Comic Books #14: Pre Code Nastiness

It's a common misconception that popular media has always been tamer and much less explicit than it is today. In many ways, movies, advertising, magazines, novels and comic books could be every bit as ribald and offensive as they are today (if not more so).


Anyway, I was paging through some old pre-code gems and was bitch slapped by some downright sadistic comic panels, generally involving horrific violence against women.  I guess I shouldn't be surprised, given the fact that this was prior to the 1954 crackdown, when comics were spayed and neutered. Nonetheless, I was both amused and disturbed by some of these pre-code classics.

Sally the Sleuth, 1940

Surprisingly, I find the crime/adventure comics a lot more extreme than the horror ones. The horror comics like Tales from the Crypt and Vault of Horror would often have a gruesome panel or two - maybe a shrunken head or someone getting wacked with an axe. However, the crime and adventure comics seem much more mean spirited. They were the ones that graphically showed murder each and every week, often with a sado-masochistic twist. Ironically, it was the horror comics that got the spotlight when the shit hit the fan in 1954.


I thought I'd share a few of the particularly nasty ones from these crime/adventure comics. Get ready for some mean spirited debauchery from the era of The Great Depression, WWII and post war America. It's probably safe for work.... but your co-workers may think you're a sociopath. Enjoy!

Dan Turner, Hollywood Detective, 1944


Crime Does Not Pay (1947)









 And last but not least. This is from a 1947 cover, and I kid you not, these comics were intended for kids (for the most part). If you look through the comic, you'll find lots of advertising for children  This particular comic has ads for a "Dick Tracy 2-Way Radio" and a pine derby race car!

Girl 1: SO!! You couldn't see me because you had a date with the boys! All right, wise guy, you asked for it! I'm gonna have a chat with the Cops! OH!!

Guy: Can I help it if you're too dumb to know when you're gettin' the brush off! GO AHEAD BIG MOUTH, squeal to the Cops! I'd like to see you try it!

Girl 2: Step aside, Frankie!! Let me give her a goin' over, woman style! I'd like to sharpen my nails on that fat face!!


  1. Oh my! You certainly saved the best for last. YIKES! Thanks for posting these. Very interesting.

  2. What, Gilligan? Nothing but good, old-fashioned violent misogyny displayed here! Of course these were for children; they had to learn it somehow. Why are you so unAmerican?

    Also, I know "Cripes!" is the first thing that would drop from my lips if a dame were just impaled through the throat on a rapier!

  3. Throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s many fans opined that the pre-code comics were not so bad and that both government and parents over-reacted. This of course was before wider publishing and the internet allowed most readers to access the early comics. I was aware of how brutal the early stuff was and even I was often surprised at how extreme something sold to a young age group was. There was nothing actually wrong about the content of pre-code comics except they were full of mature content directly marketed to children.

    While the backlash was in my own opinion far too extreme in the other direction the modern day equivalent would be giving a child unrestricted access to the internet and the links to spam e-mails.

  4. Back then, like today, more people aged 18-35 were buying comics than people aged 8-18. Comic books were read by servicemen, college kids, and other young adults. Sure, kids read them. I read old "Vault of Horror" and "Tales From the Crypt" as a kid, reading an older relative's copies. I turned out okay. Dr. Wertham's assertions that comic books made children violent, anti-social, communist and gay (read "Seduction of the Innocent" if you don't believe me) were preposterous. Comics are no more a negative influence than movies, video games, and heavy metal music.

  5. Great comments from everyone. I hope it's understood that I, personally, think the comics code was a horrible mistake based on an unscientific and prejudice fueled thesis.

    However, at the same time I have been blown away at the level of violence in these old comics - I simply never knew they were this rough (till just a few years ago). Like Sleestak said, it's only recently that these comics have resurfaced and people realize how disturbing they actually were.

    In other words, I'm amazed at how rough they were, but in no way should they be taken off the shelf.

  6. Good Night! Some of these are amazingly cruel. Makes want to read the whole thing.

  7. Wow, those are eye openers!

  8. Too say these only just resurfaced is wrong. These have been known and collected by most serious comic book collectors for decades. A