Drawing Outside the Lines: A Cultural Study of Comic Books as a Medium for Socio-Political Thought (Abstract)

In the 1950’s, the Comics Code Authority was established in the United States with the goal of protecting children from controversial content in comic books. As a result, comic books gained a stigma as a “childish” medium from which it is still trying to escape. Franco-Belgian comic books, or bandes-dessinées, not only never received that level of censure, but actually developed a reputation as a legitimate art form early on. Therefore, the history of these two schools of sequential art demonstrates cultural perceptions of an “openness” in Europe that the United States fundamentally lacks.

But what is the effect of this essential cultural difference on the medium itself? Comic books in both the United States and France have been known to tackle complex social or political issues for much of their histories. My question is, therefore: How is the “message” that a comic book is trying to convey affected by the restrictions, social or otherwise, put in place on the medium? Are the effects purely occurring in surface details, like art and dialog content? A question of how deeply the theme can be explored? Or even how often a theme will be present at all?

Essentially, this project is a survey of multiple comic books and bandes-dessinées, spanning from prior the Comics Code Authority to the modern day, and analyzing their themes, not for their content, but their complexity and how they are conveyed.

The importance of this project is that the question truly does extend beyond comic books and into other types of media: How does censorship of any kind affect the message for those who are intended to receive it?