Seduction of the Ignorant

& Ranty.

So there are a lot of reasons why comics are still considered children’s stories. A lot of that is due to the fact that our parents treated them as such. In a lot of ways, the world of comics that our parents experienced *was* a world of children’s stories. While the older folks in the 50s and 60s were off to watch Dial M for Murder, Throne of Blood or Easy Rider at the cinema, the kids we left with comics like this one from 1960 in which five badly dressed thin people fight a malformed octopus with a convenient weak-spot on a river of piss.

Quite possibly they were doing this because a guy called Leland Yees Dr. Fredric Wertham thought that comics caused juvenile delinquency and violent behavior and needed censorship. And he wrote a book about it, called Seduction Of The Innocent. Wikipedia, lord of all truth, says:

“Many of his other conjectures, particularly about hidden sexual themes (e.g. images of female nudity concealed in drawings or Batmanand Robin as gay partners), met with derision within the comics industry. Wertham’s claim that Wonder Woman had a bondage subtext was somewhat better documented, as her creator William Moulton Marston had admitted as much;[citation needed] however, Wertham also claimed Wonder Woman’s strength and independence made her a lesbian.[2] Wertham also claimed that Superman was both un-American and a fascist.”

Horror comics, which amounted to almost a quarter of all comics at the time, and crime comics were almost driven to extinction when his ideas gained respectability with lawmakers, frightening the comics industry into creating a ‘comics code’ in 1954, as a form of protective self-censorship.

This code banned creators from using violent imagery, but also words and concepts like “terror” and “zombies”. Because the only thing more likly to turn you into a flesh eating monster than being bitten by one, is reading about one. Or at the very least, the act of reading words next to pictures would turn children into unrepentant liars and deceivers.

So while comic publishers like EC Comics were on the ropes, Dr. Fredric Wertham, was doing well. He had a successful book, and even became an expert witness, appearing before Senate Subcommittees on Juvenile Delinquency.

Except, apparently he lied.

In a post from Bleeding Cool (another lord of all truth) Rich Johnston quotes from a recent study  by Carol L. Tilley into Wertham’s work:

“This paper documents specific examples of how Wertham manipulated, overstated, compromised, and fabricated evidence—especially that evidence he attributed to personal clinical research with young people—for rhetorical gain.”

It also refers to

“…the case of Dorothy, a 13-year-old whose chronic truancy Wertham ascribed to her admiration for the comic book heroine Sheena and “crime comics,” omitting any mention of other factors listed in her case notes, such as her low intelligence, her reading disability, her gang membership, her sexual activity and her status as a runaway. Wertham also didn’t reveal that he never personally met or observed Dorothy; she was the patient of his associate, Dr. Hilde Mosse.”

Oh, snap. If you can’t trust authority figures blaming the world’s complex ills on whatever entertainment the kids are into, who can you trust?


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  1. Factioncomics

    He does make some interesting points! :-P Elements of Superman do strike me as fascistic. My favourite take on Superman remains Miller’s Dark Knight – as I think it’s the most accurate portral of what he represents. Also women continue to be drawn ‘naked” in comics to this day (only the colour of their costume indicating that they’re dressed at all).

    Even then of course, that’s hardly an excuse for censorship of this kind. Easier to ban comics than guns, I suppose.

    • Tim

      Yeah, there’s definitely content in comics (then and now) that I disagree with. A lot of media at that time had some terrible racism and sexism by today’s standards. Have you watched ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ recently?

      But trying to censor a whole medium smacks of ignorance and intolerance.

      Plus I have a special place for those old horror and crime comics, even if they seem a bit hocky by today’s standards.Imagine how different the landscape of today’s comics would be if they hadn’t been cut off at the knee. Then perhaps the public wouldn’t just see comics and comic book stores as ‘superheroes incorporated.’