So we’ve been to Canada and England, plus stopovers at Sweden and Belgum but it was the same old ranting so there was no point going over that. Next on our anti-comic book tour is France…which is just laughable. I’ve never been further than Vermont but I’ve seen samplings of French media and I’m pretty sure comics are the least of their issues. But maybe things were different in the 1950s? I haven’t been further back than 1973 and I wasn’t paying attention to anything besides the mobile over my crib so I’m hardly a good eyewitness there. We haven’t discovered time travel, thank God! We’d easily time paradox ourselves out of existence. “I’m going to kill Hitler and make the world a better place. Wait, my grandparents met during the war and now I don’t exist so now Hitler lives so my grandparents met so I can kill Hitler but now my grandparents never met and I never existed….”
Yeah, let’s just get on to the cerebral chaos that doesn’t hurt your brain. Oh wait, I’m still reviewing Seduction Of The Innocent. So much for that plan.
France has been swamped with comic books imported or published there, with French legends, from American sources. It took some time for the public to realize what was happening. Then a resistance movement set in on the part of writers, teachers, child psychologists and experts on juvenile delinquency. Helene Scheu-Riesz, a pioneer in good children’s literature, wrote about the first Treasure Chest sent by children of the United States to the children of France:
Another author. It’s like watching TV taking pop shots at YouTube and video games.
“It contained so many comics that the French teachers, in dismay, begged us to desist from sending such books, for French children began to picture America as a country of gangsters and robbers where shooting, killing and torturing were everyday occurrences.” Newspapers printed illustrations from crime comic books showing deeply décolleté girls hanged in a setting of lascivious sadism and other brutalities. “With such methods,” wrote one paper, “hardly different from those used by the Nazi regime, were S.S. men made.”
Seriously. Look, I know France was one of the countries the Nazi’s took over during the war and wanting to get back to “normal” was a big issue with pretty much everybody, but what comics were you people getting? I can’t find any information on this “Treasure Chest” with a quick search because it’s such a common word (you know, chests that hold treasure?) so I can’t really look into this.
It’s followed up by comments by a French child psychologist. Really it’s one sentence but it’s so head-scratching to me (I think you’ll be able to guess which part in particular) that I have to break this one down into components.
Dr. Henri Wallon, leading French child psychologist, enumerated “the sad characteristics” of the comics: “the false science which is used only for murder
Are we talking about mad scientists or am I missing a reference here? Mad scientists didn’t exactly start with comics. And mad scientists abound in other media, especially the movies, radio dramas, and serials of the period.
sexuality linked to cruelty, the pin-up girl with the knife [la pin-up au couteau]
Why is the same thing written in French right after the English? I looked up the translation and it’s just “pin-up with a knife”.
Wait, what? Bestiality? Doc, if that was showing up in American comics we would have heard about that back in the sex chapter of this book. The only anthropomorphic animals we’ve seen are in kids comics that don’t have sex in them, and if they did (certainly not at Fritz The Cat levels) it wasn’t with humans. And that’s the closest thing you’d find. Again, what comics was France being sent?
race hatred, libidinous and perverse monsters
Considering what we’re told about France, especially Paris, the fact that questionable sex acts have been brought up numerous times in this one sentence is confusing. I’m not accusing France of being a country-wide red-light district, don’t get me wrong, and I’m sure they are concerned about keeping kids from certain perversions, but they embrace a few of those perversions that we don’t. Judge for yourself if there’s anything wrong with that, but they’re a bit more easy-going in that department or I’ve just seen the wrong material from France. And I don’t mean porn.
the Fascist notion of the superman, solitary avenger.”
And many of these solitary avengers were written as FIGHTING NAZIS AND HELPING TO LIBERATE FRANCE TO ENCOURAGE THE US TO KEEP IN THE WAR THAT HELPED FREE FRANCE! Also you’re calling two Jewish men fascist and this soon after WWII is an odd form of antisemitism. Frankly, Wertham trying to make Superman a Nazi is something I’m used to at this point. It still ticks me off but I’m used to it.
A series of instances of juvenile delinquency “where children had aped episodes and techniques of violence shown in comic books” helped to crystallize public opinion. The government appointed a commission to protect children against harmful publications. The law was clearly aimed at American and American-style crime comic books. The commission includes two juvenile-court judges, representatives of the ministries of education, public health and justice, delegates of authors, illustrators and youth organizations. (What! no crime-comic-book publishers?)
Of course not. They aren’t going to let the accused speak in their own defense. Dr. Wertham doesn’t want to do that and he’s an American. Why should a government commission who wants to scapegoat and make themselves look good?
According to the new law, unanimously accepted by the National Assembly, this commission is to supervise comic books sold to children and adolescents. It provides penalties up to one year in prison and 500,000 francs fine. The commission forthwith instructed twenty-five concerns to modify their children’s comic-book publications and to stop the sale of the issues then current. According to this law, publishers who intend to bring out publications for children or adolescents must submit the titles and lists of their directors – before publication.
(What, clean up instead of ban?) 500,000 francs translates to about 522,000 dollars + change in US money, not adjusted for inflation. I wonder what they do with adult comic books or are they also on the “comics are only for kids” bandwagon? I guess that makes all us adult comic fans the Trix rabbit.
The commission forthwith instructed twenty-five concerns to modify their children’s comic-book publications and to stop the sale of the issues then current. According to this law, publishers who intend to bring out publications for children or adolescents must submit the titles and lists of their directors – before publication.
Again, what if the comic was created for adult readers? And what isn’t listed in this book are those 25 concerns. I just bet plenty of them are laughably stupid.
It is interesting that in a bill so near to censorship (although of course it deals only with the protection of children) the extreme Right, the extreme Left and the Middle found themselves in complete agreement.
“For the children.” What have I said about those three words? Oh well, France will change their minds once DC makes the Jerry Lewis comic.
Here are some indications of what is happening in other countries. In Italy, as reported by Barrett McGurn, American comic books with Italian legends have made great inroads on children. Such words as Crash, Bang or Zip have become a part of their vocabulary.
Just wait until they get Batman in the 1960s. Our news reporters today still think that’s all comics are, just a bunch of sound effects. Wertham really hates written sounds.
A survey was conducted among 6,219 grammar school boys and girls. Twenty-six per cent liked comics. “in which violence abounds and women appear largely as gun molls and never as normal housewives.” Twenty-eight per cent preferred as comics characters “bandits, gangsters, outlaws, millionaires or movie stars.” One Italian child commented, “I’d like to be a bandit because they win all the time and then fight until they are killed.”
That’s one stupid kid. And what story can you tell with a “normal housewife” in an action story? How many “normal housewives” are in classic literature that make any major mark on the story? NOBODY is a normal anything in fiction, including the housewives. Not even in reality TV! Normal is great as a lifestyle (depending on your definition of “normal”) but boring as entertainment! Just make the meals and pop out the babies while the men have their stories told.
In the Italian Parliament American crime comic books were vehemently denounced in a debate that lasted almost a week. The speakers agreed that American comics familiarize children with violence. Nobody got up to suggest that it was the children who were violent first.
Of course not. Kids are innocent beings who never fight each other or steal an extra cookie or do anything mean because a parent isn’t there to stop them. That’s why being a parent is so easy. And no parent is going to hide their kids’ devilish activities because it might reflect poorly on them or the community. (Which I remind you we’ve actually seen happen in the early chapters of this book.)
The reaction in Switzerland is similar, and American bubble-gum pictures – which are just like crime-comics drawings – have been banned as too “bloodthirsty.”
“Petey, why did you beat that man up?”
“Because Bazooka Joe told me to.”
“Making available American crime comic books to Germans with (Economic Cooperation Administration) funds does not seem the soundest way to demonstrate the advantages of our democratic society. . . . They present the worst and most distorted aspect of American life. . . . We casually send along publications that highlight murder, sensuality, crime and superman. Have the Germans not had enough of supermen?”
In line with this, the director-general of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Dr. Bodet, former Mexican Foreign Minister, criticized the Superman type of crime comic book as ‘giving children “false ideas.”
Like using amazing power to save and help people as well as fight Nazis instead of conquering the world and subjugating innocent people so you should too?
In all East European countries, including Russia and Eastern Germany, crime comic books cannot be displayed or sold.
Crime comics or American comics? Yes, I know they’re the same thing to Wertham, but this was the start of the Cold War.
West Germany was the recipient of large quantities of American crime comic books. Thoughtful Germans who did not need de-Nazification and were afraid of re-Nazification tried to stop them.
Now crime comics are turning people into Nazis? YOU’RE THE ONE ATTACKING THE CREATIONS OF JEWISH STORYTELLERS BY CALLING THEIR CREATIONS AGENTS OF HITLER!
In several places large numbers were held up. In Stuttgart, for example, officials of the Red Cross, which had received 20,000 comic books, were afraid that they would “teach violence to the German children.” The dilemma of Europeans who would like to believe in true democracy and then encounter it in questionable forms is well symbolized by this episode. The officials did not know what to do. They felt that they could not give the books to the children, they did not want to burn them on account of old associations and they could not send them back.
With all the lies, half-truths, and exaggerations on display in this book and other anti-comic crowds I’m not surprised. We saw it again in video games because history repeats itself and is kind of a jerk.
In Mexico, writers, parents and teachers have made a large-scale attempt to have the government stop the importation of American crime comics. Here as in other countries this has had a bad effect on importation of other magazines from the United States, the legitimate defense against crime comic books spreading to other publications.
I’m starting to hate authors, and that shouldn’t be happening. Some of these authors were really trying hard to eliminate comics, weren’t they? Now you have writers like Peter David who willingly do both. Although Marvel seems to be hiring writers who hate comics and DC keeps letting their bigger properties be turned into movies and TV shows by people who hate comics, the CW and Warner Brothers Animation (and whomever does the LEGO direct to video movies) being the only exceptions.
Here, too, apologists for comic books have attempted to sell the old story that they are good for reading, with much-resented slurs on the literacy of the Mexican population. At the end of 1953 the sale of American comic books which sow race hatred against Asiatic people was forbidden by law in Mexico.
Sow hatred? Granted these writers either weren’t over the war or just didn’t understand Asian cultures (this was well before the internet, anime, Godzilla, and Bruce Lee) but it’s not like this was exclusive to comics. Not once has Charlie Chan been played by a Chinese man or anyone who can pass as Chinese without heavy makeup, except oddly in the cartoon (that mostly focused on his many kids…I think their mom died from popping out too many babies going by The Amazing Chan And The Chan Clan).
In Australia newspaper articles criticizing comic books have appeared with typical comic-book illustrations. The Australian Journalists Association has asked for a ban on the importation of American comics. In the Union of South Africa their importation has also been prohibited. The law there specifically includes old issues. Voices against comic books have also been raised in Brazil and Egypt, in Indonesia, in India and in South American countries. It is a chorus of dismay.
Because so far (according to Wertham) only one country is even trying to get comics to clean up their product rather than ban them outright. It’s not surprising that the independent comics movement of the 1980s (starting with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles being a huge success even before Playmates started calling about toys and cartoons) has been so focused on comics for adults, with very few created even with kids in mind. And the mainline publishers have followed suit since the CCA’s wacky decisions led them to drop the code altogether when the rise of comic stores made that a dead issue and comic publishers had a place to sell their product. Now kids are truly underserved by the comics industry, which I’m sure Wertham and his friends are more than happy about.
And so we come to a close this chapter of “The Snob’s Guide To Destroying Comics”. Next week features the debut of a show I want to discuss so we’ll be taking another week off, and with an extra day this week I’ll be doing another Bonus review. How about one of those “jungle girl” comics Wertham gets steamed about?
Next Time: The Devil’s Allies
Or “say goodbye to what little subtly I had left”.