Judge Dredd’s Burger Wars: Intellectual property, self-censorship and new exceptions

‘Beyond the Graphic’ – Considering Violence, Sexuality and Obscenity in Comics

After years languishing in self-censorship due to fears of UK copyright law, a new EU directive has led ‘Burger Wars’ to re-emerge. Written by John Wagner (under the pen name TB Grover) and drawn by Mike McMahon in 1978, this ‘difficult tale’ of corporate America and the inherent crimes of the fast food industry finds the immutable Judge Dredd embroiled in a protracted war between the world’s biggest hamburger chains. The military operations commanded by the Burger King on one side and a familiar clown called Ronald – sporting a stripy top with familiar golden arcs ‘m’ logo thereon – who runs MacDonald (sic) City, on the other. Dredd and his team find themselves captured and force fed high-fat, high-sugar burgers and shakes. Continue reading

To Protect the Innocent: Does Comic Book Censorship to Prevent Youth Corruption Make Sense?

‘Beyond the Graphic’ – Considering Violence, Sexuality and Obscenity in Comics

nvoking the protection of youth as an excuse for censorship is nothing new, but it did reach now infamously ridiculous extremes in the movement to censor American comics in the 1950s. The polemical book Seduction of the Innocent, Fredric Wertham’s treatise on the influence of comic books on juvenile delinquency, was central to this movement and led to the comics industry imposing rigid self-regulated restrictions on all its content in the form of The Comics Code Authority, which only lost its grip totally on the comics industry relatively recently when DC Comics abandoned it in 2011. Continue reading

‘Homo Abominum Americana’: The cultural tradition of the vampire in Snyder and Albuquerque’s American Vampire (2010).

‘Beyond the Graphic’ – Considering Violence, Sexuality and Obscenity in Comics

ne of the most popular cultural figures to be adapted within the comic book format is that of the vampire, a creature whose murky cultural origins have been prone to evolution throughout its long and varied history. A staple of both European and American Gothic traditions as well as the American horror comics of the 1950s, vampire literature has long been associated with the lower end of the established critical canon, particularly due to its sometimes violent and sexually explicit content within the ‘low’ form of the comic. Yet, such an elitist view is to ignore some of the interesting insights and cultural evolutions that can be uncovered within the portrayal of the comic book vampire. Continue reading

Beyond the Refrigerator: Superheroines and Sexual Trauma as Disability

‘Beyond the Graphic’ – Considering Violence, Sexuality and Obscenity in Comics

First published in 1988, Batman: The Killing Joke is regarded as one of the most controversial graphic novels of all time. Much of the criticism revolves around the violence inflicted upon superheroine Barbara Gordon/Batgirl, who is shot and sexually assaulted by the Joker. According to writer Alan Moore, the decision to paralyze Gordon received little pushback from editor Len Wein, who approved it, saying, “Yeah, okay, cripple the bitch”. (Figure 1) Although Moore has distanced himself from the story in recent years, the controversy surrounding his graphic novel remains. A 2016 animated film adaptation received mixed reviews, with many criticizing the role of Gordon as a sexual object, disabled at the hands of the Joker. Continue reading

Disavowal of the Innocent: ‘Sally the Sleuth’ and the Survivor Narrative

‘Beyond the Graphic’ – Considering Violence, Sexuality and Obscenity in Comics

For comic scholars who recognize this quote, it might elicit a reluctant smile and almost certainly an exasperated sigh. For those unfamiliar, it is the dialogue from a single panel reproduced in Frederic Wertham’s exposé on the dangers of comics, Seduction of the Innocent. An unsuspecting milkman discovers a woman’s corpse seductively prone on her front lawn. A trickle of blood from her temple and her torn and disheveled dress lead Wertham to the simple caption, ‘A girl raped and murdered’. To Wertham, this out-of-context image was indicative of the glamorization of sex and violence in 1950s comics. He believed comics both provided a ‘blueprint’ for juvenile delinquency and conditioned children to yearn for the thrill of a life of crime. While we may have progressed beyond his xenophobia towards the medium, we may be inadvertently repeating his mistakes. Continue reading

Introduction to the Special Blog Series

‘Beyond the Graphic’ – Considering Violence, Sexuality and Obscenity in Comics

Despite being among the most culturally iconic narrative forms in the world, comics is only just starting to break away from its ignominious past and claim its rightful place alongside film and literature in the American canon. Since the 1970s, the form has grown massively, with its popularity moving beyond the original reader stereotypes and into new territory. As with gaming, which typically focusses on a narrow demographic of participants and materials, popular understandings of comics is liable to focus only on the mainstream (which includes the publishers Marvel, DC and Dark Horse) and ignore the huge number of other texts, which may be seen as outliers. This could not be further from the truth. The form is as diverse as any other, with examples in every conceivable genre and spanning all themes. Continue reading