Saturday, November 29, 2008


The Beat hipped me to the fact that you can now search the photo archive of LIFE Magazine via Google. I'd link to it right now, but you'd go there and never come back. The archive includes pictures labeled "comic book hearings". Several hearings were held in the 1950s to study the supposed link between juvenile delinquency and the negative effects of comic books. Last year's book by David Hajdu - The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America - explored these attacks on comic books, highlighting the scary consequences of the mob mentality, such as comic book burnings that were held across the country. This comic book fervor caught the attention of civic groups and eventually Congress, who felt something must be done about these comic books for the sake of the children.

Milton Caniff and his fellow artists of the National Cartoonists Society became concerned about the implications of this witchhunt. While they toiled in comic strips, not comic books, there was some crossover of material. Indeed, the first comic books were simply reprints of comic strip dailies, and Caniff's own strips, 'Terry & the Pirates' and 'Steve Canyon' had been adapted into the comic book format. Per Hajdu's book, Caniff testified at hearings in 1950 and 1954. However, these pictures create something of a mystery. They are dated December, 1951. Hajdu wrote that Caniff testified before Senator Estes Kefauver's committee in 1950 and that Kefauver's report was issued November, 1950. In R.C. Harvey's Caniff biography, Meanwhile..., Harvey writes that Caniff went to another hearing in New York in December 1951. This was the New York State Joint Legislature Committee to Study the Publication of Comics hearing. New York was at the forefront of the war on comics, with the legislature passing a bill to have comics approved before distribution by the state's board of education. Per Hajdu, the committee was established after the governor vetoed the bill. Per Harvey, Milton Caniff did not testify at this hearing. He was merely accompanying fellow artist Alex Raymond as representatives of the National Cartoonists Society. But in these pictures, Caniff is clearly testifying.

LIFE's full gallery file of pictures from the hearings can be found here. So, I need your help, dear readers. If you can identify other folks in the pictures, please let me know. It will aid in narrowing down the events taking place. I like them because they depict the normally jovial Caniff looking very pissed off.

All photos are by Yale Joel for LIFE Magazine. LIFE Magazine's photo archive on Google can be searched here.

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