Comic censorship

| Updated on: May 06, 2011
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Censorship in comics is a subject that caught my fancy when I discovered how the scissors were cleverly used for The Phantom in India. Those were the days of Indrajal Comics and all of us growing up in the 1960s were hopelessly addicted to our masked hero and his incredible adventures.

What we did not realise then was that strips featuring even an innocuous kiss with his girlfriend, Diana Palmer, were chopped. It was only years later when I read unedited versions of the same stories in Frew Comics (published in Australia) did it strike me that we in India were the recipients of sanitised versions.

Was all this really worth the trouble when we were familiar with other superheroes in imported comics seen having their romantic moments? How would all this have mattered to seven-year-olds unless it was considered dirty in the first place? From what I learnt, The Phantom had to go through a little more censorship before it was launched in India. Denkali, his jungle abode, replaced the original Bengali for obvious reasons. Likewise, his nemesis, the Singh pirates were rechristened Singha. These changes were understandable but to knock off romantic sequences was, frankly, a bit silly.

Lee Falk, the creator of The Phantom , died some years ago but European writers/artists continue the good work with some dramatic, contemporary touches. The drawings are actually a lot more daring and one of the comics, Giovanna , is particularly remarkable. The story deals with an ancestor of The Phantom who is attracted to a cardinal (he does not know it is actually a woman disguised as a man) and how he breaks into a cold sweat wondering if there is something wrong with him.

My friend and fellow comic collector, Vineeth Abraham, asked me to check out Fredric Wertham's Seduction of the Innocent . Not easily available today, this book created a storm when it was first published in 1954.

Wertham, a German-American psychiatrist, insisted that comics were dangerous to children thanks to their violent illustrations. There were also suggestions that Batman and Robin were gay, Superman a fascist while Wonder Woman ‘had a bondage subtext' (courtesy Wikipedia). Not everyone agreed but the book led to the creation of the Comics Code Authority in the US.

In today's politically correct times, it is unthinkable to glorify a white man ruling over coloured people in some remote jungle. However, comics were products of a particular period and all of us who grew up on The Phantom and Tarzan were more intrigued by the story rather than this obvious differentiator.

Were the creators racist? I would like to believe that, like most of us, they evolved with the times. The Jungle Patrol, an important part of all Phantom comics, kept with the changing times and featured a coloured man as colonel. Likewise, Mandrake the Magician 's loyal buddy, Lothar, moved into regular clothes from his original leopard skin outfit.

Published on May 06, 2011

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