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The Lurid Truth Behind True Crime Comics

In 1942 Lev Gleason, a small publishing firm, released a new true crime comic called Crime Does Not Pay, co-edited, written and illustrated by Bob Wood and Charles Biro. The stories recounted actual crimes perpetrated by many of the day’s high profile mobsters including “Baby Face” Nelson and Charles “Lucky” Luciano. They were meant to be morality tales, though the criminals’ violent escapades and erotic encounters were thrillingly detailed, often to dramatic effect, and the moral of the story was usually relegated to a brief concluding paragraph. The mixture of sex and violence was an automatic hit with the American public and circulation of the comics quickly rose into the millions. The editors’ enthusiasm for lurid material, put Crime Does Not Pay on the censors’ radar, and was a contributing factor in the passing of the Comics Code in 1954. According to an article in the Star Tribune, these new, tighter restrictions on comic book content quickly put Crime Does Not Pay and all its imitators out of business.

But the tawdry tale does not stop there, as the book Blackjacked and Pistol-Whipped: The Best of Crime Does Not Pay (Dark Horse, 224pgs) reveals. While in a drunken rage, co-editor Wood beat his girlfriend to death with a clothes iron in a hotel room. After serving a prison sentence for the murder, Wood himself was killed, possibly in a dispute over gambling debts. The book, on the cover of which grarrishly depicts Wood’s deadly rampage, opens with an introduction by graphic novelist Azzarello (100 Bullets) and an in depth forward by editor and comic book publisher Denis Kitchen. It also contains 24 stories from the Crime Does Not Pay archives, portraying true crime at its most titillating.

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