Here we go again, kids.
Normally, Chapter By Chapter is me reading a fictional book one chapter at a time to study each part of the story. In this special review series however we are looking at Seduction Of The Innocent, a non-fiction book as the writer, Dr. Fredric Wertham, tries to make the case that comics were a bad thing for kids in the 1950s. The book had a huge impact on the comic industry and fans. We will examine what he is saying not exclusively by today’s standards, but the time in which the book was made to see where Wertham was right, and where he was horribly wrong.
Making and Makers of Comic Books
“Through its bark the midday sun
Makes the fluid poison run,
And darkness of the nights conceals
When the poison pitch congeals.”
– Pushkin: “The Upas Tree”
This boundless upas, this all-blasting tree.”
– Lord Byron
Apparently the Upas tree, or more precisely the Antiaris, has a variety of uses, some of them toxic and some beneficial. Of course Wertham would only see the former in a comic book. It has been used for arrow poison and in rituals, but has also been uses for wood veneer, clothing dyes, and Wikipedia also mentions potential medicinal uses. And yet one definition I found for upas was “a poisonous or harmful influence or institution”, which is most assuredly how Wertham is using it.
We are at the point where Wertham discusses the comic creators, but interestingly he tries to pull blame away from the writers and artists (while telling them their art sucks) and focuses all of his scorn against the publishers, and he may have some points here. Publishers can be rather ruthless to each other. Remember, the Comics Code was used to go after one particular publisher. And some of the practices we’ll be taking about here probably did happen back then and were horrible.
Also remember that Wertham is doing this “for the children”, which is usually a good way to protect yourself when forcing censorship on people. He joined the crowd who kept acting like comics were for kids, only acknowledging adults also read comics. Remember, I’m not necessarily complaining about the problems he saw. I’m complaining about the levels he saw them when it was obvious he rarely knew what he was talking about. When it comes to the behind-the-scenes stuff however, he is probably more right in this chapter than he has before. Granted that isn’t saying much but here me out. There’s still plenty to complain about here, especially in the beginning. This is still a man who doesn’t understand comics.
Read his thoughts before reading mine. Perspective is important.