Comic profanity

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Two items: a Rubes cartoon (by Leigh Rubin) on avoidance characters in cartoons, and a story from a while back on taboo vocabulary in a Batman comic.

I came across the Rubes cartoon reprinted in the latest issue of Funny Times (a monthly compendium of humor, from various sources, published in Cleveland Heights). I haven't been able to find a copy on-line, but here's the set-up: a little kid has hit his thumb with a hammer, cries out


and his older brother tells on him:

Mom! Bobby said asterisk, ampersand and other assorted grammatical symbols representing comic profanity!

Several entertaining points here: the conceit of having the brother report that Bobby "said … symbols"; the reference to these symbols as grammatical symbols (rather than "punctuation marks"); and the elevated diction of "representing comic profanity". (You can google up some other occurrences of "grammatical symbols" used to mean 'punctuation marks', but the usage isn't very common.)

While searching on the web for "comic profanity", I came across the Batman story, from last September. Here's Dareh Gregorian and Rebecca Rosenberg, in "The Caped Cuss-Ader: Comic's Profanity Blunder", in the New York Post of 12 September:

Holy $#!+, Batman!

DC Comics is asking stores around the country to destroy tens of thousands of copies of a new Batman comic book because of a printing error that revealed a slew of obscenities.

"Text every friend you've got, s- – -heads," Batgirl tells a group of incredibly foulmouthed, drug-dealing thugs in "All-Star Batman & Robin the Boy Wonder" No. 10.

"Sell your poison somewhere else. This here arcade belongs to the f- – -ing Batgirl."

The S- and F-words were supposed to be blacked out, but two shades of black were used, and the expletives are clearly legible, as are the thugs' A- and F-words – and even a number of C-bombs.

While "All-Star Batman & Robin" isn't aimed at kids, it also doesn't have a "mature readers" warning on the cover.

DC caught the error earlier this week as the comic was heading to stores. They were able to stop some shipments, and asked retailers who got copies to destroy them.

DC said "a printing gaffe" caused "a problem with All-Star Batman. As soon as the problem was discovered, we quickly asked retailers to pull the issue. We apologize to our retailers and fans for any offense or inconvenience."

Some commenters on the story wondered why DC Comics printed the words in full and then blacked them out, rather than using some other avoidance scheme.

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