Last week I wrote about a new collection of pre-comics code Steve Ditko comic that I had been reading. “Strange Suspense: The Steve Ditko Archives Vol. 1” was it’s name and it got me thinking about how censorship had effected the U.S. comics industry. I’ve been pondering that a bit more this week.

Less is more. Or is it? I have always heard, mostly in the also censored world of movies, that not showing something can be a more effective storytelling device than showing it. You know, first a gun is shown, than a shot is heard, and then a person falls to the ground. We never actually see a person shot. Or stabbed, punched, kicked, or whatever.

The viewer’s imagination is supposed to fill in the blanks with its own horrible vision of the violent act that is somehow more effective than anything the filmmaker could come up with. I always, sort off, bought into this idea because I’m not much of a gore hound so, I guess, it played to my taste.

Now I see that idea is a total crock. First off is the fact that not everyone’s imagination is particularly good. Half the audience may wince at the unshown act while it doesn’t affect the other half at all because their imaginations don’t scare them. Not showing something can’t be relied on as an effective technique because it depends on the individual viewer.

Then there the basic fact is that we are visual animals. When we see things they can affect us and stick with us. When something horrible happens we tell children to look away. Often times people exclaim, “I wish I didn’t see that”. Our eyes are our main reality.

When the Allies in WW2 liberated the death camps they marched all the Germans they could find through them so they could see what they’d done. They didn’t throw a curtain in front of the camps and describe what happened in them. They made people look. No one in their right mind would think not showing them was a more effective method.

I came to the conclusion that the “Not showing” method of story telling is purely because of a censorship. That idea is not invented except in a censored world. It’s exists to help creators make the best of a censored creative environment.

I can see this in the Ditko book. He was doing things that would be censored a couple of years later but now they were just nonchalant ideas. They weren’t exploitive or sensational; they just were. If a guy got stabbed then he ended up with a knife in him. If demons ate people than they might be seen eating people parts.

The violence was all “matter of fact” though. It was done with whatever emphasis the story demanded of it. They bloody, gory special effect of today, are partially at least, a response to being censored and not being able to show that stuff in the past. A lot of people find it fun to show what shouldn’t be shown. But that also only exists in a censored environment.

I write all this because I wonder how many more ways of doing things, both in comics and movies, would have been invented without such censorship. Books which for the most part haven’t been censored in this country have a million ways to deal with all sorts of story elements. It’s no wonder books are usually respected more than movies or comics. They’re not just stuck with gore or no gore.