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CSBG Archive

Comic Book Legends Revealed #235

Welcome to the two-hundred and thirty-fifth in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous two hundred and thirty-four.

Comic Book Legends Revealed is now part of the larger Legends Revealed series, where I look into legends about the worlds of entertainment and sports, which you can check out here, at legendsrevealed.com. I’d especially recommend you check out this installment of TV Legends Revealed for a whole Wacky Races edition of TV Legends Revealed!

This week’s a special theme week – all legends involving the Comics Code!

Let’s begin!

COMIC LEGEND: Frederic Wertham supported the Comics Code.

STATUS: False

A few months back in a previous Comic Book Legends Revealed column, I featured the following quote by Jonathan Ross, from the BBC show, QI (thanks to TV Tropes for the quote):

Comics were investigated after a certain Doctor Fredric Wertham brought out a book called Seduction of the Innocent in 1954, calling for the introduction of a self-regulating body known as the Comic Code Authority, that had such ridiculous rules as, you could not use the word “flick” in a comic for fear that the “l” would run into the “i”? and Spider-Man would be saying, “Look, he’s got a fuck knife!”

It is kind of funny to debunk a statement TWICE, and I mean no disrespect to Ross in doing so, it’s just an easy quote going to the whole “Wertham pushed for a Comics Code” belief.

In any event, as you likely know by now, Frederic Wertham’s 1954 book, Seduction of the Innocent, was a media darling upon its release (Wertham was already popular for articles he had written about the influence of comic books upon juvenile deliquency).

Estes Kefauver (the famed anti-crime Senator) was the head of the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency, and the media attention Wertham stormed up led to comic books being investigated by the Senate.

The committee ended up concluding that they could not demonstrably link comic books with causing crime, however, they did feel that comic books should clean up their content.

Taking this as a veiled hint at possible government oversight if they didn’t act quickly on their own, a group of major comic book publishers got together and formed the Comics Code Authority which effectively censored their own books.

Wertham, however, was NOT a supportor of the Comics Code Authority.

For one, he thought that letting comic book publishers determine for themselves what was appropriate was a fool’s endeavor. Even though more than one comic book company went out of business due to the effects of the Comics Code (making their comics unsellable), he felt that there was still too much unsavory business going on in comics. He wrote articles months after the Code went into effect going through comics to show that “Code-Approved” comics were still bad. His analogy was that if you discovered that there was a brothel operating in your neighborhood, you wouldn’t put the brothel in charge of regulating itself, would you?

But more importantly, Wertham was not in favor of censoring comics, per se (he was actually quite anti-censorship, oddly enough). He instead felt that there should just be age limits for reading comic books, similar to the age limits for motion pictures. While that might sound almost reasonable, do note that his idea of age limits was that no one under the age of 15 could buy a “crime comic” (and “crime comics” should not be displayed where younger kids could see them – and note that Wertham considered horror, crime AND superhero comics as “crime comics”).

So yeah, Wertham’s arguments against comics were not particularly good ones, but it’s good to at least note what they actually were, ya know?

David Hajdu’s The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America is a great resource on all of today’s topics. In addition, Jamie Coville has also written extensively on the topic.

COMIC LEGEND: EC and other comic companies stopped making horror comics before the Comics Code banned them.

STATUS: True

If the previous legend is a matter of semantics, this one is even more so, but at the same time, it keeps getting reported the other way, so I think it’s worth noting it for the record.

People often cite the Comics Code Authority as the reason why EC stopped making horror comics.

Similarly, Dick Briefer’s horror revamp of Frankenstein is also quite often referred to as being shut down by the Comics Code and its ban on various horror comic tropes (such as walking dead, ghouls, etc.).

However, in all of these cases, the comics ceased publication PRIOR to the Comics Code going into effect!

Again, though, much like the previous legend, we’re talking about a matter of scale more than anything else.

Dick Briefer’s Frankenstein, published by Prize Comics, was, for a time, a wacky Frankenstein comic…

But in 1952, after a publishing break of a year or so, it went back to being a traditional horror comic.

Knowing that something along the lines of the Comics Code WAS coming down the pipeline (and dealing with difficulties getting their books distributed), Prize Comics ceased publication a few months before the Comics Code came into effect.

Around the same time, the last issue of EC’s Haunt of Fear came out.

EC, though, as the poster child for the “the content in comics is way too graphic” movement, was even more plugged in. Bill Gaines had a very good idea what his fellow publishers had planned, but even more so, he knew that his distributors would no longer distribute his horror and crime comics.

So in mid-September, more than a month before the Comics Code came into existence, Gaines put out the last issues of Shock SuspenStories, Crime SuspenStories, Tales from the Crypt and Vault of Horror.

These specifics might not seem all that important, but I think it’s worthwhile placing everything in the proper historical perspective.

COMIC LEGEND: The Comics Code was not only not the first Comics Code to be created, but earlier concern over the content of comic books helped lead to the creation of Wonder Woman (in a round about way)!

STATUS: True

While the 1954 Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency was clearly the high water mark of anti-comic book sentiment in the public, it was far from the first time that comic books came under fire from the media.

In fact, one of these occasions even led to a Comics Code and anothe earlier one helped lead to the creation of Wonder Woman (in a roundabout fashion)!

In May 1940, the literary editor of the Chicago Daily News, Sterling North, wrote a scathing anti-comics article that was eventually syndicated in a number of newspapers around the country.

As he said, comics were “badly drawn, badly written and badly printed – a strain on young eyes and nervous systems.” And that their’ “hypodermic injection of sex and murder make the child impatient with better, though quieter stories.”

North’s main point was that kids shouldn’t read comics, they should read good “real” books.

Any negative attention was a problem for comics, so when a psychologist wrote about the educational potential of comics in October of 1940 in Family Circle (an actual respectable magazine), the comics world paid attention. Max Gaines soon hired the psychologist to work as an “educational consultant” for All-American Comics and National Periodicals (effectively DC Comics).

Along with a few other respectable folks on an “educational committee,” they would issue reports talking about how comics were not trash, but actually were GOOD for kids!

Well, Gaines and the psychologist talked some more, and the psychologist had an idea for a female superhero to serve as a positive example for young girls.

That hero was Wonder Woman, who debuted at the end of 1941.

And yes, that psychologist was William Moulton Marston – I can’t get anything past you folks!

Later in the decade, though, that’s when comics became a hot topic once again, particularly with the rise in popularity of horror comics and crime comics.

This is when Frederic Wertham first began to make a name for himself as an anti-comic book writer, with a series of articles published in 1948.

Well, Lev Gleason and Bill Gaines were the two biggest crime comic publishers out there, so they thought that they needed to do something to protect themselves from the outrage.

So the two, along with Harold Moore (publisher of Famous Funnies) and Rae Herman of Orbit Publications formed the Association of Comics Magazine Publishers in July of 1948. They formed their own Comics Code.

Here it is…

Association of Comics Magazine Publishers Code of 1948

1. Sexy, wanton comics should not be published. No drawing should show a female indecently or unduly exposed, and in no event more nude than in a bathing suit commonly worn in the United States of America.
2. Crime should not be presented in such a way as to throw sympathy against the law and justice or to inspire others with the desire for imitation. No comics shall show the details and methods of a crime committed by a youth. Policemen, judges, Government officials, and respected institutions should not be portrayed as stupid, ineffective, or represented in such a way to weaken respect for established authority.
3. No scenes of sadistic torture should be shown.
4. Vulgar and obscene language should never be used. Slang should be kept to a minimum and used only when essential to the story.
5. Divorce should not be treated humorously or represented as glamorous or alluring.
6. Ridicule or attack on any religious or racial group is never permissible.

This is basically the same thing that companies such as DC and Fawcett had been using in house for years (there had been in-house codes as early as 1941, with stuff like “try not to kill little children, threaten them if you must, but don’t actually kill them”).

Atlas Comics (later Marvel Comics) also had their own in-house oversight system in 1948.

But this was the first time that a group of comic book publishers got together, although even that fell apart a bit when Gaines pulled out over a disagreement about the Code. And really, without the backing of other major companies like Archie, DC or Fawcett, the ACMP was not all that effective. Especially since their Code did not do much to quell anything, especially because it was not exactly strictly enforced. After a little while, it was just slapped on all books by the member publishers.

So if you saw the following…

it wouldn’t be much different than this…

But the clearest demonstration that this Code did nothing was the continued public outcry.

Heck, in December of 1948, there was a public comic book burning in Binghamton, New York, for crying out loud!!

By 1950, the ACMP Code was basically defunct.

Although Gleason kept using it until very late 1950, when they dropped it as well…

The next few years would sadly be a steady step towards the end of the Gleason and Gaines lines of comics.

Okay, that’s it for this week!

Thanks to the Grand Comic Book Database for this week’s covers! And thanks to Brandon Hanvey for the Comic Book Legends Revealed logo!

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is cronb01@aol.com.

As you likely know by now, at the end of April, my book finally came out!

Here is the cover by artist Mickey Duzyj. I think he did a very nice job (click to enlarge)…

If you’d like to order it, you can use the following code if you’d like to send me a bit of a referral fee…

Was Superman a Spy?: And Other Comic Book Legends Revealed

See you next week!

55 Comments

Nice job in getting the time lines (for the most part) in order Cronin… but again, I think you’re emphasis on EC and their crime comics is overstated. The real problem by 1948 (as I see it) was that ALL comic book companies were beginning to push crime in their comics to one extent or another… mostly due to the success of Lev Gleason’s titles, not EC’s. EC was late to the game with “lame-o” titles like “Crime Patrol” (which was just beginning to be published quarterly in 1948 if I’m not mistaken)… in fact, I think their big hit was still “Moon Girl” at the time. One could (and should) argue that the real outrage was spurred on by what had come before, with titles such as Gleason’s Crime Does Not Pay… I wouldn’t put the blame at EC’s feet until much later, and even then that would be somewhat unfair. At the time they were just one company in an industry marked by the problems (if they were indeed problems… as far as I know it hasn’t been established conclusively) of which you speak. Oh, and lets not underplay the “rise of romance” either… it wasn’t only the content of horror and crime comics that can be viewed as subversive.

Oh sure, Lev Gleason’s crime comics were the biggest ones out there. Sorry if I made it seem otherwise. I do think that EC and Gleason felt that they were in a different position than the rest of the industry in 1948, as far as “acceptable” comics went, which is why they felt banding together was more important while DC and others felt that they could remain “in-house,” but sure, Gleason was the biggest crime publisher out there at the time (I’ve featured Gleason’s crime comics in the column in the past, so I certainly don’t mean to undermine their popularity).

And, just for context, let’s note that the Crime books were still being outsold by the licensed kid’s comics – such as Carl Bark’s Uncle Scrooge – and romance comics circa 1948. EC, for instance, had a hardcore and devoted fanbase, but they were far from industry leader.

I have not, never have, and never will support the Comics Code Authority.

Any form of censorship that is imposed, or enforced on any comic, or writer, artist is the bane of creativity and should be abolished.

Only self-censorship that comes from the creator is allowed. One should write or draw as one’s conscience allows themselves to do.

That being said, too bad we can’t go back in time and drop-kick those book/comics burners.

Am I the only one who thinks a Sleestak has been photoshopped onto Wertham’s desk?

Bailey – good eye! A quick google search shows this:
http://bp2.blogger.com/_thlFYTjJbmQ/R0nrkv7VzHI/AAAAAAAAC3Q/1hag3JSFgeo/s1280-h/Photo+Of+Fredric+Wertham-1.jpg

Or even: http://www.seductionoftheinnocent.org/DrWertham.htm

Nice catch…I didn’t even notice the Sleestak at first…

Schnitzy Pretzlepants

November 27, 2009 at 3:43 pm

Hilarious – yes, there is definitely a Sleestak there! Pretty obvious photoshopping too if you go in for a closer look!

Ha, yeah, that’s funny – I had an original untouched one, but it was smaller, so when I saw a larger one I just grabbed it without looking closer! That’s cute.

I put the original one back in.

So now I want to see the photo with the Sleestak in it. Just goes to show you that you can’t please everyone.

They can censor television and the movies all they want, but they should never censor comics! The hell with those Hollywood phonies.:)

I think you can get away more in comics because it’s still not seen as ‘legitimate’. Deuce Bigalow is part of the ‘legitimate’ medium of movies yet The Dark Knight Returns is not. Oh hell, I’d rather be a comic book creator, there’s more freedom and there’s not ‘green week’ at Marvel or DC!

So now I want to see the photo with the Sleestak in it. Just goes to show you that you can’t please everyone.

It’s just the same photo with a Sleestak on the right-hand corner instead of the statue that is in this photo.

I’m just wondering, if a teen ate an apple then broke the law, would they then call for the regulation of apples?

The words “Flick” and “Clint” were not banned by the comics code (which is also stated in the part of Wertham being a part of the Code”…it may have been an editorial decree at a few companies, but I don’t think Marvel was a part of it with “CLINT Barton.”

And my understanding is that the EC horror books sold around 350,000 an issue at their peak…MAD sold more by the time it was transitioning to a magazine, so while they weren’t an industry leader, they were well respected in the comics market.

The words “Flick” and “Clint” were not banned by the comics code (which is also stated in the part of Wertham being a part of the Code”…it may have been an editorial decree at a few companies, but I don’t think Marvel was a part of it with “CLINT Barton.”

Yeah, that’s what I was referring to when I said I’ve debunked the same statement by Ross twice now (once for the flick/clint thing and now for the Wertham thing).

I’m just wondering, if a teen ate an apple then broke the law, would they then call for the regulation of apples?

Yeah, he really did not have a big grasp on causation. :)

Censoring comics is one thing, but stop censoring our sleestaks!

Selling 350,000 issues today would be considered astonishing… selling 350,000 issues in 1950 was very good, but not really anything to write home about.

Brian from Canada

November 27, 2009 at 6:21 pm

Thanks for the first legend, Brian. Many people demonize Wertham, but he apologized later for the response to his book. He felt it went way too far.

If you read his book and compare it to some of the comics of the period — as I have — you’ll find he’s often not far off the mark in what he’s concerned about. But his solution was never cancellation or censorship… just to get rid of things potentially harmful to kids.

Movie ratings didn’t come until later, though. In ’54, Hollywood would still be referencing the Hayes Code, which was supposed to ensure that they didn’t cross the wrong boundaries. But where comics and movies differ is that movies figured out a way to imply through certain signals and comics couldn’t (i.e., when it came to sex, there were all sorts of innuendos to be picked up on if you knew where to look).

Movie ratings didn’t come until later, though.

Oh yeah, I was just using “like movie ratings” to put it into understandable terms for now, ya know?

I think Brian from Canada’s got the right of it. Wertham was a good man who performed good works. It’s always bothered me that he takes the blame for so much of the anti-comic book sentiment.

It was DC in the 1940s that had the house rule about the word “flick”… or sayeth Steranko in Vol. 1 of his History of Comics. I suspect over the last 40 years, it’s become conflated with Wertham, the CCA, etc.

Regarding Brian from Canada’s statement…

Of course Wertham later had some reservations… his conclusions were based on baloney science and I think he eventually realized that. Were there excesses in comics?… yes. Did they cause delinquency?… doubtful, but one will never know from his “research” because it’s flawed. I think if one takes the time to read his testimony at the 1954 senate hearings carefully, especially his statements with regard to his methods of research, one can quickly pick up on a few points that were never questioned, but are rather dubious by today’s standards. Basically, it’s my opinion that his opinion was taken for granted on the matter because he was a psychiatrist (???) and scientist… one which was a self appointed, self promoted “authority” on the matter. How could he be wrong?

Well, look carefully… he was a highly regarded scientist in his younger years, but I wouldn’t consider him a “psychiatrist” by modern standards. From what I’ve gathered about his professional background I honestly think that he was out of his field of expertise, his specialty had more to do with physical brain pathology and structure then with behavioral disorders and their origins… briefly, people with physical brain disorders can exhibit behavioral disorders, but that doesn’t imply the other way around (and especially with regard to something as slippery a concept as delinquency). They’re two different things IMO. He was more scientist/medical doctor than psychiatrist or sociologist by today’s standards and that was the first (and IMO biggest) red flag. Then of course there are problems with time spent interviewing each child, leading the child through the interviewing process, seeing what he saw in the material as objectionable and projecting that to the child, etc… etc… etc. All of which he described somewhat at the hearing.

Honestly, at the end of the day I think the senators (despite having a good laugh at the expense of what I’m sure they considered those “low life” comics publishers) looked at all this (and took a good look at Wertham as well) and actually did the only plausible thing they could… leave it to the comics industry to clean up its act on its own.

“Death O’Clock”? Yikes.

It was DC in the 1940s that had the house rule about the word “flick”… or sayeth Steranko in Vol. 1 of his History of Comics. I suspect over the last 40 years, it’s become conflated with Wertham, the CCA, etc.

I definitely agree that that’s how it got conflated, Kurt.

And yeah, Donenfield the younger also said that DC had a house rule, but Julie Schwartz I’m pretty sure has said that they did not have any official house rule, just the common sense to know that those words could cause a problem.

The Production Code for the film industry was weakening by 1954. The industry itself was nearing collapse as court decisions had forced the five major studios to sell off their interests in movie theaters, the House Committee on Un-American Activities had been accusing Hollywood filmmakers of undermining the American way of life, and the flight to suburbia, affordable consumer appliances and rapid growth of television were keeping people from the box office. So the industry began to make films that pushed the boundaries of the Production Code, including The Moon Is Blue (1954), The Man with the Golden Arm (1955), Baby Doll (1956) and Tea and Sympathy (1956). At the same time, smaller production and distribution companies were churning out horror and juvenile crime films for a teenage market — films like Blackboard Jungle (1955) and Rebel without a Cause (1955). In other words, just as the comic book industry was coming under fire for explicit, youth-destroying content, Hollywood was turning to it.

But teens were held under general suspicion in those days. For one thing, this is the period in which “teenager” as we more or less understand it now — proto-adult, moody, prone to challenging authority and traditional standards of taste, possessed of disposable income — was formulated. More importantly, they were formulated as problems. Books about dealing with horrible teenagers became best sellers. J. Edgar Hoover said that juvenile delinquency was a greater threat to the nation than Communism!

Prior to the 1950s, most families had neither the money nor time to think about any unique characteristics of specific developmental periods. World War II changed that: the GI Bill helped soldiers buy their own homes and relatively low unemployment even during the recessionary periods gave families a standard of living previously unknown to most people. One way that production and employment remained high was the targeting of a new market: the teenager. This is when blue jeans, music, television programs, cigarettes, etc. are marketed towards a specific age group for the first time. Spoken to as a group for the first time, teenagers began to act independently, to challenge social structures (e.g. northern urban whites supporting civil rights movements, listening to African American music, etc.).

I think Wertham and the attack on comic books might be better understood in this light — as a reaction to social shifts that seemed to be coalescing around teenagers — than as an example of censorship driven by misguided moralism or bad science. Comic books might have been treated as the cause but the fear of them was itself a symptom of larger cultural problems.

Just a quick aside to demonstrate how screwy things were during this period: As mentioned above, HUAC had been investigating off-and-on the film industry for alleged Communist propaganda and leftist sympathies since 1948. Things were so hot that in 1948 the industry pledged not to employ anyone known or suspected to have leftist attitudes until s/he purged him/herself of those leanings (this began the blacklist).

At the same time, the film industry was flooding European and Asian markets with its films through the Motion Picture Export Association. The MPEA was formed in 1945 through a partnership with the MPAA and the Office of War Information, a government agency, which turned over its European branch to Hollywood. The MPEA had (and has, though its now the MPA) to work directly with foreign governments to set terms that allowed American films to dominate European and Asian markets, even (particularly?) at the expense of local production. This venture was wholeheartedly supported by the State Department. Why? Because the government felt that Hollywood produced the best possible propaganda for the American way of life — for capitalism and democracy. So exactly at the time that the government was accusing the film industry of making films that undermined capitalism and democracy, it sent those same films abroad.

With regard to the importance of the growth of disposable income among the youth of that period I wouldn’t argue with you Deron… IMO the prosperity of those times (the late 40s to early 50s) did as much to contribute to delinquency (at least in middle class and upper middle class “teenagers”) as any other factor… and obviously (as always) lack of money contributed to the delinquency in the children of lower middle class and poor families. But although we can easily take that into consideration, I don’t think that was ever a major (spoken) issue for Wertham (and it’s the work of Wertham in particular of which I speak)… even though, if I recall correctly, most of his “research” was done with poorer children, in what seem to me to be all too brief episodes in the chaotic tumult of places like Bellevue.

If anything, his testimony and work speaks (to me anyway) as a reflection of another overworked, underpaid and overwhelmed civil servant (and perhaps ultimately a statement of how little, at that time, society at large viewed the worth of the mental health of the less fortunate), one who had reached his breaking point.

Sorry, but I stand by my opinion… I still think Wertham was practicing bad science.

@Tom Fitzpatrick

Self censorship is all well and good, but if you’re doing working for hire for a second party the company rightfully has a say in what is done with their properties. I’m against govt censorship, but I don’t have a problem with a company stepping in and exercising their right to “censor”. The Comics Code may have had some lame ass rules, but at least it was self regulating and not imposed by outside forces.

If you’re self publishing your own comic then, hey have at it. But I don’t feel the creator ultimately has too much right to complain otherwise.

That’s not to say that I don’t think that some of the major publishers haven’t made some stupid decisions in dictating what appears in their comics, but ultimately it is their decision to make.

“You knew I was a scorpion when you picked me up”

Drusilla_lives!, you’re somewhat missing my point. I spoke more to the historical context that made Wertham’s crusade possible, not to the quality of his work per se. I’ve no doubt that Wertham’s research would not stand up to current peer review. But lots of junk science never see the kind of popularity that Wertham’s did. I don’t see how assumptions about Wertham’s workload, compensation and emotional response to both have much import here, other than to pile on to the already tawdry historical image he has.

Also, I didn’t mean to imply that the increased prosperity of the late 1940s and 1950s created the delinquent. I said that the prosperity created the teenager as a category. (The term teenager doesn’t appear in dictionaries until the mid 1940s, though I can’t recall the year off-hand.) One of the definitions of teenager was delinquent — someone who was seen as causing problems. This is not the same thing as saying that teenagers *were* delinquent or committing crime in increased numbers. But the perception of teenagers as always already problems meant that Wertham’s dire warnings, spurious as they were, found a receptive audience.

The problem here is I read ‘The Ten-Cent Plague’ last Spring, so I already knew the truth behind all of these legends. Oh, well, it’s still interesting to read the comments.

It’s sad to realise that Wertham’s crusade came at a time when the Supreme Court was still very supportive of Government censorship, or at least had not yet shown that its views might be changing. If the Senate had held these hearings a decade or more later, the comics publishers might’ve simply made some flimsy promises and then continued to publish what they wanted, because by then they would’ve assumed the Supreme Court would prevent any real Government action.

In regard to Wertham’s analogy, I would actually prefer the brothels to regulate themselves, since it has long been clear that Government regulation of brothels always becomes too strict and punitive.

This column, #235, says it’s “the two-hundred and thirty-third in a series,” and I’ll bet last week’s #234 still says it too.

Brian,
Great topic, thanks for posting! Great comment thread, too, esp. the posts by Deron and Drusilla_lives! I agree that whatever one things about Wertham, his ‘research’ was shoddy science.
By the way, a few years ago, I stumbled onto a really fascinating article about Wertham in his later years, detailing how he basically become something of an advocate of comics fandom in the 1970s. The article is still online here: http://art-bin.com/art/awertham.html.

So I’ve been wondering lately – Marston and Werthram were both prominent child psychologists who lived and worked in New York at the same time.

Do we know if they ever met?

The federal government never had the power to censor comic books and even in the early 1950s any attempt to create a board for that purpose would have been found unconstitutional. The United States has never had a peacetime censorship agency of any kind. Individual states did have censorship boards, though. However, by 1952, the Supreme Court led by Earl Warren had begun to rule against these state agencies. In 1952, Burstyn v. Wilson overturned a 1918 decision that had ruled that movies were not protected by the First Amendment. In other words, the Supreme Court was moving to expand the range of permissible speech and protected forms, not allow further censorship.

The Comics Code is a case of an industry wanting to create the public image of propriety. They might have feared government regulation but anyone paying even a little attention would have noticed the Supreme Court’s direction at that time. But pushing the issue to the Supreme Court would have been costly even without considering the potential for lost profits due to bad publicity. It was simply easier and cheaper to create the Code and work within it than stand up for freedom of expression.

I’m sure Geoff Johns is working on that story as we speak, Kosmo.

I hope I haven’t come off as a Wertham basher… because I really don’t want, nor do I think it necessary to “pile on” to his bad image (IMO he did quite a good job of it all by himself). In actuality, in the end I personally think he’s a rather pitiful figure in some ways… and I only mention my own “armchair” opinions regarding his workload, compensation and emotional state in the above posts (which IMO is reflected in his testimony) not to really tear him down, but to help myself (and perhaps others) to put a more human face on the man’s actions and thought processes at the time. For the record, IMO I think at some level he did care about the people and the institutions for which he served. But I also think that he was overwhelmed by them… and perhaps, just perhaps… this was a way for him to draw attention to the problems in the mental health system of his day. Maybe he thought that he would get a research grant out of the hearings to further support his work… or perhaps he might have even thought that it would have lead to a reworking of the entire mental health system. Who knows really?… only Wertham himself. Well, that’s just my attempt at making lemon aid from lemons.

Honestly, I really don’t want to come off as a Wertham basher… he was a sad case, troubled man IMO… but never forget, he did read an awful lot of comics didn’t he? :smile:

Oh, and Deron you may not want to imply that the increased prosperity of the late 1940s and early 50s “created” the delinquent, but I certainly think it’s safe to say that (paradoxically) it was indeed a strong contributing factor (at least among the social demographic I mentioned).

Dr. Wertham’s last book, interestingly enough, came out in 1973, called The World of Fanzines. I read this many years ago, and it mentioned his earlier stand on comics, but the way I interpreted his comments in this book, he seemed to believe his stand may have been mis-interpreted, and that, as has been mentioned, he didn’t actually want to have comics banned. He primarily talked about his love of collecting fanzines (I noticed a number dedicated to science-fiction fandom). Here is a link from Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/World-Fanzines-Special-Form-Communication/dp/0809306190

In the description, they cite Dr. Wertham as still being alive. He died shortly after this book came out actually.

Reading old psychology books, especially pop-psych texts, you realize more generally that in the 20th century mental health was treated like an issue of public hygiene, and built on an epidemiological sort of notion of individual psychology as a numerically reduced example of mass-psychological currents.

Taken in that context, Wertham’s cart-before-horse methodology is less his own unique awfulness and more the tendency of popular models of psychology in general in his time. Moulton-Marston thought in a siomilar fashion: that a comic book could affect many individual minds in relatively programmatic ways by being mass-printed and mass-consumed.

Back then, the man in the street and the pundits really thought the social sciences could produce results in the fashion of the hard sciences: axiomatically and near-universally.

That should read, “the early-to-mid 20th century.” Obviously by the 1970s and 1980s things were quite different.

Fascinating stuff, as always! Quick question on the Wonder Woman portion, though… you show Sensation Comics # 1’s cover right under the comment about her debut, but didn’t she actually appear in… thinking, thinking… All-Star Comics # 8 first? I’m not as good on my Golden Age trivia as I tend to be on the Silver Age stuff, but that seems to ring a bell. Anyway, even if that’s true, it’s not like you STATED that she debuted in Sensation # 1… but it seems kind of implied, no?

Fascinating stuff, as always! Quick question on the Wonder Woman portion, though… you show Sensation Comics # 1’s cover right under the comment about her debut, but didn’t she actually appear in… thinking, thinking… All-Star Comics # 8 first? I’m not as good on my Golden Age trivia as I tend to be on the Silver Age stuff, but that seems to ring a bell. Anyway, even if that’s true, it’s not like you STATED that she debuted in Sensation # 1… but it seems kind of implied, no?

She debuted in All-Star Comics #8, I put her second appearance only because she was on the cover of Sensation #1 (while she wasn’t on the cover of All-Star #8).

It should also be noted that Wertham’s definition of “crime” comic does not match up with modern fandom’s. Wertham included superhero comics under the rubric of “crime,” not just Crime Does Not Pay and its ilk.

It should also be noted that Wertham’s definition of “crime” comic does not match up with modern fandom’s. Wertham included superhero comics under the rubric of “crime,” not just Crime Does Not Pay and its ilk.

Agreed, it should be noted, which is why I did. ;)

It figures that all this Wertham talk would happen just when I got a new PC and would be offline for a while doing some jiggering with it.

Wertham was against the CCA, he wrote a magazine peice about it after it was in effect called “It’s Still Murder.” I’ve got it scanned and online here.

Omar: “Reading old psychology books, especially pop-psych texts, you realize more generally that in the 20th century mental health was treated like an issue of public hygiene, and built on an epidemiological sort of notion of individual psychology as a numerically reduced example of mass-psychological currents.”

The same was true of a lot of 19th and early 20th century efforts to ban “immoral” books–it was a way of cleaning up culture the same way cleaning up sewers improved the public health.

Ten Cent Plague is excellent. Dame in the Kimono is good on the history of the Hays office, how it worked with a number of controversial movies and why it transitioned at the end to movie ratings.

[…] can read the answers at http://goodcomics.comicbookresources.com/2009/11/26/comic-book-legends-revealed-235/ Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Pearl Harbor in a Comic from November 1941?The […]

In regards to the point of causation. “if someone ate an apple and then commited a crime, would you claim that eating an apple caused them to commit the crime?” . I read an interesting article a while back about the religious firestorm against Dungeons and Dragons in it’s early days. It was pointed out as fact that kids commited suicide due to Dungeons and Dragons some D&D books were owned by kids that commited suicide. The article pointed out that at the time nearly every home (especially those with kids) had some form of D&D material. It would be like finding a bible in the house and blaming that. Surely there were also D&D materials (and comics) in the houses of straight A students, and kids who have now grown up to be great successes, including actors and comedy political show hosts.

Logan, one of DC’s editors has a story of making the same argument to Wertham, when the doctor told him that reading comic books was a consistent factor in juvenile delinquency: “So tell me, doctor, did all these delinquents also eat hot dogs and go to baseball games?”

That’s an even better example.
I fall into all the dangerous categories. I read comic books, played roleplaying games, listened to heavy metal rock and roll, watched violent, horror and dirty movies and I still haven’t gone on that killing spree……….Yet.

ParanoidObsessive

November 30, 2009 at 6:09 pm

>>> his conclusions were based on baloney science and I think he eventually realized that. Were there excesses in comics?… yes. Did they cause delinquency?… doubtful, but one will never know from his “research” because it’s flawed… he was a highly regarded scientist in his younger years, but I wouldn’t consider him a “psychiatrist” by modern standards.

Speaking as someone with a degree in psychology, and who has studied the historical roots of the science as well as its practical applications, it’s worth noting that the field as a whole was VERY different from what it is today. And because of that, it’s extremely difficult to judge people in that era by modern standards, because modern standards simply didn’t apply.

Wertham was working during a time when lobotomies were seen as an acceptable solution for mood swings (see also Rosemary Kennedy), and radical treatments like electro-shock therapy or throwing people into tubs of ice water were used to treat behavioral problems simply because they seemed to work (in spite of the administering psychologists not knowing HOW or WHY they worked). Psychology in general was still VERY embryonic in the 50’s, and the idea of experimental ethics were still almost non-existent (look up the Milgram Experiment or Little Albert on Wikipedia to see what I mean), let alone experimental method.

So Wertham would have been doing his research during this period, and would have been trained even earlier. The idea of things like double-blinds or control groups wouldn’t necessarily have occurred to him, and his own experience in earlier cases (like the Albert Fish case) would almost certainly have demonstrated to him the idea that childhood abuse seems to contribute to adult sociopathy.

In that sense, while I wouldn’t attempt to defend his actual conclusions, I’d be far more inclined to dismiss them as a product of his time rather than assuming he was somehow an aberration, or that he was poorly trained, inept, or burned out by his work. Odds are he was no better or worse than most other psychologists of his era, many of whom were simply making things up as they went along, as they were basically building the science of psychology from the ground up.

The people I have more contempt for are modern psychologists who had far better training, access to far more extensive research, and should absolutely be more aware of correlation/causality issues, yet still fall into similar traps when bashing the evil de jour that’s corrupting America’s youth, whether it be role-playing games, rock & roll music, video games, or what have you.

>>> Any form of censorship that is imposed, or enforced on any comic, or writer, artist is the bane of creativity and should be abolished. Only self-censorship that comes from the creator is allowed. One should write or draw as one’s conscience allows themselves to do.

I disagree, to some extent.

I wouldn’t advocate having a government agency capable of judging all artistic works and determining what is and isn’t acceptable (and I already consider most “obscenity” laws to be dangerously and abusively vague), but at the same time, I can absolutely understand both the desire and need for some method of keeping graphic material out of the hands of children. Doubly so because the line between pure artistic vision and shock product is a thin one. As is the line between something which is trying to convey a profound message and something which is only pandering to prurient interests.

From that perspective, I’m not a huge fan of mandatory censorship, but I AM a supporter of mandatory rating systems. That way, an artist can produce whatever sort of work they choose to, but once they’re finished, the product’s exposure to children can be limited if it’s of a graphic nature. I’d never say that something like 30 Days of Night or Marvel’s MAX line shouldn’t be allowed to exist, but I would say it shouldn’t be in the hands of kids.

The two biggest flaws with rating systems is that they require actively responsible parents to keep inappropriate material out of the hands of kids – and it often seems that most parents simply don’t pay enough attention to ratings (go on XBox Live and play a mature game, and you’ll quickly notice that more than half the voices of people playing sound like they’re 12). It also requires the agency or company doing the rating to be both unbiased and willing to do an in-depth evaluation of the material (the MPAA tends to fail on the first criteria, while the ESRB tends to fail on the second).

>>> Self censorship is all well and good, but if you’re doing working for hire for a second party the company rightfully has a say in what is done with their properties.

I’d also agree with this. Companies like Marvel and DC are beholden to stockholders, so if they feel they’d rather not have soccer moms complaining about content in their books, they’re absolutely within their rights to edit or censor work-for-hire. The writer or artist is playing in someone else’s sandbox, so I feel the owner is perfectly justified in asking them not to crap in it.

Speaking as someone with a background in science as well ParanoidObsessive, I’m well aware of the scientific and statistical methods used in research work. Yes, things were very different in Wertham’s day (particularly as you note within the then nascent field of psychology), but they weren’t THAT different with regard to the basic use of sound, circumspect principles when designing experiments… this wasn’t exactly the dark ages (well maybe for psychology, but not the sciences in general). Sound experimental methods were well established in the other sciences, particularly in the biological sciences, and it is because of this that I can’t imagine him not being aware of them… especially when considering his research background in structural brain pathology (or whatever it was they referred to as neuroscientists back then). It is precisely because he was well trained and far from inept (and from what I gather, rather well noted in his younger years) that I find his behavior and methodology (again, as self described in his 1954 testimony) as so lacking in rigor and basic principles (that existed even then) that it leaves me to surmise he was indeed burned out.

I can only say that with regard to the whole issue of comic books and juvenile delinquency, it’s my opinion that he treated the matter almost as if it were a personal pet “hobby” project (particularly with regards to research methodology)… lots of conjectures predicated on his own subjective preconceptions and ad hoc methods. That further dedicated and well thought out study was needed to refute or verify those conjectures is to me (and I suspect was to Wertham as well) glaringly obvious… and that is why I suggested that perhaps one of his real aims in all of this was to secure some sort of research grant, for the real (serious) work was yet to be done.

Years ago, I read “Seduction of the Innocent,” expecting some semblance of the scientific method. You know, where you assume nothing, have no preconceived notions and prove everything along the way. I must have been nuts! There is none of that in the book. Very heavy on innuendo and guilt by association. At one point, he lists a dozen or so criminal acts committed by suprisingly young kids. One seemed to have a legitimate connection to something read in a comic book (at least according to Wertham). Another one had a more tenuous tie, while a couple of others were described as having been committed “in comic book fashion.” For the rest of the list he didn’t even attempt to cite comics at all! At another point, he notes that a youngster is put in a cell and the first thing he asks for is comic books. O.K., there’s no TV. What’s he going to ask for, “War and Peace?” Pure pop psychology. It’s just amazing that this thing had such a long-lasting negative effect on the comic book medium.

<>

I presume they mean in the comic books and not on a day to day basis.

I noticed a couple of years ago on the PBS TV show for kids, PB&J Otter, that one of the animated animal characters is “FLICK the DUCK”. I almost snorted my milk out my nose. Uh, if the L ran into the I, then the REAL name is “F**K the Duck?” Are you kidding me? How did THAT get past the PBS censors? :-)

“Speaking as someone with a background in science as well ParanoidObsessive”

You have a background in ParanoidObsessive..? Does he know..? Because otherwise, “studying” a person sounds dangerously close to what we call “stalking” a person…
(j/k, of course)

“Uh, if the L ran into the I, then the REAL name is “F**K the Duck?” Are you kidding me? How did THAT get past the PBS censors?”

Erm, because TV is not a print medium..? How would the letters “run together”?

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