An Interview with William M. Gaines, Part Two of Three

Posted by on October 13th, 2010 at 12:01 AM



GROTH: Dwight mentioned the times that provoked the Senate Subcommittee hearings and so on. Could you go into that a little more? What do you think actually caused such a furor at that time?

GAINES: Well, there were a lot of parent groups, the Catholic Church was incensed at that point, there were some Protestant groups, and the idea just got around and appealed to everybody, that the problems they were having with kids came from comic books. And I can understand, after all, kids all of a sudden, after being relatively well behaved, maybe were starting to misbehave. The people in the ’50s didn’t begin to know what was coming in the ’60s and ’70s [laughter], but at the time they may have been upset by what they thought was dreadful behavior, and I guess they were all looking around for the first scapegoat. In this world, nobody wants to be blamed for anything, so they picked on somebody. And I guess it just appealed to a lot of parents and parent-type people and teachers to blame the comics for these problems that were coming up. And so they did. And all kinds of legislation was being prepared in various states trying to ban comics, and as I say, I think it was just part of the general times, when everybody was blaming everybody for something and…

GROTH: Do you think there was any legitimate concern or do you think it was essentially a witch-hunt?

GAINES: Sure, it was legitimate. Well, all witch-hunts start out legitimate and then they get nutty. It ended up a little bit of of a witch-hunt I guess, but not as bad as it could have been. I never got lynched, although a perfectly respectable columnist named Leonard Lyons, who you probably don’t remember since he died some time ago, actually came out in his column and said the publishers of these horror comics should be lynched. I thought that was a pretty stiff punishment. [Laughter.] This is a respectable columnist. I never quite forgave him that, but since he ultimately died there’s nothing left to worry about.

WHITE: He got his.

GAINES: He got his. Does that answer your question?

DECKER: I was just thinking that to the parents in some other part of the country, here are these cheap, shoddy-looking publications that are published almost anonymously and the kids like them and the parents look through them and can’t understand what the kids see in them…

GAINES: Well, I don’t know where the idea came that these things were published anonymously. I’ve never seen a comic book yet that didn’t have the name and the address of the publisher. The idea seems to get around… In fact, some of the laws required that the address be included. Well, it’s always been included! I never saw it comic book that didn’t have an address in it. I’ve seen porn stuff in those days that didn’t — of course, because it was illegal. But you could always find out what DC’s address was, or Marvel’s address, or our address. I don’t know what this idea has gotten around from, but it was around.

And I can’t believe that any of these parents didn’t grow up with comic books anyway. I mean, comic books have been around since ’ was the kind of comic books that was worrying them. And as I say I’m sure the problem was fanned by people who were fanning it for one reason or another, but I’m sure the average parent was legitimately concerned that these terrible things were going to ruin their kids. The first time I ever heard from Russ Cochran, a long time ago, he wrote me a letter, “I just thought you’d like to know what happened to the members of the EC Fan-Addict Club, Chapter so-and-so. There were five of us, and I’m a Ph.D in Physics, chairman of the Physics Department of Drake University, and my friend is an attorney and this friend is a doctor and this friend is something else and this friend is something else, and that’s what happened to the five members of this chapter in which you ruined and fucked-up our minds so many years ago.” [Laughter.] And from this I struck up a friendship, which ended up with these books.


William Gaines and Al Feldstein.


GROTH: What he should have done was write you and say this one was a rapist and this one was a murderer and…

GAINES: [Laughter.] No, you’d be surprised how many letters I get like that. People write in and say… I just got a wonderful book from a wonderful artist up in New Hampshire who came all the way down for the EC convention. I didn’t know who he was although my girlfriend knew him well, he’s a famous greeting card artist, I forget his name, and he wrote in there, “Just thought you’d like to see how you damaged my brain and made me grow up unsuccessful.” This guy’s a big, successful artist.

GROTH: I wanted to ask a couple more questions about the Subcommittee hearing. In the hearing they seemed to catch you on a contradiction that I thought you might expand upon here. That is, at one point you said that you didn’t believe that comics could really influence the kids to perform any of the acts that you drew…

GAINES: They tried to catch me on an inconsistency.

GROTH: Then later of course you said that you did publish what you called “the preachies,” the anti-racist stories and so on…

GAINES: Well, if you read my testimony carefully… fortunately, I caught that coming just in time. And what I said as I recall was that our readers can tell when we’re trying to make a point — I’m again paraphrasing, this is a long time ago, almost 30 years — they can tell when we’re trying to make a point and we signal it and therefore they know we’re trying to teach them something, but normally they know we’re just trying to entertain them. That’s basically what I said. He would have me nailed me if I hadn’t. Despite the fact that I had no Dexedrine I saw that one coming.

GROTH: What of the argument that everything has a message one way or the other, everything is propaganda for something, whether it’s subversive or maintains the status quo.

GAINES: It’s a good argument. [Laughter.]

GROTH: Would you have liked it if he’d used it? [Laughter.]

GAINES: No. I’m glad he didn’t think of it. [Laughter.]

GROTH: But you obviously don’t concur with that.

GAINES: Oh, well, I concur in a way, but it’s an oversimplification. The EC stories basically were designed to entertain, just as Mad is basically designed to entertain. We try in Mad to get a message across, we’re still doing it, we occasionally try to get the message across that hard drugs are not good for you, that hard liquor in excess is not good for you, that smoking is very bad for you, that you shouldn’t believe everything you read in the advertisements, that you shouldn’t believe everything you hear on television, and so on and so forth. But that is not our primary purpose. Our primary purpose is to make you laugh. [A woman pokes her head in the door of Gaines’s office.]



WOMAN: Nothing. I was just checking in.

GAINES: Well, now check out!

WOMAN: OK. [The woman giggles and retreats.]


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