When we last left our discussion, we looked at some of Wertham’s thoughts going into the various tests to determine what part comics played in kids doing bad things, as if no kid ever committed evil acts before. While I agree that kids can be influenced the question comes up as to whether or not comics had the power Wertham gave them and are there ways to minimize the damage without censoring an industry. (Based on history certain parties thought not.) Tonight I want to focus on the various tests Wertham went over, noting last time that a simple questionnaire failed to properly explore a child’s thought processes. But no matter how much work you put into a story, when you want particular results, you’ll find them however you can. And unless this goes into a third part we’ll also meet the Hookey Club, and see how that was a good idea, but leads to a few more questions on my part. Context has been one of my demands here.

If one wants to go beyond narrow formal questions and intends to include the largest variety of different children, it would be a top-heavy procedure to start and execute a study devoted to one factor such as comic books alone. For this reason we have from the beginning integrated our studies of comic books with our general routine work in mental hygiene and child psychiatry. Good clinical work is good clinical research. In other words, in doing thorough clinical work the psychiatrist cannot help reaching into unexplored no-man’s land. It will happen again and again that in cases that seem baffling in their symptomatology, refractory to treatment or show unusual manifestations, he will come up against new factors that are not in the books.


If you’re looking at this and thinking about your mom, you have issues, kid. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I posted this in part one but it bears repeating. The problem is this paragraph makes it appear that comics alone are not being judged, and yet comics alone are being blamed. That’s the problem here. If there are other factors thus far we either aren’t being told or have to infer from one line written seemingly in passing. We have the mother who admitted she and her neighbors did nothing to punish the kids in her neighborhood because “people don’t discuss these things”, a boy who was accused of a shooting he may well be innocent of because he was black and somehow knew how to use a bunch of guns even though the gun he had wasn’t responsible, and a boy whose father was “difficult”, whatever that means.

We aren’t being told any of these other factors, so it feels like Wertham wants us to conclude that the comic alone pushed these kids to commit crimes rather than see what drew them to these books and to emulate them. My first comics included a crazy man killing the homeless, a guy creating an army of super-evolved animal people, and a clone with ghost powers trying to kill a hero that I only later learned was created by a college professor obsessed with one of his students. I didn’t want to be any of those people. I cheered on the heroes trying to stop these people. Did comics change that much or is there some other factor here? If the comics Wertham talks about, which includes Wonder Woman and Superman as well as the anti-drug comic I already debunked as encouraging drug use were as bad as Wertham claims I never would have become a comics fan because I have always preferred stories where good defeats evil and looks cool doing it. Why weren’t these kids?

Starting on such a wide basis, the material available for this study covered the largest cross-section of children as they are seen in mental hygiene clinics: children who were referred by every variety of public and private child-care agency; who had come to the attention of the juvenile part of the Police Bureau or the Children’s Courts: who were seen in the course of private practice or were confined for observation in psychiatric wards for adolescents, or were confined for physical diseases in pediatric wards, or seen in pediatric clinics. A large proportion of children were normal children who came to our attention for some social reason, including children of superior endowment, who were candidates for scholarships for special educational facilities. The upper age limit of children in whom we were most interested (although we did not adhere to it rigidly) was sixteen. Data were obtained also from older teen-agers and adults referring to their earlier comic-book-reading stage.

“(C)hildren of superior endowment, who were candidates for scholarships for special educational facilities.” I’m not sure what that means. Are these supposed to be the “good” kids or kids we know aren’t insane but were still doing bad things? Again, lack or limited conscience isn’t a sign of insanity. Or maybe it was in the 1950s. I wasn’t there.

In adults we can take the life history of a patient and learn a great deal about him from his reactions to typical outer events. And we can proceed to study his inner life history as a sequence unfolding according to a certain pattern. The life history of children is not only briefer, but presents the paradox that while one can understand it only if one has a good picture of the child’s environment, the story itself is an inner life history.

In cases where children confided to us that they belonged to gangs and gave us permission to speak to other gang members, we made an attempt to hear their story. As much as possible we tried to ascertain the recreational influences to which children are exposed: games, community centers, radio, television, books. It is in that setting and with that perspective that we began to realize and ascertain the influence of comic books.

Again, information he has but isn’t sharing with the readers. All he brings up are the comics, not any other media or home life situation, or what kind of crowd convinced him he’ll be accepted and cared about at. I was shy and socially awkward with a high imagination and short fuse even before the teasing became bullying. Are factors like these being considered as well? TELL US!

If one wishes to obtain the spontaneous expressions of children, it is only the amateur who attempts to exclude himself and then observe some pseudospontaneous reaction of the child. Children do not dislike authority. On the contrary, they have a strong inner urge to find and follow authorities whom they can trust. They may not always understand what is best for them, but they learn that, and a large part of a child’s inner life consists in this search, disappointment, finding and retrospective correction. If the examining psychiatrist tries to eliminate himself as a personality and as an adult whom the child knows to be older and therefore more experienced, he will get only artificial results.

On the other hand is the examining psychiatrist has already reached a conclusion and is working to push that conclusion the results will be biased towards those perspectives. And again, there are signs of snobbery against comics because they aren’t books previously and as you hopefully read within this chapter.

Interviewing younger children to hear what they have to say of a child is often very enlightening, sometimes more so than what parents say. Yet I have rarely seen in charts a quotation of what brothers or sisters have to say about a young patient. In our study of crime comic books it was interesting to see siblings because comic books are often a family affair. Younger children clandestinely or openly read the comics of their older brothers and sisters.

Who no doubt complained that little brother was going through their stuff again. I don’t have a problem with the tests. I’m just questioning how the tests were administered and if the results are being read correctly. The man earned his reputation honestly I’m assuming, but the thesis is one-sided, or at least I feel like information is missing. I have questions that aren’t being answered.

The application of psychological tests is apt to be overdone in a mechanical way. Yet they are indispensable to child psychiatry. The Rorschach (ink blot) Test, if expertly and judiciously interpreted, was an important tool in our study. This test consists of a series of ten ink-blot pictures. The subject is asked what he sees in them. It should not be given by itself, but should always be correlated with clinical findings and other tests. We have noticed that in Rorschach tests children may see forms that adults usually do not see. Investigated, they often turn out to be forms related to what they have seen in comic books, especially weird and horror comics, e.g. ghost forms, fantastic hands, etc.


America’s Best Comics #301, with some admittedly questionably-named heroes. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Well, if that’s what they were just reading, or are fascinated with, quite possibly. Or maybe they just like birds, or are remembering a nightmare they had last night. Children have a stronger imagination than most adults, even some adults drawn to writing and the arts, or at least one more open to experiences and, yes, influences both positive and negative. I know he’s not working by Rorschach alone but not all horror comes from comics. And what does he consider “weird”?

These are apt to be misinterpreted by psychologists as meaning complex-determined anxieties and phobias, whereas actually they are just reminiscences from comic-book illustrations. Here according to our findings an important inroad has been made into children’s imagination and imagery, and of course also into their actions.

What if they are anxieties and phobias, even though the kid reads comics? Not all my questions are meant to be snippy or getting in his face, folks. There are things we aren’t, or by nature of the medium can’t be, told about the results. Maybe it gets clearer later on, but Chapter By Chapter is about judging what we know now and I still see data I’m lacking.

When pronounced hostile and threatening images are found in the Rorschach Test, they usually come from one of three causes. First, a special atmosphere of hostility in the early environment, parents’ fights and family discords, or gang- dominated schools or neighborhoods. Secondly, such images occur in a relatively very small number of really psychotic and psychopathic children. Thirdly, they are derived from outside influences such as comic books.

Emphasis his or at least in the copy being used. I put this here mostly to show I’m not trying to skew everything and he does claim to be looking at multiple possible ideas, hence different kinds of tests.

In the frequently hackneyed routine of the examination of children, ingrained tendencies or the narrower family situation are usually held responsible. But careful examination of factors shows usually a combination of the first and third groups. An eleven- year- old boy of superior intelligence showed in the Rorschach Test (and in his drawings) strife, hostility and threatening images. He lived with parents who for years had gone from battle to battle, and from court to court. In addition, he was steeped in crime-comics lore:

“My mother doesn’t like me to read crime comic books, but I see them anyhow. I like Superman, Penalty. I like the Jumbo books. They have a lot of girls in them. There is a lot of fighting in them. There are men and women fighting. Sometimes they kill the girls, they strangle them, shoot them. Sometimes they poison them. In that magazine Jumbo they often stab them. The girl doesn’t do the stabbing very often, she gets stabbed more often. Sometimes the girls stab the men, sometimes shoot them. I read one comic book where they tie people to the trees, tie them in front of stampeding herds. They tie them to the trees, then cut the trees and the sap runs over that person and the bugs are drawn to that sap, then they eat the people. Sometimes they torture girls the same way, by stabbing and beating them. They throw them in rivers and make them swim where alligators come. Sometimes they hit them with weapons on the back. They don’t have much on when they hit them with weapons. It excites me a little bit.”

Is it not natural that the Rorschach of the boy shows hostility and aggression?

Adventures into Darkness: Horror stories

Adventures into Darkness: Horror stories like the kind I avoid. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Let’s see, The emphasis is placed on “crime-comics lore”. Meanwhile, his parents have been in numerous court cases, but he doesn’t say why. Were they being sued? Where the parents committing crimes? Was it a particularly nasty divorce? The wording suggests that he lives with both parents, most likely in the same household. If the comics somehow connect to his homelife then he would be drawn to them, a passive way of living his frustration at these events vicariously through the comics. At best I see being drawn to these stories as a (for lack of a better word) symptom rather than a cause.

By the way I do encourage you to read the chapter yourself. I’m not posting the whole thing. He does mention potential misuse of the Rorschach test by some therapist. No test is perfect after all. By doing multiple tests he’s at least trying to bypass those flaws by looking at multiple angles. But are the same kids taking part in every or most tests?

In the Thematic Apperception Test the child is shown a series of pictures depicting various scenes and is asked to tell stories about them. We found in some children preoccupation with stories of murder, blood-letting and violence in one form or another. But if one does not appreciate that this kind of production occurs much more in avid crime-comics readers than in other children, one is apt completely to misinterpret the test. This test also showed us that comic-book reading leaves definite traces in the child’s mind which crop up as spontaneous manifestations in a projective test.

Actually this sounds like a good thought exercise for would-be storytellers. Again, Wertham is talking about the depiction of violence but not the…here’s that word again…context as to how it’s being presented. Knowing these stories were intended for adults, is the hero trying to limit his violence to stop the criminal or is he 1954’s answer to Charles Bronson in Death Wish? Is violence depicted as a bad thing, as the Old Testament of the Bible does by showing people acting badly and treating it as a bad thing? Context is not for the weak, like Twitter posts love to comment, but for anyone wanting to know the whole story.

A test which is no longer used as much as it should be, the Association Test, we found particularly useful. The associations to words which are complex indicators may reveal preoccupations and fantasies which cannot be obtained on a conscious level, certainly not by questioning. In cases where children are accused of serious delinquencies, the Association Test functions like a “lie detector” test and has helped us to reconstruct what really happened.

I don’t know about that. I was never very good at the Association Test because I had trouble finding words under pressure. It’s why I’m also a terrible conversationalist in person versus forums, chat rooms, and social media. Wertham then goes into the story of a kid accused of pushing a kid into the water where he drowned. No evidence was strong enough to call it a murder in court and naturally the kid was drawn to the darker comics. But this part speaks volumes given my childhood.

He was known to be a bully. He had bullied the boy who was drowned to such an extent that the boy’s mother had gone to the authorities to ask for protection for her boy. Steeped in crime- comics lore, his attitude was a mixture of bravado and evasiveness. Nothing indicated that he had any feelings of guilt. The Association Test showed a definite blocking to key words such as drowning, water, little boy and pushing. After careful study of the whole case we came to the conclusion that the little boy would not have drowned if our boy had not pushed him in, and that our patient would not have been pushed to the murder if his mind had not been imbued with readiness for violence and murder by his continuous comic-book reading.

Superman making his debut in Action Comics No....

Superman, the Nazi created by Jews according to Wertham, making his debut in Action Comics No.1 (June 1938). Cover art by Joe Shuster. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s my problem. I was the victim of bullying for most of my later childhood, and from seventh grade on I went from getting high and highest honors to barely passing. I read a lot of books and comics…to escape my bully-ridden life! I was more interested in books where bad guys like the ones the bully idolized got his due in the end, where he only achieved minor victories to give the hero a decent enough challenge to add weight and drama to the hero’s impending victory in the climax. That’s just good storytelling. I even became interested in writing my own stories and making my own comics because I found it encouraged me to come up with story ideas and concepts that I wanted to see through to the end, where bullies and their influenced were either punished or reformed. And I got to read older Superman and Batman comics thanks to a couple of collections that were in the local library that I would take out constantly, and it included stories pre-Comics Code that Wertham and his patients might have had access to. I was cheering Superman and Batman on against the bad guys, not looking for ways to emulate the baddies.

This is indicative of my whole issue with these results. Why did the comics turn this kid into a bully, as Wertham seems to be suggesting, while giving me a fantasy of bullies being punished and reforming? Was the Comics Code just that magical?

Similar to the Thematic Apperception Test is the “Duess Test”, where kids are given part of a fable and asked to finish it. And then there’s that Hookey Club, but I’m at the 3000 mark again. This may be the most interesting bit of discussion I’ve ever done if I have this much to say. I’m not keeping hard track of these. I just happen to notice now and then how long it’s all going. So third part it is. I find this last part the most interesting part of the piece. I’m sorry to anyone annoyed by this instead of my usual ramblings and pieces, and this is only the third chapter, but as the comic community’s boogeyman it deserves a proper scrutiny. So…see you tomorrow for more I guess. Or as a $5+ Patreon supporter see it as soon as I post it.


About ShadowWing Tronix

A would be comic writer looking to organize his living space as well as his thoughts. So I have a blog for each goal. :)

2 responses »

  1. Sean says:

    A kid’s behavior is influenced by more than just one factor.


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