One of the most hurtful things you can say to a comic book reader is that comic books are for kids.
It’s a chilling insult that the stuff they read — the stuff they love — never advanced beyond its funny-page beginnings. But it’s also — often unknown to comics fans — a blunt reminder of one of the worst things to ever happen to comic books.
Some 60 years ago, during the era of McCarthyism, comic books became a threat. The panic culminated in a Senate hearing in 1954. This, of course, isn’t to say that McCarthyism and the comic book panic were comparable in their human toll. But they share the same symptoms of American fear and a harsh, reactive response to it.
The reaction to the suspected scourge was the Comics Code — a set of rules that spelled out what comics could and couldn’t do. Good had to triumph over evil. Government had to be respected. Marriages never ended in divorce. And it was in the best interests of publishers to remain compliant.
What adults thought was best for children ended up censoring and dissolving away years of progress and artistry, as well as comics that challenged American views on gender and race. Consequently, that cemented the idea that this was a medium for kids — something that we’ve only recently started disbelieving.