Noah has invited me to join him and Tom at this blog; I’m chuffed. But I have some real life stuff to take care of. My other blog is on hiatus until December.
Well, since that one’s mostly an archive, here I’ll just join the conversation. (I won’t be a Heavy Hitter for a few months at least, but I’ll do my best.)
So. Censorship. Here’s a take:
The last supercomic I followed, Sandman finishing up (gothy cloaks are capes– do people still read it?), had Neil Gaiman, who’s joined Frank Miller et al. all the time for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. They say they fight censorship. But I think, aesthetically, censorship’s usually a good thing. Constraints spur invention. An OuLiPian/OuBaPian idea, sure, but I think it plays out.
Manga, for one, benefited from strict obscenity laws. Especially in the 70s, these comics screamed sex & violence, but had to bend over backwards, usually with ropes, to skirt the law. Baroque visual codes sprouted for all manner of filth. Low Symbolism for the gutterminded, more interesting by half.
Those manga (barely) support a political reading. The obscenity law, from the 1907 Criminal Code, was part of Japan’s dash to fit in the Western world. Before that, popular woodblock prints teemed with smut. And political censorship often fosters great art: Czech film before ’68 and early 5th Generation Chinese film come to mind. So too samizdat’s energies, and ever and always poetry (save John Wilmot).
But the Comics Code episode strikes me as simple capitulation. A weak industry got whipped. No one in comics had much to say, anyway (“I cut off her head,” oh, please). In the other American example, Hollwood and the Hays Code from ’34 on, an industry self-censored for commercial purposes. Filmmakers still pushed the boundaries, with elaborate codes and subtexts. Comics creators, not so much. The Hays Code was dropped in ’68; the Comics Code wasn’t revised until ’71, and again in ’89.
Now, in a post-Crumb, anything-goes American industry, censorship’s still the cause celebre. The CBLDF’s a one-issue fund. It does good in the world, but mainly for unwitting red-state retailers carrying comics showing First Amendment genitals. Again, these are industry (read: industrial) issues, about keeping markets open. I can’t think of a single case in which the CBLDF helped a creator fight editor & publisher for self-expression’s sake.
Meanwhile, I can think of dozens whose intellectual property rights have been trampled. That issue seems more important in comics than censorship. Of course, too few people ever talk about that with movie deals on the line.
Update from Noah: This post is in part a response to this one