In 1954 the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency held an investigation on comics, leading to a series of hearings that brought the comic book industry to its knees. As a result of hysteria, primarily pushed by Dr. Fredrick Werthem’s notorious book Seduction of the Innocent, it became commonly believed by a paranoid public that the increase of juvenile delinquency was due in part to violent and sexual content within comic books. At the forefront of the investigation would be such titles as Black Cat, Phantom Lady, the legendary EC Comics line and, leading the pack, what was the world’s best selling comic of the era Crime Does Not Pay. By the end of the hearing, the comic landscape would be severely altered, with massive censorship to the comic industry being regulated by the stifling Comic Code Authority, which would wipe out dozens of comic titles and even companies. Crime Does Not Pay would be one of the victims of the Comic Code Authority, but as a result the book would go become infamous amongst comic scholars for its grotesque retellings of true crime stories and its garish imagery and extreme violence. Long sought after by collectors for decades, Darkhorse Comics has acquired the rights to Crime Does Not Pay and is releasing each and every bloody issue in a special set of hard covered archive editions. However, for the casual reader curious to experience the book had parent groups, church clergies and politicians so terrified is now available in a “best of” volume titled Crime Does Not Pay: Blackjacked and Pistol Whipped.
The brainchild of cartoonists Bob Wood and Charlie Brio, Crime Does Not Pay was the comic industry’s first true crime comic, which popularity would spawn dozens of imitators during the post war comic industry. Published by Lev Gleason Publications, Crime Does Not Pay “borrowed” the name from the popular film short and radio series, and began with issue 22 (taking over Silver Streak Comics’ numbering) on July 1942. Each issue would tell three true crime stories, often narrated by a specter like figure named Mr. Crime, who would influence the creations of characters such as The Crypt-Kepper and Cain and Able, who would describe the details of the crime in every gory detail. However, in the end the criminal would meet his demise, proving that “crime did not pay.” It really was a way that the publishers could justify glorifying the criminal acts and violence during the story, arguing that the stories were, in fact, morality tales. But, it is obvious that Brio and Wood were having far more fun creating lurid content and the point of the story was the crime, and not the paying part. In fact, even the covers had the word “Crime” far more prominently displayed then the words “Does Not Pay.” The covers themselves would be legendary for their images of decapated women, bullet ridden bodies and blood splattered killers which was unlike anything seen before in comic books (Crime Does Not Pay would predate the notorious EC Comics line by eight years). In its hey day it was estimated that Crime Does Not Pay was being read by six million readers, easily outselling titles from the major publishers, including such heavy hitter franchises as Superman, Captain Marvel and Batman. Some of the earliest comic stories to feature, sex, drugs and graphic violence, Brio and Wood had found the perfect formula to sell books, but in the end it would become so notorious that this formula would factor in bringing about the downfall of the entire industry.
Crime Does Not Pay: Blackjacked and Pistol-Whipped is an addictive read. Once you pick it up you can barely put it down. Twenty four stories are reprinted in this 221 page volume, featuring some of the title’s take on the stories of infamous criminals such as Charles “Lucky” Luciano and John Dillinger, and strips drawn by a surprising list of the Gold Age top names including Carmine Infantino, George Tuska, and Archie creator Bob Montana! Above average art and narrative for the era, Wood (who wrote the majority of the stories) and Brio were less concerned about accuracy as much as they were about sensationalizing the criminal acts, leading to over the top shock value. For instance, The Beast of Brooklyn lacks story or drama, but vividly describes the death of eleven men, women and children by burning in vivid detail. Since the stories are based on real crimes, in many cases I was compelled to research the crimes myself, which adds a whole other dimension to each of the stories told. One of my personal favorites is the anthology’s first story Two-Legged Rats, about Oregon cult leader Franz Cheffield, aka Joshua the Second, whose story is well documented on the internet, including photos of him and his followers. Brio and Wood play fast and loose with the facts, but it is fascinating to put together the history after reading the Crime Does Not Pay treatment. Once this book is picked up it is easy to get lost in the fast and frantic stories glorifying the dangerous and perverse criminals presented within.
However, one of the most interesting stories in Crime Does Not Pay: Blackjacked and Pistol Whipped is not part of the reprinted material, but from the introduction by comic publisher Denis Kitchen who tells the entire gory behind the scenes story of Brio, Wood and their notorious book. For those who never read the introductions, this is one introduction you don’t want to skip over. In a tale almost too strange to be true, Kitchen tells the story of how Bob Wood himself was convicted for murder in 1958, three years after the final issue of Crime Does Not Pay was published, when he bludgeoned his girlfriend to death in a New York hotel room with a steam iron. A strange and quiet man, Wood was a known alcoholic and often was seen abusing his female companions. In fact, abuse of women was often featured on Crime Does Not Pay covers. Kitchen outlines the details of the Brio case, and opens questions about Wood’s own death sometime in the early sixties. Was it suicide, or was it murder? Was there perhaps some truth to Dr, Wertham’s analysis of Crime Does Not Pay? Probably not, but whatever the case, the stories in Crime Does Not Pay were written by a man with very violent tendencies, and is an interesting insight into Bob Wood’s demented mind.
Crime Does Not Pay: Blackjacked and Pistol Whipped is an interesting read for scholars of the history of comic books and for anyone interested in the comic book hearings of the 1950’s. This is one of the notorious books that shook up America and it is now available again in its brilliant gory details. A true curiosity piece, Crime Does Not Pay: Blackjacked and Pistol Whipped is a perfect introduction to the world of 1950’s crime comics.
To order your own copy of Crime Does Not Pay: Blackjacked and Pistol Whipped, visit your local comic book dealer, or click here.