here