Chicago Spanking Review

The Effects of the Comics Code on Spanking in Comics, Part 2:  1955 - 1960

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By Web-Ed

cover of Phantom Lady #17

The infamous cover of Phantom Lady #17 (April 1948), used by Wertham in SOTI. Art by Matt Baker.


Fredric Wertham's poisonous Seduction of the Innocent suggested that children could be turned into sex perverts by the BDSM elements found in what he persisted in calling "crime comics". As a matter of fact, he also maintained that Batman and Robin were living in an atmosphere of homoeroticism, which if he were trying to imply was the deliberate intention of the publisher was patently ridiculous. When it came to bondage, it must be admitted he was on firmer ground to the extent that comics like Wonder Woman and Phantom Lady certainly did depict these characters frequently being tied up. Still, the idea that examples such as the cover of Phantom Lady #17 would actually steer children toward developing an interest in bondage as they matured needed more proof than he offered, which was none. Someone could have pointed out that Wertham might well be reversing cause and effect - that because adults into bondage might be attracted to scenes in which an attractive woman was tied up, it did not necessarily follow that viewing such scenes as children is how these adults developed their interest in bondage in the first place.

spanking panel from FR #1

"Erotic spanking": the panel from Frontier Romances #1 that drew Dr. Wertham's ire.

And this brings us at long last to spanking! Wertham was well aware that spankos existed, and accused comic-book depictions of spanking to be indistinguishable from spanking pornography (which at the time was pretty tame - think of Bettie Page's modeling for Irving Klaw), referring to it as "sexual flagellation upon the buttocks". But as was the case with bondage, it seems to me that Wertham had reversed cause and effect: those of us who loved seeing comic-book spanking scenes when we were young had already developed an interest in spanking by the time we first encountered them. My personal theory is that while spankos are made and not born, the transformative event, as I call it, takes place very early in life and has nothing to do with comic books.

Wertham had written a series of anti-comics articles even before he published Seduction of the Innocent, and the first two examples of suppressed spankings come from that period, in 1952. They took place in in Jungle Comics #147 (March 1952) and Kaanga #11 (Spring 1952) respectively. These were reprints of Jungle Comics #89, which we have discussed at great length elsewhere. There were two spankings in that issue in the same story, and when it was reprinted, both of them were excised, even though this required major revisions to the existing pages. Reprints never sell as well as new stories, and the usual procedure is simply to recolor new photostats of the existing art and then send it off to the printer with as little fuss as possible. To undertake this additional trouble and expense, somebody at Fiction House must have been very worried about being accused of displaying an "erotic spanking" in their pages.

spanking #1 from jungle comics #89

From Jungle Comics #89 (May 1947). Later suppressed in 1952.

spanking #2 from jungle comics #89

From Jungle Comics #89 (May 1947). Later suppressed in 1952.

The two suppressed spankings. Both are delivered by a shirtless Kaanga, first to Betty, a stranger he mistook for his mate Ann, and second to Ann herself. Either of these situations would support an "erotic" interpretation even though the spankings are being given for supposed disciplinary reasons. We must consider the possibility that if there had been an unambiguously disciplinary scene, as between Kaanga and a young daughter (which he didn't have), there might have been no objection. We will return to this point later.


It seems clear that the Comics Code's provisions regarding sexual matters, as well as the interpretation of those provisions by the Code office, were highly influenced by Wertham's ideas. Here are the relevant portions from the section titled "Marriage and Sex":

"2. Illicit sex relations are neither to be hinted at or portrayed. Violent love scenes as well as sexual abnormalities are unacceptable."
"7. Sex perversion or any inference to same is strictly forbidden."

We would expect from this that adult M/F spanking would be viewed by the Code with a suspicious eye, but that parental M/F scenes in which a father spanked his daughter might still pass muster. This was, after all, the mid-1950's when spanking was still a very common practice in the home. Two spankings from Quality's teen humor comic Candy give us the opportunity to test this hypothesis.

spanking panel from candy #35

At left is the scene from Candy #35 (February 1953). It was reprinted unchanged except for some minor coloring differences three years later in Candy #60 (February 1956) when the Code had been in effect for nearly a year and a half. This father/daughter panel in which Mr. O'Connor takes a hairbrush to Candy was not objected to.

On the other hand, when Candy got spanked by her boyfriend Ted even if only in his imagination, the scene got the red flag from the Code. The panel below left is from Candy #39; the one below right is from Candy #62. The years are the same as the first example ('53 and '56), as is the spankee, Candy. Evidently a father/daughter spanking was o.k. but a boyfriend/girlfriend scene was not. (See Candy Spanking #3 and Candy Spanking #4 for further discussion of these two scenes).

candy #39 spanking panel candy #62 spanking panel


Without meaning to blow my own horn too loudly, the creation of the Comics Spanking Data Base (CSDB) which at present (2012) contains the details of over 500 spankings, allows for data comparisons that simply could not be made before. I ran the numbers for several time periods, and those for the five-year intervals immediately before and immediately after the implementation of the Code (1950 through 1954 and 1955 through 1959) are truly shocking:

1950 - 1954 19
1955 - 1959 2 (discounting Candy #62)

These numbers do not include newspaper strips, which were not subject to the Code. Also, I discounted the reprinted "spanking" in Candy #62 even though I counted it in the CSDB since the clear intent of the revision was to avoid any hint of contact between Ted's racquet and Candy's behind, however goofy it looked to have Ted apparently throwing his racquet at Randy. From 19 to 2, a decrease of almost 90% - that is, to repeat, a truly shocking decline! It may be even worse when we consider that one of those two rare spankings was the reprint in Candy #60, which was a father/daughter scene as discussed above.

Of course, the CSDB is not yet complete, but it is large enough to provide a reliable sample that we may draw inferences from. In fact, future research will likely tilt the balance even further toward the pre-Code era: the five spanking comics from the Golden Age I have tentatively identified but do not yet have copies or scans of (1 from Star, 1 from EC, and 3 from Atlas) all date from 1949-53 - before the Code!
[Note: after this was written but before it was posted, I discovered two more M/F GA spankings. They fit the prediction nicely, coming from 1953 and 1954 just before the Code.]
I have often wondered over the course of the past couple of years, during which time I have examined many Romance Comics (especially Charlton) from the latter part of the 50's, why I could find no spankings, and if the Code might be responsible. I think now we've got the answer.

That leaves us with only one M/F spanking in which the participants' ages were comparable, from Harvey's True Brides Experiences #16 (February 1956). Let's revisit this one briefly to see if we can figure out why the Code let it pass.

true brides experiences #16 spanking panel

True Brides Experiences #16 (February 1956, enhanced by Spiritworks)

To begin with, Ripley discovered, while researching this issue, that it was a reprint of Teen-Age Brides #1 (August 1953), and that other panels in the spanking story "I Was A Child Bride" had been altered because of the Code! (See CCA Censorship Examples for further details). One of those changes was to a panel in which a husband is holding his wife in his arms while they are reclining in bed - fully clothed! That gives us some idea of how strict the Code was.

And yet they let the spanking through - why? It's a pretty tame and obviously disciplinary spanking, not very well-executed, but it was a husband/wife scene, so there could have been erotic overtones. I can suggest four possible explanations:

  1. The combination of discipline with the wife obviously hating it and a completely bland artistic execution may have convinced the Code that the spanking was non-erotic.
  2. Because other changes were asked for and received, they may have agreed to a compromise by letting this panel through unaltered, especially since -
  3. I believe the spanking was also depicted on the splash page, which would have been difficult to change.
  4. This occurred during the 2-year term of Code Administrator Judge Charles Murphy, who may have been more tolerant of spankings than his successor, Mrs. Guy Percy Trulock. We'll come back to this point later when discussing the 1960's.


We have seen that the Comics Code, along with economic factors, caused the collapse of several publishers in the 50's and generally retarded the art form with stultifying restrictions on content. In particular, a de facto ban on non-parental M/F spankings was implemented which left us with only one such spanking during the last half of the decade.

In Part 3, we'll examine what happened with spankings during the 1960's and 70's, and see what effects can be attributed to the Code. We'll look at one example in particular where the Code is clearly implicated - Fantastic Four #38, in which Ben Grimm was originally going to spank Sue Storm!

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