Editor's note: Mike Korcek, former sports information director at Northern Illinois University, and Gary Colabuono, former owner of Moondog comics, put together this account of the banning and rebirth of comics in Mount Prospect.
Mount Prospect native Mike Korcek was in the first grade at Lincoln School in 1954 and struggling with reading comprehension.
His teacher suggested to Korcek's mother that she get some comic books and see if the combination of words and pictures would help young Mike understand what he was reading. This introduction to comic books not only helped the youngster learn to read, it was the beginning of his lifelong love affair with the art form.
That Korcek's mother could even purchase comic books in Mount Prospect in 1954 was amazing -- considering that the board of trustees of the village outlawed comic books in 1948.
The Mount Prospect Herald reported on the ordinance in its May 21, 1948, edition:
"It shall be unlawful for any person, firm or corporation to bring into the Village of Mount Prospect for sale or exhibition … any obscene and indecent book, pamphlet, paper, or drawing … including so-called comic books and magazines which are salacious in character, glorify murder, portray gruesome and hideous tortures and which have a tendency to demoralize the youth of this village."
It turned out that Korcek's love of comic books didn't hinder his education. During his time in the Army, he was a sports staffer at European Stars and Stripes and he went on to have an award-winning career as sports information director for Northern Illinois University. He's also one of Prospect High School's Distinguished Alumni.
"I remember buying my comics at Keefer's pharmacy and Van Driel's drugstore in the 1950s and '60s," Korcek said. "They had all the comics, but I was mainly interested in DC superhero titles -- especially Superman."
So why did Mount Prospect ban comics and then ultimately allow them to be sold again to a young Mike Korcek?
Apparently the reasoning behind the ban was the scourge of juvenile delinquency that was spreading across America after World War II.
Bad behavior by teenagers had to be blamed on something, and what better culprit than comic books? After all, more than 60 million comics were being sold every month and they were available everywhere. So if kids were behaving badly and kids loved comics, then it must be the comics that were to blame for the bad behavior.
A pop psychologist at the time, Dr. Fredric Wertham, wrote the infamous book "The Seduction of the Innocent," blaming the ills of society on comic books. Senator Estes Kefauver held televised Senate hearings to investigate comic books and their effect on the youth of America. There were comic-book burnings in communities across the country. Comic books were under siege.
Korcek, while paging through David Hajdu's 2008 book "The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America," came across the following statement on page 94:
" … the mayor of Mount Prospect, Illinois, persuaded the village board of trustees to forbid the display or sale of any comic books, regardless of content."
The story even had a sidebar with interviews of local mothers who agreed with the mayor and hoped that comic books would be "outlawed."
After the Senate hearings, comic-book publishers banded together to self-police the content. No longer would lurid and violent themes be allowed in comic books bearing the seal of the "Comics Code Authority." This ubiquitous stamp appeared on the upper right-hand covers of comics starting in late 1954.
Now that the children of America were protected from "bad" comics due to the Comics Code, distribution and the retail display started to resume across the country. Mount Prospect eased its restrictions and little Mike Korcek could safely purchase and collect his prized Superman comics.
Fast forward to September 1978. Gary Colabuono, comic-book collector and dealer, opens the first shop in Chicago's suburbs devoted entirely to comic books. Moondog's was at 26 W. Busse Ave., just a few doors west of Ye Olde Town Inn.
"I opened in downtown Mount Prospect because it seemed the perfect location that collectors could get to. Just a block from the train station and near the intersection of routes 83 and 14. My rent was a whopping $125 a month."
From this inauspicious beginning, Colabuono would move to Prospect Avenue within a year, open a second location in Randhurst and grow his thriving business into a six-store chain that he sold to Classics International Entertainment in 1994. For a few years, he continued to run the business, which at its peak was a 21-store national chain of comic-book and pop-culture stores.
He later became CEO of the Chicago Comicon, the second largest gathering of collectors in the country, and now is a nationally known and respected collector, dealer, appraiser and historian on comic books and the comic-book art form.
"I met Mike Korcek the first week or so that I opened Moondog's in 1978," Colabuono said. "We were kindred spirits and became fast friends. Mike has an incredible collection of Superman and Superman-related comics."
The Moondog's shops vaulted Mount Prospect into the forefront of comic-book retailing in the 1980s and '90s, but it is the vision of Jim Mortensen and his Comix Revolution shops that has kept Mount Prospect at the Midwest center of comic-book commerce today.
In 1994, when Colabuono was with Classics International, he hired Mortensen, a marketing whiz from Northwestern University, to promote the Moondog's brand.
"I met Jim when he was a student and president of the Northwestern comic-book club," said Colabuono. "He helped us promote the release of 'Understanding Comics' by Scott McCloud at the university. I knew then that his love for the art form, along with his marketing talents, was a rare and valuable combination."
In 1996, Mortensen took over ownership of the Randhurst Moondog's. When Randhurst remodeled five years ago, Mortensen relocated his shop, which he had renamed Comix Revolution, to 115 W. Central Road. He had opened a second shop in Evanston in 2000.
When asked why Comix, Mortensen said, "Comic books are so much more than just superheroes. At Comix Revolution we give shelf space to all the different genres. From independent, alternative, cutting-edge graphic novels to 'My Little Pony,' you'll find it at our shops."
Mount Prospect has come full circle from the dark days of banning comic books. Today, Comix Revolution works with local libraries to help them stock their graphic novel sections and to promote the comic-book art form to families.
"Comic books are an original American entertainment form," said Mortensen. "They deserve to be out for sale in stores like mine and on the shelves of libraries across our country. To think that they were once banned in our village seems unthinkable. But that was America then. Hopefully we'll never see those days again."