Gabby sent my friend a dozen-plus Spire Christian comics. It is possible that you have never heard of Spire comics. I hadn’t.
Horror and crime comic books were huge in the early 1950s. And then came Wertham.
In 1954 German-American psychiatrist Fredric Wertham published Seduction of the Innocent. With little data and a near-complete absence of science (confusing correlation with causation), he asserted that comic books were a major cause of juvenile delinquency. It being 1954, his book and assertion were taken seriously. Comic book publishers knew the power of the witch hunt/blacklist and so voluntarily adopted the Comics Code Authority as a form of self-censorship. The only good thing to come out of it all was Mad magazine, another story.
But, it being 1954, just writing a book condemning comic books was not enough. We burned them! We had done it in 1948 and we did it again. Burn!
The bottom photo got in there by mistake and I don’t know how to get it out. It is from Berlin, 1933, not the US, 1954. My bad.
With the comic books that kids liked gone, there was a void. Nature abhors a vacuum, and so eventually we got exactly what kids wanted – good, clean, wholesome comic books. Godly comic books. Christian comic books.
Enter Spire. Spire Christian Comics – comic books published by Fleming H. Revell in the 1970s. Much of the artwork was done by Al Hartley, the Archie Comics artist at the time.
Hartley had worked on the “Pussycat” comic strip which appeared in mens magazines such as Male Annual, Men, and Stag. It was bawdy and naughty but by no means pornographic. But it made Hartley feel guilty, so guilty that he embraced evangelical Christianity.
A number of the Spire comics featured Archie with Christian themes. Gabby had no time for them. Others were kiddie comics, aimed at young children. Gabby had no time for them. If you are interested, there is a great website with every page of most of the Spire comics, including the ones that Gabby didn’t care for.
What Gabby sent my friend were Bible stories, biography adaptations, and book or movie adaptations including Chuck Colson’s inspiring Born Again.
I asked my friend where Gabby got these. It was kind of a complicated story. It was back when Gabby was living in Salinas and both he and I were working for the legal department of the United Farm Workers.
Main Street was down and out, not yet the new and improved Olde Towne. Gabby would go out for tea most mornings at a little dive and talk with whoever was sitting at the counter. He got to be friends with one old-timer who was quite taken with the Biblical prophecies of Hal Lindsey, who was just then breaking into the major leagues of end-of-the-world prophecies. Spire adapted Lindsey’s There’s a New World Coming, and the old-timer gave Gabby the comic. There was a Christian book store a few blocks west of us and Gabby foraged there for the other Spires. They gave them to him because he seemed like a nice boy.
My friend leafed through these. He picked two covers out:
“Is it just me, or if I compared these covers with the covers of gay pulps from the era, would I not see some similarities?”
He wasn’t done. “I know that this makes me a bad person, but isn’t there just a little irony in the fact that Archie ended up as a big-time actor in Tijuana Bibles?”
I agreed. I asked him what he thought of Lindsey and Colson and Hansi the girl who loved the swastika?