Tagged: Seduction of the Innocent

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

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


REVIEW: Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture

[[[Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture]]]
By Rob Salkowitz
McGraw-Hill, 304 pages, $27.00

Comic book fandom was a natural outgrowth of science fiction fandom, splintering off in 1961 as the revival of superhero comics was clearly here to stay. In that year, sci-fi fan and future author Richard Lupoff published Xero, the first comics-only fanzine. Just a few years later, in 1965, the first comic convention occurred in New York City, birthplace of the first science fiction con back in 1939. The success of the zine and the con inspired others to produce their own tributes to the comics of their youth and comics fandom spread rapidly, fueled by the nationwide furor ignited by ABC’s Batman in 1966.

Interestingly, the first to write about comic conventions and its attendees was Fredric Wertham, the very man pilloried for almost single-handedly destroying the field with his poorly researched Seduction of the Innocent. Since then, fans and the ways they display their affection have been usually relegated to footnotes in other histories about the field or pop culture. One of those fans, Rob Salkowitz, has changed that with his new book, Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture. Coming from McGraw-Hill and billed as a glimpse into this world for the business reader, it breezily takes us through the 2011 Comic-Con International experience. (more…)

DENNIS O’NEIL: Celebrating Will Eisner

Well, I didn’t see you at the Will Eisner panel/celebration, held last Thursday, March 1st, at the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, which, if you need to ask, is located at 594 Broadway, New York City, in the district known as SoHo. (And if you did need to ask…let’s just say that any comics reader, casual or otherwise, who is in lower Manhattan and has not yet visited MOCCA, and continues not to visit MOCCA just may have condemned themselves to an eternity of having Seduction of the Innocent read aloud to them by Bobcat Goldthwait.)

But back to the panel/celebration: you weren’t there and we didn’t miss you because we had what was pretty nearly a full house and that was gratifying. The “we” to whom I refer was three people who knew, or knew a lot about, Will, who died in 2005; Judy Hansen, Karen Green and your humble servant. Moderator was the always reliable and excellent Paul Levitz, so pertinent questions were asked, both of the panelists and the audience (of which you were not a member). I left knowing more than when I came, and I suspect that most of the other folk there did, too. I was particularly interested in Ms. Green’s discussion of Will’s business practices, which helped confirm my belief that Will Eisner was what Mark Twain wanted to be: a successful capitalist as well as a superb storyteller.

Did I mention gratifying? For openers, it’s always nice when someone of genuine merit gets recognized, especially when that person was a friend. And the fact that the venue for such recognition exists is nice, too. It indicates that the (always) artificial demarcations between “high” and “low” culture are going the way of the dinosaurs, and some would say, amen and about time.

(But not you because you probably wouldn’t be where amen and about time was being said.)

It might be possible, humbly, hat clutched in whitened fingers, to suggest that respectability does not always benefit what becomes respectable, but that is a pretty damn complicated topic for another occasion.

As we comics geeks continue our gradual trek toward the nicer parts of town, and the world outside our borders comes to recognize that the great comics guys – Eisner, Jack Kirby, Walt Kelly, and, no doubt, young others who are too busy at their boards to wonder about plaudits…these guys were as accomplished in their ways as Dickens and Michaelangelo were in theirs, we’ll have further opportunities to pay them the homage they deserve Is a televised awards ceremony too much to expect? Oh lordy, I hope so. (As I told you last wee, televised awards shindigs are, I boldly state, post-industrial versions of the Inquisition.)

Not that any of this concerns you. Awards? Panels? Not for you. You’re too busy watching Cops reruns. Bad boy bad boy.

FRIDAY: Martha Thomases


Exploring The Power Of The Centipede with Chuck Miller

One of the great things about being part of the all pulp staff is the ability to read great pulp.  The Black Centipede was given to me generously by Chuck Miller, and the book is a fascinating read.  This doesn’t have a very one dimensional approach to it.  Heroes could very easily be villains, and even the staunchest villain has some heroic qualities to them.  The dark side of humanity is made commonplace, and Chuck Miller does it seamlessly.  The characters are believable and they feel human, much more so than many other stories.
 Chuck himself is a fascinating man.   I discuss with him Black Centipede, his other projects and the nature of man.
All Pulp:  Who were your writing influences growing up?
Chuck Miller:  I guess comic books would be a major one, since i’ve been reading them since literally as far back as I can remember. When I was 8 years old, I was given a copy of the Complete Sherlock Holmes, which made a huge impression on me. I’m a die-hard Holmes fan to this day. And not just the Conan Doyle stories– I really love a lot of the pastiches that have sprouted up, beginning with The Seven Per-Cent Solution and The West End Horror by Nicholas Meyer. I loved the way Meyer involved Holmes with genuine historical persons and events, and I do the same thing with the Black Centipede. In Creeping Dawn,  he has encounters with Lizzie Borden, H.P. Lovecraft, Frank Nitti, and William Randolph Hearst.
I also started reading the paperback reprints of the Shadow and Doc Savage stories when I was still a pre-teen, and those stuck with me. I very much preferred the Shadow, because he was so mysterious and had an air of the supernatural about him, though there was never any hint of the occult in any of the stories. Later on, I got into the Nero Wolfe books by Rex Stout, and those would become a major influence in terms of narrative voice. I was really captivated by the way Archie Goodwin’s personality came across in the writing, and I try to do the same thing myself, as best I can. Just about everything I do is in first person. I like to get really deep inside a character’s head, and I’m really not very comfortable as an omniscient third person.
There have been a huge number of influences on my writing, in terms of both style and content. Hunter S. Thompson, Philip Jose Farmer, Flannery O’Connor, William S. Burroughs, Dorothy Parker, Raymond Chandler, Philip K. Dick… it just goes on and on, really. I have taken a little something from each of them. And not only books, but movies and music as well. I bring in a lot of very diverse elements. It has been said that my work is very unique and original. The fact is, the Centipede is very derivative character, but he is derived from so many wide-ranging sources that he appears to be completely original.
AP:  Why pulp?
CM:  That happened sort of by accident. About 20 years ago, I came up with an idea for a comic book called  The Optimist.  It never went anywhere, but I had a huge cast of characters I had created for it, and they continued to simmer in my head after the project was finally abandoned completely back in 2001.

A couple of years ago, I decided to really get serious about the writing. I’d always wanted to do it, and I was in a position where I could devote a lot of time to it, so I did. For subject matter, I went back to The Optimist. The original concept was a post-glory-days superhero saga, vaguely similar to The Watchmen. I didn’t want to do a comic book– and had nobody to draw it even if I had– so I just did it as an ordinary prose piece. The protagonist, Jack Christian, was a grown-up superhero kid sidekick whose mentor had died under dodgy circumstances 12 years earlier. Jack, a down-on-his luck alcoholic by this time, returns to the city of Zenith, where the tragedy took place. He encounters a number of retires heroes and other oddballs. Among these was the Black Centipede, who was originally intended to be a fairly minor character. I wanted him to be a genuine oddball– he is based in part on William S. Burroughs– and he was the only character cast in the mold of a traditional pulp action hero from the 30s.
So, anyhow, I wrote this novel, and the Centipede started stealing scenes. He ended up with a much bigger role. When I finished, I started promoting it myself on the web, making it available for free in hopes of attracting a publisher. It really didn’t stir up much of anything, though.
At one point a friend of mine told me she didn’t think many people would want to sit and read an entire novel online, and suggested I do some shorter pieces if I really wanted to get noticed. Since The Optimist didn’t lend itself to that, I decided to explore the past of one of the supporting characters. The Centipede was the obvious choice for this. I wrote a story set in 1957, “Wisconsin Death Trip.” I enjoyed doing it, so I went ahead and wrote a novella called Gasp, Choke, Good Lord, an homage to the EC horror comics of the 1950s, guest-starring the infamous Doctor Fredric Wertham, author of Seduction of the Innocent, and EC publisher William M. Gaines. And I posted all of this for free on a blog I put together. I created a rather elaborate history for the Centipede, which included him being not only a “real-life” crime fighter, but also the star of a highly-fictionalized pulp adventure magazine published by William Randolph Hearst.
Well, to cut a long story short, I got noticed by Tommy Hancock of pro Se Press, who was very enthusiastic about my work. After a bit of back and forth, it was decided that I should write a novel for Pro Se, which I did. That novel was Creeping Dawn: The Rise of the Black Centipede.
AP: What did writing Creeping Dawn teach you as an author?

CM: I’m not entirely sure. I guess I learned to tell a story with a specific word count. Now that it’s published, and I have read it in book form, I noticed several things I really didn’t like about it, and i have tried to avoid those while writing the next one.

AP: One of the things that I really found fascinating with Creeping Dawn was how you write about the more monstrous parts of people.  From Lizzy’s past to William’s own acceptance of things.  You make it seem so normal.  I’m kind of jealous, but also wondering where those ideas came from.  Is this something you’ve always thought?  Or did it just fit the context of your story?

CM: All of that comes from my own life.  My mother died when I was very young, and my father just sort of went nuts after that. He deteriorated mentally and emotionally for about five years, and then ended up killing himself. And I had a front row seat for the whole thing. So I have always been conscious of this darkness in the world, that seems to be just under the surface of everything. That is somewhat analogous to what the Black Centipede refers to as the “Dark Power,” though in his fictional world, it is more literal and manifests itself in more overt ways. But, in my own life, I’ve always been aware that things and people are not really what they seem to be, not exactly. And if you look even just a little way beneath the surface, you’re apt to find a nasty surprise.

But I don’t think you have to give in to it. I think there is good in the world, too, but sometimes you have to wade through some pretty toxic sludge to find it. In “Creeping Dawn,” the young Centipede seems to believe that the darkness is the true power, the only thing worth striving to understand. But, being the kind of person he is, he doesn’t want to give himself over to it. Instead, he decides to oppose it, as a way of measuring its scope and capabilities. In the beginning, he isn’t motivated by a desire to see justice done. He is simply curious. He wants to understand the world in a way nobody else ever has. Quite a bit of hubris on his part, really.

In the second section of “Creeping Dawn,” which is set six years after his experience with Lizzie Borden, we see how he becomes a crime fighter, and how he goes about establishing himself in the city of Zenith, in a series of events that revolve around the rise of a shadowy new crime lord called Doctor Almanac. In the beginning, the Centipede is very ruthless and reckless and he ends up in trouble with the law and the press. But his cause is taken up by newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. Hearst is a fascinating historical figure, whose public and private life make him a great cast member for the Black Centipede series. Through some devious and underhanded maneuvering, Hearst transforms the Centipede– in the mind of the public, anyhow– from a dangerous, psychotic vigilante into a national hero. In addition to this, Hearst launches a Black Centipede pulp adventure magazine, featuring highly fictionalized accounts of our hero’s adventures. This is another example of how things appear to be a certain way, but are really something entirely different. The real Black Centipede is not the Doc Savage-style paragon the public perceives.

The Centipede is a celebrity akin to Doc Savage and other classic pulp.
Nothing is black-and-white. But there is right and wrong, I believe. Sometimes it takes even a good person a long time and a lot of mistakes to make the distinction and choose one or the other. Most of my villains have some heroic qualities, and most of my heroes are criminals at heart. They do kind of believe they are somehow above the rest of society, and have a right to disregard the rules. Life is a process, a constant parade of choices. A villain can choose to be noble, a hero can choose to act deplorably.

In “Blood of the Centipede,” the next book in the series, the Centipede gets a bit of a moral compass in the form of Amelia Earhart, who has been asked by President Roosevelt to keep an eye on our hero. I don’t want to go into any more detail about that now, except to say that, as the series progresses, we will see our hero evolve in some interesting and unexpected ways.

AP: If you had to pick just one scene, what was your favorite in Creeping Dawn and why?

CM: I guess the one I had the most fun writing was the Centipede’s accidental invasion of doctor Almanac’s secret headquarters. I got a kick out of
 describing his sort of gleeful approach to lethal violence. And then, of course, that whole episode led up to his first encounter with Stan Bartowski, a Zenith police officer who becomes a friend. He’ll be an important mainstay character throughout the series. He’s also sort of a comic foil, since a lot of things the Centipede says to him sail right over his head. I put a lot of humor in the stories, and strive to strike a good balance.

AP: Can you tell us a bit of where you want to take the Black Centipede. He’s gone from supporting character to a mainstay.  Would you be happy to continue writing him or are there are other things you like to work on?

CM: I don’t think I’ll ever tire of the Centipede. He’s pretty versatile, and I have lots of plans for him. But I do have a number of other characters I want to develop into their own series. “The Incredible Adventures of Vionna Valis and Mary Jane Kelly” is one of these. http://theblackcentipede.blogspot.com/2011/09/their-first-adventure.html

It deals with a peculiar pair of “psychic detectives.” I’ve done a couple stories that I posted on my blog, but they have yet to be officially published. However, they live in the same world as the Black Centipede, and they appear briefly in the second Centipede novel. So does Doctor Unknown Junior, a very businesslike sorceress whose adventures I want to get out there one of these days.

AP: Are you working on anything else at the moment?

CM: I have something coming out in February from Pacific-Noir Press. “The Bay Phantom Chronicles Episode One: The Return of Doctor Piranha” is the first tale of the Bay Phantom, a 94-year-old, retired pulp-era masked hero based in my old home town of Mobile, Alabama. In this one, he is befriended by Janie Marie Colson, a young college student who is helping him write his memoirs. Complications arise when the Phantom’s arch-foe, 98-year-old Doctor Piranha, is released from federal prison after serving a 70-year sentence.  Piranha, of course, swore revenge– no matter how long it took…

And I am involved in the Pulp Obscura project from Pro Se and Altus Press, which will be coming out throughout 2012.

Alex Cox promoted to Deputy Director of CBLDF

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fundis pleased to announce that Alex Cox has been named to the position of Deputy Director. In this new capacity, his responsibilities will expand to include full oversight of the CBLDF home office and fundraising program. Cox joined the CBLDF in the fall of 2010 as Development Manager.Since joining the CBLDF last year Cox has improved the organization’s membership program and convention presences. Under Cox’s watch, membership in both the retailer and individual capacities has shown dramatic increases. Cox has also overseen the creation of a more robust volunteer program in the New York home office. Prior to CBLDF, Cox was a 15-year veteran of comics retail, including owning and managing the nationally recognized comic book store Rocketship.Speaking about the promotion, Cox said, “I’m extremely grateful to be in a position to help the comics community fight back against anyone that would threaten free expression in this art form that we all love. As a comic fan and student of the art form for close to 30 years, I never thought that I would see anything like the panic caused by Seduction of the Innocent in my lifetime. But with the current case in Canada, the creeping specter of censorship and persecution is rearing its head again, making the CBLDF even more important. I’m proud to be a part of it and I look forward to working with our members, retailers, and the creative community in the years to come.”

“Alex has been a great addition to the CBLDF, and we’re excited to be able to develop a space for him to grow even further within the organization,” says Charles Brownstein, CBLDF’s Executive Director. “Alex has made great strides in developing our fundraising program in a very difficult time, and his leadership in the office has helped us bring in even more talented volunteers to help us fulfill our work. He’s an extremely valuable member of our team, and we’re glad to see him take on this new role.”