Censorship in Action—-The Comics Evaluation List, number two.

Comics evaluation list maIN PAGE 001Found among a pile of literary ephemera at Jot HQ is this single sheet folded twice and entitled ‘ Comics Evaluation List  Number Two ‘. According to a handwritten inscription at the head of the text this was evidently a proof of a document to be published, probably in September 1953. In 1952, in the words of the introduction ‘ a group of writers and others concerned with children’s reading’ had drawn up a list of comics that glorified ‘ crime, brutality, sadism and lust ‘. As a result of this first ‘ evaluation list ‘ some of these publications had ‘disappeared from circulation and reputable newsagents refused to handle them’.

This second list was to be a more extensive catalogue of offensive publications that nonetheless included those comics to which the board of censors had no objection. If we look at the publication details on the bottom of the list we find that it was printed for the ‘Authors’ World Peace Appeal’. Further investigation reveals that this was a British pacifist organisation launched in October 1951 which flourished in the immediate post-war period of Cold War incriminations where the horrors of the Holocaust and of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were still fresh in the public mind. In their Bulletin number 7 (n.d.) the writers mentioned in the Comics list expressed their views thus:-

‘We writers believe that our civilisation is unlikely to survive another world war. We believe that differing political and economic systems can exist side by side on the basis of peacefully negotiated settlements . As writers we want peace and through our work will try and get it, and we pledge ourselves to encourage an international settlement through peaceful negotiations . We condemn writing liable to sharpen existing dangers and hatred. As signatories we are associated with no political movement, party, or religious belief, but are solely concerned with trying to stop the drift to war,’  

Some of the names of the signatories to this declaration are printed. The writers included:

Edmund Blunden, Vera Brittain, Albert Camus, Alex Comfort, Rupert Croft Cooke ( see earlier Jot), A.E.Coppard, Christopher Fry, William Gerhardi, Joyce Grenfell, Aldous Huxley, C.E.M.Joad, Marghanita Laski, Doris Lessing, C.Day Lewis, Compton Mackenzie, Naomi Mitchison, Sean O’ Casey, Kathleen Raine, Herbert Read, Siegfried Sassoon, Edith Sitwell, Dylan Thomas, Sylvia Townsend Warner.


This is just a selection. The remainder are just as eminent, though perhaps less well known. The majority seems to have been loosely on the ‘ left ‘, though not necessarily aligned to any political party at this time. C. Day Lewis had had strong communist sympathies in the thirties, Read called himself an anarchist ( though he later accepted a knighthood); Comfort was close to being one, I would say. He was certainly one of the most vociferous pacifists on the literary scene. Most signatories had been exposed to the horrors of war, some, like Brittain, Sassoon and Blunden, to both world wars. It was natural that all of these signatories should abhor war.


But could there also have been an anti-American attitude in their opposition to war ? After all, it was American scientists who developed the A bomb and the American military who dropped these bombs over Japan in 1945. If we examine the list of comics we find that most, if not all, of the objectionable ones hailed from the USA. These were the pulp fiction magazines with titles like Captain Marvel ,  Air Yank ,  Crime Detective, G.I.Joe  and Rocket Ship that were big sellers among those who enjoyed Sci Fi, war adventures and detective stories, whether true or fictional. The writer-censors had absolutely no problem with such British titles as The Beano, The Dandy, Girl, Lion, Robin, Tiny Tots, Topper and TV Comic, even though violence of a kind was sometimes depicted in some of  these comics.


In the USA there was a similar moral panic among the parents of these young pulp fiction readers. In response the Comics Code Authority, which regulated the content of comics, was established by the Comics Magazine Association of America in 1954  as an alternative to government regulation. Amazingly, this self-censorship by comic publishers lasted right up to 2001, when it was abandoned by mutual consent. It is not known for long the censorship imposed by the ‘Authors World Peace Appeal ‘ continued in

4 thoughts on “Censorship in Action—-The Comics Evaluation List, number two.

  1. Roger

    ” If we examine the list of comics we find that most, if not all, of the objectionable ones hailed from the USA.”
    Were there many comics originating from the USSR available in Britain at the time?
    There’s also a difference in kind between the American and British comics you list. I doubt if there was much cross-over readership between Captain Marvel or G.I.Joe and Robin or Tiny Tots. It was only a few years later that Americans had a moral panic over their own comics with the infamous Mars Attacks, which time – and Tim Burton – has made amusing.

  2. Angus

    Note the address at the foot of the list.

    From The Times’s obituary of Peter Owen (16.6.16):

    In 1955 an aspiring novelist named Muriel Spark arrived to work part-time at Peter Owen’s office, above a shop at 50 Old Brompton Road. Still a girl of slender means, she lived in digs in Camberwell with her cat, writing poetry and awaiting the publication of her first novel, The Comforters…

    Hope this helps!


  3. Jot 101 Post author

    Thanks Roger. Thanks Angus. I guess Peter Owen was sharing an office with the World Peace Appeal or he was actually the organization. The roster of writers, some of whom he published, would point to the latter explanation. There is a biography or autobiography– next time I see one I will check.

  4. Joe S. Walker

    The Comics Code Authority came to an end mainly because Marvel Comics decided to stop submitting their comics to it. The Code had long since ceased to have any real authority, with nearly all its original prohibitions dropped and the publishers regularly putting out uncensored books labelled as “for mature readers.”

    The comics world still has regular outbreaks of morality, though. Just this week a comics writer named Jai Nitz has become literally unemployable because of allegations of sexual misconduct, which consists mostly of trying it on with young women who wanted to get into the business. One was quoted as saying “he seemed very lustful,” a phrase which would have sounded archaic in 1952.


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