Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Anti-Comics articles: NY Times from 1911 and Fredric Wertham, Saturday Review of Books, 1948

There are two important articles here, check them both out:

 New York Times from 1911 and

 Fred ric Wertham, Saturday Review of Books, 1948

My good friend and occasional troublemaker, Kid Robson, prompted me to accelerate my postings when he wrote, “Seduction of the Innocent” was released to a public (1954) already teeming with anti-comics sentiment.”

Well, Wertham was  attacking the culture of comics way before then. Here is one article from 1948.  Please also read the letters to the magazine that came after his article was published. See if you believe the first writer is truly what the editor says he is." of the most interesting is that written by fourteen-year-old David Pace Wigransky of Washington, D. C. 
Of course he is not, but it sounds great. There is too much research, too much knowledge of the 1800s to believe this was written by a 14 year old in 1948, but the magazine does not check it out. Perhaps because it agrees with their point of view. Please see Michael T. Gilbert's great article at the end!!!

In support of the Kid's point of view, comic bashing was here before WERTHAM. Check out the New York Times article from 1911 first. It doesn't attack comic book because they were not “invented” yet. Instead we see the same sort of attack on the Sunday color comic sections of local newspapers, thirty years before the comic book, as we know it, made it to the stands.

“I am inclined to think that it would be a benefit to the community if the comic supplement should softly and silently vanish … and the whole scheme of a funny annex to the Lord’s Day should fall into innocuous desuetude.”
Comics can’t win. Kids should always be doing something more productive with their time, reading classics, studying, helping their parents or observing the religious aspects of Sunday. Somehow reading for enjoyment is something children should never be encouraged to do. Note that they never mention that adults were reading and enjoying these comics, as if that was a dirty secret.

 New York Times: 1911: A mass meeting under the auspices of the League for the Improvement of the Children’s Comic Supplement, in the Auditorium of the Ethical Culture Society, acted much in earnest last night Percival Chubb presided. He read letters from educators, literary men and women, and artists which condemned as vulgar the comic supplement sheets which for a part of most Sunday newspapers here and in other cities.

    Norman Hapgood, editor in chief of Collier’s Weekly, was the principal speaker. He took this occasion to commend the Sunday photographic supplement of The New York Times.

   “I think the standing of The New York Times in the community has been clearly raised by its illustrated supplement, in which it depends for its interest among children and adults upon the best results of modern photographic processes. I think it was distinctly fortunate that The Times conceived the idea of presenting in this way simple and beautiful things of interest for themselves or for their timeliness. I think people should encourage that kind of thing, and show their disapproval of the other sort of supplements by supporting the right kind of endeavor rather than by doing anything radical.

   Mr. Chubb read a letter from a newspaper, the name of which was not announced which offered to place its entire comic section on a given Sunday at the disposition of the Executive Committee of the league. The newspaper offered the services of its staff of artists and mechanical force to carry out the ideas of the committee for the improvement of its comic supplement.

   George De Forest Brush, himself and artist, offered an explanation of the poor quality of the Sunday supplement humor.

      He said that the artists were worked to death, and that when an editor contracts to get humor for a period of years from an artist, the time was bound to come when the artist would he worked out and the editor would get only drool. He said that overproduction was degrading “the fine arts and that public taste was being degraded by annual exhibitions in the fine arts, where so many new pictures were shown.” The comics were offensive and ridiculous, while the fine arts were being  followed by too many people who have no talent to begin with and no disposition to apply themselves. He appealed to members of the Union League Club, if there were any present, to prevent the scheduled exhibition of the so-called “insurgent painters.” He said he saw the insurgent exhibition last year and “ seriously now, it should have been closed by the police.”

     John Alexander of the National Academy of Design took a more favorable position toward the comic supplement. He said that children’s minds were naturally clean and that they do not get harm from pictures. He said that In Germany the children have in the books of Wilhelm Busch pictures which no New Turk editor would dare to print in his comic supplement.

     Mrs. John Martin said: “We gain nothing by closing our eyes to facts, and there are two notable facts connected with the question before us. First, that these things which we object to, this comic supplement and these columns of horrors, the people like and will pay their scanty pennies for day after day. Second, that according to all American traditions, they have as good a right to like them as we have not to like them, no good a right to their opinion as we have to ours. They raise no objection to our reading Emerson or Browning or becoming addicted to works on ethics or philosophy. Why then, do we assume to interfere with their pleasures, their tastes and their habits?

  “I admit freely that the newspapers are bound to give the people what they want. But I should not be here to-night, I should net raise my voice this meeting of protest, did I not believe that   too, am a part of the people, and did I not know that I am not getting what I want.”

     The Test and Way of ‘Reform.

     Miss Lillian Wald, head worker of the Nurses Settlement, said that persons who care for children should encourage and support the newspapers which are sensitive to the demands of such readers as were gathered before her. Many children from five to twelve, she said, obtain their instruction in art, in humor, In story, through the pictorial Sunday supplement, and these were the years when the moral nature was in process of formation. “Test the pictures or stories” said she. “ by the primary requirements of child culture, and if they stimulate the fun of disobedience, of tricks and practical jokes on elders, ridicule the unsophisticated, or depict mock heroism, you may have some measure of their effect for good or bad upon the impressionable mind of the child. “ If the people who care for the children core enough about this to encourage and support the newspapers that are sensitive to the demands of their readers, we would see the thing that we bare met to criticize unfavorably become a children’s traveling library and museum, educationally worthy of gratitude and respect, untainted by false standards of art and humor.”

       Supt. William Maxwell of the public schools wrote:  I have always felt that our efforts were largely neutralized, if not nullified, by the pernicious production of some newspapers on  days of the deck and of most newspapers on Sunday. If your league can do anything to accomplish the reform of the comic supplement for children, you will have my crest earnest sympathy and support.”

Cruel and Vulgar Jokes

  Dean Thomas M. Balliett of the School of Pedagogy of the New York University wrote:

  “The effect on children of the practical jokes, often cruel and sometimes vulgar, and of the buffoonery illustrated in these pictures is very demoralizing. It has a bad effect not only on the sense of propriety and their manners but gives them false ideals of life and has a bad effect on their morals. It is surely possible to change the character of these pictures so as to preserve the humor and interest, but in a refined form. Nobody knows better how to accomplish this end than our newspaper managers themselves. I am sure they will do it la response to the demands of a healthy public sentiment.”

  The Rev. Dr. Henry Van. Dyke wrote: "The supplement as it now exists is a painfully ridiculous enormity. I am inclined to think that it would be a benefit to the community if the comic supplement should softly and silently vanish away like the Snark, and the whole scheme of a funny annex to the Lord’s Day should fall into innocuous desuetude. 

Fredric Wertham, Saturday Review of Books, May 29, 1948

        The Comics . . . Very Funny!

        AN ANXIOUS mother consulted me some time ago. Her four-year-old daughter is the only little girl in the apartment house where they live. The boys in the building, from about three to nine years old hit her, beat her with guns, tie her up with rope whenever they get a chance. They hit her with whips which they buy at the circus; they push her off her bicycle and take her toys away. They handcuff her with handcuffs bought with coupons from comic books. They take her to a vacant lot and use her as a target for bow and arrow. They make a spearhead and scare her. Once, surrounding her in this way, they pulled off her panties to torture her (as they put it). Now her mother has fastened the child’s panties with a string around her neck so the boys can’t pull them down.

                What is the common denominator of all this? Is this the “natural aggression” of little boys? Is it the manifestation of the sex Instinct? Is it the release of natural tendencies or the imitation of unnatural ones? The common denominator is comic books.
                I examine in the clinic a buy of eleven, referred because he fights in school and is inattentive. He says;
                I buy comic books every week. They kill animals, sometimes they kill people. One of the girls is the best fighter, sometimes they tie her up and sometimes they put her in a snake cave so that the snakes would kill her.
               I examine a boy of fourteen referred to the clinic for stealing. I ask him: “Do you think your stealing had anything to do with the comic books?” He answers: “Oh, no. In the comic books it is mostly murder.” This is like the arguments used by the experts under subsidy from the comic-bank industry.
                A boy of seventeen is referred to me by the Juvenile Aid Bureau because in an argument he stabbed a boy of thirteen in the right arm “with full intent.” He says: “I don’t read many comic books—only about ten a week.
                I like crime comics. Sometimes they kill the girl. In one of the books the girl wanted snore money so they stabbed her in the back.” Was it “full intent.” or was it perhaps imitation that motivated him in his own actions?
                A boy of thirteen is a problem at home and at school. He is a real comic-book addict. He says: “They have some kind of guns that shoot out a ray and kill a lot of people.” Is that a natural fantasy? Is that a penis symbol? Or is it a kind of reality that a lot of adults dread now and which these kids will have to face sooner or later?
                A boy of fifteen took a boy of twelve up a fire escape and threatened to push him clown if he didn’t give him a quarter. He says: “I read two comic books a day.” A thirteen-year-old boy is referred to me by the State Charities Aid Association. He was caught stealing five dollars. When asked why he took it he confided to me that the older boys in school got up a gang and threatened him. If he did not get them the money they would beat him up. So he stole the money and gave it to them. (I verified this later.)
                The experts of the comic-book industry tell us that what the children read in comic books is pure fantasy. But when I examine these many children and adolescents they tell me what they read in comic books, I ask myself with Bernardo in “Hamlet”:Is not this something more than fantasy?”
                THINK of the many recent violent crimes committed by young boys    And girls. A twelve - year - old boy who kills his younger sister: e twelve - year - old boy who kills his older sister; a thirteen-year-old burglar who operates with a shotgun: seventeen-year-old boy who kills a thirteen-year-old boy and leaves a note signed “The Devil’: a public school in New York City where two police officers circulate on the grounds and in the corridors to prevent violence; a mathematics teacher who has to give examinations with a policeman present in the classroom: a thirteen - year - old who shot a nurse and was sent to a reformatory (where, incidentally, she read more comic books); a gang of adolescent bandits led by a fifteen-year-old. girl; two twelve-year-old boys and one of eleven stopping a man on the street and shooting him with a semi-automatic; a fifteen-3.rear-old boy third-degree as a suspect in a murder case; three sixteen-year-old buys killing a fourteen-year-old “for revenge”; a New York City School where the _older pupils threaten the younger ones with violence and with maiming them, robbing then; of their money, watches, and fountain pens. The young victims don’t dare tell the names of their tormentors. When two
                of them were asked by a teacher, they refused to answer: “We don’t want our eyes cut out,- Actually one sixteen-year-old boy in this school was beaten with a broken bottle from behind and cut so severely that seven stitches had to be taken around his eyes_ Adults are horrified at this attack_ They don’t know that this is old stuff for comic-book readers. In one of the “good” comic books (“Classics Illustrated”) in a rendering of the  novel  by Eugene Sue, ‘’The Mysteries Paris,” there is a picture of a man tied down in a chair—a man whose eyes have been gouged out and whose blood runs down from beneath the bandage.
                A twenty-year-old youth in New York City has just killed a policeman. Is that so astonishing when he can see anywhere a typical comic-book cover showing a man and a woman shooting it out with the police to the accompaniment of these words: “We’ll give those flatfeet a bellyful of lead”? A nineteen-year-old youth has just been sentenced to the electric chair for the murder of a girl of fifteen, despite the jury’s recommendation of clemency, by a judge who had previously disregarded a recommendation of mercy in the case of a sixteen-year old participant in a holdup with a fatal shooting. There are recent cases where young men branded girls’ breasts with burning cigarettes and carved initials into their flesh with a knife. A thirteen-year-old boy in Chicago has just murdered a young playmate. He told his lawyer, Samuel S. Andaman, that he reads all the crime comic books he can get hold of. He has evidently not kept up with the theories that comic-book readers never imitate what they read. He has just been sentenced to twenty-two years in jail; while the comic-book publishers who killed his mind with thoughts and methods of murder, and their experts who say his reading was good for him, continue as before.
                All these manifestations of brutality, cruelty, and violence and the manner in which they are committed—that is the folklore of the comic books,
                Comic books are the greatest book publishing success in history and the greatest mass influence on children. If I make the most conservative estimate from my own researches, one billion times a year a child sits down and reads a comic book. Crime does not pay, but crime comics do. Recently I walked in one of the crowded sections of New York City and saw a sign: “Saturday Morning [which is the Saturday matinee for children] Comic Books Will Be Given Out Free to the First 500 Attending.” I looked to see what was playing in that movie that morning. There were two horror films: “The Son of Frankenstein” and “The Bride of Frankenstein.” The posters calling attention to the movies showed girls in various stages of being overpowered. The movie was called the Ritz. As I stood there I was reminded of the story of the little boy who was asked what he wanted to be when he grew up and replied enthusiastically:
                “I want to be a sex maniac!”
                There are two opinions about comic books. The one says they are very harmful to children; the other says they are good for the little kiddies. John Mason Brown has called comic books the “marijuana of the nursery.” The question can put this way: Are comic books the marijuana of the nursery or the penicillin of a happy childhood? This difference of opinion is reflected also in the conflict in the child’s mind. Briefly summarized, it is a conflict between super-ego and submachine gun.
                What is the case for the comic books? Seventeen points are adduced in favor of them. It is said:
                1) That the children have their “own choice” in selecting this literature, (Go to any candy store or newsstand, and see what other books you can get for ten cents. The children are bombarded with at least sixty million comic books a month. That is seven hundred and twenty million of them a year. As far as their free choice is concerned, in a Chicago school recently the pupils collected and burned all the comic books and then went around in groups and persuaded the dealers in that neighborhood not to handle them anymore. Other schools in Chicago followed their example.)
                2) That they reflect the children’s minds and if there is something wrong with them it must be the child’s fault and the child must have been neurotic or disturbed or unstable in the first place. (That reminds me of the owner of the dog that had killed a rabbit, who claimed in court that the rabbit had started the fight.)
                3) That it is good for children to find release for their aggressive desires. (Is there one sentence in Freud to indicate that it is advisable for children to see over and over again pictures of violence and torture?)
                4) That they are educational. (Let’s look at one of the much-vaunted “good” comic books again, for an example, those “goad” comic books used as window-dressing for the whole industry. It would seem that no better choice could be made than the comic-book version of the novel by Charles Dickens: ‘’Great Expectations.” The first nine pictures of this “educational” book show a gruesome, evil-looking man threatening a little boy with a big knife, and in one picture the little boy is crying out: “Oh, don’t cut my throat, sir!” Is this Charles Dickens speaking, or is it the circulation manager of a comic-book publishing firm?
                (As for the claim that comic books lead children to read the classics, many children whose confidence I have gained have told me that when they have to make a book report in school they use the comic-book version for their report so that they won’t have to read the book.)
                5) That there are good comic books. (That reminds me of the story of the polite clergyman who was asked about a bad egg which he had just started to eat: “Isn’t it good?” “Madam,” he answered, “parts of it are excellent.”)
                6) That the children identify themselves with the good figures in the comic books. (That is like saying that the spectators in the Grand Guignol who watch the rape, murder, and violence identify themselves with the gendarme who breaks into the room a few seconds before the curtain falls, There are comic books where girls are bound and burned, sold as slaves, thrown to the animals, and rescued only at the last moment by a good and faithful elephant. Do the experts of the comic-book industry claim that the children identify themselves with the elephant?)
                7) That the children don’t imitate these stories. (But the increase of violence in juvenile delinquency has gone hand in hand with the increase in the distribution of comic books.)
                8) That comic books prevent crime and delinquency. (As a matter of fact. we are getting to the roots of one of the contributing causes of juvenile delinquency when we study the influence of comic books. You cannot understand present-day juvenile delinquency if you do not take into account the pathogenic and pathoplastic influence of the comic books, that is, the way in which they cause trouble or determine the form that trouble takes. )
                9) That in comic books children are never threatened, killed, or tortured. But that happens in even “good” comic books. In one comic book a little buy is stuffed into a sack with the following dialogue: “Stop struggling, in you go.” And the little boy: “No, No ... I want my mother!”)
                10) That they are good for reading. (But all the emphasis is on pictures and not on printed matter and good teachers know that they have to get rid of comic books to make their children read real books.)
                11) That comic books make a lot of money, (They do!)
                12) That when dealing with crime the comic books show the victory of law and order. (But what they really show is what Margaret Osborn in her novel “The Ring and the Dream” called “the trapped destructor of some human prey.”)
                13) That comic books must be all right because they are so widespread. (That is like saying that infantile paralysis is all right because so many children have it.)
                14) That comic books should be left as they are because curbing them would mean interference with free speech (as if censoring what adults read has anything to do with planning for children the kind of reading matter that will not harm them.)
                15) That the “experts” have approved of comic books so they must be all right. (But experts are not needed, only common sense.)
                16) That comic books are socially harmless. (On the contrary, they immunize a whole generation against pity and against recognition of cruelty and violence.)
                17) That comic books are a healthy outlet. (On the contrary, they stimulate unhealthy sexual attitudes: sadism, masochism, frigidity.)
                IT IS pretty well established that seventy-five per cent of parents are Against comic books. (The other twenty-five per cent are either indifferent or misled by propaganda and “research.”) Since the comic-book industry enjoys second-class mailing privileges, the parents, as taxpayers, are paying for what they do not want. The apologists of comic books, who function under the auspices of the comic-book business (although the public is not let in on that secret), are sociologists, educators, psychiatrists, lawyers, and psychologists. They all agree that this enormous over-stimulation of fantasy with scenes of sex and violence is completely harmless. They all rely on arguments derived from misunderstood Freud and bandy around such words as  “aggression,” “release,” “vicarious,” “fantasy world.” They use free associations to bolster up free enterprise.
                My own clinical studies and those of my associates of the Lafargue Clinic, the first carried out independently from the comic - book industry, and the first leading to their condemnation, have convinced me that comic books represent systematic poisoning of the well of childhood spontaneity. Many children themselves feel guilty about reading them.
                The worst sector of comic books is increasing and the best, if there is a best, is getting smaller. The comic-book publishers seduce the children and mislead the parents. Their mass production is a serious danger to the production of good inexpensive children’s books. The publishers of these good children’s books, instead of fighting the experts of the comic-book industry and decoding their “codes,” lie on psychoanalytic couches themselves, and delve into their own dreams instead of providing decent fare for the dreams of childhood.
                When I recently conducted a symposium in the psychopathology of comic books I was blamed for not allotting more time to a representative of the comic-book business who was there. I am even guiltier than that: I once conducted a symposium on alcoholism and didn’t invite a single distiller.
                Fredric Wertham, is senior psychiatrist, New York City’s Department of Hospitals, director of both Bellevue and Queens General mental hygiene clinics (NYC), and the author of ‘ “Dark Legend: A Study in Murder.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Of the numerous replies we have received to Dr. Fredric Wertham’s article, “The Comics . . . Very Funny!” [SRL May 291 and John Mason Brown’s “The Case against the Comics” [SRL March 201, one of the most interesting is that written by fourteen-year-old David Pace Wigransky of Washington, D. C. Young Mr. Wigransky, who has just completed the tenth grade at the Calvin Coolidge Senior High School, is a devoted reader and collector of comic books. He tells us that he now owns 5,212 such books and “intends to make drawing for them his profession and life’s work.”

“Unlike other critics of comics,” Mr. Wigransky writes, “I possess a firsthand knowledge of them, and unlike even those critics who argue in their favor, I can say that I was once an average, normal comic-book fan and reader, during the war and before it. Therefore I feel that I am more qualified than people like John Mason Brown and Dr. Wertham in criticizing theM.”

Although sections of Mr. Wigransky’s letter have been omitted for considerations of space, his copy has not been edited.

SIR: And it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.
The brothers Cain and Abel lived in a world of ideal tranquility, a world that had never before known violence or crime, a world completely devoid of comic books. How .then does Dr. Fredric Wertham account for this brutal fratricide told within the pages of the Bible, the only book in the history of man more widely read and more widely attacked than American comic books?

Or, if Cain’s slaying of Abel seems far-off and far-fetched, let us take the Leopold-Loeb case, which took place in early 1924, just five years before publication of the first independently produced comic book. Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, eighteen and seventeen years old respectively, were accused of brutally murdering fourteen - year - old Robert Franks, thereby committing what has been acknowledged by some as the most brutal crime in United States history. Both boys were of well-to-do and cultured families and were readers of “good” books. How then could Dr. Wertham possibly account for even the remotest thought of murder or violence entering the minds of either?

Dr. Wertham cites some two dozen gruesome and horrible cases of juvenile delinquency from his files. These crimes were committed recently by weak-minded children and adolescents, who, Dr. Wertham implies, would never have considered crime had not they been comic-book readers. In none of these cases was it proved that reading comic books was the cause of the delinquency. A good many of the delinquents mentioned happened to be • readers of comic magazines just as are 69,999,975 perfectly healthy, happy, normal American boys and girls, men and women, who also read the comics. It is just as ridiculous to suppose  he is a juvenile delinquent.” This is enough for Dr. Wertham.
I seriously doubt if the children and adolescents interviewed by Dr. Wertham would even bring up the subject of comic books at all if he did not first bring it up himself. Being a psychiatrist, he must be able to do an expert job of leading them on, mixing them up, getting them excited, and generally unnerving them. He stirs them up over the subject of comic books just as he has the ability to do on any subject, and then records their nervously blurted-out remarks to use in his attacks on comic books.

This crusade against comics is nothing new. It all began back in 1896 with the conception of “The Yellow Kid,” after whom was named “yellow journalism,” so christened by preachers and clergy who preached entire sermons against the little Chinese boy who had leaped from the pen of Richard Felton Outcault. This criticism grew and grew until it seemed that it could grow no more. Then came the comic book, the newer and greater offspring of the comic s tr i p. This opened up a new field to the critics. They began ignoring the quieter news-Paper strip to transfer their opposition to the magazines. This unwarranted and vicious attack is now at its height, led by such fanatics as Dr. Wertham and John Mason Brown. The defenders of comic books occasionally write a good-natured article in answer to the deadly serious and bitter articles written against them. It is high time that we who are on the defensive become as serious as are our attackers. We didn’t ask for this fight, but we arc in it to the finish. The fate of millions of children hangs in the balance. We owe it to them to continue to give them the reading matter which they have come to know and love.

Dr. Wertham seems to believe that adults should have the perfect right to read anything they please, no matter how vulgar, how vicious, or how that 69,999,975 people are law-abiding citizens just because they are comic-book readers as it is to suppose that twenty-five others are depraved criminals due to the same reading habits.

Capable as Dr. Wertham may be in the psychoanalysis of adults, I certainly do not believe him able to deal equally as well with children, due to his f a n a tic hatred and prejudice toward comic books. From reading his article I get the impression that this feeling colors all of his investigations and reports. It appears that his $64 question to a child being psychoanalyzed is, “Do you read COMIC BOOKS, my little man?” Of course the juvenile delinquent being a normal child in at least that way, will answer, “Yes.”

“Ah ha,” says Dr. Wertham. “This child is a juvenile delinquent. This child reads comic books. Therefore it is because he reads comic books that depraving, simply because they are adults. Children, on the other hand, should be kept in utter and complete ignorance of anything and everything except the innocuous and sterile world that the Dr. Werthams of the world prefer to keep them prisoner within from birth to maturity. The net result of all this, however, is that when they have to someday grow up, they will be thrust into an entirely different kind of world, a world of violence and cruelty, a world of force and competition, an impersonal world in which they will have to fight their own battles, afraid, insecure, helpless.

The whole argument over comic magazines is very silly and needless. The kids know what they want. They are individuals with minds of their own, and very definite tastes in everything. Just because they happen to disagree with him, Dr. Wertham says that they do not know how to discriminate. It is time that society woke up to the fact that children are human beings with opinions of their own, instead of brainless robots to be ordered hither and yon without even so much as asking them their ideas about anything. To be a child psychiatrist, one should be able to look at things through the eyes of a child. If a child is told not to read a comic book, he will break his neck to do it. This is not wilful stubbornness, but a perfectly normal revolt against . a world of giants who seem to be doing nothing but what they please. He wants to be like them, and at the same time he hates and resents them for their high-handed superiority.
The comic-book publishers know what the kids want and try to give it to them. This is not only democratic policy but good business sense. A child looks upon crime and violence as ideal adventure and excitement. He has no desire to experience these things in actual form, and knows them only as fun, and not in their true ugliness. The adult, on the other hand, has had actual experiences along this line, and looks upon fighting and violent action as loathsome and horrid. A typical example of all this is the soldier who longs for home and his kid brother who would give his right arm to be out there fighting alongside him.

The child, having never been an adult, cannot be expected to understand the adult point of view. The adult, on the other hand, was once a child, and should therefore realize that this craving for horror is not for actual physical violence but for imaginary violence in the form of comics, radio, movies, or a good game of “Cops ‘n’ Robbers,” the last of which I am .sure was enjoyed many years before the other three had even been thought of. If all the Dr. Werthams in the world would realize this, the greatest barrier between parent-child mutual understanding would be automatically removed.
If let alone by the Dr. Werthams and John Mason Browns, I think the comic-reading kids will turn out all right, as did the present generation, the first brought up on comic books. Let any who starts to raise his voice in protest to this generation, first compare it with any preceding one. I am certain that he will discover the cards are stacked in favor of the comic-book readers of-the present age.

Washington, D. C.

SIR: Congratulations on Dr. Wertham’s splendid article. Most librarians, both college and public, have long Celt the evils of comics but have been unable to do much about it as the rooting out is a question of the publishing business. However, public opinion can do much and an article like yours ought to help tremendously.

Rosemont, Pa.
Sic: The comics are very had in spots, but what does Dr. Wertham think should he done about the Bible?
Right after his article appeared, I heard a mother tell her friends that her four-year-old daughter just loves the Bible stories, and every night asks to have the one read “where God kills all the little babies.” Other favorites are “where the boys throw Joseph down the well” and “where God has the men kill Jesus.”

The wrong kind of comics is bad for children; so is the wrong kind of religion. They would be better off without any comics and religious stories. As long as it is profitable for the trade to sell bad comics and for the churches to furnish low-grade religion, the children will probably be supplied with both products. They should be getting something better.
White Plains, N. Y.

Sic: The article “The Comics . . . Very Funny!” was a shock to me as I never read comics of any kind, and had the idea they were mercy stories in pictures. I knew they were not funny.
My thirteen-year-old son reads them by the ton. I have not noticed any of the reverberations mentioned in the article in his conduct, but perhaps I am as blind to that as I have been to the comics. I know lots of interesting teen-agers and am interested in them.
Would you and/or the author now
please tell me what I can do about this? I would appreciate it. Of course, I mean I and other mothers? It would be impossible for me to stop my son from reading them. I know that.
Kansas City, 1\4o.

Sir: As the wife of a psychiatrist, the mother of three children, and the president of the local branch of the American Association of University Women, I say a fervent “Amen!”
Our Colorado Springs branch of AAUW has done some work on comic books, and it is being taken up as a statewide project. I discussed the matter at national headquarters in Washington last month and hope I can get some action from them. I do feel that aritcles like yours, in national publications, can have more benefit than any other medium.
Colorado Springs, Colo. •

SIR: It seems to me that a campaign among parents and teachers could be effective in suppressing the comics. Or effective if other forces joined in.
The National Council of Parents and Teachers, Chicago 5, Ill., is headquarters of a nationwide group. I have written to them about your article and suggested it be read and action taken.
I do hope The Readers Digest will reprint your article. How can it not do so?
So far our children aren’t criminals, but their language and attitudes definitely deteriorate subsequent to reading comics. We storm, forbid, but there’s always a comic available somewhere.
I pray there will be drastic changes made in publications of this nature. If so, we will have you to thank.


The incredible, friendly and generous Michael T. Gilberts sent me his terrific article about David Wigransky that appeared in Alter Ego and gave me permission to use it.

Thanks Mike!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Seduction of the Innocent and Congressional Testimony Download

I like girls.
I like Batman and Robin. Not the same way, of course.

In the 1960s, if you looked anywhere in the newspapers and magazines archives about the history of comics, it pointed you in one direction: The Seduction of the Innocent, Dr. Fredric Wertham and the congressional hearing he inspired. 

So when I picked up his book, in 1965, which I still have, I surprised to discover that reading Batman and Robin made you like boys in the way I liked girls.  This was rubbish, and I wondered how anyone could get away with it. 

Superman was a Nazi?  He was written and published by Jewish guys. Huh? 

At a time when at least 70% of youngsters were reading comics, Wertham attempted to established a “cause and effect” by watching kids in a prison holding cell.  They read comics!!!!  Of course, many incarcerated kids, then and now, were not highly literate, a possible cause of their problems, but that was not important enough to mention. (Nor the fact that they did not have Moby Dick in a holding cell.)

Dr. Wertham became a celebrity because he found a curable cause for illiteracy, juvenile delinquency, sex crimes and homosexuality: Comic Books. he got a lot of attention, fame and money and he loved it all. It didn't start with his book, published in 1954, (see review below) there were several magazine and newspaper articles that he had written during the past decade

When you read his book, even as a teenager, I even knew that documentation and common sense were missing. I never understand people, to this day, who give him a long leash and say that he was only looking after children and he had a history of that. But he was truly hurting them by not looking for the real causes of crime and literacy: poverty, poor schools, bad parenting and several other factors.  No, it was "get rid of crime comics" and things will be alright.  Well, they did and they weren't.

Now, with his “research” revealed we officially know he fudged the truth, a lot. He flat out lied.

Discover what researcher, Dr. Carol Tilley discovered when she went through Wertham’s documents, newly archived at the Library of Congress:

In "Seduction of the Innocent" Wertham discusses a 7-year-old boy, Edward, who
he says has been having nightmares after reading Blue Beetle comics, about a
hero who supposedly "changes into a beetle." ("Kafka for the kiddies!" Wertham

But, according to Dr. Tilley's research, Wertham wrote in his original case
notes on Edward, "Boy says he does not remember anything about the nightmares."
And the Blue Beetle character does not transform into an insect in the comic.

Elsewhere in the book Wertham argues that the superheroes Batman and Robin
represent "a wish dream of two homosexuals living together," and cited a young
gay man who says that he put himself "in the position of Robin" and "did want to
have relations with Batman."

But in Wertham's original notes, Dr. Tilley writes, these quotations actually
come from two young men, ages 16 and 17, who were in a sexual relationship with
each other, and who told Wertham they were more likely to fantasize about heroes
like Tarzan or the Sub-Mariner, rather than Batman and Robin.

Wertham almost destroyed an industry, putting thousands of people out of work and closing 75% of the comic book publishers. He also hurt the people who were selling comics.  People, such as Charles M. Schultz, creator of Peanuts were approached as enemies of the people. (In his own church!). Wertham was ostracized by the people in his field because they knew the research was wrong.

I have done research on him: newspaper articles, magazines and even some TV appearances. He would change his tune in front of different audiences. Remember in the 1950s we did not have instant news or cameras in telephones. Many people did not even have TV yet.

Wertham, in front of larger audiences, in the Northeast would say he was only against crime comics, which made up about 5% or the market. In smaller towns, and in front of religious groups, he would say that almost all comics are crime comics, after all Batman and Superman were always fighting criminals. Now we all know that Batman was not similar to "Crime Does Not Pay" or "Crime Suspense Stories."

In later years, Wertham would say that he was against censorship and tried to recant his earlier statements.  But he advocated a "higher authority" to review comics before they were published and did ask for a ban on certain comics.

My favorite piece came in the 1970s, when a reporter pushed him into admitting that comics were no longer a problem, TV was. So when the reporter said as a statement, not a question, it's then alright to read comics now, Wertham objected, saying that the lettering in comics would ruin your eyesight! He could never give up.

It starts off with a sampler of my book, complete with audio! And a few pages later, there is even a few words from Mike Vassallo.

I always felt that The Sentinels story from X-Men #14-16, was a “riff” on the Comic Book hearing in Congress. Here, as in real life, Congress puts too much credibility in the hands of one “expert. Read what Stan lee had to say about this in the final caption...Beware the fanatic.....!

The New York Times Review

Nothing To Laugh At
Seduction of the Innocent
By Fredric Wertham, Illustrated. 400 pp.
New York: Rinehart and Co. $4
By C. Wright Mills

From the New York Times, 1955
ALL parents should be grateful to Dr. Fredric Wertham for having written “Seduction of the Innocent.” Most parents have not read the comic books that many of their children, because of guilt and anxiety, often conceal from them. Dr. Wertham ha read these ugly pamphlets with the eye of the psychiatrist; it has made him an angry man, who has good reasons for anger.

He is not angry---at least not in this book—about comic strips in newspapers and Sunday supplements. He is angry about comic hooks, and especially those which deal in violence, crime and sex. Parents are not aware of the recent upsurge of this branch of the comics industry, and the majority of comic books, Dr. Wertham asserts, are not the “harmless” publications parents believe them to be. In 1946-47 only about one-tenth of all comic books were crime comics: by 1949, over half, and by 1954, “the vast majority.”

Dr. Wertham — who has directed several New York clinics and written such books as “Dark Legend” and “The Show of Violence”--examines the contents of comic books, explores the nature of the child’s mind and speculates upon just how the books affect that mind. He gives such facts as are available about an industry, of which it is difficult even to find out who publishes what book, and he gives copious references to the books themselves, including sixteen pages of photographs.
Among other things, he shows how the stories and advertisements in comic books are related: “The stories instill a wish to be a superman, the advertisements promise to supply the means for becoming one. Comic-book heroines have super-figures; the comic-book advertisements promise to develop them. The stories display the wounds; the advertisements supply the knives. The stories feature scantily clad girls; the advertisements outfit Peeping Toms.

ON the basis of years of intensive work with all kinds of children. — normal and delinquent, healthy and troubled, slow and bright—Dr. Wertham concludes that comic books are a profound “anti educational” influence. They are a detriment to good reading and a force for illiteracy. In them “trust, loyalty, confidence, solidarity, sympathy, charity, compassion are ridiculed.” He holds that the stimulate racial prejudice and various sadistic and unhealthy attitudes; that their emphasis upon all sorts of criminal violence, drug addiction and cruelty stimulates children to various forms of juvenile delinquency. “If one were to set out to show children • how to steal, rob, lie, cheat, assault and break into houses, no better method could be devised.”

Dr. Wertham takes issue with the idea that “healthy normal children are not affected by bad things and that for unhealthy abnormal children bad things do not make much difference.” For “nothing that occupies a child for several hours a day over a long period can be entirely without influence on him.”

The role of comic books in delinquency is not the whole nor by any means the worst harm they do to children. It Is just one part of it. Many Children who never become delinquent or conspicuously disturbed have been adversely affected by them. Pouring sordid stories Into the minds of children is not the same as pouring water over a duck’s back.”
Surely any careful reader of this book can only agree with Dr. Wertham when he says: “Whenever

I see a book like this in the hands of a little 7-year old boy, his eyes glued to the printed page, I feel like a fool to have to prove that this kind of thing is not good mental nourishment for children!”
IT does not seem to me that “further studies are needed” before action is taken against comic book manufacturers and purveyors, but further studies are needed, There is needed, first, an accurate tally, on a continuing monthly basis, of the various types of comic book material. That is a big job, but surely with 30,000 foundations now giving away money, an organization to do this job could be set up. It ought to be, forthwith.

There is needed, second, studies of the effects of comic books on children at various age levels, on an adequate statistical basis. This is one of the most difficult types of problems in the whole of social psychology—which is all the more reason to get on with it.

In the meantime, Dr. Wertheim’s cases, his careful observations and his sober reflections about the American child in a world of comic violence and unfunny filth testify to a most commendable use of the professional mind in the service of the public.

Mr. Mills, Associate Professor of Sociology at Columbia is the author of “White Paper”

Monday, February 18, 2013

The New Self-Proclaimed Comic Book Historians

The New Self-Proclaimed Comic Book Historians

I revisit this subject because two people threatened to “revoke” my alleged status of “Comic Book Historian” because I did not agree with them or promote their interests.  
Well, I have never called myself a historian or an expert. I am a fan of comics, a researcher and a student. I love the medium and I love exploring it and finding new things about it. I feel the term “Historian” has been greatly misused. 

The Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of historian is:
A writer or author of a history; esp. one who produces a work of history in the higher sense, as distinguished from the simple annalist or chronicler of events, or from the mere compiler of a historical narrative.
I guess I am being a bit harsh. This is because I have meet a lot of SPCBH’s, Self-Proclaimed Comic Book Historians. I have just seen too  many websites with that term, "Historian" in it. And I have seen too many books and magazines that have scanned a bunch of stories without any new thoughts or context and the author calls himself an historian. 
It was about 1960 and a reader wrote into Batman that they were an historian and knew everything about Batman and the editors had made several mistakes. The editors replied that they were sick and tired of people claiming to be historians of Batman. And they asked the reader, “Did you know that Batman carried a gun??  Well, I didn’t know that!!!! And I wanted to learn about it and read those old comics!

I have read twice as many DCs as Marvel, simply because DC published twice as many comics. Equal to both combined I have read comics from EC, Charlton, ACG, Harvey, Dell, Western, Archie, and dozens of companies from the 1950s. For me, the first collected publication of old comics was something I looked forward to so much. They were the 80-page Giants from DC. I especially loved the rare publication of comics from the “Golden Age,” the 1940s. I also loved the reprints of the old Batman Sunday comic strips, they were beautiful. Then after reading “The Flash of Two Worlds” and “Crisis on Earth 1 and 2” I really wanted to learn more about the Golden Age. 

So why do I write more about Marvel? I was there in the beginning! 

I was there before the Fantastic Four had uniforms; before Spider-Man broke up with Betty, when Ant-Man was a member of the Avengers, when the X-Men  graduated high school, when Daredevil had a yellow costume, when Thor’s (Don Blake’s) nurse was Jane Nelson not Jane Foster, when Henry Pym met Janet Van Dyne, when Johnny Storm live in Glenville and had a secret identity, when Iron Man didn’t have a secretary named Pepper, when Junior was a member of the Howlers and the first time the Hulk was colored green. (It was a misprint in his first issue, fixed in reprints.) 

I have met people who want to be an authority of comics. For example, about 2002, I went to a series of lectures about the Silver Age of comics.  An audience member asked if there was a connection between Marvel’s Black Panther and the Political group of the same name. The host didn’t know.  But I did and explained at length that there was no connection and, in Fact, T’Challa came out 9 months before the political group. 

The next week, the host got up and repeated what I said, saying that he looked it up. And he kept saying, “Remember, you heard from me!” He didn’t want them to remember that they heard it from me. After all, he was the “historian.”

During the same class a person asked why in the 1940s Superman did not serve in the military.  I responded that a very famous story that was published in the comic strip where Superman accidentally read the wrong eyechart, because he was using his x-ray vision. Believing he had bad vision was not drafted. The story is so famous that in Roy Thomas’s book on Superman during World War II Roy included it. Well the host said that was ridiculous and told everyone not to believe me. But soon he had claimed the historian mantle, not just of a certain era or a certain company but of all comics and was speaking about those two subjects. 

To Too many people just    click, copy, and paste. Stealing is not research. You must show us where you got your material and substantiate your claims, with references, footnotes or end notes   Copying makes you a plagiarist not an historian. Too many people scan in comics from other people's collections and put their name on the cover of the book. Those books often do not have any information on what the stories were about and why they were chosen. 

Many people, who post on the web and in some fanzines, give no indication of their background, research and sometimes their own identity. They write as they were witnesses to great or pivotal events in comic books history when they were not.
They make up their own scenarios  often discussing Stan Lee’s relationship with Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko. Some even talk about what went on at DC and Charlton but Marvel gets most of the press. Throughout their storytelling, they use words such as “presumably”, “maybe” and “possibly” and yet reach concrete conclusions, treating their assumptions as facts they actually know! Journalists do print speculation and when properly labelled that is fine.
An advocate is not an historian.

Advocate:  One who defends, maintains, publicly recommends, or raises his voice in behalf of a proposal or tenet.

This is America, it’s OK to be an advocate. Presenting only your own point of view is advocacy, not history. People are entitled to their own opinions, but they are not entitled to their own facts.
Before Lee passed, the aforementioned Silver Age "Host" told me that “Kirby should get half the pension of Stan Lee.” That is,  Stan Lee should give half his pension to Jack Kirby.” The irony of course, is that he was exploiting Kirby to get attention for himself, at the same time that he is accusing others of exploiting Kirby.
Ever since I read that comment about Batman I knew that there was so much out there to learn consider myself a fan, a researcher and a student.
I have found that often these people have no real idea that comic book publishing was and is a business. They often see comics solely as an art, not as a product needed to be sold and profitable.
 A true historian has to acknowledge, and deal with, everything he discovers. He looks for facts, he is not an advocate. As advocates, not historians, they look back at the Silver Age and want to be the lawyers, agents, and mothers of those who contributed, feeling they got a raw deal.  Well, they did, but no one held a gun to their heads, they did it voluntarily.  When it comes to Marvel, they may disavow anything Stan has said, unless it is one sentence from a complete interview, which - out of context - supports their case. Or they they  cite what Jack Kirby said AFTER 1981 and ignore what he said before then, when he was not combative with Marvel. In most cases, they’ll ignore Kirby’s "over the top" comments (like he created Spider-Man) because they know that is not true.

                                          You can’t prove a negative!
This is not a slight at Jack Kirby's genius. Jack Kirby was an incredible artist and storyteller, and SPCBH advocates will claim that Jack Kirby designed ALL the Marvel characters and wrote the scripts for ALL the Marvel stories he drew and then some. They present NO proof that he did these things, but challenge you by saying: Prove that he didn't.” Well, you can’t prove a negative. 
Steve Ditko often gets the worst of it because he lets his work speak for itself and wisely doesn't get involved with internet chatter. One “historian” had a ten minute conversation with Mr. Ditko 50 years ago, and contends now to be an expert on him. He told me that “he could tell by the tone in voice” what Ditko meant, even though he didn't ask the specific questions about the event this SPCBH relates.
A  Ditko story: 
Stan Lee, John Romita, Roy Thomas and even Steve Ditko have all said that Lee and Ditko were not talking to each other the last year Ditko worked at Marvel.  I received an e-mail asking, “Why did Ditko stop talking to Lee?”  My response was, “Why do you assume that it was Ditko who stopped talking?” It’s because they have already reached conclusions about Ditko without ever meeting him. People just tell the same Ditko rumors over and over again. Ditko, in his publications with Robin Snyder does discuss his last days at Marvel.

I have become friends with great comic book researchers including Nick CaputoMike Vassallo, and Ken Quattro. They are truly historians. Ken Quattro, who is a great researcher, modestly, refers to himself as the “Comic Detective,” a perfect term for all of us searching for facts. The SPCBHs come to them all the time wanting their comics, scans and research. Nick, Ken, Kid and Mike are perfect examples of the OED definition. They are not just simple chroniclers, or mere compilers, they research and produce comic book history on the highest levels. They are the prime sources for a lot of books. Mike has a wonderful, fun and informative book about Marvel’s hidden history!  They also have their own blogs where they freely share their views and findings. Often they are ripped off by SPCBH who steal their information and use it as their own, never giving the original source credit.

Mike and his family introduces his book
                            Mike and his family introducing his book

What Is a Comic Book Historian?
  1. Historians let the facts lead them to a conclusion, not the other way around, where their conclusions lead them to select certain facts. Often facts can lead to speculation. A true historian labels it as such.
  2. The absence of facts or evidence should not be labeled as fact or a conclusion. Things cannot be "supposedly", "possibly" or "presumed" to be true.  
  3. True comic book historians  have devoted a large amount of time to reading and collecting comics. They have many of the originals, with the letter’s columns, notes and advertising! 
  4. Historians  collect newspapers, magazines, fanzines, recordings, etc. They also have libraries full of books about the comics. They have sources and references AND THEY USE THEM. They have developed sources and communicate with them to verifying their facts. 
  5. True historians know how much they DON’T know and accept that not every question will have an answer. 
  6. There are well informed, good intentioned  people, who were in the comic book field, who like to think that they are historians and they may be. However, many are also witnesses to a select period of  comic book history
  7. Finally, not all opinions are equally valid. When Nick posts and identifies an artist, or when Mike places a person at Timely on a certain date, or Ken reveals a hidden fact on Lev Gleason, or Mark Evanier relates an quote, I believe them. 

In the world of Academia papers and essays have  procedures to go through before they are printed. This, of course, is also true in journalism. Even a bad editor would stop a lot of this speculation on the internet.