I know the 1950s are thought of as a prudish or at least less sexual time, especially compared to the 1960s. Heck, TV shows didn’t have a married couple sleeping in the same bed. And I will admit that some of the views on sex were repressive. That said, there were media out there that were less “squeaky clean”. It is possible that the comics Dr. Wertham discusses–at least some of them because I don’t know how even Superman, Wertham’s favorite target whatever you’ve heard about Batman and yes we’ll be getting to that, just not this chapter–contained more sexualized imagery, but I don’t think these particular comics were made with children in mind.

Taking his seriously is hard when we know his understanding of comics as a medium is so bad. Even when he’s right on something he overshoots the mark and comes back around to being wrong. If he was trying to warn parents that not all comics are for kids, fine. But he’s against all comics (hiding behind Disney and other “talking animal” comics, some of which had the same issues he keeps complaining about but in a more comical and slapstick manner, as being good unless he has an opening to strike at all comics), doesn’t know how to read them or wants to, and does not understand things because he’s going on the words of kids who can’t properly articulate what they’re seeing (remember the “description” of the Blue Beetle) or understand some of the images they’re seeing.

Make sure you’ve read the chapter first because my stats show me very few clicks going to these postings. Context is important people so get some and then come back here.

In very young children comic books set up confusion and create a sadistic interpretation of sex. Ronnie, a six-year-old comic-book addict attending the Clinic….

Yes, Ronnie’s story is rather disturbing. Notice Wertham’s wording here. “Comic books” as in all comics, not just ones a six-year-old should not be reading! There is no distinction save for a throwaway comment to defend himself later. “Adult-targeted comic books set up confusion and create a sadistic interpretation of sex in very young children lacking sexual morality and learning their identity.” THAT would be more accurate.

Then we get a story about a fifteen-year-old who likes to ride past a girl on his bicycle and smack girls in the breasts. What “comic” gave him this idea? And I always thought pervy boys slapped girls on the behind. This is followed by a nine-year-old who gets a thrill running into girls with his bike. I would not be surprised this is less a sexual thrill (HE’S NINE!) and more of that boys hate girls stuff. I never thought girls had cooties that I recall (I was nine) but I know parents tell us kids we all did. (Think that, not have cooties.) At any rate I question this one.

Graphic description of sexual flagellation on the buttocks is frowned upon by the Post Office – if it occurs in adult books. But in a typical comic book for children such erotic scenes are described in detail. The villain (a foreigner, of course) has the half-nude girl in his power. As an appetizer, she is hit in the face. Then: “I know that you shall love me and shall be loyal after you have taken a dozen or so lashes across your beautiful back!”

THIS WAS NEVER INTENDED FOR CHILDREN! See, Dr. Wertham really is making the same mistakes as the other adults, only instead of writing it off as all for kids and thus harmless he’s saying it’s all for kids and dangerous. It’s like saying War And Peace was meant for seven-year-old kids! (Of course I’ve never actually read War And Peace and in one Peanuts TV special Charlie Brown used it for a book report, so I could be wrong.)

In Western comic books, the erotic spanking of a girl by a man is frankly featured. Beatings with a sexual connotation occur in many comic books. A boy of twelve was brought to me a while ago because [disturbing mental image removed, but yes it’s bad]. After I had seen this boy a number of times, he told me about it spontaneously. He said he had threatened to break his sister’s arm if she told anybody. This is not the kind of thing that boys used to tell their little sisters. To break people’s arms, or to threaten to do so, is one of the comic-book devices.

Breaking arms isn’t some comic exclusive but gangster pictures aren’t the enemy to Dr. Wertham. And how do you know a boy, sibling or otherwise, never threatened someone if they told about [disturbing mental image] or any other thing? You’re acting like evil children are something new on the planet. I wish that were the case, but it’s really not.

The average reader, of a generation not brought up on comics, may not realize the connection between sex and hanging,…

Like I sad, read the chapter. But the important statement is here: “a generation not brought up on comics”. I imagine the same worries came for generations not brought up on radio and movies. I know this because it was the same for television and video games, plus the Hayes Code for movies, which was adapted into the first “comics code” that fell apart, while the CCA took years to finally crash and burn, after generations who grew up on comics knew what to look for, or at least how to better demand it. Not counting nowadays when parents seems to ignore comics and comics seem to ignore kids.

There are individuals who suffer from the truly dangerous perversion of wishing to hurt or kill couples making love to each other. The comic-book industry obliges by describing such cases in detail. So, the child who had never had such an idea before will learn it; the one who had any idea at all, however faintly, will have it nourished and given form.

Doctor, do you know how many horror movies, even cheesy “B” movies, have featured a couple making out in a car (making love didn’t always mean sex back then, but courtship as “innocent” as cuddling or kissing) only to have a criminal or monster (or a criminal who is a monster, figuratively or literally) attack them either because they’re there or to steal the car? Do you pay attention to any other media when you aren’t working?

Another morbid fantasy is the idea of drawing blood from a girl’s veins in order to overpower her completely. Outside of the forbidden pages of Sade himself, you find this fully described and depicted only in children’s comic books.

Weird Chills July

I’m betting this isn’t an accredited hospital. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Again, either not a children’s comic or context is missing. And I don’t know who Sade is. A quick search only brings up the singer who was popular in the 1980s.

There’s some disturbing examples after this, plus high heel fetishes, but the fact he thinks Tales From The Crypt was made for kids (although there was the CBS Saturday morning cartoon Tales From The Cryptkeeper that somehow spun off the HBO series because shows and books meant to scare kids without scarring them for life had come into existence) damages his credibility with anyone who knows comics. But this book, like other scare tactic books, are banking on people who don’t know comics falling for his flawed perception of what comics are. Remember, he hasn’t really read these comics and assumes all kids, not just his patients, simply look at the pictures.

From here Wertham goes into Masochism, discussing men who would be the sub in any BDSM encounter. Personally I don’t understand submission fantasies no matter how many professionals or subs try to explain it. Then there’s talk about women being tied up, and oddly Wonder Woman is not mentioned here! William Moulton Marston would often have situations in which Diana or someone else would be in bondage. I’m not sure what his thinking was but he was into some freaky stuff. It’s only after he stopped working on it that Wonder Woman came to be more something little girls might be allowed to read, but it was hardly porn-level stuff. He believed in swapping the patriarchy for a matriarchy like a liberal Frank Miller…both worshiped women to an absurd level, although Miller is less flattering to women no matter what he may think. As for Marston:

“The only hope for peace is to teach people who are full of pep and unbound force to enjoy being bound… Only when the control of self by others is more pleasant than the unbound assertion of self in human relationships can we hope for a stable, peaceful human society… Giving to others, being controlled by them, submitting to other people cannot possibly be enjoyable without a strong erotic element.”[17]

Emphasis mine. Oddly, Wertham will be mentioning Wonder Woman, but she’s not here. More proof that he didn’t actually read the comics. Back to Wertham:

A group of Hookey Club boys from twelve to fifteen discussed what they thought was good and bad in comic books and spoke about “torture” as a bad feature. Most of them agreed they liked books showing it, though. I asked the boys whether any of them, if they actually had a little girl in a lonely place, would really like to tie her up, beat her and torture her. I wondered whether any of them would admit to that and asked for a show of hands. Everybody smiled – and every hand went up. They had learned their comic-book lessons well.

Emphasis on the part of the posting, not necessarily the book. Admittedly, I’d be disturbed to if I saw this. I’m just saying (a) THOSE comics they shouldn’t have been reading, and (b)are we sure comics alone are at fault? Remember, these kids know Wertham has a reputation for bashing comics, and if comics can get them off…you know what I mean…don’t think they won’t try it. They may well be telling him what he wants to hear, that all their wicked thoughts came from Superman.

There is a special kind of cruelty mixing crimes against property and sexual exploits which I have hardly ever encountered in juvenile cases before the comic-book era. Nowadays it is not at all uncommon.

So are missing fathers (there was a war and a baby boom caused by celebration and a desire to repopulate after said war), terrible living conditions…there are a lot of bad things that were happening around this time. Whatever factor comics (including ones these kids shouldn’t be reading) play in this there are a whole lot more that should be considered. Since he likes to repeat himself I will too: why are these kids drawn to these kinds of stories? We’ve seen kids who want nothing to do with them, and if Catholic school morality is falling on deaf ears, it isn’t going to keep them honest. He follows up with a story about a group of teens who hire a prostitute, try stuff with her, and then on the way to bring her back, decide to pretty much rape her despite how nice she was to them earlier. The blame? Take a wild guess.

Love comics do harm in the sphere of taste, esthetics, ethics and human relations. The plots are stereotyped, banal, cheap. Whereas in crime comics the situation is boy meets girl, boy beats girl; in love comics it is boy meets girl, boy cheats girl – or vice versa.

Adolescent girls are not helped by this bit from a love comic: “How long can a beautiful woman wait for love? Is it a crime to take passion where it is found – regardless of mocking faithfulness? (For the thrilling answer see page 17.)”

Rangers Comics 01

I know it’s not a romance comic. I just thought it looked cool.(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Just like most romance novels, or at least the ones we boys hear the plots for. Oh, and I caught that “boy beats girl” line, like he’s stating all romances in boys comics are like that. I mean, Wertham talks about these subtle things that enter the reader’s subconscious and influences them, but I’ve noted a number of times where he’s done the same thing. Small hints like this to always fitting in as much crime comic and Superman slams as he possibly can connect to one of his patients or a story he’s heard that he can connect to comics, like looking for what video games a modern shooter plays. (Imagine if they learned the only game a shooter played was Spider Solitaire, and that doesn’t even come on Windows computers anymore?) He even tries to tie comics to child prostitution with this story:

This girl read about twenty comic books a day. Some of them she read over three or four times. After she saw the Sister Kenny movie she formed the ideal of becoming a nurse who cures the people.” But one good movie could not prevail over hundreds of comic books.

Yes, one movie about a nurse who did a lot of good things doesn’t go up against hundreds of comics. But why was she reading those comics? Prostitution isn’t glamorous unless you really like sex and at age ten she seemed to learn that. What would drive a ten-year-old to become a hooker for adult men? Comics? Explain child prostitutes who weren’t formed from comics. There were a darn lot of them before comics and a lot more that probably don’t read comics.

Somehow this transitions into the part you’ve all been waiting for, so return tomorrow. It’s time to discuss how comics give you….the gays!

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. Eric Otness says:

    “Outside of the forbidden pages of Sade himself, you find this fully described and depicted only in children’s comic books.”

    “And I don’t know who Sade is. A quick search only brings up the singer who was popular in the 1980s.”

    I believe Wertham is referring to the Marquis de Sade, a pretty big figure of the French Revolution (in fact, arguably fired the first shot at the Bastille), and among other things is particularly infamous for his exceptionally brutal tastes (is even the namesake for “sadism”, ie, someone getting off on someone else’s pain and misery.). Also wrote some philosophical pornography before then as well.


    • “Philosophical pornography” is a phrase I never expected to read in my lifetime. 🙂 I’m surprised he didn’t include the “de” at least as that would have made it easier to find. Trying to boost his intellectual “street cred” I guess. Thanks for the clarification.

      I wonder if de Sade was a…smooth operator. (That’s for my 80s “street cred”.)


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