Los Angeles-based theater group Captured Aural Phantasy brings radio drama-style performance, and a deep knowledge of comic books, to El Cid on May 4 for Crime Story Confidential.
The performance will feature live renditions of crime comic books that stirred up controversy in the middle of the 20th Century. This show is the third part of Captured Aural Phantasy’s “Seduction of the Innocent” trilogy that coincides with the 60th anniversary of the “Senate Subcommittee Hearings into Juvenile Delinquency.” This is an event that dramatically changed the comics industry in the United States.
In 1954, Seduction of the Innocent: The Influence of Comic Books on Today’s Youth hit bookstands. The book, by Fredric Wertham, M.D., went on to live in pop culture infamy. Decades later, writers and academics have pointed out the flaws in Wertham’s scathing criticisms of an entire medium. People have built websites dedicated to the comics he cited as destructive. At the time, though, Wertham’s work had sparked outrage directed at the then-massive comic book industry. This led to the Senate Hearings, which began on April 21, 1954.
Wertham didn’t have a problem with a certain comic book series, or even a genre. He just didn’t like comics. Period. That much is evident in his testimony during the Senate Hearings. During this event, he famously cited an instance in Tales from the Crypt involving baseball and a decapitated head. Later that day, William Gaines, of EC Comics, had to answer pointed questions about what is, or isn’t, good taste.
It all seems ridiculous now. Why would Senate members feel the need to question someone on a matter of taste? However, while the content in question and the actions that followed are indicative of a certain era in U.S. history, the overall situation isn’t. Moral panic and the ensuing censorship issues continued to arise during the rest of the century and persist to this day.
For the comic book industry, the hearings, which continued on April 22, 1954 and then resumed in June of that year, had lasting implications. A number of companies went out of business. Certain genres of comics largely disappeared until the rise of the underground scene in the 1960s. The Comics Code Authority sprang to life. This self-censoring branch of the industry existed until 2011, so the impact of the comics scare of the 1950s was felt decades after the fact.
Amongst the genres targeted by this fallout were romance, horror and crime comics. These are the subjects that Captured Aural Phantasy has been tackling in its recent performances. The first installment of the series was dedicated to romance. Earlier this month, they delved into the world of horror. In it, the group performed several horror comic book stories and included musical numbers and other elements related to the genre.
Don’t miss their take on crime stories on May 4. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. and the show begins an hour later. Cover is $10. El Cid is located at 4212 W. Sunset Blvd. in Los Angeles.
Image: Captured Aural Phantasy, Rinehart & Company