Friday A/V Club

Orson Welles Defends the Freedom to Publish Gruesome Horror Comics

Friday A/V Club: A flimmaker fights a moral panic.


For this year's Halloween edition of the Friday A/V Club, here's Orson Welles in the mid-1950s, a time of moral panic over horror comics, sticking up for the cartoonists' freedom of speech:

Welles doesn't come across as a fan of the comics—he criticizes some of them on artistic grounds—and while he rejects the idea that they're encouraging juvenile delinquency, he concedes that actual "psychotics" might get some ideas from them. But when he's asked if he thinks they should be censored, he gives a firm no:

Q: Would you prohibit horror comics?

A: I wouldn't prohibit anything. I'm very much against censorship.

Q: Even for children?

A: That's a very difficult question. But you see, I don't think children were ever hurt by Grimm. And I remember that the end of "Snow White" in Grimm—the real end, not the Disney one—is when the witch is given red-hot iron shoes to dance in until she dies. Everybody's terribly happy about it, and I don't think it made any delinquents out of them.

The filmmaker also notes the violence in some classic works of literature. When one of his interlocutors objects that in those stories "virtue triumphs, whereas in the horror comics it doesn't," Welles interjects: "Well, it doesn't in Edgar Allan Poe either, you know?"

Welles wasn't always so absolutist about opposing censorship—11 years before this, he called for "laws against peddling race hate." Maybe he mentally excluded that category when he said he "wouldn't prohibit anything." Or maybe he grew to be more of a civil libertarian with age.

(This interview took place on the TV show Press Conference; for the full conversation, go here and then here. Other editions of the Friday A/V Club featuring Orson Welles can be found here and here. Other Halloween editions can be found here, here, here, and here.)

NEXT: Fargo Considers Whether to Turn Local Elections into a Voting System of Likes (and Dislikes)

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  1. Of course, his best work was Citizen Kane Paul Masson wine commercials.

  2. During the Korean War, Congress began a push to censor EC Comics like Tales from the Crypt. EC changed to Mad Magazine and FBI conducted investigations of Mad because J Edgar Hoover suspected it was part of a communist plot
    to inspire juveniles delinquency.

    1. And this Christian animated feature would not have a funny title without “Tales from the Crypt”…..he_Crisper

  3. Welles late 1940’s movie about Caranaval in Brazil lost its funding after producers saw footage of majority black Carnaval dancers.Orson Welles’ career was dogged by censorship in USA.

  4. The late, great Planet Comics.

  5. Silly off-screen woman asking if Westerns glorify violence.

    What about Hamlet, or Macbeth, or almost all of Shakespeare and his ilk? Beowulf? The Odyssey? How far back do you have to go to get to the golden age of non-violence?

  6. Thanks to Reason’s link, here’s juicy excerpts from Welles’ 1944 article for censoring “race hate” –

    “There are laws against peddling dope; there can be laws against peddling race hate.

    “That every man has a right to his own opinion is an American boast. But race hate isn’t an opinion; it’s a phobia. It isn’t a viewpoint; race hate is a disease. In a people’s world the incurable racist has no rights.”

    Of course, there’s the unfortunate detail that a biased government, looking for excuses to punish its critics, will be the one deciding what is or isn’t “race hate.”

    Supporters of govt policy, even if such support has a racial component, will get a pass, while criticism of government policy (eg, as impacting some races more than others) will get prosecuted.

    The “race” whose votes the party in power wants will get a pass, while the “race” which votes against the party in power will be prosecuted for racism.


    1. In his day it was a little different to be fair. There was actual government sponsored policy to discriminate aginst certain ethnic groups. Nowadays… not so much.

  7. Nice interview. I have a lot to study and I’m going to apply to for help, as I know in advance the work will be made on high level.

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