Margaret Rohrs ’17

Project TitleThe Historical Context of Queer Characters and Censorship in Comic Books
Mentor – Nancy Comorau

Superheroes have always battled cultural anxieties and worked through grand morality tales, but throughout the pivotal 1980’s and 90’s in the gay rights movement gay characters have been noticeably absent from this popular medium. Yet, recently there has been a seemingly sudden boom in queer representation. Batwoman, most of the Young Avengers, Ms. America, Northstar, Iceman, and even Wonder Woman have all come out as members of the LGBT community in just the past 10 years. Why now?

In the 1950s, comic books were in danger of being legally banned at the state level. Fredric Wertham and his contemporaries blamed crime and horror comics for a whole host of societal problems from juvenile delinquency to murder. The more graphic, violent, and sexually explicit comics were written for an adult audience, but because comics were seen as a children’s medium, critics believed these R rated stories were aimed at children. And so, the Comics Code Authority was born to self-regulate the industry and avoid legislative action. Headed by conservative politicians, the CCA claimed to ensure approved comics would be safe and educational for children of all ages. That meant no statements about race, no negative portrayals of police, and absolutely no gay people. Book stores and Magazine stands wouldn’t sell comics that weren’t approved. To survive, publishers had to comply.

These rules stood for over 50 years and only began to fall in the 2000’s. Today, free of this censorship, comics are trending towards a better representation of today’s world and the people in it. Starting with a brief history of the Comics Code Authority and its impact, the presentation will show why queer stories have been absent from comics for so long and why they’re appearing in mass now.