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January 19, 2012 8:17 PM   Subscribe

Comic books are destroying society. Again (or is it still?) Bonus: the full text of Seduction of the Innocent, from 1954.
posted by tumid dahlia (72 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
That's such great publicity I have to wonder if maybe Dan Didio is craftier than I thought.
posted by Zed at 8:24 PM on January 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Time to bring back the 'comic code authority'
posted by Kilovolt at 8:33 PM on January 19, 2012


"...Today, some of these superheroes would make Archie and Veronica blush..."

Well, that's hardly a standard, is it? Captain Haddock would make Archie and Veronica blush.
posted by Capt. Renault at 8:33 PM on January 19, 2012 [15 favorites]


This is just to say that I got Fantagraphics' Walt Disney's Donald Duck: Lost in the Andes, by Carl Barks, and it's pretty much reason enough to live on Earth.
posted by Rinku at 8:33 PM on January 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


I read comics as a kid and now I spend my nights running around rooftops. Be warned, parents.
posted by neuromodulator at 8:33 PM on January 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


That sentence was supposed to have a "just" in it somewhere, but I'm too busy reading grade-A comics to care.
posted by Rinku at 8:34 PM on January 19, 2012


Hulk slow be he not that slow.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:35 PM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Rinku: Oh wow that book sounds amazing. Going on my shopping list for sure!
posted by tumid dahlia at 8:42 PM on January 19, 2012


Canceling OMAC is destroying society.
posted by GavinR at 8:42 PM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh look, it's 9:46, the same time that's always on that broken watch on my desk.
posted by straight at 8:47 PM on January 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


This is just to say that whatever Fantagraphics has to say about it, Carl Barks' Lost in the Andes IS the best comic book ever.
posted by Curious Artificer at 8:53 PM on January 19, 2012


warning: dan clowes gives you depression
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 8:54 PM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Canceling OMAC

That's commitment for you!

No wait, not "commitment", I meant the other, opposite thing.
posted by tumid dahlia at 8:56 PM on January 19, 2012


I would like to state for the record that, in my opinion, the new DC Comics logo sucks.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 8:57 PM on January 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


I just picked up the first Pogo collection from Fantagraphics, actually, and it is completely impossible for me to describe how happy Porkypine, Pogo, Albert, Churchy, and Owl make me. And what cartooning!
posted by neuromodulator at 8:57 PM on January 19, 2012 [8 favorites]


This is just to say that I got Fantagraphics' Walt Disney's Donald Duck: Lost in the Andes, by Carl Barks, and it's pretty much reason enough to live on Earth.

Man, I love Carl Barks' Donald Duck stories.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:02 PM on January 19, 2012


I would like to state for the record that, in my opinion, the new DC Comics logo sucks.

BitterOldPunk, I'm ashamed to admit that that reminds me of picking stickers off Cheri magazine pages so I could see ladyparts.

The new DC Comics logo is literally peeling back a censorship sticker to look at a vulva and I'm really not sure how I feel about that.

Sad and a bit damp, I guess.
posted by tumid dahlia at 9:02 PM on January 19, 2012




*looks at screen, sighs, wearily gets up from chair, goes over to stack of longboxes, rummages around for a few minutes, finally pulls out tattered, creased sheet of paper*

"Right. 'Biff bam pow, comics aren't just for kids any more.' See you in another five years or so."

*puts sheet away, sits down, looks up Jim Woodring's next project*
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:40 PM on January 19, 2012


The Red Hood and the Outlaws sticker logo will still peel back to reveal a vulva.
posted by benzenedream at 9:41 PM on January 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


What's behind recent DC shake-ups?
posted by Artw at 9:44 PM on January 19, 2012


http://www.multiversitycomics.com/2012/01/multiversity-101-out-with-old-in-with.html

Liefeld (who is now on three titles out of DC's 52) should totally have those stickers for obscuring his characters feet.
posted by Artw at 9:46 PM on January 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


I wish I were a comic book character so I could have sex and violence with other comic book characters.
posted by planet at 10:45 PM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


"They more or less darkened the characters up. Today, they introduce a lot more reality into it like homosexuality, adultery, all that stuff. It's in the books now."

Ooooh. How dark and disturbing!
posted by brundlefly at 10:48 PM on January 19, 2012


If Spider-Man fucked out both your eyes, things would get dark pretty fast, I must concur.
posted by stinkycheese at 11:47 PM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Peter Parker's dead five minutes and the skull fucking begins? I for one decry this racist new direction.
posted by biffa at 1:58 AM on January 20, 2012


Although this is all wrong-headed and not terribly surprising from the news source, it would be great to see a high profile item on the awful way female characters are treated in these comics (again with Starfire etc).

When I see stuff like this, I'm increasingly convinced there's something fundamentally broken in the heads of many American comic creators/artists.
posted by panboi at 2:36 AM on January 20, 2012


Scott Campbell has an almost Liefield-strength inability to draw feet. Ignoring all of the other anatomical absurdities in those pictures, there's no way any of those characters could actually stand like that. I expect at least a few hip/chest alignment problems in that calibre of drawing, but this shows up in every one of his pictures. I don't think he understands how feet work.
posted by tylermoody at 3:38 AM on January 20, 2012


Ironically old Rupe not only acts like a Batman villain, he's starting look like one too... he's even got a cool villain name: "The Digger"!
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 4:15 AM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


The key lines from the end of the first link:

Fox might have DC's heroes firmly in its sights, but other characters such as Spider-Man, X-Men, Iron Man etc have escaped the attack.

But it is worth pointing out that those characters belong to DC's rival Marvel, and the Fox corporation has a list of upcoming big-screen Marvel adaptations as long as Mr Fantastic's arm…


So, a straight-up smear job on the opposition. Proof, if proof were needed, that "Fox News" is and always has been an oxymoron.
posted by ZsigE at 4:46 AM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't think he understands how feet work.

I'm pretty sure from those pictures that he doesn't know how women's bodies and clothing work either. Whenever I see pictures like those I can't stop speculating on whether they're using superglue to fix whatever fragment of clothing drapes their bodies onto their breasts. And why must the nipples be covered? If you're going to draw sexy princesses why not let the bosoms fly free?!
posted by lesbiassparrow at 4:49 AM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


When I see stuff like this, I'm increasingly convinced there's something fundamentally broken in the heads of many American comic creators/artis

Excellent. I looked at that without reading the article and just assumed it was a parody of abysmal comic book art and not actually real abysmal comic book art.
posted by dng at 5:55 AM on January 20, 2012


I would like to state for the record that, in my opinion, the new DC Comics logo sucks.

At first, I agreed, but when I saw the "flavored" versions in ArtW's link, I changed my mind. The bare framework is 17 layers of Meh, but the flavored ones, in general, work very well in my eyes.

The Watchmen (at least, I presume that the blood arrow on yellow is supposed to refer to The Watchmen) version doesn't work for me -- I'd just have the blood arrow as a normal clock hand, point to about 2PM.

But that's picky. I think they've come up with a very flexible framework both for the logo and for integrating it into ad designs.

Actually, the one that looks like a very badly wound inductor amuses me as well, but I'm pretty sure that's because I know what a badly wound inductor looks like.
posted by eriko at 5:56 AM on January 20, 2012


I know were supposed to look at something like Seduction of the Innocent and laugh at how stodgy and backwards-thinking it is but is there anyone who actually disagrees with this:

"To make a sharp distinction between entertainment and learning is poor pedagogy, and even worse psychology. A great deal of learning comes in the form of entertainment, and a great deal of entertainment painlessly teaches important things. By no stretch of critical standards can the text in crime comics qualify as literature, or their drawings as art. Considering the enormous amount of time spent by children on crime comic books, their gain is nil. They do not learn how to read a serious book or magazine. They do not gain a true picture of the West from the "Westerns." They do not learn about any normal aspects of sex, love or life. I have known many adults who have treasured throughout their lives some of the books they read as children. I have never come across any adult nor adolescent who had outgrown comic-book reading who would ever dream of keeping any of these "books" for any sentimental or other reason. In other words, children spend a large amount of their time and money on these publications and have nothing positive to show for it. And since almost all good children's reading has some educational value, crime comics by their very nature are not only non-educational; they are anti-educational. They fail to teach anything that might be useful to a child; they do suggest many things that are harmful."

Note carefully what he is saying. This was written 57 years ago. That 57 years of the evolution of the medium. And can anyone say that this argument presented here is obviously, incontrovertibly wrong? At worst, the argument is weak when it is anecdotal, but so what? How many comic book critics today continue to lament the portrayal of women and sex in these comics?

Since this was written in 1954, we've gone from a culture where black people had to ride in the back of the bus to having a black president. Women and minorities occupy high office in government and industry. Gay marriage is happening in a very real way. And yet in comic books, it's still 1954.

Women are impossibly-breasted, scantily or tightly-clad sex objects. Black superheroes are rare. Brooding substitutes for depth of character.

The fact that comics still have all of the same problems they did before along with plenty of new ones suggests that despite its flaws, and as much as you hate it, Seduction of the Innocent was more right than it was wrong.
posted by Pastabagel at 6:32 AM on January 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


Jared, Kevin and Nick from Big Planet Vienna (the comic book store featured in the Fox5 report) talk about the whole thing on this week's Big Planet Comics podcast (the first 5 minutes and then again around the 10-minute mark, but just listen to the whole thing).

I'm surprised this story got so much attention.
posted by darksong at 6:47 AM on January 20, 2012


Actually, the one that looks like a very badly wound inductor amuses me as well, but I'm pretty sure that's because I know what a badly wound inductor looks like.

I've a sinking feeling it's supposed to be Batman, what with all the crappy lines on

I've a sinking
posted by Artw at 7:13 AM on January 20, 2012


Sorry, child dangling from arm.

I've a sinking feeling it's supposed to be Batman, what with all the crappy lines on his costume these days.
posted by Artw at 7:21 AM on January 20, 2012


Seems like much ado about nothing to me. First, DC totally had that backlash coming because of their crappy reboot decisions (re: portrayal of women), and as TFA says, Murdoc's awfully late here. Second, this is a yawner of a story as it's not like Fox will put their back into such a campaign, because there's no money in it.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 7:23 AM on January 20, 2012


I have to wonder if maybe Dan Didio is craftier than I thought.

i assure you that he is not
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:24 AM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


One problem with porting that passage of Wertham's from 1954 to today is that the majority of comic readers nowadays are not children. Wertham's concern was that comics, particularly crime comics, were teaching kids bad behavior under the guise of education (Crime Does Not Pay! was pitched as a tool for keeping kids on the straight and narrow) and entertainment.

With something like 2/3rds of current readership being of the ages 18-30, most readers are beyond the impressionable age that Wertham focused on.

I agree that it is a failing of comics that they tend to go for the lowest-common-denominator plot or the sensationalistic image more times than not, but that's something that comics have been failing at since the Golden Age. But that does not mean they have not evolved in the past 57 years. For example, we've seen the lengths DC went through to keep people from thinking their characters homosexual (Aunt Harriet in Batman, family team ups in Wonder Woman) to featuring titles where the main characters are openly out (Batwoman, Stormwatch). Superman renounced his American citizenship. There's a black Spider-Man. And that's just the superhero comics.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 7:24 AM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


By no stretch of critical standards can the text in crime comics qualify as literature, or their drawings as art

Fuck off Wertham.

If for any reason you do find his arguments convincing I suggest subscribing to Jack Thomson's newsletter - at least then you'd be more culturally relevant to actual teenagers.
posted by Artw at 7:31 AM on January 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


Neil Bernstein, PhD, a child psychologist and author of How to Keep Your Teenager Out of Trouble commented: "It's sort of like a fictionalised Playboy for kids at its worst."

Hey, I only read Batman for the articles,
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 7:32 AM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Pastabagel, if you agree with him that crime comics of the period could not considered literature or art -- like, all crime comics from that period were without literary or artistic value -- then you are either wrong or just ignorant; but either way, yes, I disagree with you, and with Wertham, emphatically. I actually cannot find a single clause in that whole jeremaid you have quoted that I do agree with.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 7:35 AM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hey kids, stop spanking it to Batman! There's an entire Internet out there!
posted by robocop is bleeding at 7:35 AM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's probably worth pointing out that the six month old blog articles FOX recycles without attribution ate all by people by people pissed off by some of the bad stuff in DCs nu52 line up because they passionately love GOOD comics, some of which are also, *gasp*, published by DC.
posted by Artw at 7:38 AM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: I've a sinking.
 
posted by Herodios at 7:57 AM on January 20, 2012


Pastabagel: And can anyone say that this argument presented here is obviously, incontrovertibly wrong?

You bet! Let's start with this:
I have never come across any adult nor adolescent who had outgrown comic-book reading who would ever dream of keeping any of these "books" for any sentimental or other reason.
So I guess that all of those incredibly valuable copies of Action #1 and Detective Comics #27 and so on that are so valuable, in part, because of their good condition (remarkably so, given the paper that they were printed on) must have been preserved by falling into a time capsule by mistake? And this was before things like mylar bags and acid-free backing boards were widely available. The only way that Wertham's argument could be "right" is if it were strictly circular, and you had to accept that by definition anyone who kept their comics hadn't outgrown them. The only way in which he could be excused of deploying a logical fallacy is if he were ignorant of the majority of the people that he was writing about, which is not really an excuse for a serious academic. (Yes, fandom in general and the collector's market in particular was orders of magnitude smaller than it would be even a couple of decades later, and you couldn't just look this stuff up on the web, but remember, this was the guy who was supposed to be the expert on comics and comics readers as far as America was concerned.)

Aside from that gem, Wertham conflates comics as a medium with comics as a genre or genres (there have been educational comics about as long as there have been comics), and seems to think that pure entertainment without at least a smidgen of learning or edification is wasted. And you're leaving out the really dubious conclusions of Wertham's, such as the bit where he asserts that the shadow underneath Batman's armpit evokes a woman's pubic hair.

But anyway, on to your assertion that comics haven't really changed since the 1950s, except possibly to get worse. This isn't really true (black superheroes may be "rare", however you're measuring that, but back then they were nonexistent; while female characters are arguably physically more objectified than they were then, most of the more prominent characters have vastly more depth of characterization than the victims and homewreckers of the comics of Wertham's heyday), but I'm not going to press that point too much because I'm not particularly happy about the state of mainstream comics in general or a lot of DC's "new 52" revisions in particular. There is quite a bit of sexism and objectification in their revised characterizations of long-standing female characters; there is a lot of tokenism in their representation of characters of color (a process that began before the recent reboot, with many superhero identities that had been passed on to people of color reverting to the Silver Age white male heterosexuals that had previously held them); there's a metric fuckton of the grim 'n' gritty. The reboot was meant to (presumably) widen the appeal of DC's line and draw in new readers, but while the main titles went into multiple printings, you're already seeing some of the "fringe" titles being cancelled, and that (plus the already-noted controversial fanservice involving female characters, plus fans that are alienated by their favorite characters being eliminated or altered beyond recognition in the reboot) means that they're going to end up falling back on the mostly white male heterosexual aging readership that digs this sort of stuff, and that their market will continue to shrink as even the veteran fanboys get sick of the same old shit.

None of which really bothers me in the final analysis, because, of course, there's an entire other comics market which bears virtually no resemblance to the one that you describe, and which got its start in the underground comics of the sixties. There's manga, which similarly bears little resemblance to mainstream superhero comics, and far eclipses the mainstream market both in the breadth of the genres that it features and in sheer quantity (go to your nearest Barnes & Noble sometime and compare the two sections). Ignoring these two markets in favor of the superhero purveyors simply because the latter have been around a bit longer (and are currently being adapted into blockbuster action movies) is incredibly narrow-minded. Wertham probably wouldn't have liked them either, but the argument that they can't constitute serious literature or history is ludicrous.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:10 AM on January 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


To make a sharp distinction between entertainment and learning is poor pedagogy, and even worse psychology.

Okay, that's a fair thesis.

A great deal of learning comes in the form of entertainment, and a great deal of entertainment painlessly teaches important things.

I'm fully in agreement there. That's the guiding principle behind things like Sesame Street and Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. Please continue, Dr. Wertham.

By no stretch of critical standards can the text in crime comics qualify as literature, or their drawings as art.

You-- wha-- get out of my office.
posted by Faint of Butt at 9:25 AM on January 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


An argument can be made for Wetham not being the cartoon villain many comics fans would make him out to be - his position on comics softened considerably over the years, and he actually did a lot of work with disadvantaged kids and was a prominent opponent of segregation.

Seduction of the Innocent was and is a peice of shit designed to pander to the fearful though.
posted by Artw at 9:32 AM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Canceling OMAC

That's commitment for you!


Hey now, canceling OMAC too soon is a tradition as old as time!
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 9:37 AM on January 20, 2012


I should get a Lichenstein style print of that last panel of the Kirby run... AND THEN THE VOLCANO MELTED AND THE SATELITE EXPLODED, THE END!
posted by Artw at 9:38 AM on January 20, 2012


I wonder if Rupe's seen Crossed, because I think that would totally make his head explode, Scanners style.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 10:28 AM on January 20, 2012


I've a sinking feeling it's supposed to be Batman, what with all the crappy lines on

I've a sinking
posted by Artw at 7:13 AM on January 20 [+] [!]


Sorry, child dangling from arm.

(...)
posted by Artw at 7:21 AM on January 20 [+] [!]


You ...ummm... haven't been hanging out on the bridge of any cruise ships lately, have you?
posted by Zack_Replica at 11:12 AM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


What's especially sad is that there's so many good comics out there today written for kids. Whenever I hit my local comic shop every month or so, I grab whatever issues of Snarked I've missed, along with Spongebob Squarepants, Batman: The Brave and the Bold, Sergio Aragones Funnies, and whatever newer titles from Bongo or KaBoom that catch my eye. Just the other day I was there, and one of the employees was showing a kid and his dad where the age-appropriate comics were. Because, see, if you just be, you know, a parent, your can help keep your kids from being exposed to the comics that might not be appropriate for them yet. The AV Club recently ran an article on good all-ages comics. Viva la Bone!

If Spider-Man fucked out both your eyes, things would get dark pretty fast, I must concur.

I was under the impression that Spider-Man turned off the dark.
posted by cottoncandybeard at 11:45 AM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


cottoncandybeard, great point. I'd add the Marvel Adventures line, which was truly "all ages" in that a lot of older readers (if the scans_daily crew is any indication) preferred it to the "official" versions of the characters. (They even had a non-Fantastic Four version of Sue Storm, aka the Invisible Woman, in the MA Avengers who seemed to spend a lot of time interacting with a certain Star-Spangled Avenger.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:17 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty sure the 2012-era scans_daily crew, as reliable zeitgeist indicators, are up there with "Toddlers & Tiaras mom" and "MPAA head Chris Dodd".
posted by ormondsacker at 1:21 PM on January 20, 2012


I would like to point out how everyone reacted to my comment viscerally and emotionally:

Pastabagel, if you agree with him that crime comics of the period could not considered literature or art -- like, all crime comics from that period were without literary or artistic value -- then you are either wrong or just ignorant; but either way, yes, I disagree with you, and with Wertham, emphatically. I actually cannot find a single clause in that whole jeremaid you have quoted that I do agree with.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 10:35 AM on January 20


I'm ignorant? You can't find a single clause you agree with?

"A great deal of learning comes in the form of entertainment, and a great deal of entertainment painlessly teaches important things."

So you disagree with that then? Now who's ignorant.

I'm sorry I offended your precious little entertainment. I'm sure if I launched into a scathing attack on Christianity or republicans, you'd be 100% behind me, though, right? Without even having heard my argument...
posted by Pastabagel at 1:27 PM on January 20, 2012


Fox might have DC's heroes firmly in its sights, but other characters such as Spider-Man, X-Men, Iron Man etc have escaped the attack.

But it is worth pointing out that those characters belong to DC's rival Marvel, and the Fox corporation has a list of upcoming big-screen Marvel adaptations as long as Mr Fantastic's arm…

So, a straight-up smear job on the opposition. Proof, if proof were needed, that "Fox News" is and always has been an oxymoron.


Yeah, no. Fox had equally sensationalistic headlines about how Captain America beats up patriotic Tea Partiers, and how political correctness run amok leads to *gasp* black actors playing Norse deities in Thor. Fox's bias most certainly isn't along comic book company lines.
posted by Amanojaku at 2:06 PM on January 20, 2012


Marvel films are, as far as I know, either their own thing or Disney, with the exception of Spiderman (Sony) and X-Men (FOX) and maybe Ghost Rider?
posted by Artw at 2:13 PM on January 20, 2012


"By no stretch of critical standards can the text in crime comics qualify as literature, or their drawings as art."

Clearly the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen has no literary merit.

"Considering the enormous amount of time spent by children on crime comic books, their gain is nil."

Unlike video games.

"They do not learn how to read a serious book or magazine. They do not gain a true picture of the West from the "Westerns.""

This is why I start my kids out with McCarthy's Blood Meridian.

"And since almost all good children's reading has some educational value..."
*spit take*

Look, people who argue these kinds of points are ignorant. Not stupid. ...well, maybe stupid, but they're not necessarily correlated. It's always with the tip of the iceburg. As Halloween Jack mentions, not with the wide variety of other genres and forms.

The argument always boils down thus:
Comics rot kids brains. They don't deal with serious issues.

'Well, there's Epileptic. That deals with epilepsy and sibling relationships. Black Hole addresses STDs using metaphor and art. Blankets is a coming of age tale. Maus is about the holocaust. One Bad Rat deals with sexual abuse. The Greatest of Marlys on the other hand is light and..."

No, no, they're misogynist. Not for women.

'Ghost World is about two girls. Tank Girl. Y: The Last Man is about a world without men and has social commentary on ..."

No, the superhero comics...

'But stuff like Miracleman is...'

No, no, the superhero comics, that are misogynist, that are poorly written, that aren't for children, are bad.

'Oh. Yeah, those are bad. So? You want to strip the 1st amendment?'

No, no censorship. Maybe just ban 'em.

Etc.
----------

And the real argument should be the commercial exploitation of children across a vast swath of media. I'd argue advertising is far more corrosive.
From the piece: "It's sort of like a fictionalised Playboy for kids at its worst."

As though, what? American girl dolls, barbies, GI Joe aren't radically twisted soft-core cutesyporn fantasy worlds for kids?

Stuff like this is sensationalism and self-serving at that. People used to argue the same things about novels, radio, television, etc.
The most scathing criticism about t.v. came (IMHO) from Mr. Rogers.

But you can't cut funding to art, dumb down the population, throw entertainment and information to the wolves of the "free market" and then bitch that nothings coming out except exploitative tripe.
Yeah, go figure.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:25 PM on January 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


I hated Wertham back in 1954 after adults took away my comics. They read an article in Reader's Digest that was so twisted that, a few months later, even that crappy excuse for a magazine apologized. There has been an effort in recent years to rehabilitate Wertham's reputation. I cannot fathom why. Comics were not Wertham's only target. His basic thesis was that any description of violence leads to violent behavior in human beings. He attacked movies, books, and TV as well as comics. Early in his career he discovered that adults ignored his ideas but that attacking children gained an audience. (cf.Show of Violence written during World War II -- got that? In the midst of that slaughter, Wertham is helping adults displace their guilt onto children.) Yes, I said "attacking children". I certainly felt that I was under attack back in the 50s, that people were suspicious of me and afraid of me. In the 1960s Wertham became aware of fanzines written by people who, like me, thought he was a monster. He wrote to some of these -- his career as crusader having just about ended -- and wanted to know why? The man was hurt when confronted by people who had lived through the moral panic that he fed. Some point to his working with New York blacks in the 30s and 40s as a mitigating factor in judging him, but I wonder what kind of paternalistic Freudianism was being visited on those people in the name of mental health. Wertham is an example of the well-meaning do gooder that leaves destruction in his wake.
posted by CCBC at 2:41 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Some point to his working with New York blacks in the 30s and 40s as a mitigating factor in judging him, but I wonder what kind of paternalistic Freudianism was being visited on those people in the name of mental health.

Avid support for desegregation. Just because the guy was a bozo about comics doesn't mean that he was a red-eyed, sharp-fanged monster out to ruin everything.

His concern for children's exposure to violent media doesn't strike me as all that different from the concern people have for sexist, racist, consumerist, etc. imagery in popular media. In addition to the fact that Wertham wanted to impose a ratings regime (not outright censorship), the difference seems mostly over whether violence is worse for kids than exposure to sexist, racist, consumerist, etc. imagery.

It's telling that Wertham was an associate of Adorno, who was also rather prickly about pop culture. As someone once waggishly put it, the main difference between the two was that Wertham didn't think kids were beyond saving.
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:47 PM on January 20, 2012


(Note that I'm not defending Wertham - he was wrong about comics and violence - it's just that he gets a worse rap than he deserves.)
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:49 PM on January 20, 2012


BTW, that edition of Seduction of the Innocent is illustrated with stuff chosen by the editor (there's even some John Willie bondage stuff). The original SOTI had a picture section in the middle. One part of that section is included in the on-line edition linked here. It's in Chapter 7, "I Want To Be A Sex Maniac". There's a drawing of a guy and Wertham gets close on the shading of his shoulder musculature. There's a V-shape. Wertham says it's hidden porn. "There are pictures within pictures for those who know where to look." Got that? Comic artists and kids had a secret way to communicate porn. My mother was very upset by Dr. Wertham's pronouncement.
posted by CCBC at 2:51 PM on January 20, 2012


Sticherbeast: Being a New Yorker for desegregation does not excuse him in other ways. I suggest you read Chapter 1 of Seduction of the Innocent. There is a case study (sort of) where a black boy who attends Wertham's Lafargue Clinic (apparently he went there to get glasses) is railroaded into jail. The judge says "I can't prove that you are guilty, but I believe you are guilty," and gives him an indeterminate sentence in the reformatory. Not once does Wertham ever look at the injustice of the case but assumes that the boy is depraved because he reads comics. Children were not helped by Wertham; he used them to bash out a career for himself.
posted by CCBC at 3:07 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


"A great deal of learning comes in the form of entertainment, and a great deal of entertainment painlessly teaches important things."

So you disagree with that then? Now who's ignorant.


I'm pretty sure that disagreeing with that statement wouldn't make me ignorant at all. I mean, I am aware of the existence of entertainment, and of the existence of learning. Disagreeing with that statement would just make me someone who disagreed with that statement. I must say I was in kind of a hurry when I posted last, and should have specified that by "jeremiad" I was referring to the epic troll part of Doctor Wertham's well-intentioned but nevertheless bullshitty avalanche of bullshit -- the part that talks about the worthlessness of his pet bugaboo. But actually, sure, you could disagree with that and be just fine, though I would expect you to show your work.

I'm sorry I offended your precious little entertainment. I'm sure if I launched into a scathing attack on Christianity or republicans, you'd be 100% behind me, though, right? Without even having heard my argument...

I'm not really sure what to be offended by here first. There's the obvious fact that you don't know anything about me at all, even though we have shared server space on this website since forever; I don't really know much about you, other than having a familiarity with your username, but I'm pretty terrific and feel I really should have made an impression. So that hurts. But then there's the notion that I am evidently some sort of Everystrawman standing in for MetaFilter as a whole, and that's what you think of MetaFilter as a whole? That's lame. Coming in at least a distant third is me being pissed off all over again that you feel entitled to weigh in and impose judgment on an entire era of a major medium that you obviously know nothing about and don't even feel like you need to know anything about in order to judge it. Look, at least Wertham took the trouble to hunt through these books looking for vaginal symbols and suggestions of homosexuality. It was a stupid thing to do and it hobbled an entire medium for decades and had a hand in creating problems that comics creators still face today, but it did require some fucking effort. Wertham was wrong, but he wasn't just some windbag. He worked at being that damn wrong. It was hard.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 3:13 PM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


They do not learn about any normal aspects of sex, love or life.

I think you're probably certainly correct in the context of the sort of stuff Wertham was specifically talking about back then (horror, crime and saucy comics) - no they certainly don't get anything like that out of it. They get a mildly thrilling story of a few pages in length that can be chewed up and discarded. Whether that "informs" them in their day-to-day life I don't know. But another thing that was around back in the 50s is, to take an example from this very thread, is Lost in the Andes, which had reprint after reprint and which I even remember reading in reprint in the late-80s. Barks' sheer humanity is delightfully drawn on every page, and while they certainly might not qualify as literary learning experiences, they are good and moral stories and very human.

And the thing with EC etc. is kids were only ever reading them because they knew it was wrong. None of them was picking up a funny book because they wanted to take life lessons from them - they were picking them up because they were a dime or whatever and because they were colourful and thrilling and entirely fantastical. They were the the art and the feeling of a time and a place and even a bit, through I hate the word, zeitgeist-y, what with the Cold War and a bunch of other shit going on. A huge heavy leaden cloud of horror hanging over the entire western world. How to escape? Well, we're fooling ourselves if we don't acknowledge it, maybe, through a different kind of horror, one we could escape.

People do it in movies now. "Don't go in there!" "No, no, make sure he's dead!" "Oh, you shouldn't have eaten that!" I guarantee kids were sitting around with their funnybooks doing exactly the same thing, sharing them around and talking about what they would have done differently. So even though the lessons might not be completely realistically valuable, they're still lessons. No, we won't go in the weird old forest hut where the screams are coming from.
posted by tumid dahlia at 4:15 PM on January 20, 2012


They get a mildly thrilling story of a few pages in length that can be chewed up and discarded. Whether that "informs" them in their day-to-day life I don't know.

Yeah, you know, what I have to say here is that

Gaines waged a number of battles with the Comics Code Authority in an attempt to keep his magazines free from censorship. In one particular example noted by comics historian Digby Diehl, Gaines threatened Judge Charles Murphy, the Comics Code Administrator, with a lawsuit when Murphy ordered EC to alter the science-fiction story "Judgment Day", in Incredible Science Fiction #33 (Feb. 1956).[14] The story, by writer Al Feldstein and artist Joe Orlando, was a reprint from the pre-Code Weird Fantasy #18 (April 1953), inserted when the Code Authority had rejected an initial, original story, "An Eye For an Eye", drawn by Angelo Torres,[15] but was itself also "objected to" because of "the central character being black."[16]

The story depicted a human astronaut, a representative of the Galactic Republic, visiting the planet Cybrinia inhabited by robots. He finds the robots divided into functionally identical orange and blue races, one of which has fewer rights and privileges than the other. The astronaut decides that due to the robots' bigotry, the Galactic Republic should not admit the planet. In the final panel, he removes his helmet, revealing himself to be a black man.[14] Murphy demanded, without any authority in the Code, that the black astronaut had to be removed. As Diehl recounted in Tales from the Crypt: The Official Archives:

This really made 'em go bananas in the Code czar's office. 'Judge Murphy was off his nut. He was really out to get us', recalls [EC editor] Feldstein. 'I went in there with this story and Murphy says, "It can't be a Black man". But ... but that's the whole point of the story!' Feldstein sputtered. When Murphy continued to insist that the Black man had to go, Feldstein put it on the line. 'Listen', he told Murphy, 'you've been riding us and making it impossible to put out anything at all because you guys just want us out of business'. [Feldstein] reported the results of his audience with the czar to Gaines, who was furious [and] immediately picked up the phone and called Murphy. 'This is ridiculous!' he bellowed. 'I'm going to call a press conference on this. You have no grounds, no basis, to do this. I'll sue you'. Murphy made what he surely thought was a gracious concession. 'All right. Just take off the beads of sweat'. At that, Gaines and Feldstein both went ballistic. 'Fuck you!' they shouted into the telephone in unison. Murphy hung up on them, but the story ran in its original form.[

posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:33 PM on January 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's telling that Wertham was an associate of Adorno, who was also rather prickly about pop culture...

It's funky that I don't think he was wrong in spirit. Contrasted with William Moulton Marston, say, who I think was out of his freaking mind, but not about Wonder Woman.

The thing about Batman and Robin... it's never been said before, but fuck it, I'm not going to become some great writer. I'll let it go.
Batman has Robin because he wants to see a boy, like he was when his parents were killed, triumph over the killer.
He has to see it over and over. And he's so compulsive about it, so focused on training his ersatz self to beat Joe Chill and rescue his parents (vicariously) that even if Bruce Wayne were gay and additionally a pedophile, that first compulsion would still trump any sexual urge he might have.

When I realized that reading Batman - although I don't remember anyone spelling it out that way - I completely accepted Robin as a logical partner, even inevitable extension of, Batman. Not a proxy the way Frank Miller would have him, but He Himself.

The hell of it is that most superhero comics don't do character studies or go into those depths. Mostly just the socko-pow stuff.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:26 PM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've always thought that if I were an ordinary civilian in Gotham City, I wouldn't have any thoughts at all about the relationship between Batman and Robin, if I even believed they existed. I would, however, have some very strong suspicions about Bruce Wayne and his "ward."
posted by Faint of Butt at 4:02 AM on January 21, 2012


All the criticism is based around the assumption that these comic books are aimed at "kids". Not a lot of kids are going to the 5 and dime for their baseball cards and licorice whips anymore, Murdoch.
posted by lubujackson at 2:53 PM on January 21, 2012




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