From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
- "The history of adult comics as commerical medium must be traced to the 1960s with Italian fumetti neri such as Diabolik; French female superhero spoof Barbarella by Jean-Claude Forest and to the American Underground comix movement with authors such as Robert Crumb." --Sholem Stein
Adult comics are comic books intended for adults. They may contain material that might be considered obscene, profane, immoral, and even pornographic, in contrast to the traditionally considered kid-friendly mainstream world of comics. Many adult comics, however, feature none of this, and simply tell stories of a more mature nature, as opposed to the fantasy elements of most comics.
The term "adult comics" generally refers to those with explicit sexual content, and is usually separated from comics labeled for "mature readers", although not always. The "mature readers" label is a relatively new invention (although adult comics have been around for decades), and has gained more acceptance in the average comicbook reading demographics which are now aged far older than they were before the 1990s.
In Japan, adult comics are more common and more perceived to belong to mainstream culture than in western countries.
The history of adult comics can be traced as far back as the 1920s, over a decade before the premiere of what is traditionally considered the "first" comic book, Action Comics #1, the first appearance of Superman. The adult comics of this time are sometimes called tijuana bibles - rectangular, eight page pamphlets with black printing on cheap white paper. The art was usually crude and sometimes also racist (Blacks were caricaturized with huge lips and extruding eyes). Their stories were explicit sexual escapades usually featuring well known cartoon characters, political figures or movie stars (used illegally without permission).
EC Comics and the Comics Code Authority
In the early 1950s, William Gaines shifted the focus of his father's comic book Company, EC Comics, from educational to gruesome, with a bevy of titles such as Tales From the Crypt, Weird Science, and Crime SuspenStories, and became the best selling company of the time (and perhaps all time, although sales records from the period are imprecise). While none of the books featured any nudity or foul language, they were undoubtedly of a mature nature. Gruesomeness and grotesquery could be found in almost every story, and sexual situations and illicit activities in many of them. At the time, no standard existed for dividing material for adults from material for all audiences. Consequently, EC Comics found their way into the hands of millions of American children. This led to Dr. Fredric Wertham's book Seduction of the Innocent, which blamed violent media (but almost exclusively comic books) for the rising number of cases of juvenile delinquency nationwide. After a large public outcry and even Senate hearings, most of the major publishers joined together to create the Comics Code Authority.
The Comics Code Authority prohibited almost all mature subject matter from comic books. It was a voluntary system, and a comics company could publish whatever they liked without submitting it for approval to the CCA, however the public outcry had led many retail outlets to forbid selling anything without the CCA's code of approval for the foreseeable future. The mainstream, American comics industry had more or less neutered themselves, and reinforced the American belief that comics were for kids.
Adult comics continued underground in the late 1960s under the umbrella of the CCA. the underground comics movement was spearheaded by people like Robert Crumb, Art Spiegelman, Kim Deitch, Spain Rodriguez and Harvey Pekar, and were often sold at head shops. When law enforcement cracked down on these establishments in the 1970s, many titles were left without a way to reach their audience.
Post May 1968 in France
The time after 1968 brought many adult comic books, something previously not seen before. L'Écho des Savanes with Gotlib's crazed delirium of deities watching pornography and Bretécher's Les Frustrés ("The Frustrated Ones") were among the earliest. Le Canard Sauvage ("The Wild Duck"), an art-zine featuring music reviews and comics was another. Métal Hurlant with the far-reaching science fiction and fantasy of Mœbius, Druillet, and Bilal, made an impact in America in its translated edition, Heavy Metal. This trend continued during the seventies, until the original Métal Hurlant folded in the early eighties, living on only in the American edition (which had in the meantime become independent from its French language parent), although some would argue that it is only a shadow of the original.
in the early 80’s Marvel introduced their Epic Imprint which printed comics such as Moonshadow, Blood: A Tale, The One and many others that were made for adult audiences, containing sex, nudity, violence. The Epic line also printed Epic Illustrated, a sci-fi/adventure Heavy Metal like book. With the MAX line, Marvel released more comics that didn’t carry the Comics Code imprint, mostly due to violence. The presence of non-explicit alternative sexuality, such as including gay characters was also enough for a book to be included in the imprint, which caused controversy among both conservative and LGBT readers.
In the mid to later 1980s, DC Comics took a major stride into the world of Adult/Mature Readers comics with the foundation of the Vertigo Comics line, which strictly produces Mature Reader material. Vertigo is the only line of adult comics that might be considered mainstream.