American pulp publishing evolved rapidly from 1930s salacious detective magazines to “True Crime” comics marketed to kids in the years following World War II. Routinely covers showed women in grave danger. By the early 1950s, prominent social critics were arguing without evidence that children were harmed by reading violent comic books. The resulting public hysteria led to 1954 Senate Hearings addressing the supposed antisocial effects of comics.
In response, industry publishers organized a self-censorship regime under the Comics Code Authority. Designed to head off threatened government regulation, the Authority enforced its Seal of Approval, or self-imposed guidelines used to judge comics as appropriate for all ages.
The Authority was presided over by John Goldwater, a founder of Archie Comic Publications. Skeptics note that Goldwater had a clear motive to enforce family standards in the industry. The impresario of Archie, Betty, and Veronica—characters who first appeared in Pep Comics (1941-42)—had already cornered an audience for “wholesome” material. Sales literature from Archie Comics makes plain the company sought to appeal to girls and boys. Betty and Veronica were presented as fashion-conscious pin-ups in a homogenous small-town world—pulp vixens without the danger.
The Washington University Libraries acquired the Archie Comics Collection in 2022. The Archie Comics Collection features materials related to the franchise’s creation, original art by Bob Montana, Don DeCarlo, and others, and John Goldwater correspondence and business ephemera. This exhibition highlights materials from the Archie Comics Collection, contextualizing “noir” material from pulp magazines and mainstream publications, selected pre-code comics, and early comic art from other notable collections held in the Dowd Illustration Research Archive.
The Domestic Pulp exhibition is curated by Professor Douglas B. Dowd, Andrea Degener, Interim Dowd Illustration Research Archive Curator, and Skye Lacerte.
Header Image Credit: Archie’s Girls Betty & Veronica #138 (June 1967)