Tag Archives: frederic wertham

The Rise And Fall Of Horror Comics

Source: wikipedia

Horror comics have had it rough.

For a few years they were at the forefront of the comic book industry, pushing the envelope with the stories they told, and influencing some of the most recognizable names in horror over the past five decades. From the late 40’s to the mid 50’s, horror comics essentially printed money for their publishers.

It would not, it could not, last.

There is some debate as to the first horror comic; Prize Comics #7 began an eight page feature adapting Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein,  causing some to label it as the first true horror series. There were other adaptations during the early to  mid 40’s, one of which was Gilberton Publications Classic Comics #13. Printing a full adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Classic Comics #13 is the earliest known comic book dedicated purely to horror.

Comic book cover shows a bald, robed man moving toward a frightened woman on the floor in a strapless dress. Her hands and feet are bound. Price of the comic is listed as 10 cents.

Source: wikipedia

However the first horror comic with original content is widely recognized as Eerie Comics #1, by Avon Publications cover dated January of 1947 (but the comic was actually published at the tail end of 1946). This volume of Eerie Comics never had a second issue, but it was relaunched in 1951.

Horror comics enjoyed some popularity on the newsstands, but it wasn’t until 1950 when EC Comics came on the scene that the genre really exploded with EC’s “trifecta of terror”: The Haunt of Fear, The Vault of Horror, and Crypt of Terror – which later became Tales from the Crypt.

The stories in the above comics, and the others that would follow, are bloody, gory, gruesome, macabre, sinister, and, at times, silly. They were truly horrific comics, but for some they were absolutely wonderful, and their influence on game-changing artists and writers can’t be overstated. Stephen King and George Romero, both hugely influential men on their own, created the film Creepshow as a love letter to the comics that influenced them as children. Alan Moore, one of the most acclaimed comic book writers of the past few decades, has a character reading an EC Comics-like story at a newsstand throughout the main story of Watchmen. Years later, HBO would develop a very successful anthology television show that ran from 1989 to 1996 based on the content of many EC stories published in during the 50’s, turning the Cryptkeeper into a household name.

But the golden age of horror comics of the early to mid 50’s would not last.

With the fallout from Fredric Wertham‘s book Seduction of the Innocent, and the Comics Code Authority (CCA) that resulted, horror comics, hit hard than any other genre, were virtually wiped out over night. Jobs were lost, publishers nearly went out of business, and the face of comics changed forever. Horror comics were everywhere, until suddenly they weren’t.

To say horror comics vanished over night isn’t strictly accurate. The essence of the comics stayed alive despite the CCA’s best efforts. James Warren of Warren Publishing would produce black and white horror comics, but published as a magazine, they were exempt from the CCA’s rules. By publishing these stories in a magazine format, Warren paved the way for other publishers to produce horror comics magazines.

Horror comics, like any good villain, wouldn’t stay down forever.

Although the Comics Code Authority spelled the end of horror comics for many years, we are currently experiencing a resurgence in horror comics – in a large part, perhaps, because the CCA has been entirely abandoned by publishers. The  old EC Comics, those classically macabre stories that are finally making their way into reprinted volumes that for fans of the genre are an unparalleled look into the past. Modern comic books like The Walking Dead, American Vampire, and 30 Days of Night are only a handful of the titles that are carrying the torch of influence that can traced back to the golden age of horror of the early 50’s.

While perhaps not as popular as they were 60 years ago, when they accounted for almost a quarter of all comics published, horror comics have been making a steady return to prominence in the comic book world.

That’s not a bad thing.

Fredric Wertham Debunked

CensorshipAlmost 60 years ago (1954), the United States Senate went about public hearings held by the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency. Much like with video games today, back then comic books were being blamed for delinquency, violence and homosexuality. The hearings were inspired in large part by the book Seduction of the Innocent, by psychiatrist Fredric Wertham.

Over the years, there’s been many questions as to Dr. Wertham’s claims. His books were poorly cited leaving the actual evidence he claimed as proof up for debate. With his papers released in 2010 by the Library Congress, a new article today shows the doctor was full of shit. Not only did he fudge data, he outright lied in his report and study. The article is written by Carol Tilley and published in a recent issue of Information and Culture: A Journal of History.

An article hit today covering the news. As an example Tilley found:

Tilley’s article also cites 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.

These hearings are often blamed as to part of the eventual decline of the comic book industry, putting it in a tailspin and shedding a light on it for which it never recovered. Even more important, today entertainment, especially video games are going through the same situation. Image 60 years from now when negative claims are also found out to be utter rubbish, just like this has.

Around the Tubes

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It’s a packed edition of Around the Tubes with lots of stories we missed but also continuing WonderCon coverage and a flood of reviews.  Enjoy!

Around the Blogs:

Comics Alliance – Sean Phillips & Crime Novelist Don Winslow’s Free ‘Sunset on Sunset’ Comic [Preview]Philips’s work is some of the best out there.

Bleeding Cool – Live From The DMZ LaunchesOne of my favorite series gets a great website dedicated to it.  I can’t wait to see what it has in store.

Comic Book Resources – I Like Marvel’s Re-Numbering PlanI generally agree with this assessment.

Newsarama – New Doc to Explore Comics Code, Fredric Wertham ArchivesThis is a key moment in comic book history.  One every fan and free speech advocate should understand.

Bleeding Cool – A Comic Show – The Best Week In Comics Of The Year So FarA solid week of books.

WonderCon Coverage:

Comicvine – WonderCon 2011: Judd Winick

Examiner – WonderCon 2011: 35,000 fans, hundreds of superheroes go home happy (Video)

Comicvine – WonderCon 2011: Rick Remender

Graphic Novel Reporter – Happy Birthday, Wonder-Con: A Review of the Show

Comicvine – Wondercon 2011: The Cosplay Challenge

Comicvine – WonderCon2011: Mattel Booth Tour

Comicvine – WonderCon 2011: Joe Quesada

Comicvine – WonderCon 2011: Frank Quitely

Comicvine – WonderCon 2011: Spider-Man: Edge of Time Interview

GeekWeek – Wondercon ’11: Watch The New THUNDERCATS Trailer in HD

Comicvine – WonderCon 2011: Floor Wrap-Up

Comicvine – WonderCon 2011: J.T. Krul (Part 1-DC Comics)

Comicvine – WonderCon 2011: Jeph Loeb

Around the Tubes Reviews:

Graphic Novel Reporter –Anya’s Ghost

Graphic Novel Reporter – Babymouse: Cupcake Tycoon

Graphic Novel Reporter – Beauty and the Squat Bears

Seattle Pi – Elephant Man

Seattle Pi – The Complete Essex County

The Aaugh Blog – Happiness is a Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown

Graphic Novel Reporter – Hellblazer: Pandemonium

Graphic Novel Reporter – Lethe

Waking Brain Cells – Lost & Found: A Graphic Novel Wonderland

Graphic Novel Reporter – Lucille

ICv2 – Mercy Thompson: Moon Called’ Vol. 1 TP

North 40 – North 40

Seattle Pi – Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc

Graphic Novel Reporter – The Rawhide Kid: The Sensational Seven

Seattle Pi – The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

Graphic Novel Reporter – Street Fighter Legends: Ibuki

Graphic Novel Reporter – Thor: The Mighty Avenger

GeekWeek – Time Bomb

Seattle Pi – Tumor

Graphic Novel Reporter – The Waking

George Will Looks At Comic Books

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This past weekend George Will in his Washington Post op-ed looked at censorship in entertainment. Entitled Our puritanical progressives, Will through connection to Fredric Wertham makes the argument that it’s progressives that are responsible for censorship in entertainment.

There’s numerous problems with Will’s writing, first and foremost, is his understanding of the word “progressive.” Wikipedia actually has a pretty decent rundown on the progressive ideology:

American progressives tend to support international economics: they advocate progressive taxation and oppose the growing influence of corporations. Progressives are in agreement on an international scale with left-liberalism in that they support organized labor and trade unions, they usually wish to introduce a living wage, and they often support the creation of a universal health care system.

So where does Wertham fall in there? Wertham was primarily concerned about violence and with protecting children from psychological harm, not exactly a progressive cause.  His book, Seduction of the Innocent focused on entertainment and particularly comic books and their “corruption of the youth.”  This lead to Senate hearings and the formation of the Comic Code Authority and cancellation of quite a few comic books due to their content.

The problem with Will’s article isn’t the history he cites, it’s his use of “progressive.” At no point does he make the case Wertham ever was one other than calling him one. One would say Wertham is more of a puritan or nannyist when it comes to entertainment, not so much a progressive. Will goes on to say:

Progressivism is a faith-based program. The progressives’ agenda for improving everyone else varies but invariably involves the cult of expertise – an unflagging faith in the application of science to social reform. Progressivism’s itch to perfect people by perfecting the social environment can produce an interesting phenomenon – the Pecksniffian progressive.

Progressives tend to favor advocating changes or reform through governmental action.  The progressive ideology is about improving harsh or unfair conditions, not telling you what you can or can’t watch.

As a whole the history Will cites is correct and gives a good background of the censorship of comic books and today’s attacks on video games. It’s unfortunate that he drags ideological labels into the battle, when today’s fights cross party lines.

The California law Will refers to was put forth by the State of California and championed by an elected Democrat but the court case bears the name of the state’s Republican Governor. When looking across the nation one can find numerous cases of censorship across parties.  When it comes to scoring political points with parents by demonizing the latest trend, fad, or form of entertainment, both parties and all ideologies are guilty.

This has nothing to do with progressive ideals, in fact I’d argue it’s the antithesis of it.  This is a new form of entertainment (video games) going through the puritan/nannyist smell test of “think about the children.”

Glenn Ray follows up on Will’s article. Agreeing with me this is a Puritan issue, not a progressive one. The writer cites himself as both a Puritan and progressive and lays out quite well that the two can be separate. While Ray says, he’s not a fan of today’s entertainment, he also cite’s this a “Puritan problem.”

I never used to believe in censorship, but that was before the Bill Ayers-Black Panther-LSD-meth- Islamic fascism and sexual revolution era of American values….this return to paganism and the fall of democratic senses.

Kind of interesting that Will who would be considered a conservative is against this modern day censorship, Ray who clearly a faith-based conservative is one that favors them.

Here I’ve shown two individuals of the similar side of the coin with opposing views on censorship, I hope George Will will think again before painting progressives in the same way.

Wertham Papers on Display

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Comics CodeWashington City Paper reports that in May, the Library of Congress opened 222 containers of psychiatrist Fredric Wertham’s papers.  Wertham in 1954 wrote Seduction of the Innocent which targeted comic books for corrupting youth and leading to juvenile deliquency.  This sparked a decade long attack on comic books including Senate hearings.

The Library of Congress has had the papers since 1987 and have been sealed except to people approved by Wertham’s estate (all two of them).  The collection includes, notes, drafts and material related to his work.

The uproar caused by Wertham lead to the Comic Code Authority, crippling entire genres of comics, and the creation of Mad Magazine.

The Fredric Wertham papers are open by appointment, and a list of what they include is online.