Yesterday we took a look at Wertham’s opening comments against the defenders of comics, which he lumps all together, or at least lumps a group he claims are paid to lie about comics by the comics industry. And yet he is so unaware of what he doesn’t know about comics that even when he is right he finds a way to not be taken seriously by anyone who knows comics or at least knows that not every medium is for kids. But he isn’t sounding an alarm that “hey parents, not every comic produced has your kids in mind”, but “hey parents, the comic industry is totally trying to corrupt your kids for profit or because they’re that depraved” and it’s hard to give him credit beyond not wanting to be as overboard as he is.

It’s a zero sum game as he’s one of those people who insists anything not involving live-action performers or something he grew up with is immediately for children despite every other medium at the time as well as today not being kid-exclusive. Puppets can be done for adults, cartoons were made for both kids and adults separately and together, and the same for radio dramas, TV, movies, music, and books. It’s like every new medium gets shoved into the kids zone until something else comes along or enough people grow up with it that they can see it’s not just for kids. Wertham doesn’t really research comics and it’s been rather obvious.

Read the chapter first and do your own research before we continue where we left off yesterday.

The names of experts for the defense and of the institutions with which they are connected have been printed in millions of comic books and/or full-page comic-book advertisements in the Saturday Evening Post and the Saturday Review of Literature and/or in statements by the publishers or their spokesmen. The chairman of the Section of Criminal Law of the American Bar Association, commenting on the writers in the two special comic book issues of the Journal of Educational Sociology, found it “disappointing” that in a “purportedly objective study experts do not make a complete disclosure of their interests.” He further mentions that when he wrote to one of the experts to enquire about this, “she did not respond.”

Given that you and other anti-comics people are calling them money-grubbing liars I find myself not surprised.

According to the Kefauver Senate Crime Committee (Special Committee to Investigate Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce) the following persons, among others, who are thought of as independent critics by the public, have been or are employed by the comic book industry:

Dr. Jean A. Thompson, Acting Director, Bureau of Child Guidance, Board of Education, N.Y.C.;
Sidonie Gruenberg, director of the Child Study Association of America;
Prof. Harvey Zorbaugh, Professor of Education, New York University;
Dr. Lauretta Bender, child psychiatrist in charge of the children’s ward of Bellevue Hospital, N.Y.C.;
Josette Frank, consultant on children’s reading, Child Study Association of America.

The amounts paid range to $300 a month over a period of many years. One expert, Professor Zorbaugh, served as “research consultant” to Puck, the Comic Weekly.” One comic book publisher alone spends $750 a month on four children’s experts who endorse his products.

I haven’t seen any of their endorsements or what comics they endorse so I can’t give a proper judgement on their perspectives. Looking at the Wikipedia entries that came up, Ms. Gruenberg was also a proponent of toys, allowances, and not being too strict with kids (to a possibly too far view based on the snippet current in her Wikipedia entry) so I’m not convinced she wouldn’t genuinely be in favor of comics. It is also possible that they saw potential in comics and the pay was for the rights to use their comments or other reasons. Of course they’re going to endorse someone who endorses their work and gets what they believe to be the truth out. Does it look bad? Admittedly yes, but if Zorbaugh actually was a consultant (we’ve seen kids shows with consultants), to assume they were being bribed as Wertham suggests is insulting.

In quoting experts for the defense in this chapter I am referring to those specifically mentioned in the Kefauver Report as having or having had connections with the industry. There are, of course, sporadic experts who have defended comic books without any such connection. I do not consider them as members of the defense team.

So your problem is with people who endorse comics that are working to improve them, not the ones that simply disagree with you? He tries to use this to proclaim their defenses null and void because they’re being paid, allegedly paid off rather than actually doing what they claim, but I don’t know what comics they’ve consulted on.

The New York State Joint Legislative Committee to Study the Publication of Comics, in seeking the opinions on crime comics from a wide variety of experts, including psychiatrists, judges and educators, discounted testimony by any of these team-experts. This may well be a proper attitude to take in order to ascertain the true facts for judicial or legislative purposes. But since I was carrying out a scientific investigation I took a different course, and studied all the team-experts carefully as if their opinions had been expressed gratis.

Using the same kind of investigative skills that proclaimed Blue Beetle actually turned into a giant beetle, that a hero created by two Jews before the Nazis rose to power was a fascist in Hitler’s fantasies (if only Superman were blonde he’d be perfect), and that funny animal comics were the only kid friendly comics despite Donald Duck dealing with guys with guns and (I looked this one up) an issue of a comic called Super Duck (no Disney connection) in which the title character’s brother causes dangerous pranks and a racist character stuffs his knife into a white man to hide the knife. (This comic also included the body being propped up in front of a judge’s bench. Page 50. Read at your own risk.) Frankly I question Dr. Wertham’s investigative abilities and thus his claims that he tried to be fair.

The devil can quote scripture for his purpose. What would these experts quote? I found them mentioning Aristotle, Freud and the brothers Grimm. According to Newsweek’s “Platform,” “at least half of all comic books” in 1949 “were devoted entirely to crime or supermen, in their assorted guises.” (In actual copies read, the number is much larger, and by 1954 the proportion was very much higher.) Can there be any scientific theories to justify that? Paid partisanship is not the complete answer. The influence of the experts for the defense is to be explained not only by the fact that the public is being misinformed about comic books, but that it is exposed to wrong ideas about children.

Sweetheart Diary No 33 Charlton, 1956 SA

“How nice. An African prince wants to give me money.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pot, meet kettle. Wertham only seems to deal with bad kids and has shown the flip side of paid partisanship is a strong biased against something and then looking for any evidence that proves them right. By the way, Wertham mentions all three in this chapter alone and has mentioned Freud previously.

The writings and speeches of the experts for the defense have many features in common. They always shy away from telling what is actually in comic books, what the plots are, what the characters really say and do.

As opposed to Dr. Wertham, who only quote certain lines without the proper context, thinks comics are for kids, and has shown to any decent comic reader that he doesn’t know what’s in them, either, or who they’re targeted towards. If a kid watched The Thing From Another World he’d blame the movie company instead of the movie theater.

They do not want to call attention to the books…

Again, pot, kettle. You barely mention a title except for a select few constant targets like Crime Does Not Pay and Superman, and only if you can make fun of the title, and blame it on the companies changing titles to avoid your comments. There is one section of the book that is just random images from comics and of course they’re the most offensive he can get his publisher to put in. Or possibly the most offensive he could find, which in a few cases are bad but not targeted to kids.

…they prefer to put all the blame on the child, or his mother. As one of them writes in one of those “neutral” articles in a national magazine: “We must look not at the comics but at the child.” Why should I as a doctor look only at the child I and “not at the comics”? Why not look at both?

Speaking for myself, you should look at both. What the kids are reading do say something about them, especially if they are emulating something they see. However, you’re putting ALL the blame on comics and pretty much ignoring the child and the parents’ part in this by ignoring the comic or by not giving them the proper moral center either through their own problems or being dead. You’re treating these comics as a cause rather than a symptom. If the defenders are to be pointed at for not putting enough attention (and he may be right) you are also guilty for putting too much on them. There is a happy medium but Dr. Wertham wouldn’t be happy with them.

Here is an example to show how impossible it is to get any idea of what comic books really are from these writings by defense experts. In an article on comic books widely circulated by the Child Study Association of America, purporting to be a “survey” of the whole comic book field, only the following titles of comic books are even mentioned:

1) Superman (whose publisher employs the writer of the pamphlet)
2) Mickey Mouse
3) Donald Duck
4) Mutt and Jeff
5) Moby Dick
6) Three Musketeers
7) True Comics
8) Blondie
9) Li’l Abner
10) Jungle Comics (described with the classical understatement that “sometimes women are featured in these stories, as captives or intended victims”)

This is supposed to be a survey! One need only glance at any newsstand to discover that the most important part has been left out.

Or these are the comics that are targeted for kids or approved by the “team-experts” as you call them. Wertham doesn’t believe in consultants, he believes in shutting down an entire medium because it’s new and not the one he favors.

“There is a considerable amount of humor in the comics” (she means comic books) and she tries to make parents believe that the sexy wenches in the jungle books are just “fair maidens”!

I balked at the “she means comic books” part because “duh” but he later claims that they’re trying to lump comic books in with comic strips in the newspaper, which has rather tight standards since the newspaper audience doesn’t like seeing horrible violence in comic strips. Just on the front page. It is possible that today, where we do know the difference and can add in “webcomic” to the mix, we are less confused that they were back then, especially since the first comic books were reprints of comic strips rather than the original stories they became. I’ll give Wertham more benefit of the doubt that he’s giving the “team-experts” because that would go against his narrative.

The experts for the defense do not tell you what children get out of these stories, either, what they actually say, what is reflected from comic books in their minds. Instead they write about the good things that comic books are supposed to have done, be doing or will do in the future, about how educational they are or could be, and to what good uses they could be put. One states, for example,
“History is often a dull subject.
. . . Through comics it could be made a fascinating study.
. . . American history would become a popular study in school…”

Mouthpiece (comics)

I reviewed this comic once. Oddly few actual police in there. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Considering Jerzy Drozd, who did that commentary for me back in chapter five, recently worked on an adaptation of the Warren Commission Report and is currently working on a graphic novel about rocket for an educational company, they have a point. Should comics replace textbooks? No, of course not. However edutainment does work when the creators involved know how to make the educational part interesting. These were people who saw the potential in comics, which they’ve lived up to. PSA comics so help, but the last PSA comic Wertham read convinced him that they were trying to hook kids on drugs, and we know how dumb that theory is by reading it. He’d probably think that other anti-drug comic I reviewed would do the same thing. Even most of the bad PSA comics wouldn’t actually drive kids to do drugs…unless it was written so badly you’d have to be high to understand what’s going on.

Pooh-poohing their bad effects, one expert points out that he knows a hospital where “comic books are used specifically to calm down troublesome” juveniles. He does not mention that this is the only psychiatric hospital in the country where troublesome juveniles sent there for observation and treatment got so out of hand that the police had to be called to “calm them down.”

Then they should have gotten the comics sooner. 😀 Seriously, folks, one is present tense and one is past tense. Seeing that hole in the argument was rather easy.

The team-experts like the word deep. It occurs over and over again in their writings, e.g. “the appeal of comic books is deeply rooted in our emotional nature.” They use this word as an answer to any objection that is raised. The reply that things are “deep” or “deeper” or “far deeper” is supposed to answer every thing. In one short paper the word occurs four times: “The motivation toward unsocial acts lies much deeper than any casual contact with ideas on a printed page”; the language habits of children “derive from deeply rooted home and school standards and not from any casual contact with any entertainment medium”; these “comic book characters are deeply human”; only if a child is “in deep emotional conflict he may be further burdened or disturbed by his comics reading.”

In other words the “team-experts” seem to be acknowledging that the comics do have an influence but are not the cause of their emotional problems. Meanwhile Wertham has insisted that the comics alone are the cause.

One hopes to find in these writings at least one case where a comic-book addict seemed to be adversely influenced by comics in which it was proved that not comic books but something “deep” was the real cause. But in all the writings of the experts I found not a single case like this. Instead there are again and again flat statements like this: “. . . the roots of delinquency and crime are far deeper,” or “. . . the roots of [the] difficulties lie in . . . his life . . . rather than in the storybooks that he reads.” Who then has gone to the root of the problem? One expert tells us: “Superman strikes at the root of juvenile delinquency” and apparently this is “deep” enough.

Considering your track record on reading comics I wouldn’t be surprised at what he missed. Skimming seems to equal research in this book.

Without exception all these experts have in common one trait that is not in agreement with the best established usage of scientific writing. If a scientist wishes to prove that a special virus is not the cause of a virus disease, it is obligatory that he at least refer to the literature which says the opposite. But these comic book experts continuously quote each other and try to bury in complete silence some of the studies that have been made demonstrating the harmfulness of comic books. So it is necessary to get acquainted with samples of this literature which are never mentioned.

And we’ll do just that tomorrow, as Wertham goes back to the “example of the evils of comics” as if he can’t stand on everything he’s said before this. He has a message to hammer into your skulls and by thunder he’s going to. I think this may end up another four-parter based on where I am on the page at the moment.

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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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