Forbidden Books

Lights Out: Reading Under the Covers

Superman 1 no. 162 illustrated by Kurt Schaffenberger, Superman in a blue outfit is watching a Superman in a red outfit on a screen

"What is there about Comics that makes children like them so well?" A battle-scarred Ohio schoolteacher posed this question in 1943, in the pages of Library Journal. Mid-20th-century librarians and educators bemoaned comic books and their garishly printed, sensational tales of crime-fighting superheroes as a threat to their own mission as cultural standard-bearers.

With a million fans a month reading Superman alone, the action-packed, 10-cent magazines had indeed connected with America's youth in a big way. Not only could children purchase the latest installments with their own pocket money, but those whose parents disapproved of comics could double their fun by reading them in secret.

Virginia Lee Burton—a future Caldecott winner—contrived, in vain, an elegant, comics-style picture book as an upmarket alternative. Others looked to Curious George for a cure. But it took a psychiatrist's postwar bestseller, and the Senate hearing it inspired, to finally slam the brakes on the comics craze, leaving behind a largely eviscerated industry with one unanticipated bright spot: the deadpan, anarchic satire of Mad magazine.


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Calico the Wonder Horse by Virginia Lee Burton cover, a black sketch of a horse and cowboy with a cactus on a yellow background

Calico the Wonder Horse 

Written and Illustrated by Virginia Lee Burton

1941

Curious George by H.A. Rey cover, a monkey holding hands with two police officers

Curious George

Written and Illustrated by H.A. Rey

1941

129b-cover

Seduction of the Innocent

Written by Frederic Wertham

1954

When the World Forgot Superman by Jerry Siegel cover, Superman doing handstands on a telephone wire

Superman 1, no. 150

Written by Jerry Siegel

Illustrated by Al Plastino

1962

Four Worlds to Conquer by Gardner Fox cover, the Justice League fighting Despero

Justice League of America 1, no. 26

Written by Gardner Fox

Illustrated by Mike Sekowsky and Bernard Sachs

1964

Kang the Conqueror by Stan Lee cover, the Avengers fighting Kang

The Avengers 1, no.8

Written by Stan Lee

Illustrated by Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers

1964