If you’re curious about the full story of what happened in the Canadian bill we discussed yesterday I came across this thesis by Joseph Tilley going over the history of the Fulton bill. It chronicles the attempts by the Canadian PTA to ban crime comics, notes some admittedly legitimate reasons why they went extreme on comics, and that they were less willing to lump superhero comics with crime and horror comics, their actual targets. Basically despite PTA chairperson Eleanor Grey using Wertham as a mentor she and Mr. Fulton weren’t as extreme as Wertham was.
One thing I did notice on my own (the piece is relatively neutral) is that most of the people against comic books were of the cultural elite, growing up well-to-do and not poor on the streets. Mrs. Grey also believed all kids should be reading books and that comics were somehow taking kids away from books. As someone who grew up with and still loves both I have to disagree. One of the Canadian officials grew up on a farm and thought kids weren’t causing trouble if they were doing chores. There was even a Communist sympathizer on the anti-comic side…which is amusing when you figure the “Red Scare” was one of the reasons brought up to fight crime comics. It’s worth reading and less frustrating than what we’ll be looking at today as Wertham looks at his anti-comic friends overseas.
After the Fulton bill became law, a committee representing publishers, distributors and printers decided that comic books affected by the definition of the new law should be discontinued. Twenty-five crime comics, every one of which had figured in my Lafargue and Queens Mental Hygiene Clinic investigations, disappeared from the Canadian newsstands. Canadian parents lost nothing in the way of freedom of speech. Their children were protected from one of the influences which had made it harder for them to grow up decently. Said Mr. Fulton: “The new law imposes an obligation of self-censorship on the publisher and makes certain that what he publishes is not harmful, and this is a perfectly fair duty to impose upon those who derive profit from literature for children.”
Really? Because according to that thesis the law didn’t do much of anything. The comics were still being produced and some were saying they were getting worse with the addition of horror comics. Despite Canadian printers and distributors the comic templates were coming from the US and the US was getting blamed for them of course. In fact they wanted to better define “obscene” so they could better enforce the law, which didn’t restrict the media by age, as they should be doing, but called for it to stop being made and sold outright.
While the American taxpayer is paying a lot of money for propaganda, including the Voice of America, and information libraries abroad, parents in most civilized nations have seen comic books right in their own towns and villages. It has gone so far that people all over the world believe that American civilization means airstrips and comic strips. Comic books are our ill-will ambassadors abroad. Whatever differences there are between the Eastern and Western countries of Europe, they are united in their condemnation of American crime comic books.
Well then comics sure changed after the war, which promoted buying war bonds, supporting our troops, and had the heroes fighting Nazis and Japanese soldiers either abroad or right in the US depending on the hero. super or otherwise. And the Phantom may have been a comic strip at the time but we’ve seen that and other comics did have positive influences. Personally I don’t buy the “comic strips and comic books are different things” simply because newspapers had stricter rules, but that’s more how I view media as a whole most likely. And yet the Phantom would probably be considered a “crime comic” to Dr. Wertham.
What are these nations doing about it? In Sweden, American crime comic books cannot be imported any more. On the other hand, it is reported that American-type comic books “are circulating in alarming numbers” and that there is “a campaign against them.” In Holland also American crime comic books cannot be imported. Some comic books are published in Holland, but there is a wide revulsion and agitation against them. There have been articles severely criticizing them, and I have received letters from writers and others who have studied the subject: “Comic books in our country are responsible for an increase in juvenile criminality by inducing boys to play rather funny games of beating, throwing and maltreating each other, kidnapping girls with more or less sexual intentions and stealing money to buy comic books.”
Which is what happened in Canada as well. The comics already made were still being passed around, and either the US publishers were doing the same workaround they did in Canada to avoid import fees or publishers already there were creating their own comics. Believe me, I’ve seen worse comics from other countries than the stuff we currently make. And somehow Cybersix became a Saturday morning cartoon in the US. Instead of working to destroy comics altogether, and that’s what Wertham, Grey, and some others were trying to do, they should have been promoting the good comics out there. But these are elitist snobs who say the only good comic is a book.
From here Wertham starts discussing England’s comic issues (no pun intended) and brings up this case.
One of these was seriously commented upon and featured in headlines as “The Boy Who Thought Crime Could Pay.” This teen-ager burglarized jewel shops and pubs, tried to stab a policeman and finally shot one. Those who knew him best, his father, mother and. some neighbors, described as his outstanding characteristic his reading of comic books. “Always reading that Yank stuff with gangsters and gun molls,” said his father. A neighbor described how the boy had lent him crime comic books and how he had taken from them the role of a gangster: “He looked like a gangster. He talked on the side of his mouth like a gangster.” He used comic book vocabulary:
“They’re not goin to get me alive. I’ll get as many of them as I can before they get me.” Or (about work): “This is too hard a way to earn dough.”
His mother told pathetically how he was always quiet and read these crime comic books: “I thought there was no harm.” He collected knives and guns and air pistols such as are advertised in comic books. When finally cornered, he would not surrender and was shot in a battle with the police. A Sten gun and a crime comic book lay beside his body.
[BRI NOTES: Skeptic that I am, I don’t believe this bit about the comic being on his person.]
Whose “Bri” you ask? I think he was the transcriber but the website no longer has these posted. You’ll note the links I’ve been using are at the Internet Archive. This is only the second time the transcriber has sought fit to comment, and I’m a little dubious myself. We’ve seen instances of Wertham claiming crimes were tied to comics simply by nature of existing in previous chapters. Also, how did this kid get his hands on a submachine gun? (That’s what a “Sten gun” is.) As far as being “comic book vocabulary”, did Wertham ever see a gangster picture? Where did he think the comic writers were getting their mob depictions from, even the “true crime” stories?
British children have also been playing the type of game directly taken out of comic books. One little boy, for instance, was tied to a tree and left to roast beside a bonfire, a typical comic-book performance.
Yep, never happened outside of a comic, right Joan Of Arc? And even if the witch trials have been exaggerated as some current historians claim, that’s been the tale for the longest time. Where some parents should see teaching moments and learning what’s up with their kids Wertham sees “comics bad”.
The current agitation in England against American and American-style comics is toned down a little because there are interests which spread the idea in Great Britain that to be against comic books shows anti-American sentiment. It is certainly an important fact that among wide sections of the population of the British Commonwealth crime comics can be identified with American civilization. In my correspondence with British people I have done my best to explain that in my opinion American mothers are just as anxious to free their children from the stifling encroachment of comic books as are the mothers of any other nation.
The dogma continues.
The Glasgow Association of the Educational Institute of Scotland asked for a government ban: “An unhealthy and distorted view of life is presented in these comic books. Crime and law breaking are considered as the normal state of affairs.” The Association condemns the Superman type of comic books with their implication of the extermination of inferior races and points out that power and riches are described as “the most desirable things in life,” while honesty and hard work find no place.
WHAT SUPERMAN COMIC DID YOU READ? Superman isn’t rich. He only condemned the Japanese because they were trying to attack our allies and attacked us without provocation, and that government was replaced after the war. Japan has not only not attacked us but we’re good friends now and some of our kids drool over their media, some of which has a historic connection to our media. (Manga is just comics but from Japan, you know.) Superman is a reporter who occasionally slips on tights and fights mobsters and mad scientists (around this time). Of course nobody cared if they said bad things about Germans, and they were our enemy during the war, too. The Nazi movement started in Germany, one of my ancestral homelands. I don’t freak whenever Hogan’s Heroes comes on.
From there Wertham talks about various attempts to get Parliament to ban “American and American-style” comics. Yeah, remember that part about worse comics elsewhere? Read some of their 2000 AD stuff sometime. This is the comics culture where Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman came from, folks. Sure they weren’t around in the 50s and I don’t know what was in British comics of the period but if they only knew what was coming…and note that the UK hasn’t devolved into…well, 2000 AD. Look, I’m not trying to shove off concerns like the publishers were doing, but I think too much of the blame was put on the comics and not on those who were supposed to teach the kids not to do that stuff. Like the US, the UK had dead fathers, fathers with what they used to call “Shell Shock” (is it still PTSD now or did we change it again?) and probably drinking away the sounds of bombs falling all around, and the UK itself had been bombed numerous times by the Nazis, especially London itself! But it’s easier to blame some stapled-together drawings rather than address the real problems the country was facing lest they lose that “post war victory” feeling.
The Hampstead Borough Council of London debated a proposal to ask the London County Council to look into the effects of comic books on the minds of children. The National Association of School Masters carried a resolution, by an overwhelming majority, against the published and imported comic books as a menace to the mental health of youth”: “What we are against is that type of children’s book in which there are constant references to people being beaten up, in which cruelty is looked upon as strength and terror is regarded as an every-day emotion.”
Those aren’t children’s books? Would you consider The Texas Chainsaw Massacre a kids movie just because some kids watched it? Who are you, Ralph Bakshi?
At a conference of educational associations at King’s College, the Warden of Bembridge School, Isle of Wight, showed some typical comic books “illustrated with half-naked women” and the text in “balloons with handles.” He said: “None of these is worthy of a place higher than the gutter. Their contents are contemptible. I do not know how to express my indignation at the fact that this stuff should be allowed to come into this country.”
I emphasized that one part, “balloons with handles”. It sounds like the warden has the same comic illiteracy issue Wertham has, which of course he loves because hating on things that don’t read like books and magazines are okay with him. And I hate to use this analogy because I still claim it the worst Doctor Who episode ever but here we go: In the episode “Tooth And Claw” one of the many stupid and annoying running gags was that Rose was “naked” because she wore overalls and a t-shirt while visiting Victorian England. In other words, her arms were exposed. She wasn’t even showing cleavage. (That’s more her mom’s thing anyway.) You couldn’t even see her collar-bone. And if you want a group of elitists, government is usually the place to go and Parliament is certainly no exception.
A new society, the Company of New Elizabethans, has been founded by Miss Noel Streatfeild, author of many books for girls, to combat the “vicious, degrading contents of modern so-called comics.”
Yes, another book author who hates comics because it means they aren’t reading books. And the “Company Of New Elizabethans” is a name that screams “elitist snob”, even if they did good works. I don’t know. Zemanta has been offline for about a week now and Bing is just giving me some 2002 radio series (because the UK still does radio dramas) and the historical period.
It’s rather telling and sad that these people refuse to believe that without proper parental guidance (if dad is alive he may not be much of a father and mother is working, and that’s the best case scenario of the type of kids Wertham usually meets with–hardly a scientific sampling of all kids everywhere) these kids would turn to horrible deeds and lack a proper moral compass. Kids are not inherently good. All the good kids I’ve known either had loving parents or some alternative maternal and/or paternal figure to learn from, and that was decades after the last major war we’ve been in. Some kids are even brats beyond that because every child is different and has to be treated differently in one way or another without one being treated more special or important than the other. Parenting isn’t easy but most parent groups I’ve ever heard from don’t seem interested in the hard parts of being a parent. You know, like monitoring what they’re reading, finding out why those kids want to read that, and finding them better alternatives while enforcing the fact that these criminals aren’t having happy endings.
I went long yesterday so let’s end early today. Tomorrow we’ll check in with France, Germany, and a few other countries to see how little they understand comics.