The Crusade to Ban Crime Comics in Canada
A version of this article was originally published in Canadian Crime #1. Available here from Contrabrand Media.
When WWII broke out in September 1939, the relatively new medium of the comic book was starting to explode with the youth of North America. A little over a year later in December 1940, the government of Canada passed an act restricting the import of nonessential goods such as comic books, and a huge vacuum was created. Before this ban, many talented Canadian artists and writers had to travel to New York or Chicago to find success in comics. This ban would give Canada a unique opportunity to harness its native talent and produce material for an audience hungry for content. To create its own comic industry overnight.
Four magazine publishers immediately rushed to take advantage of this unique opportunity, followed by others in the following years. Most of these companies licensed American characters to capitalize on name recognition, often having Canadian artists redraw American comics from scripts that were sent over from American publishers whose works were not permitted for sale north of the border. Many Canadian publishers in this period ended up resorting to printing their comics in black and white due to the cost, speed, and print quality (you didn’t need to worry about lousy color separation if you removed the color from the equation,) this is why comics from this period have since been lovingly coined “Canadian Whites”.
The five biggest Canadian comic companies of the 1940s were Anglo American, Bell Features, Hillborough Studios, Maple Leaf Publishing, and later Superior Publications. When the import ban was lifted in 1946, the deluge of American color comics put some companies out of business or saw them absorbed into other companies. A few companies were able to weather the storm of American books flooding the stands by switching to color, and some even began to distribute in America. It was a rocky start but Canada was starting to forge a comic identity. This promising beginning would be known as Canada’s Golden Age of Comics, and that’s where it would end.
Some People Hated Comics From the Beginning
Since the creation of the comic, it has had enemies and detractors. A mere two years after Superman’s 1938 debut, a future children’s book author named Sterling North wrote and published an Alex Jones-esque anti-comic tirade in the May 8th, 1940 edition of the Chicago Daily News titled A National Disgrace — And a Challenge to American Parents. North opens by referring to comics as “a poisonous mushroom growth” and he warned that comic books, which he referred to as “sex-horror serials,” graphic insanity,” sadistic drivel,” etc, were very different from the comics found in newspapers. North quoted an arbitrary statistic about how an examination of 108 periodicals found 70% of them not respectable enough to be accepted by a respectable newspaper. North went on to say that other than a few “gag” comics:
“The bulk of these lurid publications depend… upon mayhem, murder, torture, and abduction — often with a child as the victim, Superman heroics, voluptuous females in scanty attire, blazing machine guns, hooded “justice” and cheap political propaganda were to be found on every page… badly drawn, badly written and badly printed… a strain on young eyes and young nervous systems.”
North’s argument went into conspiratorial territory and argued that the combination of “crude blacks and reds” spoiled “the child’s natural sense of color” and the “hypodermic injection of sex and murder” would create an “impatient” generation “more ferocious than the present one.” North rebuked parents and teachers for letting comics become popular despite the existence of books, and proclaimed comic book publishers “guilty of a cultural slaughter of the innocents.” North ended the article with a warning, stating:
“the antidote to the “comic” magazine poison can be found in any library or good bookstore. The parent (and the teacher) who does not acquire that antidote for his child is guilty of criminal negligence.”
When Sterling North wrote A National Disgrace he was in the minority in his moral outrage, but alarmist articles like his started to reach the attention of parents and teachers, some of whom feared their children would themselves become delinquents. In a bizarre early example of zine culture, this fear-based atmosphere led Parent and Teacher Associations to create pamphlets quoting or reprinting articles that aligned with their agendas, usually accompanied by bible verses. The pamphlets in turn would be distributed throughout their neighborhoods, on street corners, and outside schools. The more impassioned PTA members would find politicians sympathetic to their cause, and try to use them to argue their cause in the House of Commons. This was the nature of the relationship between Eleanor Gray and Edmund Davie Fulton, and unlike most moral panics in recent history, the one championed by Gray and Fulton would succeed in its mission to obliterate its chosen enemy.
These Two People Are Directly Responsible For Obliterating An Industry
Davie Fulton, as he was known to many, was descended from Canadian politicians. His father was an MP and his grandfather was a former B.C. Premier. The youngest of four, Fulton was a model student and a Rhodes Scholar. On January 5th, 1940 he passed the bar exam at age 24 and joined his father’s law firm. Davie’s legal aspirations would have to wait, however, as only six months after starting his law career, he went overseas to fight in the Second World War. Davie fought for five years and left the Canadian Military as a Major when the war ended in 1945. Post-War optimism for young men returning from the war and going into politics was high, and before Fulton arrived home he was nominated to represent Kamloops as MP for the Progressive Conservative Party. The nomination would see Fulton leave one war for another as he was elected a seat in the House of Commons. A highly ambitious and headstrong politician, Fulton was fiercely nationalistic, as evidenced when he objected to a proposed bill allowing US Troops on Canadian soil where he warned against being “bedfellows” with the United States. The headstrong Fulton was not afraid to speak his mind about what he wanted, and this drive caught the attention of Eleanor Gray.
Mrs. Eleanor Gray was a woman of high society who prided herself on her house on the prestigious Rockland Avenue only a few hundred meters from the historic BC Government House. She prided herself on being the wife of a respected Doctor and mother to five children and threw herself into committees such as the Victoria and District Parent-Teacher Council. The growing fervor over so-called crime comics began to occupy Mrs. Gray’s attention, and she began to quote Sterling North’s article and others like it frequently. In January 1945 she released “Survey of Undesirable News Stand Literature in Victoria British Columbia,” in which with the aid of others she listed magazines bought from newsstands, and after examination, their placement into categories she determined to be problematic. The categories were: The Detective and Mystery, Confessions, White Slavery, Love Leaflets, and Health (because of Nudism). After Davie Fulton’s appointment as MP for Kamloops Eleanor began sending him a series of letters in an attempt to recruit him to her anti-comic cause. Fulton was lukewarm at first, but Mrs. Gray persisted by sending Fulton a series of examples culled from crime comics (usually cut out and presented out of context) paired with newspaper articles about comic books and their links to delinquency. Each letter she sent was worse than the last and her determination outlasted Fulton’s constitution.
The Beginning of the End for Canadian Comics
On May 20th, 1948, less than two months after Frederick Wertham’s first anti-comic article was published, Davie Fulton would wage Eleanor’s war in the Commons. After several more letters and later meetings with Eleanor and her group, Davie was more determined than ever and would seize any chance he could to bring comics to the agenda. When the topic was brought up regarding confessions and records regarding spousal name changes, Fulton inserted himself into the issue:
“I should like to say a few words about the question of crime comics. What I have to say will not take so very long, but I want to ask the minister a number of questions. if he prefers to leave this item until tomorrow it will be acceptable to me.”
The Right Honourable James Lorimer Ilsley, The Minister of Justice, wanting to get it over with, replied “if the questions are relevant to the item I think the hon. member had better ask them.”
Seeing his opening Fulton dove in head-on. Producing a copy of Crime Does Not Pay, his favorite example of comics at their most morally corrupt.
Fulton proceeded to flip through the comic, describing it as portraying “crimes of sexual and other violence in picture form.”
Perhaps sensing Ilsley’s impatience, Fulton acknowledged that what he was talking about wasn’t relevant to the topic, but that he just wanted to say:
“It is difficult to deal with these publications under any form of censorship, although something might be done… Perhaps proceedings could be had under the criminal code to put a stop to this tendency. It is doing an act producing or contributing to a child’s becoming a juvenile delinquent. … I would appreciate it if the minister would let me know what he feels about the subject.”
Ilsey was reportedly eager to wrap up the proceedings. He replied:
“The hon. gentleman asks me to indicate what I feel about that subject. It is the most difficult thing to say what is fit for publication and what is not. We receive a continual stream of resolutions asking us to ban salacious magazines and other publications, and there is the same complaint about these comics, which it is alleged to lead children to crime… It is not possible to define with any exactitude decency or a publication that leads to crime. What about an adventure story or a story in which there is any crime at all? it is such an intangible thing. If my hon. friend feels that the publication of certain crime comics contributes to juvenile delinquency I should think he could have a charge laid and see whether he could get a conviction. I do not think any further definition of the law would be practicable. We certainly could not make a list of the publications that lead to crime. I think the law is sufficient already.”
The Deputy Chairman William Henry Golding interrupted:
“I hope that hon. members will not continue this discussion. As the hon. member for Kamloops himself said it is not relevant to the clause before us.”
“I said, not strictly relevant,” Fulton added.
The session continued, and near the end of the day, Fulton saw another way in when It was decided one of the topics on the agenda would be tabled for a later session.
“I should like to say a few words about the question of crime comics. What I have to say will not take so very long, but I want to ask the minister a number of questions. If he prefers to leave this item until tomorrow it will be acceptable to me.”
Knowing the game the brash young politician was trying to play, Ilsley responded as before that if the motion was relevant he had better say it. The item in question wasn’t relevant. The topic was penitentiaries.
Fulton pressed onward.
“Recently I have had brought to my attention a number of so-called crime comics which are widely circulated throughout Canada. This fact, coupled with the evidence of increasing juvenile delinquency, seems to me to demand that this House of Commons should request the minister to take certain steps to… combat the causes. This is one of the active causes of juvenile delinquency.”
Fulton admitted he did not have solid numbers or specific evidence, but he tried to make up for it by appealing to a fear of the youth, continuing:
“The minister will remember that quite a number of shocking crimes have been committed by juveniles in recent months. One of the most shocking was in Montreal recently, where a boy twelve years of age beat his mother to death with a baseball bat. He simply found her sleeping, lying there defenseless, picked up a bat, and beat in her head for no apparent reason, except that when being tried, he said he had seen that sort of thing in the comics.”
Fulton referenced his correspondence with Eleanor’s women’s group, and imparted their concern over crime comics, saying:
“they appeal to juveniles by their colors as they lie on the magazine racks. As if that were not bad enough, I have studied three of these magazines recently. I have one in my hand, “Green Hornet Fights Crime”. Others I have seen, under a general title, go on to say, “Crime Does Not Pay”. That is the sort of cynical approach they make on the front cover. They are printed in Canada. The one I have in my hand is published bi-monthly in Toronto”
Fulton went on to read the comic’s indicia, and then the comic itself as he went on to describe a story about arson, showing the pages to the Commons, and how a child seeing said story was likely to strike a match for the first time. This was laughed at by Ilsley, who replied,
“Oh, he would strike it before that.”
Irritated by Ilsley’s response Fulton countered:
“The minister says, “Oh”. Is he shaking his head in disagreement? As I say, it is difficult to prove that these magazines do actually increase juvenile delinquency, but one can say at least that two coincidences go together, that there is an increase in juvenile delinquency and an increase in the circulation of this type of magazine in Canada.”
The fact was though, that juvenile delinquency rates had been steadily declining since the end of the war. The rise in delinquency was in perception only because the stories were being more widely reported. Fulton pressed that the only two options were direct censorship or an outright ban. Stating:
“Questions of the freedom of the press do not, I think, enter, because freedom has never yet meant license, and this type of thing is not freedom. But license. It is abusing liberty to make a profit practically out of the advocacy of crime.”
The impassioned argument was met with a move to end the proceedings, and as if he had said nothing at all, the meeting was commenced. Little did he know that before the end of the year a series of events including a national tragedy would arrive to him like a miracle.
One Town’s Tragedy is Another Politician’s Miracle
On November 12, 1948, two boys aged 11 and 13 were walking along Second Avenue in downtown Dawson Creek. It’s not known if they set out to cause trouble, or if it found them as they stumbled onto a rifle in an unlocked car. In an opportunity too good to pass up, the boys took the rifle, complete with boxes of ammunition, and made their way to the local rail yard. On their way, they found another truck, smashed its window, and claimed its bounty. This time a flashlight and some cigarettes. Excited by their new life as bandits, the boys donned bandanas and found a hiding spot along the nearby Alaska Highway, hoping to continue the so-far successful crime spree.
It was cold, and 62-year-old James Watson had just seen a movie in one of the local movie theatres with some friends and family. James got into the back seat of the family truck with his daughter, the conversation likely dominated by the movie they had just seen, and his son Fred took the driver’s seat. The Watson family began their drive home to Kilkerren in the dark just before 10 pm, when after a few minutes Fred Watson saw two figures in the distance. One of them was waving their arms, and as the Watsons got closer they noticed the figures were wearing bandanas. Before they had time to think a shot rang through the air and the inside of the car was filled with screams as Fred made a desperate turn back toward Dawson Creek. The bandit aimed the 30–30 rifle at the back of the fleeing truck and fired. Inside the truck, the screams were interrupted as the bullet pierced through the rear seat and into James’s back.
After the shooting, the boys panicked and quickly hid the gun and ammunition. It’s unknown whether it was guilt or bravado that brought back one of the boys the following day with a friend to show off the rifle. The boy and friend moved the rifle and buried it in another location where it was found by police, ultimately leading to the apprehension of both youths.
James Watson would live only four days after he was shot, and he died in St. Joseph’s hospital in Dawson Creek. A few days later the boys were apprehended. Throughout an hours-long questioning by police, the boys claimed to read 30–50 crime comics a week and claimed the crime they committed was a reenactment of one they had seen in one of said comics. After the boys were found guilty of Murder, the 13-year-old was committed to the Boys’ Industrial School, and the 11-year-old was placed in the care of the superintendent of Child Welfare.
Judge C.S. Kitchen, who presided over the case said of crime comics:
“I am satisfied that a concerted effort should be made to see that this worse-than-rubbish is abolished in some way.”
The Dawson Creek murder sparked debate immediately, with some arguing the tragedy should be met with stricter gun laws and better resources for low-income families. This sentiment was rejected in favor of the view that comics had poisoned these young boys’ minds. It was easier to blame comics than to face the real underlying issues the community was facing.
The Alaska Highway was constructed largely by U.S. Soldiers during the war as a road connecting Alaska to Canada. Due to the large presence of U.S. Soldiers in Dawson Creek during the road’s construction, their books, comics, and ephemera circulated among the community, making access to American Crime and Horror comics much easier than in other parts of Canada. The gruesome nature of the crime comics cited and connected to this Canadian case, and the fact it had happened in his own province not only emboldened Davie Fulton and his conservative crusade against crime comics but would fuel his fear of American media as well. The case was no doubt fresh in his mind when on November 18, 1948, he enthusiastically supported a ban on American imports, which were being discussed due to an unstable economy and trade imbalances. The ban was successful and American Comics were again barred from being imported into Canada.
After the tragedy in Dawson Creek, Canada’s conservative parent-teacher groups were reaching a fever pitch in their anti-crime-comic stance. One thing that is apparent in the language surrounding the anti-crime comic debate is that a large number of those opposed seemed to be unaware that not all comics contained lurid crime. As with many moral panics, the official narrative against crime comics was more inflammatory than fact. The unease was something that benefitted Davie Fulton, who began to regularly give speeches at PTA meetings and young conservative boy’s clubs. To the conservatives in Kamloops, Davie Fulton represented someone who cared about their children, and cared about protecting their “national identity”. On January 11th, 1949, he was unanimously named as the official Progressive Conservative candidate for Kamloops in the upcoming federal election, where he would win a seat by a large margin. One of the platforms he ran on was, unsurprisingly, banning crime comic books.
The combination of Fulton’s campaign for MP, the close-to-home murder of a middle-aged farmer by two youths, and the mounting pressure from PTA and Women’s groups across the country began to have a cumulative effect on the public consciousness. Comic books were losing the war of public opinion and losing ground quickly. On December 5th, 1948 the Farmer’s Union of Alberta called for a Canada-wide ban on comics containing murder and other crimes. On December 21st, 1948, The Women’s Institute held a meeting in which they supported the movement to ban crime comics” On January 6th, 1949, The Edmonton Home and School Council decided to battle “crime type” comics and formed a committee to
“find ways of eliminating lurid comic magazines and undesirable literature.”
Alex Ross, President of the Edmonton Home and School Council wanted to take it further, advocating that something should also be done to censor “moving pictures and radio thrillers”, and “most best-sellers”. This was followed by the Parent Education Association of Winnipeg on January 12, which also passed a resolution that they would try to ban books deemed “unscrupulous.” Members of the association were eager to share their pamphlet-informed opinions on comic books, which were referred to as “propaganda,” “filth,” ”lurid,” and “not funny.”
How Fulton’s Bill was Born
Armed with recent headlines about a Canadian tragedy, and having made strides in his campaign to wipe out crime comics across Canada, Davie Fulton was more emboldened in his crusade than ever before. Fulton went on the attack again on February 1st, 1949 when he proposed the bill that would bear his namesake. The main obstacle in the House of Commons for Davie Fulton thus far was seemingly The Right Honourable James Lorimer Ilsley, but since the last Federal Election Ilsley had retired from the position of Minister of Justice and was replaced with Stuart Garson fresh off his Premiership of Manitoba. Fulton suddenly found one of his primary forces of opposition suddenly gone, and confidently proposed his Bill.
“this bill is designed to amend the Criminal Code to cover magazines and periodicals commonly called crime comics, the publication of which is at the present time legal, but which, it is widely felt, tend to the lowering of morals and to inducing the commission of crimes by juveniles. Section 207 of the Criminal Code provides, upon indictment, a penalty of two years for anyone who portrays obscene literature, obscene objects, or drugs. The purpose is to amend the act by adding a fourth category that would cover crime comics. Then if anyone distributes or sells such magazines, within the definition of the act, he will have committed an offense and will be subject to the penalty set out for the three categories I have mentioned.”
Support for the Bill was positive, but there wasn’t enough time for it to get to a second reading.
Fulton would bring it to the table again on September 28th, 1949, where this time it would get to a second reading. The anti-comic sentiment in Canada was on the rise, but Fulton wanted to make it clear that he was not attacking all comics, only crime comics, saying:
“While I have a bill here which deals with crime comics I should say that one or two remarks have been made indicating a view to this effect: Well, after all, is there much sense in going after comics in the daily papers and depriving the children of their ordinary reading? May I make it clear, Mr. Speaker, at the very outset that the type I have in mind is not the ordinary comic strip in the paper, but it is what is called the crime comic”
Fulton had been working on his argument and had even found a way to use the former Minister of Justice, who had been one of his detractors, to support his argument, saying:
“At this stage, I do not want to use my own words, I want to use the words of a very respected member of the government which is in office at the present time, a man of most temperate character, a man little given to exaggerated or violent words. In 1948, I sent the then minister of justice, Mr. Ilsey, now Mr. Justice Ilsley, a copy of the type of magazine which I had in mind. It was entitled “Crime Does Not Pay.” A little later… the house the minister referred to the particular magazine that I had sent him and he used the words “The hon. Member for Kamloops sent me a shocking instance of abuse of freedom of the press. I agree with him that it is just that.”
Fulton also came armed with findings from respected psychologist Dr. Frederic Wertham, quoting from an anti-comics symposium held in New York City.
“I hold in my hand a book entitled “The Psychology of Comic Books”, an extract of the symposium held by the association for the advancement of psychotherapy held in New York City and written by Frederic Wertham. The first paper was read by Mr. Gerson Legman. I shall read from page 473 of the proceedings of the association. “The comic books concentrate on aggressions which are impossible under civilized restraints — with fists, guns torture, killing, and blood. The internalized censorship of both artist and child makes this attack respectable by directing it against some scapegoat criminal or wild animal, or even against some natural law like gravity, rather than against the parents, teachers, and policemen who are the real sources of the child’s frustration and therefore the real objects of his aggression. At the same unconscious level that the child identifies himself with the heroic avenger, he may also identify whoever has been frustrating him with the corpse. Violence displaced in this way from its intended object invariably appears in larger and larger doses, more and more often repeated… The price tag being only a few cents apiece and the distribution national, every city child can, and does, read from ten to a dozen of these pamphlets monthly, an unknown number of times, and then trades them for others. If there is only one violent picture per page — and there are usually more — every city child who was six years old in 1938 has by now absorbed an absolute minimum of eighteen thousand pictorial beatings, shootings, stranglings, blood-puddles, and torturings-to-death, from comic books alone.”
Fulton continued to read from reports, his introduction to the bill reading like a lawyer for the prosecution. After quoting from a number of papers, Fulton went in for the kill.
“Those are the words of people who have made an intensive study of the problem. Thus far however it must be admitted that my remarks have been in the realm of theory. I should now like to relate them to the realm of actuality by pointing out to the house a number of cases in this country and in the United States where the commission of crime by juveniles has been directly attributed to crime comics.”
After warming up with some stories regarding children who carried out a kidnapping by supposedly following steps laid out in an issue of Crime Does Not Pay, Fulton talked about the tragedy at Dawson Creek.
“The second piece of evidence I should like to lay before the house concerns the trial of two boys aged 11 and 13 for murdering James Watson of Dawson Creek, in Canada, in the fall of 1948. During the trial positive evidence was produced to show that the boy’s minds were saturated with what they read in crime comics. One boy admitted to the judge that he read as many as fifty crime comics a week while the other admitted having read thirty. After the case was concluded, the presiding judge delivered a most direct and scathing criticism of crime comics, laying the blame for this murder almost directly upon their influence.”
Now that he had presented a recent case from close to home, Fulton leaned fully into shock value.
“Many other cases can be cited. In Montreal, a boy aged 12 years beat his mother to death with a bat while she was sleeping and at the trial said he had seen that sort of thing in the comics. In Philadelphia Symon Levin, aged 16 years, killed a 12-year-old boy with a pair of scissors. His room was found to be littered with crime comics. In Los Angeles, a 14-year-old boy poisoned a 50-year-old woman. He said he had got the idea from a comic book as well as the recipe for the poison. In the same city, a 13-year-old boy was found hanged in a garage with a crime comic illustrating that type of thing at his feet.”
Fulton then went into the resolutions passed across Canada from PTA groups asking for crime comics to be banned before concluding with the ending to the quote he had read earlier from his letter by the former Minister of Justice:
“I agree with him, that it is just that. I am afraid, however, it is nevertheless legal; it is not an offense to publish the kind of material which was published and which is being distributed in various parts of Canada”
Crime comics weren’t illegal, but Fulton was arguing they should be, and the bill on the table was the way to see it happen. To account for criticism that the definition in the bill was too broad, Fulton suggested the bill be used to get charges laid, with the jury to decide whether the comics were obscene or not. To conclude his opening statement, Fulton summarized:
“No harm can result from the bill. It will not bring in any form of censorship or banning of publications, but it will put publishers and news vendors on their guard to see that they do not publish or sell any magazine within the category defined… Some may say that there has been an exaggeration of the evils of crime comics. I would refer them again to the factual evidence which I have placed before the house. I suggest to anyone who thinks that crime comics really are not harmful that, if he will look into the question, if he will go to the newsstands, he will pick up one of these things and see what they portray and the examples they law before the youth of the country, he will not deny that there is a real menace in them… If the enactment of the bill only prevented one murder, one crime of violence being committed by a juvenile, I would say that the act, if passed, would have served its purpose, that the bill would have been worthwhile.”
Fulton’s opening statement was received enthusiastically by both parties, but the reaction was so positive and garnered so much response from other Commons members that there wasn’t time for it to get past the second reading, so it was tabled for the following session.
On October 4th, 1949, the topic of Crime Comics was again brought to the table. Several members of Commons voiced their support, though some, like Lincoln MP Harry Cavers while agreeing that crime comics were “detrimental to youth and have a bad influence upon the moral standards of our young people,” argued that because youths had formed self-circulating libraries of comics in order to read as many comics as possible, there was a failing of the schooling system for not providing the children with literature so unengaging that they resorted to filth.
Cavers felt the bill “may not be the proper way to deal with this matter.”
Vancouver East MP Angus MacInnis worried if passed, the bill would be largely ignored like similar bills passed against gambling which did not prevent people from playing bingo. He urged:
“I do not believe we can overcome the effects of crime comics merely by negative action. If the lives of our young people are to be improved, it will have to be by positive action… I think perhaps we can say too much about the harmfulness of crime comics. Perhaps we may just be advertising them… The other night when (some clergymen) were talking, I felt that (they) should not talk about these things because they build such an alluring halo around them that it makes people think that resisting temptation is not worthwhile.”
Another MP, Pierre Gauthier of Portneuf, who was previously in support of a proposed bill banning children in Quebec under the age of 16 from seeing movies, supported the bill, implying that an age ban on crime comics might be more effective.
During another MP’s voice of support, this exchange occurred:
“Mr. T.H Goode: “In (Crime and Punishment and Crime of Women) are depicted women of ill repute standing in rather suggestive attitudes. That is a fine model for our young people to look at! There are Women Outlaws and True Mystery. This latter is the most filthy book that I have ever seen on a magazine stand.”
An hon. Member: “What is in it?”
Mr. Goode: “The hon. Member can read it after I am through with it.”
Another MP, Rodney Adamson of York West, argued that a greater problem than crime comics, is the news coverage of juvenile crimes, saying:
“When some strange and violent incidents of anti-social behavior took place in Toronto, it was found that the daily press of Toronto played them up — I do not intend to mention the incidents, but they have occurred from week to week — with the names, descriptions, the location and all the rest of it. That practice made heroes of these young delinquents who committed these peculiar manifestations of anti-social behavior. I would rather call them that than crimes, although they are crimes.”
Adamson continued to argue that the news coverage also incentivized youths in gangs to commit worse crimes for recognition, concluding:
“It is a matter of example, and if the daily press will display restraint in emphasizing the bad examples I am sure that a great deal of good can be done.”
MP Roy Knight of Saskatoon also voiced some concern over the proposed bill, saying:
“This particular bill does not call for censorship as such. As I understand it, it asks that the circulation of a certain type of book be made illegal, and then it will be left to someone to originate court action. If that court action were handed out to the people who sell these magazines, it is presumed that it would be a deterrent to people of a like class. I understand that that is the purpose of the bill. Personally, I have not made up my mind whether I am in favor of it or not… Whether you are thinking of censorship or not, you are making the judge and jury censors. The question is whether a judge and jury of twelve honest men and true are competent to carry out the censorship. I do not know… There should be cultivation of a taste for good literature while people are still young. Let us give young people better literature, but if they have to read any of these salacious books let them be read under the guidance of their parents or people who can give proper advice on the matter.”
Following this, several other members spoke in support of the bill, pushing a recess until October 7. After several members expressed support, with some dissenters offering other alternative solutions, Fulton couldn’t wait any longer and did not want this bill to fail to get a second reading again. He jumped in to express his gratitude for the support, and that due to the late hour the bill move forward. The motion was agreed to, the bill was read a second time.
December 6, 1949, would be the day Fulton’s bill was passed. In between the second and third reading, certain wordage was amended so that if someone is accused of making, printing, distributing, or possessing crime comics they could not claim innocence by ignorance. This caused some concern among some members of the Commons. Amendments were suggested, but none stuck. Davie Fulton’s bill passed as is.
It was now illegal in Canada to “print, publish, distribute, or sell ‘any magazine, periodical or book which exclusively or substantially comprises matter depicting pictorially the commission of crimes, real or fictitious.” This would remain in the Canadian Criminal Code until 2018. After the bill was passed, Davie Fulton’s anti-comic lectures were in high demand. As a result of his legislation crime comics did indeed disappear from Canada almost overnight, and due to the wording of the bill, true crime and detective magazines would also suddenly cease to be printed.
In the course of his crusade, Fulton had begun a correspondence with Frederick Wertham, who based an entire chapter on Fulton in his book Seduction of the Innocent, and in 1954 with the American Senate Subcommittee Hearings looming, Davie Fulton was asked by Frederick Wertham to testify. At this point, all but Superior had shuttered their doors. Though wounded, Superior stuck around until an anti-horror comic bill passed in 1955, and less than a year later the last of the original Canadian Comic Companies closed, effectively ending Canadian publishing of English comic books for decades. After Fulton’s bill passed, some Canadians who made comics would go to America, others would turn to illustration or sign painting. Most of them never worked in the arts again.
Canadian Media Philosopher Marshall McLuhan reflected on this period in his seminal book Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man saying:
“The first comic books appeared in 1935. Not having anything connected or literary about them, and being as difficult to decipher as the Book of Kells, they caught on with the young. The elders of the tribe, who had never noticed that the ordinary newspaper was as frantic as a surrealist art exhibition, could hardly be expected to notice that the comic books were as exotic as eighth-century illuminations. So, having noticed nothing about the form, they could discern nothing of the contents, either. The mayhem and violence were all they noted. Therefore, with naive literary logic, they waited for violence to flood the world. Or, alternatively, they attributed existing crime to the comics. The dimmest-witted convict learned to moan, “It wuz comic books done this to me.”
Had Canada’s Golden Age of Comics been allowed to become a Silver Age, a Bronze Age, and so on, how different would the comic book landscape look today? It is a question whose answer we will never know.
References & Further Reading
- Yes, Canada Actually Does Have a Golden Age of Comics.
The Joe Shuster Awards.
- A National Disgrace — And a Challenge to American Parents
by Sterling North — Chicago Daily News, May 8, 1940.
- Tories Choose Overseas Man At Kamloops
— The Vancouver Sun, 15 Aug 1944
- U.S. Imperialism Cries C.C.F. Member
— The Montreal Star, 06 June 1947
- The Child’s Education to Violence by Alastair Glegg
— Education Matters Vol. 4 No. 1, 2016
- ‘Crime Comic’ Ban Soon, Predicts M.P.
— The Province, 29 Oct 1949
- The Psychopathology of Comic Books
— Presented on March 19th, 1948 at a symposium of the New York Academy of Medicine by Frederic Wertham. Published in the American Journal of Psychotherapy, Vol 2, 1948.
- House of Commons Debates, 20th Parliament, 4th Session:
Vol. 5, page 750
- Lurid Comic Books Cited in Slaying
— The Vancouver Sun, 23 Nov 1948
- Breaking the Peace: Fictions of the Law-Abiding Peace River Country, 1930–50 by Jonathan Swainger — BC Studies, no. 119
- Youths Convicted of “Comic Book” Slaying of Northern Farmer/Public on Trial in Murder Case — Nanaimo Daily News, 27 Nov 1948
- Parents and Public on Trial (Part 1)
— The Province, 27 Nov 1948
- Parents and Public on Trial (Part 2)
— The Province, 27 Nov 1948
- Cannot Agree on Crime Comics
— The Calgary Albertan, 05 Dec 1949
- House of Commons Debates, 20th Parliament, 5th Session:
Vol. 1, page 164
- House of Commons Debates, 21st Parliament, 1st Session:
Vol. 1, page 517
- Seduction of the Innocent by Frederic Wertham — Chapter 11: Murder in Dawson Creek
- Hearings before the Subcommittee to Investigate Juvenile Delinquency — of the Committee on the Judiciary, United States Senate, Eighty-third Congress, 2nd session, pursuant to S. 190. Investigation of juvenile delinquency in the United States. April 21, 22, and June 4, 1954. Page 248
- Comic Books in English Canada by John Bell — The Canadian Encylopedia
- For an excellent account of the American side of this story read BLOODY MASSACRE by Warren Bernard, The Comics Journal #302.
- Invaders from the North: How Canada Conquered the Comic Book Universe
by John Bell
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