To those who think the recent Christopher Handley case is an anomaly or a recent phenomenon, allow me to direct you to Steve Bissette’s Web site, where he is in the midst of sharing a wealth of archived materials (“hundreds of documents” he says) from the mid-1980s where the growth of more mature mainstream fare like Dark Knight Returns led to some rather disquieting attempts at censorship like when Friendly Frank’s comic store got busted for carrying obscene comics and, and, in turn DC attempted to create a ratings system for the books they carried.
By the mid-1980s, the battle over increasingly adult and sales-worthy content in the wake of the mega-success of The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen, among other successes both blockbuster and modest, was creating real problems for some retailers. While it was obvious to the indoctrinated that Frank Miller’s Batman was light years from the comfy all-ages Bob Kane/Bill Finger/Dick Sprang era of Batman, it wasn’t so obvious to the American public.
In the wake of Frank’s Daredevil, Alan and John and Rick and my Saga of the Swamp Thing, Howard Chaykin’s American Flagg, among other various ‘breaking out’ titles, it was becoming a problem.
But it was the major blockbuster success, sales and press attention The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen rightfully scored that really set off alarm bells. There had been skirmishes of sorts over now long-forgotten singular eruptions — the orgy page in a single chapter of Wendy and Richard Pini’s Elfquest, Warren’s notorious 1984/1994, Eclipse Comics‘ Saber ‘birth’ issue, various Love & Rockets and Fantagraphics issues, Frank Thorne’s increasingly adventurous fusions of female barbarian fantasy and sex, the Miracleman ‘birth’ issue (penciled by Rick Veitch), etc. — and yet to come were Fantagraphics’ Eros line, and much, much more.
Go check the whole thing out, it’s a great walk down history lane. For easy linking purposes, here’s part one, two, three and four. (link via Coleen Doran, who does a little bit of reminiscing herself.)