Okay, let’s see if we can finish this one tonight because this isn’t BW Wertham Spotlight. Here’s the chapter we’re reading this week, kids, if you need a reminder.

We only have two more things to cover, but one is full of story stuff, which is my wheelhouse, and the other is about kids, which is a huge concern of mine. As we left off we were about to get to one more test, the Duess test. And then finally we’ll meet the Hookey Club, a group of truants who get together and discuss stuff, presumably aided by the therapist. Or perhaps nudged a bit in a certain direction. Let’s see more about how Wertham came to the conclusions we’ll be seeing throughout the book.

Another useful method for closer examination of young children is the Duess Test, which has been worked out in Switzerland and used in France. It is indispensable for the correct understanding of some children. With its help one can some times unearth subtle psychological factors not brought out by other methods.

The test consists in ten very brief fablelike stories. They are incomplete and after they are told to the child he is asked what the end of the story would be. In this way the child can complete the story in any way he likes. This test should be used in an elastic way. It should not be applied rigidly and should not be scored like a test. One can modify the original stories and can even add new ones to adapt them to the original case. I give the test in a way that is a mixture between telling a story, playing a game and asking a question. The Duess Test is often an interesting starting- point for further talks with a child.

The story stick as therapy? Interesting. This would also make for a good storytelling exercise, and I’m pretty sure has been. This is the most interesting test to me as a storyteller and story reviewer, as it’s making the kid become a storyteller. Obviously the stories that influence and interest the kid will influence how he or she ends the story.

The Duess Test can be given only to young children, the upper age limit being, in my experience, about eleven. In suitable cases the child projects himself into the story and identifies his own situation with that in the fable. In this way typical emotional complexes may be elicited, but, as in other tests, one should be careful not to view the child as if he were an adult neurotic or read too much abnormality into him.

I’m pretty sure this is how fanfics started. 😀 I wonder why it only works for kids under twelve? I wish he had said, but this is one bit of context absence that doesn’t affect my questions about the implementation of the test or the analysis of the results. This section includes some of the sample incomplete stories he uses. Of course he’s only going to list the ones connected to this test because they are the only one that matters even if he was honest and correct about the evil periodicals. The boy, brought in for an unexplained behavioral disorder, apparently gave answers to the stories that Wertham had no concerns about, or whatever he means by “inconspicuous answers”. Then he gets to this one.

A child wakes up tired in the morning, and says:
“Oh, what a bad dream I had!” What did he dream?

This boy replied, He dreamed about something he didn’t like. It might have been something like a murder. He’s gonna get murdered and he woke up.

The Giant Claw

The Giant Claw (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Remember, the child in the story had a bad dream, aka a nightmare. Yes, it could have been something like forgetting his pants, or girls coming in to laugh at him while he’s peeing and can’t leave (that’s how my brain wakes me up to go to the bathroom…sorry to give you that image), but the boy telling the ending came up with a scarier nightmare, the kind you think of when you think of nightmares. I remember one where I was at summer camp (which I have never gone to and no, this wasn’t why), when suddenly something like a lion’s claw cuts through the cot in front of me like a hot knife through butter. Another had a giant monster who would take away trucks and his stench would kill the driver, which admittedly can be blamed on me watch b-monster movies although I hadn’t heard of The Giant Claw until I was an adult. But what does Wertham take from this answer?

Study of this boy did not reveal any special hostilities or resentments. During one talk with him he told me that he liked Classics comics. “What are they?” I asked. “The Classics,” he explained to me, “are the kind that tell a story, like under the water. -I can’t remember them.” When I told him I was very much interested in all kinds of comic books he confided in me that what he really liked and read a lot was crime comics. “I got a whole pile of Crime Does Not Pay!” Would it not be surprising if such a child did not have murder on his mind?

Okay, I’ll give you that one, but why was this child (age not listed, and we already know he thinks of sixteen year olds as “child” instead of “teenager”) reading these comics? What was the draw, and more importantly who is he cheering on? He follows this up with a girl who apparently gave more “conspicuous” answers because he lists quite a few of them. She had a “learning problem” and was apparently “nervous” a lot. Rather than diagnose the learning problem he went to blame the comics, because of course she reads them. Yes, girls read comics so shut up already!


A father bird and a mother bird and their little baby bird are asleep in their nest on the branch of a tree. But there comes a big storm. It breaks the branch of the tree and the nest falls to the ground. The father bird flies quickly to one tree, the mother bird to another tree. What will the baby bird do? He knows how to fly a little.

HER ANSWER: He will die because he can’t fly so well.

Sounds about right to me. Unless the bird manages to find his own place to hide and depending on what the big storm is (perhaps she assumed it was a tornado or hurricane…which granted wouldn’t help mommy and daddy bird either) he’s kind of doomed. Science stories will tell you that.


A mother sheep and her little lamb are in a field. Every evening the mother sheep gives the little lamb good warm milk, which the little lamb likes very much. But it can already eat grass. One day the mother sheep has a new little lamb which is hungry for the mother to give him milk. But the mother sheep has not enough milk for both little lambs, so she says to the first lamb: “I haven’t got enough milk for both of you, go and eat some fresh grass.”

What will the lamb do?

HER ANSWER: Eat the grass. Get mad because he doesn’t want the other little lamb to drink the milk.

The girl turns out to be jealous of her new baby sibling, and this could be based on that. This has happened even before comics. Just ask Esau and Jacob. Or Cain and Abel. See, from here I would convince the girl…I mean the lamb…to realize that his mother still love him but little lamb needs more attention since first lamb has already grown, and little lamb will need first lamb’s experience to learn to be a big lamb. And why am I on this track?


Somebody in the family has taken the train and has gone very far away and will never return home.

Who is it? Who can go away in the family?

HER ANSWER: She can go out in the country. Maybe she doesn’t come back because she is mad at the father. Maybe she liked it there better. Or they could get hurt by a car. They could be dead. The mother could be dead.

The test results show indications of intrinsic psychological factors. The extrinsic situational influence of comic-book reading played only a minor role. Further analysis of this child showed that she had ticlike movements at times and suffered from compulsions. For example, she had to touch the ground with her hand. She had death wishes and profound feelings of hostility. Comic books did not intrude in her emotional life because she was too preoccupied with herself and had already built up such abnormal defenses as compulsions. All this started five years previously at the birth of her baby sister, of whom she was intensely jealous.

You mean not everything is blamed on comics? Astounding given this book’s record thus far. From here Wertham goes on to discuss play therapy. I am a proud supporter of play. He also talks about when comics began some kids would sit in the corner and just read. Apparently that never happened with books. Maybe comics are quicker to read, or the combination of story and art, for kids who remember to read the story, is more visually appealing. Coming up with the visual in your head can be difficult for some no matter how good the writer is at describing the room and the characters in it so they gravitate to comics, the only thing they actually will read. Comics can promote reading if the kid is properly motivated, but not to Wertham.

A boy of seven suffered from asthma and was “inattentive” in school. He improved with play therapy. It was noted that instead of playing he liked to pore over comic books a lot of the time. We weaned him away from them by giving him material to draw and paint with. But the comic-book spirit was very evident in his art productions. He drew Donald Duck with a gun and his drawings always showed “the robber shooting the cop.” (That the opposite could also occur never seemed apparent from any of his numerous drawings.)

I’ve seen Mickey Mouse get into fist fights so I wouldn’t be surprised to see Donald had a gun in some story. Scared because even the NRA wouldn’t give Donald Duck a gun with that temper (and I know all about having a temper), but not surprised. As for the cop not shooting the robber, considering I grew up in a time when parents didn’t even want the hero to punch a bad guy on Saturday Morning cartoons, it wouldn’t be apparent to child me either.

Wertham talks about restricting comics from kids wouldn’t work because it makes them “forbidden fruit” kind of things and that kids would still meet other influenced by comics they already shouldn’t be reading. He discusses how he got one little girl to stop reading those evil Wonder Woman comics, where women got to save the day for a change and be a hero. Apparently we’re not supposed to want to be heroes or something.

Supposing you get used to eating sandwiches made with very strong seasonings, with onions and peppers and highly spiced mustard. You will lose your taste for simple bread and butter and for finer food. The same is true of reading strong comic books. If later on you want to read a good novel it may describe how a young boy and girl sit together and watch the rain falling. They talk about themselves and the pages of the book describe what their innermost little thoughts are. This is what is called literature. But you will never be able to appreciate that if in comic-book fashion you expect that at any minute someone will appear and pitch both of them out of the window.

In this case the girl understood, and the advice worked.

Bull-flipping-feathers! Again, as a kid and as an adult I read both comics and books, and I enjoy both. Comics are good when I don’t have a lot of time, novels for when I want to sit down and really imagine myself someplace else. I review both on this very website all the time. (This article series is usually ABOUT reading fictional novels one chapter at a time.) This shows more misconceptions about comics. Nowadays some people even see comics as a gateway to literature, both classic and modern. Wertham may know minds but he knows nothing about stories.

I was hoping to get the Hookey Club in this installment, but guess what? Fourth part. I just have so much to say because it’s like I’m the polar opposite of every comic reader in the 1950s or at least the ones Wertham was exposed to. Not surprising when you remember Wertham usually sees kids and teens who have emotional problems and do bad things. We’re missing discussions with kids like I was, the kid who has a moral compass and read comics to escape the very bullies he claims comics create. But we have to talk about the marionette show he used as further therapy. The idea is that kids come up with stories and act them out with the marionettes, and then the kids in the audience ask the author about the story. That’s actually pretty cool.

We used this method for children from five to twelve. Before joining this group children were not asked about comic books. It was interesting to see how the concrete inspiration for a plot, such as it was, came usually from a real event or from a movie, radio or comic book. Typical crime-comic-book methods appeared in the plays: knife-throwing, throwing somebody out of the window, stomping on people, etc. I later classified the productions (which were taken down by a stenographer) in two groups, constructive plays and destructive plays. The constructive plays were about parties, family reunions, lovers, dancing, painters in the house, etc. One production was entitled “A Day in Dr. Wertham’s Office.” {I’d be curious to see that one. – SWT} Destructive plays were about crime, robbers, spies: “The Robbery in Your Neighborhood Store”; “A Night in Chinatown.” Comic- book influences played a role only in the destructive plays. I have seen no constructive play inspired by a comic book. The language in the destructive plays sometimes came directly from comics. In the end the bad man went free or got killed. (He was never caught by the authorities and punished.)

Considering how he defines destructive, of course not. Comics are usually stories of good guys versus bad guys and I have yet to see evidence that good defeating evil is ever considered positive by Wertham since it involved violence. Granted the example he gives below doesn’t sound constructive the way he tells it to us.

For example, one child in the audience asked, “Why didn’t you make the robber kick the cop?” Or a child author answered a question about where he got the idea for his play, “I got part of it out of a comic book – the part where they throw the Chinaman into the river. The rest I made up for myself.”

The first question went unanswered and not having seen the play I don’t know why the question was asked in the first place. I also don’t know if the “Chinaman” was avenged, a bad person, or if he survived and got his revenge or brought someone to justice. I’m a story critic. You can’t give me parts of something and expect me to take your point of view, or even know if it’s justified.

The children drew their own sets. These sketches were a supplementary source for psychological interpretations. For instance, in a constructive play an eight-year-old boy drew a “playground,” a “house” and “on the street.” Children who produced destructive plays often made correspondingly aggressive sketches.

Well, obviously the set is going to fit the tone of your story. If you have a happy story your sets are going to represent that. You aren’t going to draw a nightmare castle and have your characters having a tea party with dancing unicorns unless you suck at drawing that badly. Wertham doesn’t understand theater and set design either. We see again that Wertham is treating anything that is sugar sweet enough to give Rafi diabetes as terrible. Kids played cops and robbers or cowboys and Indians for years before World War II convinced us to kick enemy butt…and you know that’s something I haven’t considered, and I wonder if the doctor has either.

During World War II soldiers would read comics. And not just American soldiers. Smuggling comics like The Phantom into some German-occupied nations showed the Nazis were lying about the US being destroyed, hence how he became so popular internationally. We initially didn’t want to get involved until Japan decided to attack Pearl Harbor without provocation. From then on we went to war, and our media, including comics and movies, would reflect that. Batman fought Japanese spies. Captain America was created to fight Nazis before the US was officially involved in Europe. And comics would encourage others to support the troops with war bonds and scrap metal. It had a huge influence on US life for sometime and we forgot about the Depression to combat evil. It’s not surprising that pulp novels and comic arose and followed this trend.

There were comics for kids and comics for adults, and Wertham seems to think that any comic where a hero fights somebody is immediately bad. We’re supposed to emulate Superman, not Lex Luthor. But Wertham still thinks Superman lives up to some fascist Germany view of the “superman” rather than what he really is. That’s a huge disconnect since, as I pointed out last week, Superman was created by two Jewish men who probably weren’t thinking of Hitler. Possibly because Superman predated the Nazis. Action Comics #1 came out in 1938.

I regard it as a major finding that no good marionette-show plots ever came from comic books, although the children read so many of them. The “inspiration” from comic books was never artistic, literary or even a good story. It was a precipitate of fragmentary scenes, violent, destructive and smart-alecky cynical. This was in marked contrast to the inspiration children derived from movies, of which they had seen a much smaller number. It might be objected that a young child is not capable of absorbing and retaining a really good and artistic story from a movie or a real book.

No, I object that a young child isn’t going to be the next Robert Louis Stevenson, at least not until he’s older. The odd thing is he talks about a kid retaining what he remembered from watching the original movie adaptation of The Grapes Of Wrath. Who takes an eight-year-old boy to The Grapes Of Wrath? Just reading a Wikipedia summary of the movie is enough to give me pause about that.

Like a good child’s drawing, such an account gives essentials in very simplified form. It is children with beautiful minds like this, who can summarize The Grapes of Wrath by telling how the people in it “travel and travel and travel,” whom we corrupt by throwing them to the 100-million-dollar enterprise of the comic-book industry.

Comics were a new medium. I can list tons of stories and story arc that stay with people today. Comics like Watchmen (which also shouldn’t be shown to an eight-year-old) or the “Demon In A Bottle” storyline. Could there be stories like that from 1950s comics? No, for the same reason the recent remake of the Ducktales game had more story than the original NES game: because it’s new. New media usually start with limited stories and ideas as creators learn how to utilize this new medium, what are the strengths and weaknesses, and what can this medium do that other media can’t. It happened with radio, it happened with movies, it happened with cartoons, it happened with books, and it happened with comics. Video games are just now finding their voice as a storytelling medium and seeing what it can do that the other media can’t. I say it again: Wertham doesn’t understand storytelling or storytelling evolution. He’s biased in favor of what he grew up with and nothing new should be created because he doesn’t like that newfangled stuff.

I wish we were at the end of the chapter, but we still have to talk about the Hookey Club. I find it fascinating as well to see what these kids did and came up with. Join me tomorrow as we complete this. I’m learning something too. The usual Chapter By Chapter format may not be beneficial in going over this text because chapters shouldn’t need two much less four articles to go over. What do you think? Should I try to figure out a new approach or do you really like how I’m examining this text?


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. :)

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