: Since the dawn of civilization, every society has possessed its "unmentionables", its taboos, and those who choose to practice anything that doesn't fit the average mold is likely to be persecuted. Today, this topic is more relevant than ever with the growing specter of government involvment in the media (all forms included). There are those who would like to filter their belief system unto us by deciding what we see, hear, say, and think. Many lives and careers have been ruined by such people. Their names live on in infamy: Hitler, McCarthy, and Stalin are but a few. Comics have not been immune to attack either, as the story of a man, Dr. Fredric Wertham, and a book, Seduction of the Innocent, sent the American comic book industry reeling for decades to come.
: To any knowledgable comic book fan or opposer of censorship in any form, he has remained a malovent phantom, a prime example of what can happen when hysteria, misinformation, and sheer ignorance are combined. His ideas that the comic book could release the bestial side of humanity, especially in children, incarnated itself as Seduction, later Senate involvement, and finally an organization known today as The Comics Code Authority.
: To be frank, our goal is not to demonize Dr. Wertham , but explain what he did, why he did it, and most importantly, how very wrong it was. Though the rest of this page has displayed a more light-hearted approach to explaining comic art and its long history, here the subject is a grave one, indeed. This may be one of the most important features of Comics: The Language of the World.
: Dr. Fredric Wertham (born Fredric Werthheimer) was born on March 20, 1895 in Nuremberg, Germany--a place that would later house the trials for several of the most brutal Nazi war criminals. After recieving his MD from the University of Wurzburg in 1921, he moved to the United States a year later and began his psychology career at the Phipps Psychiatric Clinic at John Hopkins University. In 1926, Wertham began his later infamous writing career with The Brain as an Organ, a book that would earn him the honor of being the first psychiatrist ever awarded with a National Research Council grant. Shortly after becoming widely recognized and being named senior psychiatrist at Belleview, a hospital in New York, the comic book industry in America was taking flight with classic heroes like the Batman, Superman, and Captain Marvel.
: Before Seduction the industry was already taking some stiff criticism from newpapers and such, but it was quite harmless when compared to all that was to come. Those critics were taken seriously by some comic book publishers and Detective Comics (DC) created an advisory board which included psychiatrists and child welfare experts, among many. This was effective in smoothing out the rough waters for a time. After the second world war, comic book publishers realized that adult readership had grown respectively, as many GI's had taken up comic book reading during their time away in Europe. Companies began to shift their efforts away from superheroes and into the gritty world of crime stories and horror. EC Comics, which had once published strictly educational books, came out on top, but their success would be short-lived.
: Wertham continued with his writing with two more books, Dark Legend (1941) and Show of Violence (1949), both dealing with extreme violence and deliquency. Legend's true life tale of a teenager murdering his mother moved readers through shock and was later made into a play. He greatly supported the idea that a patient's environment was entirely responsible for his or her actions, noble or evil. This argument still rages on in today's crisises over internet, television, and motion picture "cleansing." He first became interested in the idea that comics were a primary cause of delinquency while working at his Lafargue Clinic in Harlem. Constantly surrounded by the underpriviliged and poorly educated people of that particular neighborhood, his thesis merely strengthened. Becoming the literal "spearhead" of the anti-comics movement, Wertham published articles in Collier's and the Saturday Review of Literature, both explaining and defending his views. The nation became caught in a frenzy, holding mass comic book burnings to destroy what some believed preached communism, polluted a child's good judgement, or even promoted homosexuality. The latter would become evident in this passage from Seduction which attacks the Batman comics: "Robin is a handsome ephebic boy, usually shown in his uniform with bare legs. He is buoyant with energy and devoted to nothing on earth or in interplanetary space as much as to Bruce Wayne. He often stands with his legs spread, the genital region discreetly evident"
: In an attempt to salvage their dwindling reputation, EC and Lev Gleason (the most successful publisher of crime comics) formed the Association of Comics Magazine Publishers, or ACMP. The organization was a total failure because other companies like DC, Dell, and Timely (later known as Marvel) had already taken their own actions to keep business alive.
: To make matters worse, Fredric Wertham "clones" began popping up, some with far more extreme hypothesises on the supposed relationship between comics and juvenile crime; most notably Gershon Legman. The comics industry did have a bit of an ally in Dr. Frederic Thrasher, who believed that Wertham's ideas were too extreme and lacked any validity. The final crippling blow from the good doctor came in 1954 with arrival of his most notorious and controversial piece of work, Seduction of the Innocent. In it, Wertham stated that crimes taking place in the fictional world of the comic were being copied by the children that read them. Those particular children apparently "confessed" that comic books were indeed the culprit Suddenly, there was a massive surge in comic book-related criminal acts. Probaby, the children who commited such crimes had discovered that blaming their misbehavior on comics was a far easier way of escaping punishment and winning the sympathy of others. Wertham used "guilt by association" to further incriminate the publishers, despite the fact that the majority of children who read comics displayed perfectly normal and mild-mannered behavior.
: Sorry to interrupt, but I have an interesting factoid concerning Dr. Wertham. In Show of Violence, one passage read: "Only very rarely are fantasy and action linked in a deadly chain. As Clarence Darrow said, most men haven't killed anybody, but they have read obituaries with pleasure." It would seem that he'd forgetten that earlier conclusion.
: The final nail in the proverbial coffin was placed there by a United States senate subcommittee shortly after Seduction's publication. There to testify were William Gaines (publisher of EC comics), representatives from many of the other large companies, and several men who handled the business aspects (distributors, retailers, and so on). Three members of the National Cartoonists Society, Walter Kelly (Pogo), Milton Caniff (Steve Canyon), and Joe Musial (The Katzenjammer Kids) also attended the proceedings, but not defend their comic book cousins. The actual purpose of their role in the investigations was to distance newspaper strips from comics as much as possible.
: While Wertham presented his case clearly and flawlessly, the businessmen from the various companies didn't fare quite as well (with the exception of Gaines, who held a teaching degree). The doctor had chosen his weapons well, though. Upon displaying several covers and panels from various EC comics, including a scene of "zombie baseball" and a man holding a decapitated head (the actual point where the head had been severed was hidden from view and the only indication of what had happened was the unfortunate woman's legs in the backround).
: The subcommittee finally reconviened in June and had reached its verdict. Perhaps a lowdown of exactly what was said can better explain: "(Senator Robert C. Hendrickson) I think I speak for the entire subommittee when I say that any action on the part of the...publishers of crime and horror comic books, or upon the part of the distributors, ... whole-salers, or dealers with reference to these materials which will tend to eliminate from..production and sale, shall receive the acclaim of my colleagues and myself. A competent job of self-policing within the industry will achieve much." Soon after this decision, on October 26, 1954, the Comics Code Authority was established to create a set of guidelines that a comic must follow in order to bear their seal of approval on the cover. EC, the once unstoppable giant of the industry dropped many of its titles until eventually going out of business. Many other publishers soon succumb as well. The only two companies that escaped with much of their business intact were DC and Timely, which today still remain the top two publishing giants.
: Before his death in 1981 at the age of 86, Dr. Fredric Wertham wrote three more books, the third of which, The World of Fanzines (1973), was rather odd considering his previous books. Fanzines were amateur publications based on either comics, science fiction/fantasy, or a mix which were distributed (usually for free) to other fans who shared similar interests. In World, he praised these magazines, realizing that those children whose lives he thought would be forever ruined because of comic books, had grown up into normal and healthy people. He claimed that they actually had benefited from reading fiction. It would seem that the fans had fortunatly proved him wrong--and they had.
: Of course it wasn't smooth sailing from 1954 to the present. In the 70's (an era where pop culture fads were abundant in comic books), companies began to test the waters a bit. Marvel Comics was the first to dive in, printing an issue of The Amazing Spider-man without the seal. The reason for this was because the hero of the same name would be fighting a gang of drug dealers. Not long after, DC's Green Arrow would discover that his sidekick, Speedy, was a heroin addict. During the 80's and 90's, more and more social issues found their way into the pages of comics books. In the 400th issue of The Incredible Hulk, one of Bruce Banner's (the Hulk's alter-ego) good friends lost a long battle with the AIDS virus. The cover of that issue was printed strictly in black and white, with the exception of a large AIDS ribbon at the top. Other comics, such as Terry Moore's Strangers in Paradise and Neil Gaiman's cult favorite book , The Sandman also tackled the issues of HIV and AIDS. Quite recently, Spider-man (a spin-off of Amazing) featured a two-part story, titled "Something About A Gun", where a boy finds a loaded gun dropped by a fleeing criminal and contemplates what he could do with it.
: I'd like to move on now to an equally disturbing topic concerning manga (Japanese comics) and the abundant myths that have surrounded it in America (anime included). In countless poorly researched articles by magazines, television shows, and others, this art form has been labeled "permissive" and some believe that anime and manga are nothing but adult material. This is ENTIRELY untrue. Manga and anime cover countless genres including science fiction, comedy, romance, action, drama, etc. and while there is adult-oriented manga (and anime), it is a strong minority among the others and not as abundant in the U.S. as you might think. It has simply gained the most notoriety. We have to wonder exactly how much those who write these shoddy reports have actually seen.
: In the United States a furor arose among manga fans when news reached them that two pages had been ommitted from the American release of Masamune Shirow's cyberpunk epic, Ghost in the Shell. Angry readers accused Toren Smith (head of Studio Proteus, who distributed and translated Ghost., of the deed). They were shocked to discover that Shirow himself had chosen to delete the pages in question. In reality, they had nothing to do with the overall storyline and their removal didn't change the story one bit. Shirow had been receiving flak even in Japan, where there cultural taboos are a bit lighter than ours in certain aresas, and decided he didn't need the headache. Had those two pages been kept in, a strong "Mature Audiences Only" label would have been required on both the cover and the mail-order catalogs. In truth, these labels can often kill a book. Other imported manga such as Gunsmith Cats and 3x3 Eyes have also undergone edits to reach a wider audience on the American market.
: The reason is simple, American and Japanese cultures have their differences. As in Europe, casual nudity isn't considered a problem and can even be found in a few children's shows across the Pacific. In the 1980's a ruckus was started when Viz cut out a page from Mai the Psychic Girl because it featured an innocent bathing scene.
: It is safe to say that censorship is one of the worst things that can be done in society, but combating it is such a daunting task because there are those who agree with its policies. We must remember to keep our minds open and never forget how one man, or a book, or a simple and pointless taboo could alter your life forever, and not likely for the best...