Comic Book Censorship: 1974 – 1988 Banning The Underground

Comic Book Censorship: 1974 – 1988 Banning The Underground

The following piece of work is taken from a larger body of work titled ‘Horror Comic Books and Censorship in Australia 1950 – 1990’.  This is currently a work in progress and covers the history of the horror comic, the origins (and complete history) of the Gredown line, how it was connected to K.G. Murray, the Spanish and American connections along with the Yaffa Syndicate, Horwitz and much more.  The work will also cover how comics were banned and censored in Australia, beginning with the banning of Detective Comics in 1937.  Some of this work will be appearing in a publication yet to be announced, and other parts will be appearing either here, on this blog, or in other publications as time progresses.

I am open to debate and discussion on this topic, so feel free to email me at any point in time.  Until then, here is an abridged version of a chapter titled…

1974 – 1988 Banning The Underground

Out of all the comic books and related magazines that were released and imported into Australia in the 1970s and 1980s, none suffered more bans and restrictions than the underground.  As more and more young adults turned to drugs and alcohol for release, and began to rebel against authority, underground comix became an accessory, along with publications such as Rolling Stone, Juke and RAM.     The rise of underground comix began in the early 1970s with the growing popularity of The Fabulous Freak Brothers and its offshoot, Fat Freddy’s Cat.  R Crumb’s Fritz the Cat was also a hit with the counter culture.  However, in the same way that illicit drugs were banned, the establishment would now seek to ban the material that people read.  The state authorities couldn’t lock a person up for owning and reading a comic book, but they would make it as difficult as possible for the public to get them.

Restrictions began in earnest in 1972 when the Federal Government, before handing over censorship powers to the states, slapped bans and restrictions on six titles.  These were the first such bans since Harvey Publications Warfront was prohibited from import back in 1958.  The titles were Zap Comix #0 (Apex Novelty Co), Dan O'Neills Comics and Stories Vol 1, No.1(Co and Sons), Collected Adventures of The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, Jesus Meets the Armed Services, New Adventures of Jesus and Rowlf (Rip Off Press).

The bans saw Paul Stevens, a co-owner of Space Age Books (Melbourne, Victoria) write to Customs and Excise[i] complaining about the ban and asking for clarification[ii].  In his letter he detailed the relevance of the banned titles, and underground comics in general, and described the contents of the books as being harmless social commentary.  Steven’s actions resulted in the bans being reviewed, but, ultimately, they were upheld[iii].  But Stevens had drawn attention to the bans, and this caused the Director of Customs to order a report on comic books in general, and the issues raised in the complaint.

The report showed the differentiation between mainstream superhero and traditional ‘Casper The Ghost’ type comics, along with the connection between horror titles and the underground movement.  Unfortunately, knowing that the controls were soon to be handed over from Federal to State, the report writer concluded that the present line of censorship be maintained, along with the bans on the titles mentioned by Stevens[iv].

The lasting effect that Stevens letter had was to put an unofficial hold on the banning of any new titles, this would now be handled by the individual states.  The Federal Government had finally washed its hands of banning.

Censorship moved from the Federal Government to individual states as of December 1, 1975.  After this date the control of all printed matter would become the responsibility of each state, albeit with very similar guidelines.

In each state an item could be banned outright, or classified.  The restrictions were generally an ‘R’ rating, which meant the item could not be sold or displayed anywhere where a person under the age of 18 might find or see it.  The other resection was Direct Sale.  This meant a title could not be made available at a news agency and could only be sold at a specialist shop.  As time progressed, each state made adjustments to their classifications.

New South Wales had three levels.  An item could be banned outright, restricted or offered only as direct sale.  A restricted item would feature an ‘R’ label and could not be sold, or displayed, to anyone under the age of 18.  An item marked for direct sale could only be sold at a specialist store and not at a news agency.

Other states took different approaches, with varying levels of control.

South Australia had five separate classifications.  They were;
A: A condition prohibiting the sale, delivery, exhibition or display of the publication to a minor (other than by a parent or guardian or a person acting with the authority of a parent or guardian) or the exhibition or display of the publication in circumstances in which it is likely to be perused by minors.
B: A condition prohibiting the exhibition or display of the publication in a place to which the public has access or in such a manner that it is visible from any such place.
C: A condition prohibiting the sale or delivery of the publication except to adults making a direct request for the publication.
D: A condition prohibiting the delivery of the publication except to a purchaser who requests the publication whilst he is at the place at which the publication is for sale and takes delivery thereof at that place.
E: A condition prohibiting the publication of advertisements in respect of the publication.
U: Unrestricted sale permitted.

Victoria’s classifications were very similar.
(a) It shall not be offered for sale, sold, delivered, exhibited or displayed to any person under the age of 18 years;
(b) It shall not be made available for inspection or perusal to any person under the age of 18 years;
(c) It shall not be exhibited or displayed in any place to which persons under the age of 18 years have access or so that it is visible from any such place;
(d) It shall not be advertised in any manner whatsoever.

Other states took a more basic approach.  In Western Australia and Queensland an item was either prohibited from sale, a restricted item or not.

South Australia jumped the gun and led the charge late in 1974, restricting the sale of Skull Comics, The Tortoise and the Hare, Young Lust (Last Gasp Eco-Funnies), Good Jive Comix (Pooo Bear Productions), Captain Guts Comics, Real Pulp Comics, Rubber Duck (Assassin of Youth), Young Lust (Get Your Share Of) (Print Mint), Cosmic Capers 1972 (Big Muddy Comics), Haunt of Horror (Marvel Comics), Weird and Horror Tales (Eerie Publications), the latter two titles were also restricted in New South Wales.  Some titles were restricted outright, others had individual issues restricted. 

New South Wales and Western Australia took offence at publications issued by Kitchen Sink and Last Gasp, with virtually every Last Gasp title being restricted in New South Wales alone in 1975.  Horror Tales, Weird and Tales From The Tomb (Eerie Publications) were restricted, along with Last Gasp’s Amputee Love, Armageddon, Dopin' Dan, Eternal Comics, Inner City Romance Comic, Skull Comics, Slow Death, Tales from the Leather Nun, Tortoise and the Hare, Wimmin’s Comix, Young Lust and the Young Lust Reader.

Not to be outdone South Australia slapped more restrictions on comic books in 1975, with Last Gasp titles being targeted.  Amputee Love, Inner City Romance Comic, Laugh in the Dark, Skull Comics, Slow Death, Tales from the Leather Nun, Wimmin’s Comix, Young Lust and the Young Lust Reader joined Heavy Metal (H.M Communications), All Canadian Beaver Comix (Georgia Straight) and Kitchen Sink’s Hungry Chuck Biscuits on the restricted list.

State censorship, at times, appeared to make no sense, nor did it follow any rhyme or reason.  A title could be restricted, or even banned one month only to have the restrictions lifted the next.  A comic might have been on sale for years only to suddenly be classified as restricted.  At least two titles, Barefoot Funnies (Kitchen Sink) and Bakersfield Kountry Komixs (Last Gasp) were banned in 1982 in New South Wales on the grounds that they contained child pornography.  The Adventures of the Little Green Dinosaur (Last Gasp) was classified, in New South Wales in 1982, as being pornographic and could be sold, but only in shops that deal with such material.

As the 1980s rolled on, more and more books were named in Government gazettes, but these were generally to show that restrictions had been lifted and bans rescinded.  Despite a flurry of activity in Western Australia in 1988, the banning and restricting of comic books in Australia all but ended by the beginning of the 1990s, however the furor surrounding questionable material had not.

Censorship and banning began to fall off in the mid-1980s.  This was primarily due to the rise of the home video market and the proliferation of pornographic videos and magazines that were now flooding the country.  Adding to the censors woes were the Video Nasties, a particularly violent and graphic form of horror and science fiction film genre that was also making inroads in Australia, and also being featured prominently in the media.

The ease that comic books could be directly imported also affected the censorship process.  Importers found loopholes in the importation laws.  By dealing directly with similar specialist shops in other countries, and even small publishers, buyers could circumvent the importation process by bypassing recognized distributers.  It was well known that customs officials would open boxes at random and even then if boxes were over a certain weight or size or if the value declared was excessive.  Orders were staggered over boxes and their real value was downgraded.  By importing in this manner, as well as the standard distribution process, a buyer could, if lucky, import almost anything printed.

The direct sale process and rise of distributers such as Capitol City and Diamond also assisted stores in their attempt to import product that might otherwise be classified as restricted or banned. 

By the end of 1988, 109 Last Gasp comics had been restricted or banned across Australia, with Slow Death being the most targeted title, restricted or banned on 11 separate occasions.  Kitchen Sink was next highest, with 82 restrictions or bans placed; not surprisingly Bizarre Sex headed the list, restricted or banned on 12 separate occasions.  Rip Off Press were restricted 33 times, Rip Off Comix accounted for nine of those restrictions.  The rest all fared fairly well at the censors: Pint Mint – 25 restrictions, Apex Novelty Co – 19, Eerie Publications – 8, Pooo Bear - 8, and so on down the list of publishers to the point where 55 of them had titles restricted or banned between 1974 and 1988.

Big Muddy Comics Inc
Cosmic Capers (SA – Restricted)
Eerie Publishing
Horror Tales; Weird (NSW – Restricted); Horror Tales Vol 6 #5; Weird Vol 8 #4 (SA - Restricted)
Last Gasp Eco-Funnies
Skull Comics #1 & #2; The Tortoise and the Hare #1; Young Lust #3 (SA - Restricted)
Marvel Comics
Haunt Of Horror #3 (SA – Restricted)
Pooo Bear Productions
Good Jive Comix #1 & #2 (SA – Restricted)
Print Mint
Captain Guts Comics; Real Pulp Comics; Rubber Duck (Assassin of Youth); Young Lust (Get Your Share Of) (SA - Restricted)

Big Muddy Comics
Cosmic Capers (NSW – Restricted)
Company & Sons
Young Lust #1 (SA – Restricted)
Eerie Publications
Horror Tales Vol 5, #6; Tales from the Tomb; Weird Vol 8, #4 (NSW - Restricted)
Georgia Straight
All Canadian Beaver Comix #1 (SA – Restricted)
H.M. Communications Inc
Heavy Metal (SA - Restricted)
Kitchen Sink Enterprises
Hungry Chuck Biscuits #1 (SA – Restricted)
Last Gasp
Amputee Love #1; Armageddon #3; Dopin’ Dan #1; Eternal Comics #1; Inner City Romance Comic #1; Skull Comics#2 & #3; Slow Death #6; Tales from the Leather Nun #1; Tortise and the Hare #1; Wimmin’s Comix #1; Young Lust #3; Young Lust Reader (NSW – Restricted)
Amputee Love #1; Dopin’ Dan #1; Inner City Romance Comic #1; Laugh in the Dark #1; Skull Comics#2; Tales from the Leather Nun #1; Wimmin’s Comix #1; Young Lust #3; Young Lust Reader (SA – Restricted)

Eerie Publications
Horror Tales (NSW - Restricted)

Marvel Comics
Doc Savage #8; Marvel Super Special – Kiss (WA - Restricted)

Kitchen Sink Enterprises
Artistic Comics; Corporate Crime Comics; Joel Beck Comics and Stories; Kurtzman Komix; Tales from the Fridge; Teen-age Horizons of Shangrila (SA - Restricted)
Gredown Pty Limited
Remarkable Crime Cases (SA - Restricted)
Last Gasp Eco-Funnies
Amputee Love; Anus Clenching Adventure With Harold Hedd; Dirty Laundry Comics; Dr Atomic; Eternal Comics; Wimmen’s Comix (SA - Restricted)
Rip Off Press Inc
Flamed-Out Funnies; Freak Brothers (The Best of the Rip Off Press); The Fabulous Freak Brothers; Zippy Stories (SA - Restricted)
Woofnwarp Productions
Barefootz Funnies (SA - Restricted)

Big Muddy Comics Inc
Cosmic Capers (NSW – Restricted)
Star Reach Productions Inc
The Further Fattening Adventures of Pudge the Girl Blimp #3 (NSW - Restricted)
Wolfman Comix (USA)
The Legend of Wolfman #1; Wolfman #2 (NSW - Restricted)

Apex Novelty Co.
Zap Comix (SA - Restricted)
Bunch Association
Zip Comics (SA - Restricted)
Clifford Neal
Dr. Withams Comix Stories (SA - Restricted)
Everyman Comics
Animal Bite Comix (SA - Restricted)
Kitchen Sink Enterprises
Artistic Comics; Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary; Bizarre Sex; Bunch’s Power Pak Comics; Class War Comix; Corporate Crime Comics; Dope Comix; Hyper Comic; Mondo Snarfo; Phoebe and the Pigeon People; Sleazy Scandals of the Silver Screen; Trina’s Women; Weird Trips (SA - Restricted)
Last Gasp Eco Funnies Inc
Adventures of the Little Green Dinosaur; All New Underground Hot Crackers Comix; American Flyer Funnies; Cartoon History of the Universe; Checkered Demon; Cheech Wizard; Cocaine Comix; Collected Adventures of Harold Head; Dr Atomic; Frescazizis; Inner City Romance; Kids Liberation Coloring Book; Legion of Charlies; No Ducks; Psychotic Adventures; Sacred and Profane; Slow Death; Two-Fisted Zombies; Two Fools; White Comanche; Wimmen’s Comix; Young Lust (SA - Restricted)
Nanny Goat Productions
Tits and Clits Comix (SA - Restricted)
Power Comics Co.
Power Comics (SA - Restricted)
The Print Mint Inc
The Overland Vegetables Stagecoach Presents Meef Comix; Uncle Sham (SA - Restricted)
Rip Off Press
The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers; Griffith Observatory; Rip Off Comix; Star Weevil (SA - Restricted)
Star Reach Productions
Further Fattening Adventures of Pudge Girl Blimp; Quack (SA - Restricted)
Wolfman Comix
Legend of Wolf Man; Wolf Man (SA - Restricted)
Zero Comic
Zero (SA - Restricted)

Kitchen Sink Enterprises
Bizarre Sex (SA - Restricted)

The Adam's Apple Distribut. Co.
Tail-Dragger Comix (NSW)
Apex Novelties
Black and White Comics; Mr Natural
Bill Griffith + Family Fun
Short Order (NSW)
California Comics
Barbarian Comics (NSW)
Charles Dallas The Company and Sons
Psychotic Adventures illustrated (NSW)
Clifford Neal Mystic
Dr Wirtham's Comix & Stories (NSW)
Comic Art Gallery
Barn Of Fear (NSW)
The Co. and Sons
Drool Magazine (NSW)
Everyman Studios
Hobo Stories (NSW)
Head Imports
Cloud Comics (NSW)
Joey Epstein Co. and Sons
Cloud Comics Presents All Duck (NSW)
Kitchen Sink Enterprises
50's Funnies; Banzai!; Bare Footz Funnies (classified as Child Pornography); Bunch's Power Pak Comics; Dope Comix; Fever Dreams; Gay Comics; Nard ‘N Pat; Omaha The Cat Dancer; Snarf (NSW)
Klutzian Komidy Kause
Ultra Klutz (NSW)
Krupp Comic Works Inc.
Bijou Funnies (NSW – Restricted)
Larry Fuller
New Funny Book (SA - Restricted)
Last Gasp
Adventures of the Little Green Dinosaur (classified as pornography); After Shock: Bulletins from Ground Zero; Aline and Bob's Dirty Laundry Comics (Funtine Funnies); Aline and Bob's Dirty Laundry Comics (Their Cute Li'l Life Together); Anarchy Comics; Bakersfield Kountry Komics (classified as Child Pornography); Checkered Demon; Cocaine Comix; Dopin’ Dan; Skull; Slow Death; Twisted Sisters Comics; Weirdo; Young Lust (NSW)
Lost Cause
Lost Cause Comix (NSW)
Nanny Goat Productions
Pandoras Box Comix (NSW)
The Print Mint
American Flyer Funnies; Feds ‘n' Heads Comics; Savage Humor; Show and Tell; Yellow Dog (NSW)
Quality Cartoons
Your Hytone Comix (NSW)
Rip Off Press
Flamed-Out Funnies; Rip Off Comix; Thoroughly Ripped with the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers and Fat Freddy's Cat (SA - Restricted)
Sal Quartuccio
Hot Stuf’ (NSW)
Warren Publishing Co
1994 (NSW)
Wolfman Comix
Wolfman Comix (SA - Restricted)
Yahoo Productions

Last Gasp Inc.
Mickey Rat; Yow (NSW – Restricted)
Rip Off Press
Miami Mice (NSW – Restricted)

Kitchen Sink Enterprises
Artistic Comics A Real Collector’s Item; Bizarre Sex; Gay Comix; Omaha The Cat Dancer; Snoid Comics (WA – Restricted)
Last Gasp Inc.
Cherry; Cherry Poptart; Hup; Tales from the Leather Nun; Young Lust (WA – Restricted)
Pooo Bear Productions
Good Jive Comix; Pure Joy Comix (WA – Restricted)

[i] Stevens to Customs and Excise, 4th October, 1972
[iii] Byrne to Stevens, 5 December, 1972
[iv] Minute Paper, 72/9418, Customs and Excise

All the following research and text is copyright©2017 Daniel Best.
All images are copyright© Their Respective Owners and taken from the bloggers own collection.


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