Adult comics
This topic covers comics that fall under the adult genre.
Publishers Vertigo (DC Comics)
Marvel Comics' Max line
Metal Mammoth
NBM Publishing
Fantagraphics Books

Adult comics are comic books, graphic novels or comic strips that contain explicit content that is only suitable for adult readers.

Early days

Roger Sabin traces the history of adult comics back to the political cartoons published in broadsheets since the 19th century.[1] In 1930's, there were clandestinely produced tijuana bibles – rectangular, eight page pamphlets with black printing on cheap white paper. The artwork ranged from excellent to utterly crude and was sometimes also racist (Blacks were caricatured with huge lips and extruding eyes). Their stories were explicit sexual escapades usually featuring well known cartoon characters, political figures or movie stars (used without permission).

Sold under the counter in places like tobacco stores and burlesque houses, millions of the tijuana bibles were sold at the height of their popularity in the 1930s. They went into a steep decline after World War II and by the mid-1950s only a small trickle of new product was still appearing on the market, mainly in the form of cheaply printed, poorly drawn and tasteless little eight pagers which sold for 10 cents each in run down candy stores, gas stations, and schoolyards, circulating mainly among delinquent teenagers.

Starting in 1932, Norman Pett drew a strip called Jane for the British Daily Mirror newspaper. The heroine would often find herself in awkward situations where she would lose her clothing for one reason or another. The strip was written to some extent for a military audience to boost the morale of troops away from home. Winston Churchill said that Jane was Britain's "secret weapon".[2] In the United States, Milton Caniff started producing the strip Male Call in 1943, and Bill Ward came out with Torchy in 1944 about similar risque heroines.

In the 1950s Irving Klaw published a line of underground fetish and bondage comics by artists like Eric Stanton, John Willie, and Gene Bilbrew. These never achieved widespread popularity but were kept in print for many years, sold through Klaw's mail order catalog to the same customers who bought his bondage photographs of Bettie Page. Not quite obscene enough to warrant prosecution, they skirted the limits of legality by avoiding full frontal nudity in their depictions.

EC Comics and the Comics Code Authority

In the early 1950s, William Gaines shifted the focus of his father's company, EC Comics, from educational to crime, horror, humor and science fiction titles such as Crime SuspenStories, Mad, Tales From the Crypt and Weird Science. It is believed that EC had one of the best-selling lines at the time. Harvey Kurtzman was one of the key writers, and artists such as Wally Wood or Al Williamson began to do research for each new story far beyond what had been seen in titles published up to that time.

Around this time, a psychologist Dr. Fredric Wertham came out with a book Seduction of the Innocent that claimed that the rise in juvenile delinquency being reported in the news at the time was fueled by comic books. He claimed that Batman and Robin were encouraging homosexuality, and decried the bondage seen in Wonder Women's book. EC came under criticism for the graphic violence and gore seen in its crime and horror books. William Gaines was called before a Senate committee to testify, but he remained defensive saying that he was already censoring the more extreme things from his books. Partly in order to avoid the government imposing a solution, the other major publishers banded together to form the Comics Code Authority which would screen comics before they went to press, and only allow the Code mark to appear if the comic passed their standards.

The Code was alarmingly strict. It barred publishers from using the words 'crime,' 'horror' or 'terror' in their titles, thus forcing EC to abandon some of their most popular titles. Police officers could not be portrayed in a negative light, and if a villain committed murder, he would have to be caught and punished by the end of the story. No mention was allowed of vampires, werewolves or zombies, another swipe at EC. Years later when Marvel introduced zombies into their books, they had to call them 'zuvembies' in order to pass the Code. In general, DC and Marvel were supportive of the Code, but EC struggled to cope with the new rules, and eventually abandoned most of their titles to focus on Mad Magazine, which did not need Code approval.

Underground comics

Adult comics continued underground in the late 1960s outside the umbrella of the CCA. The underground comics movement was spearheaded by creators such as Art Spiegelman, Robert Crumb, Harvey Pekar, Kim Deitch and Spain Rodriguez. Larry Welz appeared in the 1980s with his Cherry book, an underground-style erotic parody of Archie Comics. These titles were often sold at head shops, but these establishments were often at loggerheads with the police, sometimes making distribution difficult.

Magazines, comic strips and Europe

Playboy magazine first came out in 1953. It would features single panel cartoons by artists such as Alberto Vargas, Archie Comics artist Dan DeCarlo, Jack Cole, LeRoy Neiman and later Olivia De Berardinis and Dean Yeagle. Horacio Altuna is an Argentine artist who has done many four page strips for Playboy Magazine's Spanish, Italian and German editions.

In France in 1962, Jean-Claude Forest started producing a strip called Barbarella, set in outer space, but where the heroine found herself losing her clothes or ending up in sexual situations. Soon after, Playboy magazine started including a multipage strip called Little Annie Fanny by EC alumni Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder with an occasional assist from artist Frank Frazetta. Annie likewise had trouble keeping her clothes on, and by the mid-1960s, there were quite a few strips following sexually-liberated heroines: Modesty Blaise in England, The Adventures of Jodelle in France, Isabella (by Sandro Angiolini) and Valentina in Italy, and The Adventures of Phoebe Zeit-Geist and Sally Forth in the United States. Other men's magazines eventually followed with similar strips, e.g. Penthouse 's Oh Wicked Wanda by Ron Embleton or Mayfair 's Carrie by Don Lawrence. Penthouse would later put out a number of erotic comic magazines: Penthouse Comix, Penthouse Men's Adventure and Penthouse Max with the likes of Adam Hughes contributing artwork.

From 1965, Warren Publishing started publishing two black and white magazines, Creepy and Eerie, commissioning work from the artists who had worked on EC's horror line. Warren added Vampirella in 1969, and then the science fiction magazine titled 1984 (later 1994) starting in the year 1978. The large format of these titles meant that they could be sold with other magazines aimed at adults rather than displayed in comic racks where the child-oriented titles were found.

The French comics anthology Pilote was published from 1959–89, and featured the work of adult-oriented creators such as Jean Giraud(Moebius), Guido Crepax, Caza and the American Robert Crumb. By 1974, Jean Giraud and some of his comrades had become dissatisfied with Pilote, and broke off to found the Metal Hurlant magazine to showcase adult work in the science fiction or fantasy genres. The publishers of the American humor magazine National Lampoon discovered Metal Hurlant, and in 1977 started publishing Heavy Metal translating the work of Jean-Claude Forest, Jean Giraud, Guido Crepax, Milo Manara and Vittorio Giardino for an English audience. Heavy Metal also provided a forum for the work of American creators such as Richard Corben and Howard Chaykin.

In 1978, the Belgian company Casterman started putting out the magazine À Suivre attracting submissions by many of the same contributors who were seen in Metal Hurlant. Catalan Communications and more recently NBM Publishing have also published adult works from Europe mostly as standalone graphic novels, although NBM now has an anthology magazine called Sizzle.

In 1977, the British anthology 2000 A.D. first appeared, and featured the work of many writers and artists who were to become influential in the adult comics field in the U.S. later, notably Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons who created Watchmen and Neil Gaiman who went on to work on The Sandman. Another popular British magazine is Viz which parodies earlier British comics anthologies with an injection of incongruous sex or violence. While 2000 A.D. is adventure-oriented, and Viz focused on potty humor, Raymond Briggs tried to give British comics a more serious tone with works such as When the Wind Blows about an older couple trying to come to terms with the aftermath of a nuclear attack.

In 1983, Warren went bankrupt, but more recently, Dark Horse Comics has been reprinting some of Warren's old stories, and has revived the Creepy and Eerie magazines.

Mainstream publishers

The publisher of Marvel Comics in the 1960s, Martin Goodman, was also the publisher for a number of men's adventure magazines: Men, Male and Stag. In these magazines, they had put out a strip called The Adventures of Pussycat drawn by Wally Wood and Bill Ward. These strips were eventually collected, and released as a one-shot magazine in 1968. Inside, it is listed as being printed by Marvel Comics, but there is no Marvel logo on the cover, nor any Comics Code mark. The lack of a Comics Code mark came to be a subtle sign that one might find adult content inside.

Intrigued by Warren's success with their black and white titles, Marvel Comics tried their hand at this field as well releasing Savage Tales starting in 1971, Tomb of Dracula in 1972 and Savage Sword of Conan in 1974. Heavy Metal 's success with glossy color science fiction and fantasy didn't go unnoticed either, and in 1980, Marvel released their Epic Illustrated magazine as well as a number of adult themed graphic novels under the Epic label. By 1986 though, they had cancelled Epic Illustrated, although Savage Sword of Conan continued running until 1995.

That same year, DC Comics soon after started publishing comics with the words "For Mature Readers" or "Suggested for Mature Readers" on their covers. These mature readers titles included The Shadow (1986), The Question (from #8 1987-), Slash Maraud (1987-8), Swamp Thing (from #57 1987-), Vigilante (from #44 1987-8), Wasteland (1987-), Batman: The Killing Joke (1988), Green Arrow (#1-62 1988-92), Haywire (1988-9), Hellblazer (1988-), Tailgunner Jo (1988-9), V for Vendetta (1988-), Blackhawk (1989–90), Deadman: Love After Death (1989), Gilgamesh II (1989), The Sandman (1989-), Doom Patrol (1990-), Shade the Changing Man (1990-), Twilight (1990), World Without End (1990-1), Mister E (1991), Animal Man (1992-), Deadman: Exorcism (1992) and Mighty Love (2004).

In 1993, DC started up their Vertigo imprint that allowed explicit content in selected titles, grouping a number of their mature readers titles together. Notable Vertigo titles include the Eisner Award winners, Fables, 100 Bullets, Preacher and The Sandman as well as several books that have been adapted into feature films, Hellblazer, A History of Violence, Stardust and V for Vendetta.

In 2001, Marvel Comics decided to withdraw from the Comics Code Authority, and set up their own content rating system, and an adult-oriented Max imprint. In January 2011, DC announced that they were withdrawing from the Comics Code as well, and the sole remaining Authority member Archie Comics withdrew the day after, bringing the code to its end.

Independent publishers

In 1966, Wally Wood hits upon the idea of publishing his own comic, and selling it through comic book specialty shops. Recruiting star creators from among his friends, witzend featured one-off strips on a wide variety of themes by the likes of Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Frank Frazetta, Gil Kane and Art Spiegelman.

Fantagraphics Books began in 1976, publishing the Comics Journal and later Amazing Heroes with text articles about the comics field, but they began publishing actual comics in 1982, notably Love and Rockets by Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez. In 1990, Fantagraphics established their Eros Comix imprint, reprinting titles by Wally Wood and Frank Thorne as well as Gilbert's Birdland.

Canadian Dave Sim began publishing Cerebus in 1977, and Richard and Wendy Pini put out Elfquest starting in 1978, initially through their own WaRP company. Pacific Comics was formed in 1981, and became the first publisher of Dave Stevens's Rocketeer which was eventually made into a movie. Stevens modeled one of the characters on Bettie Page harkening back to an earlier era of clandestine publishing.

Antarctic Press was founded in 1984, and publishes American manga and independent creators, notably Terry Moore's Strangers in Paradise.

Dark Horse Comics was founded in 1986, and is perhaps most notable for its adult-oriented anthology, Dark Horse Presents which first published Frank Miller's noirish Sin City, later made into a feature film.

Avatar Press began providing a showcase for the works of Alan Moore and Al Rio in 1996. Top Shelf Productions was formed in 1997, notably publishing Moore and Melinda Gebbie's Lost Girls erotic graphic novel.

Japanese manga

Main article: Josei manga

In Japan, comic books (manga) intended for adults are usually divided into Josei manga (comics for women) and Seinen manga (comics for men). Pornographic (hentai) comics that focus primarily on sex intended for men are usually called seijin-muke manga (成人向け漫画) or eromanga and those intended for women are usually called ladies comics (レーディーズ・コミック). These titles are usually not carried by family-oriented magazine sellers, and tend to have even lower sales figures still.

Female Artists and Writers

Although most writers and artists of adult comics have been men, there have been a number of women working in the field. As mentioned above, Olivia De Berardinis contributes illustrations to Playboy magazine. Elaine Lee, a writer who has worked for both DC and Marvel, collaborated with artist Michael Kaluta to produce Skin Tight Orbit, a collection of adult short stories published by NBM for their Amerotica label. Wendy Pini has also worked for Marvel, but is perhaps best known for her Elfquest series which she produced with her husband Richard. Amanda Conner was one of the artist who worked on DC/Vertigo's Codename: Knockout. Melinda Gebbie was the artist who worked with Alan Moore on the erotic Lost Girls graphic novel.

Notable Artists and Writers


See also


  1. Roger Sabin. Adult Comics: An Introduction (Taylor & Francis, 1993, ISBN 0-415-04419-7, Routledge, 2005, ISBN 0-415-29139-9) p. 15
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