Tagged: Fredric Wertham

Michael Davis: Seduction Of The Not So Innocent.

In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in Brown v. Board of Education which overturned Jim Crow racial segregation in the public schools. That mattered little in most of the country when white privilege was normalized, and white supremacy went unchallenged. Black people had no real say. Whites controlled most everything, as they still do to a great extent.

Since the 1950s black and brown people have been demanding their rights and as expected in a nation of so many different viewpoints there has been push back.

This time a distinction between the past is evident. It appears the soon to be the leader of the free world Donald Trump is now leading any pushback on racial resolutions. His actions over time and in particular the last few years support this.

Some of the Trump race record includes:

Attacking Muslim Gold Star parents

Claimed a judge was biased because “he’s a Mexican.” (In fact, he was an American)

The Justice Department sued his company ― twice ― for not renting to black people

Refused to condemn the white supremacists who were campaigning for him

Never apologized to President Obama for saying he was not born in the United States

He encouraged the mob justice that resulted in the wrongful imprisonment of the Central Park Five.

From The Huffington Post

In 1989, Trump took out full-page ads in four New York City-area newspapers calling for the return of the death penalty in New York and the expansion of police authority in response to the infamous case of a woman who was beaten and raped while jogging in Manhattan’s Central Park.

“They should be forced to suffer and, when they kill, they should be executed for their crimes,” Trump wrote, referring to the Central Park attackers and other violent criminals. “I want to hate these murderers and I always will.” The public outrage over the Central Park jogger rape, at a time when the city was struggling with high crime, led to the wrongful conviction of five teenagers of color known as the Central Park Five. The men’s convictions were overturned in 2002 after they’d already spent years in prison when DNA evidence showed they did not commit the crime. Today, their case is considered a cautionary tale about a politicized criminal justice process.

Trump, however, still thinks the men are guilty.

The Voting Rights Act, signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson on August 6, 1965, aimed to overcome legal barriers at the state and local levels that prevented African Americans from exercising their right to vote under the 15th Amendment (1870) to the Constitution of the United States. The act significantly widened the franchise and is considered among the most far-reaching pieces of civil rights legislation in U.S. history.

That was then.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013, the Supreme Court effectively struck down the heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by a 5-to-4 vote, freeing nine states, mostly in the South, to change their election laws without advance federal approval.

That’s happening, in fact, it already happened.

It’s becoming harder much harder for poor people and people of color to vote. That’s been tried but this time every branch of government is under one party.

One party under the control of a man who lies without the slightest remorse. Don’t take my word for it: here’s the record.

This record clearly shows he has no “great relationship with the blacks.”

Debating facts isn’t my thing. Is it possible Trump has the kind of respect he says he does for black people? Sure, it’s possible, but as a black man I’ve got too much to lose to pretend what he’s done and said before just don’t exist.

Feel free to disagree but do so with facts. Opinion is not fact and what I’ve attributed to Trump isn’t opinion.

My opinion is he is a liar and perhaps a racist the facts clearly show he has acted as both on many occasions.

With notable exceptions, the comic book industry, after trouncing Thump when thought he couldn’t win, has been silent after his did.

In 1954, psychiatrist Fredric Wertham cautioned the world comic books were damaging to young minds and a serious cause of juvenile delinquency.

He did so in his book Seduction of the Innocent.

To say the book was influential would be an understatement. Taken so very seriously at the time parents and teachers joined to combat this attack on the youth of America. Fueled by the televised lynching of American freedoms brought on by McCarthyism attacking comic books was a no-brainer.

•     •     •     •     •

Gerard Jones, a comics writer whose career includes writing Green Lantern and The Trouble with Girls and writing and co-creating Prime for Malibu, has been arrested on suspicions of putting child pornography on YouTube.

Full disclosure, I knew Gerald and was shocked by these charges. That being said I am not here to defend nor am I here to condemn him. He’s accused of a horrible crime, but I’ll wait until he has his day in court to pass judgment.

I will say this; it never fails to amaze me how those who swear by the ‘law of the land’ always seem to ignore any presumption of innocence.

I have no sympathy for those who prey on children. For that there is no excuse, none. There is also no reason for damning a person before all the facts are known. I’m pretty sure some will take what I just wrote as defending Gerald. I clearly wrote I am not doing so.

If found guilty he should get and deserves jail. I’m not afraid to say that nor am I afraid to say I find the charges hard to believe. I pray he’s innocent, but I allow that he may not be.

The facts will be revealed in court and not on Twitter, Facebook or Bleeding Cool.

There’s a real threat to comics no matter what the outcome of a trial.

Every branch of government is poised to follow the lead of the next President Of The United States.

It will only take one inquiry into this case to give rise to a new comic book investigation. Kids, sex, and comics?  That’s a dream come true for an extreme Right Winger with a hankering to clean up the depravity in Hollywood.

The turning back of the clock has already begun on black America. Can what we watch read or write be far behind?

•     •     •     •     •

In 1954 much of what Wertham told the public was bullshit and lies.

From Wikipedia:

Wertham “manipulated, overstated, compromised, and fabricated evidence” in support of the contentions expressed in Seduction of the Innocent. He intentionally mis-projected both the sample size and substance of his research, making it out to be more objective and less anecdotal than it truly was. He did not adhere to standards worthy of scientific research, instead of using questionable evidence as rhetorical ammunition for his argument that comics were a cultural failure.

Sound familiar?

Congress convened hearings on the comic book industry and the industry folded like a bitch and as such the Comics Code was born.

Perhaps folding like a bitch was harsh. It was a different time and America was in a different place, and so were we.

But It appears it’s a place our next president wants to return us to. If they come for us, will we go?

Dennis O’Neil: Charlton + Wertham = Olio?

Can I pause? Can I catch my breath? Where am I? About half way through August? That means Im more than half way through the distance run that is this summer. Last commitment in October, only … I dont know? three between now and then?

Meanwhile, imagine me yelling, Oh, Leo! Something like what I yelled when I was a grade-school kid: standing in a friends back yard and calling his name and if his mother appeared asking if my pal could come out and play. Or maybe Im shouting another name, a last name: O’Leo. Irish fella, dontcha know! Actually, none of the above.

The word were going for here is not a proper noun, its a plain old common noun, one known to faithful solvers of the New York Times crossword puzzle: olio – thats our word, and would one of our New York Times stalwarts favor us with a definition? Or do you Times readers think youre too good for such a mundane task, you elitists who would never even consider watching Fox News? Well, climb back into your ivory towers then while I take it upon myself to consult the dictionary that resides inside my computer and supply the definition in question:

o*li*o: noun, a miscellaneous collection of things

So, know where I was over this past weekend? At the Connecticut ComiCon, is where. On Saturday I did a panel with my old and seldom-seen friends Paul Kupperberg, Jose Luis Garcia Lopez, Frank McLaughlin, and Bob Layton. Subject was Charlton Comics, which I don’t remember ever discussing in front of an audience before. Why Charlton? Well, apart from the fact that Charlton was headquartered in Connecticut, which made the talkfest site-appropriate, the company provided work for an impressive list of writers and artists who later attained comic book eminence including – no surprise here – those of us on the panel.

Paul and some colleagues are doing a Charlton revival. Might want to check it out wherever you check out things like that.

I learned a lot in those 45 minutes.

I didn’t know that the convention city, Bridgeport, was so close to where I live, I don’t expect this information to change my life.

We made some money for Hero Initiative, there in Bridgeport. Always good to make money for HI. Always worth a journey.

When I extracted the three days worth of mail crammed into the box yesterday, I was happy to see the latest issue of what is identified on the cover as “Roy Thomas’ Not-So-Innocent Comics Fanzine,” Alter-Ego. Blurbed below the logo: “Seducing the Innocent with Dr. Fredric Wertham.” The writer of the article is Carol Tilley, who, a while back, examined Wertham’s condemnation of comics and found that the good doctor had tampered with the research. She deserves our thanks for that and Roy deserves our thanks for giving Ms. Tilley a place to do us a service.

Full disclosure: I read the New York Times.

 

Dennis O’Neil: Honor

O…if he is a man of honor in one thing, he is that in all things

The quote above is from Raymond Chandler’s superb essay, The Simple Art of Murder. If you’ve never read it, do yourself a huge favor and do so, right now. Google the title and read Chandler’s prose and then come back to me. I’ll wait.

Hi. You’ve finished reading Chandler and here you are, and yes, you owe me one.

But now I want to bollix the discourse by disagreeing with Chandler. I agree with almost everything Chandler writes in the essay – almost, but not all. “...if he is a man of honor in one thing, he is that in all things”? Um, no. But it’s a qualified no. If we’re discussing a fictional man, then okay, let Chandler’s claim stand. I think most writers and critics and teachers would agree that consistent behavior is a constant – in fiction. But does it apply to real life? Maybe not. The engines that run we noble humans are deep and complicated, and the rules they follow, if any, aren’t easily visible. Ol’ Charlie there, he can be a Fearless Fosdick in one situation and a whimpering poltroon in another and does even Charlie know why?

The event in which I participated last week might prompt these musings. It was held in SoHo, my old stomping grounds, and it ostensibly celebrated…well, maybe “celebrated” isn’t the right word: Let’s say that the event recognized the 148th birthday of Dr. Fredric Wertham, author of Seduction of the Innocent and big kahuna among the witch hunters of the early 1950s. His book, and the congressional hearings of Senator Estes Kefauver, with the approval of a sub-posse of clergy and editorialists, decimated the comic book business, put hundreds of decent citizens out of work and, arguably, lamed an art form.

Boo and hiss, Dr. W., you stinky old psychiatrist.

We comic book guys have tended to demonize Wertham for sixty-plus years. But last week’s give-and-take yielded information about Wertham that may have been new to many in the room. He fought for public school integration. He provided psychiatric care for residents of Harlem for a quarter a session, or a dime. He seemed to be a decent and useful professional. Until he wandered into comic book land.

Carol Tilley, a librarian at the University of Illinois, was one of my co-panelists in SoHo. Ms Tilley performed the useful, and much overdue, task of actually digging into Wertham’s papers. She discovered that Wertham faked much of the “research” he used to bolster his accusations. So…this successful and respected and charitable man of science cooked the books. A couple of columns ago, I speculated on his possible motives and reached no conclusion, and although the SoHo event was interesting and informative, no conclusion was reached there, either.

We can call Dr. Fredric Wertham a man of honor. He just wasn’t a consistent one. Maybe he should have been fictional.

Friday: Martha Thomases

Saturday: Marc Alan Fishman

 

Mike Gold: Worst … Villain… Ever!


Gold Art 130313Seduction of the Innocent by Max Allan Collins • Interior illustrations by Terry Beatty • Hard Case Crime • Paperback: $9.95 • Digital: $6.39 • Audio: $9.18

So… Who is the worst, most evil comic book villain ever? Well, if you’re a hard-core comics fan and/or comics professional, the worst comic book villain ever might very well be Dr. Fredric Wertham. He’s the guy who spearheaded the comic books breed juvenile delinquency movement of the late 1940s and early 1950s that led to Senate hearings, state-by-state censorship (Can’t have the word “crime” in the title of your comic book? Really?), massively plummeting sales, and the dissolution of more than half of the comics publishing companies and the jobs that went along with them.

An entire generation of fans grew up loathing the man. His so-called study, which was lacking in any real scientific evidence, was called Seduction of the Innocent. Suffice it to say that a lot of us have had a “thing” about the guy… perhaps none more than massively talented and successful novelist/comics writer/filmmaker/musician Max Allan Collins.

Collins was in a rock band called Seduction of the Innocent that played, among other venues, the San Diego Comic Con pre-show party – his bandmates included Bill Mumy, Miguel Ferrer and Steve Leialoha. It was… loud.

Now he’s repurposed the Evil Doctor’s seminal title in a mystery novel, the third (and hopefully not last) of his Jack Starr private eye stories that revolve around the comic strip and comic book business. Collins writes novels almost as often as I consume barbecue beef sandwiches – for one thing, he’s been co-writing, finishing off, and/or editing the plethora of unpublished material written by his friend, the late crimemaster Mickey Spillane. I wish I could come anywhere near keeping up with his output, but I’ve cut back on the barbecue beef.

But if you’re a comics or a popular culture fan and you only read one Max Allan Collins book this week, make it Seduction of the Innocent. I’d like to say it is one of the best books ever written, but that’s a stupid concept. However, I can say it is one of the most fun books I’ve ever read.

Collins incorporates his massive knowledge of – and enthusiasm for – 1950s popular culture. In addition to pastiches of Wertham and the folks at EC Comics and Lev Gleason Publications, he nods (often with the energy of a bobble-head on meth) towards Dragnet, Mickey Spillane, Al Capp, Dick Tracy, paperback culture, and mid-century culture. Mostly, though, he infuses his mystery novel with a smokepot of comics effluvia – aided by his long-time researcher George Hagenauer. However, if you’re not up on this sort of thing and/or couldn’t care less, it doesn’t get in the way of this clever yarn.

Indeed, I must compliment the author on a great diversionary move. For those of us who are up on comics history, he directs us towards one likely suspect – and then makes a crosstown turn worthy of a Manhattan cabdriver. I won’t spoil this for you, but if you’re curious read Joe Simon’s My Life in Comics.

I must point out that Collins’ long-time comics collaborator Terry Beatty (artist on the current Phantom Sunday pages) supplied the illustrations for each chapter. They are brilliant. Beatty even found an old Leroy Letterer to exacerbate the effect of reading an old (and relevant) EC Comics story.

If you’re looking for a good time and yet want to keep your clothes on, you’ll do well with Seduction of the Innocent. Max Allan Collins’ version, not Fredric Wertham’s.

THURSDAY: Dennis O’Neil

FRIDAY: Martha Thomases

 

Dennis O’Neil: Fredric Wertham, Superhero?

O''Neil Art 130328Did Fredric Wertham imitate superheroes? And if so, did he realize that he was doing it?

But let’s back up and give you latecomers an establishing shot or two. Way back in the early 50s, Dr. Wertham, a New York City psychiatrist, wrote a book provocatively titled Seduction of the Innocent which claimed to use science to demonstrate that comic books were corrupting the nation’s youth. Comics were already being attacked by editorial writers and at about the same time as the book’s publication, a senator named Estes Kefauver was convening hearings to investigate the same charge. The result of all this accusing was twofold: comics publishers went out of business leaving over 800 people suddenly unemployed, and the ragtag remnants of the business created The Comics Code Authority to censor their publications and thus placate the witch hunters. The comic book enterprise went into sharp decline, both financially and artistically until the late 50s, when Julius Schwartz and Stan Lee reinvented the superhero genre.

A sorry story. But ancient history. Well, not quite. Dr. Wertham was back in the news last week. According to the New York Times, Carol L. Tilley of the University of Illinois, examined Wertham’s papers and found numerous examples of research that were “manipulated, overstated, compromised and fabricated.”

Wow. And ouch. Not only did the doctor help put hundreds of decent folk out of work and, arguably, cripple an American art form, but he cooked the books to do it. There have been, for decades, doubts about Wertham’s methods, perhaps the most prevalent of which was that he ignored the validity of control groups. (Okay, goes the narrative, the doc found a hundred young lawbreakers who read comics, but he disregarded the thousands of Eagle Scouts who were also comics readers.) But until now, nobody has accused him of outright lying

Apparently he did lie.

I wonder why. Did he find these entertainments so unutterably vulgar that he was able to convince himself that they were also malign? Was he a zealot who honestly believed that these comic books were pernicious! and corrupt! and evil! and were obliterating the decency of American youth? And did he feel that he was justified in using any means available to quell this menace? That seems to be how zealots like to think.

Or was he a superhero? Consider: the bad guys in superhero stories may blather about ruling the world or getting rich or attaining revenge or, like zealots, proving that they’re right, but the real reason they exist is to give the hero a chance to show his stuff. We like heroes, and we like them to do magnificent deeds, and villains provide the circumstances for superheroic action.  So, Dr. Wertham: did he see, in the anti-comic book excitement, a chance to get famous and cement his reputation and maybe grab a royalty check? Were comics his supervillains, giving him his big opportunity? He was already respected and, on the whole, he seemed to be a pretty decent guy, but maybe he had his share of hidden demons.

I don’t know. I’ll probably never know, and neither will you. But we might find a lesson in the Wertham saga: don’t trust authority figures. I hope that isn’t news to you.

FRIDAY: Martha Thomases

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman

 

Mike Gold: Death of an Obnoxious Rugrat

Gold Art 130227According to the hubbub, today is the day Robin dies.

Sigh. If I had to choose between becoming Robin and playing drums for Spinal Tap, I’d join a convent.

The Robin in question – and there’s been a hell of a lot of them – is the little brat who was the issue of Bat(Bruce Wayne)man and Talia al Ghul, a concept I never, ever bought. Subtlety named Damien, the li’l bastard finally came onto his own in the recent, tedious, overwrought, and too-damn-long “Death of the Family” event.

His obnoxious demeanor isn’t reason I detest(ed) his character. I do not condone his birth.

Batman – Bruce Wayne no longer exists – is the poster boy for obsessive-compulsive. All the Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, and Lexapro combined can’t help this sucker, and yet somehow we have come to perceive his behavior as noble. If we refused to sell guns to the mentally unstable, Master Bruce wouldn’t make it to his next fox hunt.

He sublimates everything into being Batman. Everything. If it doesn’t play a role in his work, he doesn’t have patience for it. This is clear, and as consistent over the past several decades as anything ever is in the DCU. More so. In fact, much more so.

Therefore, I simply do not believe Batman would ever have sex with Talia. But if he did, it wouldn’t result in Li’l Damien. It would result in the return of the Comics Code Authority.

It might even prompt the resurrection Dr. Fredric Wertham. Check out my colleague Denny O’Neil’s ComicMix column tomorrow.

I suspect there’s already a betting pool on how long Damien stays dead. If history is any guide, there will be still another Robin (I’m guessing a female, but that’s just a guess) and, sometime after that, we will endure another multipart pseudo-event that will result in the brat’s resurrection. And we don’t simply have the experience of Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, and Tim Drake (Was he ever killed? I get confused.) We have Damien’s resurrection-happy grandpappy, who has been revived more times than Kenny McCormick.

What goes around comes around. Killing a Robin – or anybody else in the DC Universe – is as original as a bag of potato chips. “Bet you can’t kill just one.” Resurrecting the dead is even less original. It’s boring.

THURSDAY: Dennis O’Neil

FRIDAY: Martha Thomases

 

Dennis O’Neil: The Blame Game

O'Neil Art 130117Okay, who’s to blame? Somebody has to be responsible – stands to reason. I mean, it’s always somebody’s fault. We’re not that somebody, you and me, so it has to be one of them! The hippies. The nonconformists. The others. Them!

Take this nonsense about global warming or climate change or whatever they’re calling it this week. What a load! So the ice caps are melting. Even if that’s true, and as far as I’m concerned the jury’s still out, but even if it is true… So what? You telling me we can’t handle a little more water? What are we, sissies afraid to get our socks wet?

There’s a newspaper in London – I forget which one – that said that global warming stopped years ago. Sounds right to me.

But you know what I think? I think that under those ice caps there’s some kind of big furnace, maybe atomic powered, that’s causing the ice to melt. Who put it there? Maybe the commies. I personally believe that the International Communist Conspiracy is not out of business, not by a long shot. It’s just biding its time, waiting for the right opportunity.

But as much as I hate the commies, I don’t think they’re melting the ice. Ask yourself this – who stands to profit? Obvious, when you think about it. The liberals, or progressives, or whatever they’re calling themselves this week. Simple logic. They convince us that the climate’s changing and they say that’s bad and that gas and oil and factories and cars are responsible. Then, wham-o! They lead us to their buddies, the mooches and takers, the nonproducers, who try to sell us on the idea that we have to replace our fuel sources with sunshine and wind! Bottom line, they turn a nice profit while we work on our tans.

I’m telling you, something has to be done.

And that reminds me. Comic books! How long are we going to let this filth pollute the minds of our young? It’s been going on for…what? Ever since the end of World War II, maybe earlier. A real doctor – not one of your liberal pseudo-doctors, but a doctor with a medical degree and everything name of Doctor Fredrick Wertham wrote a book proving – I’ll say that again, proving! – that these comic books cause juvenile delinquency and sexual perversion – you know what I mean – and crime in the streets and disrespect for authority and who knows what else! Got so bad, a United States senator name of Estes Kefauver held hearings on the matter. Oh, he knocked the wind out of their sails, Senator Kefauver did, and a lot of these comic book publishers went out of business. But not all. Just the other day, I saw somebody on the bus reading a comic book. So we still got a big part of the job to do. We shouldn’t rest until nobody even remembers these comic books!

•   •   •

Wayne LaPierre, of the National Rifle Association, blames gun violence on the media and the mental health care system. Sound right to you?

RECOMMENDED READING: The Ten Cent Plague, by David Hadju

FRIDAY: Martha Thomases Looks At Comics Creators Looking At Themselves

 

Mike Gold: The Brass Ring Melts

We used to be the bastard child of our American culture.

We were embarrassed by our public image. As we aged, we demanded our pastime mature along with us. We started to infiltrate the means of production, bringing our all-important ideas and ideals along with us. After all, the comics field skipped a generation – few could enter a business that, in the 1950s, was rapidly shrinking. Besides, the Reader’s Digest and the Saturday Evening Post were painting comic book writers and artists as child pornographers. Better to write for the torrid magazines where buff, all-American manly men were saving all-American buxom brunettes from Uncle Joe Stalin and his legion of rodent-faced S & M fanatics, leaving the comics door open for those starry-eyed youngsters who knew no better.

Nature abhors a vacuum, and publishers facing diminished profits understood that our generation worked for a lot less money than the cranky old geezers who wanted to unionize. This same generation was also entering the rest of the public media. Together, we took pleasure in the modern media adaptations of our favorite characters because at least they took our childhoods seriously.

Then we got legitimate. It’s all Richard Donner’s fault. He made Superman – The Movie, the first massive attempt to portray the American comics medium as a serious, legitimate part of our cultural heritage. It was as successful as it was straight-forward, well-produced, well-acted, and well-written. Heroic fantasy took hold of a greater percentage our culture and hasn’t let go.

Comics were taken seriously. The stuff was taught in colleges and in art schools. A decade later Batman came out, upping the ante all the more. Then the Spider-Man movies, the X-Men, the Avengers Universe… Our pastime was generating more revenue in theaters and on television in two years than it had on the newsstands in the previous fifty combined.

And then the people who owned the movie studios that always offered style over substance – style über alles – began to understand there was money to be made in them thar hills. Talent was discounted as necessarily expensive bait. Warner Bros. realized they actually owned a major comic book company, a fact that was purposely kept mostly hidden from them for decades by that very comic book company. Disney understood that the House of Mouse lacked a relevance to the 21st Century audience and their subsequent creations, as popular as they were, weren’t the cultural icons that were found at the House of Ideas. So the Mouse bought them.

And now, more than ever, its employees are being treated as cogs in these massive corporate machines. They need to be oiled and dusted and maintained for a while, but you can replace any or all of the cogs without damaging the icons, without diminishing the shine on the family jewels.

And so we grieve and we fret each time another massively talented creator gets replaced. But that’s how it works in the legit world.

Always did, always will.

The moral of the story: don’t quit your day job.

THURSDAY: Dennis O’Neil

 

Michael Davis: Milestones – African Americans in Comics, Pop Culture and Beyond, Part 1

Starting in February 2013 I will have the honor of curating what I hope will be a wonderful exhibit of African American comic art and related pop culture. The show will run for a year at the Geppi Entertainment Museum and the Reginald Lewis African American Museum. I’m at a lost for words for just how proud and overwhelmed I am for being asked.

Helping me with the show will be many people and chief upon them will be Tatiana El-Khouri, John Jennings and the wonderful Missy Geppi. I wrote some thoughts down in advance of the show to try and give myself a reason and a scope from which to work from. What follows in my next series of ComicMix articles are those thoughts, reasons and insight as to why I think this is important, with the occasional rant so you don’t forget my boyish charm…

In 1956 the two-year old Comics Code Authority (CCA) tried its best to stop EC Comics from publishing a particularly offensive comic book. Founded in 1954, as part of the Comics Magazine Association Of America the CCA was created in answer to an uneasy American public fed up with gruesome, shocking images and stories in comics.

Simply know as “the code” within the field, the CCA took to the task of cleaning up the comic industry like the new sheriff in town taking to the task of ridding said town of whore houses so decent people could live in peace. The Comics Code just would not stand for America’s sons being subjected to the evils of comic books. EC Comics was among the top targets the moment the code was formed.

Pushing the limits of what at the time was considered obscene was nothing new to the publisher of explicit horror books. The mainstay content of EC was carnage, viciousness, crime and a productive heaping of gore thrown in for good measure.

To some, an above-reproach case could be made even today that EC was glorifying criminals and their actions as well as violence for the sake of such. This, years before we see the same argument being used against Rock and Roll and decades before we see it used against Rap and Hip Hop music. Crime and violence aside, the Comics Code also took great offense at sex. To be fair, what would the 1950s be without someone objecting to sex?

With the moral backdrop of the 50s and the onslaught on standards deemed obscene by mostly old white men regarding everything from juvenile delinquency to portraying married couples in the same bed on TV its no surprise there were senate hearings on comic books. Those hearings, spurred on in no small measure by Dr. Fredric Wertham’s book, Seduction of the Innocent, took place April 21, April 22 and again on June 4, 1954.

Wertham’s book said in effect that comics would lead America’s kids down a path ripe with crime, violence, homosexuality and a hated for all things patriotic. It was clear to Wertham and he made it clear to the rest of America, if your kids read comics they would most certainly end up anti-American queer murderous criminals.

Because of Wertham, his book and the Senate investigations less than three months after the hearings ended the comics industry decided to regulate itself in advance of Congress doing it.

So, enter the code.

What’s completely overlooked in the sanctification of the 1954 Senate hearings on comic books is how they dealt with race. The thunderous judgment most people took away from the hearings was the focus on sex, crime and violence.

Almost hidden in the interim report on Comic Books and Juvenile Delinquency was a passage on racial stereotypes.

The following passage from the Comics and Juvenile Delinquency interim report of the committee on the judiciary/ a part investigation of Juvenile Delinquency in the United States:

One example of racial antagonism resulting from the distribution of American-style comic books in Asia is cited by the former United States Ambassador to India, Chester Bowles, in his recent book, Ambassador’s Report. He reports on page 297 the horrified reaction of an Indian friend whose son had come into possession of an American comic book entitled the Mongol Blood-Suckers. Ambassador Bowles describes the comic book as depicting a-superman character struggling against half-human colored Mongolian tribesmen who has been recruited by the Communists to raid American hospitals in Korea and drink the plasma in the blood banks. In every picture they were portrayed with yellow skins, slanted eyes, hideous faces, and dripping jaws.

At the climax of the story, their leader summoned his followers to and attack on American troops. “Follow me, blood drinkers of Mongolia,” he cried. “Tonight we dine well of red nectar.” A few panels later he is shown leaping on an American soldier with the shout, “One rip at the throat, red blood spills over white skins. And we drink deep.”

Ambassador Bowles commented: The Communist propagandists themselves could not possibly devise a more persuasive way to convince color sensitive Indians that American believe in the superior civilization of people with white skins, and that we are indoctrinating our children with bitter racial prejudice from the time they learn to read.

13 Bowles, Chester, Ambassador’s Report, New York, 1954, p. 297.

It’s refreshing to see that some American lawmakers in the 50s were concerned about racial stereotypes, at least in principal if not in practice.

Ambassador Bowles statement really underscored that as Americans we would not tolerate any sort of racial bigotry. Yes, his remarks were hidden in the body of a report that focused on crime, sex and violence but they were there nevertheless.

Because of the public outcry caused by the hearings the CCA was enjoying major influence over the comics industry. When they began calling the moral shots in the comics business most publishers bent like a weed in the wind under the pressure. Some publishers simply adapted some cancelled books and a few went out of business altogether.

Above all else the CCA was intended to be a moral angel sent from above. The task made easier as this was that America after World War II, a country faced with many ethical dilemmas. The youth of America had returned from war but no longer were they young.

They were a hardened group of men and women who were determined to steer their children in the right direction in the choice between rather America would be a Heaven or a Hell for their children.

Heaven was the America they just fought for.

Baseball, Hot Dogs, Apple Pie and Chevrolet.

Hell was the impending darkness of the Communist menace.

By 1954 the Red Scare was firmly in the mind of the American psyche. The Red Scare with its focus (mostly imagined) on the United States of America being infiltrated and ultimately taken over by Communism. These were the issues that kept the good citizens of this great nation up at night. If they were not kept up all night dreading the coming apocalyptic death of the American Dream they would be as soon as they heard Senator Joe McCarthy.

McCarthy’s crusade against subversion and espionage within the United States government made him at one point arguably the most powerful man in America. Certainly the most feared.

At the height of the Red Scare, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, a couple which at that moment in time were more hated than Adolf Hitler, were executed for selling the secrets of the atomic bomb to the Russians. If nothing else, the electrocution of two people who looked like your next-door neighbors certainly brought the message home. The event, based upon evidence many (but not all) find dubious, made the Communist menace a clear indication of impending disaster.

America had its hands full with impending doom, sex, crime and violence. They had to protect the kids by any means necessary.

Makes you glad that the 1954 is light years, and real decades from the what 2012 brings us. I mean who would cast that sort of McCarthy like crazy shit out there now a days eh?

Michele out of her fucking mind Bachman that’s who, but I digress.

See? There’s that occasional rant.

In 1954 this concentration on moral outrage did not leave a whole lot of time or interest to focus what many thought were second-class American citizens, African Americans. Funny, considering that treatment of African Americans was exceedingly immoral.

Yeah, I managed to use funny and immoral in the same sentence… and this is just part one.

Next week, part two.

WEDNESDAY: Mike Gold and Joe Kubert, Personally

 

Mike Gold: Where’s Our Next Buck Coming From?

There was a time when if you were reading comics as an adult, it was generally assumed you were too stupid to understand real literature. Many of us wouldn’t read comics in public venues for this very reason.

Not me; I couldn’t care less. When it first came out, I even read Hustler Magazine on Chicago’s vaunted “L” trains. But many of my friends felt that way, and that’s why Phil Seuling’s early New York Comicons were so liberating. In the late 1960s there would be less than one thousand of us talking to one another in an elegant Manhattan hotel ballroom, and each and every one of us were awestruck by the fact that there were so many of us.

As we became the first generation since Fredric Wertham torched the medium to get into the business, we used this feeling of isolation from society to promote the level of storytelling. Comics became more character-driven and less Pow! Biff! Bam!. Before long adult fans would be able to point to a more mature level of story and art. We believed our medium was becoming sophisticated.

In retrospect, I take issue with that. We’re telling stories about people with ludicrous abilities who dress up in fantastic, gaudy costumes to either commit or fight crime and/or evil (to borrow from Dick Orkin’s Chickenman). There’s a limit to that “sophisticated” brand that we were too proud to notice.

Popular culture works like a snowball atop a mountain: by the time you hit ground level, that snowball has grown to a boulder the size of Colorado. Grim and gritty – a term I came up with to help sell GrimJack ­­– became dark and disgusting. Heroes became as ugly on the inside as the villains were on the outside. We evolved to excess.

Before long the American comic book medium, still overwhelmed by heroic fantasy, had driven out all the stories that work for the younger audience while limiting the older audience to a steady diet of redundancy. It is possible to create a story that works for 12 year-olds (and their precocious younger siblings) as well as for 24 year-olds, 36 year-olds, and even 61 year-olds. Off the top of bald pate, I can think of a few writers who did just that, and did so brilliantly: Steve Englehart, Marv Wolfman, Len Wein, Steve Gerber, Louise Simonson, Archie Goodwin, and our own Denny O’Neil… to, indeed, name but a very few.

All too-many comic book store owners became the villains of their own childhood: “Hey, kid, this ain’t a library!” Driven by admonitions from certain of the larger comics distributors in the 1980s, kids were perceived as not having enough money to be worthwhile customers. They took too much time making their purchases. They didn’t know what they wanted. They couldn’t engage in a conversation about who stole what from whom when it came to The X-Men and The Doom Patrol.

Kids were shooed out of comic book shops, and publishers – again, at the insistence of certain comics distributors – pulled away from producing comics that were marketed towards the younger audience. Instead we started cranking out a steady diet of R-rated superhero comics, many of which were quite good and worthy of publication. But they became the snowball that ate the comic book shops.

I always thought this was a mistake, and I thought so for one simple reason: if you chase away today’s 12 year-olds, who’s going to be your customer or reader in five or ten years?

Today, we have a small fraction of the number of brick-and-mortar comic book shops we had just one generation ago. Go figure.

But, today, it appears we’re beginning to see some drift towards retro-expansion. More on this next week.

THURSDAY: Dennis O’Neil