We’re on part three of this chapter’s analysis and we aren’t even to the halfway point of the chapter. It’s a good thing we usually take a break before the Prize Fight of a Friday Night Fights tournament because it looks like I might need it. But maybe I’ll get lucky. In this section Dr. Wertham is going to tell us that even the supposed good comics are just bad comics that trick our kids better. This is also the section I jumped ahead to because I really wanted to showcase what Dr. Wertham considers a good comic, which is an illustrated book and not an actual comic. Remember, Wertham is comic illiterate and proud of it, and anything that is a new way to tell a story he’s against. I bet he doesn’t even like the newspaper strips he keeps remind the readers aren’t the same as comic books. This section shows his snobbery even more and makes me sad to be a lover of books because he’s the kind of fanatic that keeps me out of fandoms in this regard. And I do love books. I still have an old summer reading promotional poster on the wall of the studio, although it is currently blocked by a video rack due to the current layout. This article series is usually about examining a prose novel one chapter at a time. Books are awesome!
But I don’t think you have to hate books to love comics or hate comics to love books. Comics tell stories their own way, just like books, movies, serials, TV shows, radio dramas, and whatever else they had in the 1950s. To toss a whole medium away because you hate seeing a kid not reading a book…by the way, what if Dr. Wertham could magically wish all comic books out of existence and saw this new wave of kids still weren’t reading the classics or reading at all? What would he do then? Let’s just get on with it.
But what about the “good” comic books? Whenever the industry is challenged by parents, teachers or mothers’ clubs, it forgets all about the “good” comic books and relies on legal technicalities to ward off any attempt to regulate or force it into self-regulation. That happened in Chicago, in Detroit, in Los Angeles County and in New York. But “good” comic books are important because in some naive way many parents think that the “good” comic books are the answer to any problem that presents itself. So critics of the industry should look into the question of what they are, and how many there are of them, even though this is a question the industry itself always shuns.
Notice “good” is always in quotation marks. Wertham doesn’t believe any comic is a good comic because even the ones that aren’t violent and are just silly comedies (because kids don’t need high adventure unless it features stories from a book written a century before they were born and taking place a century before that) still read like a comic, with word balloons and onomatopoeia and all that other stuff he considers garbage because it’s new. I imagine he thought television was bad because it wasn’t radio.
Among the “good” comic books whose quantity counts at all are usually reckoned the animal comics, the Disney comics and their imitators, classical books in comic-book form, comic books that are reprints of newspaper comic strips, some teen-age girl comics and some boys’ sport comics. The mainstay of the “good” comic books are the animal comics and a few of the relatively innocuous related comics.
Because that’s all kids deserve. Look, we’ll see he hates those too but these are the only comics and TV shows (ask a Saturday Morning Cartoon fan) certain parent groups and people like Wertham think kids should have. Some of my favorite shows were action shows where the heroes used their heads as much as, if not more than, their fists. And I still enjoy those. Which may surprise you since the other big topic around here lately has been a giant robot slashing cybernetic monsters with a huge sword.
Precise figures, which of course would have to be based on records of printing orders, are not available. One has to estimate carefully from all available data the numbers printed, published, distributed and actually read. One has to take into account that crime comic books are traded so often and for so many years and are handed around to so many people and read so repeatedly.
And yet we’ve seen Wertham claim that comics are not social. Who do you think these kids are trading comics with and talk to about these comics? Other kids. Which means they’re gathering together and being…drumroll please…social!
One must consider also that some crime comics have larger editions of each title than the “good” ones, and have more issues per year. On this basis I have concluded that the animal and related comics containing no harmful ingredients amount at the most to no more than between one and two tenths of the whole. That is what all the fuss about “good” comics boils down to.
That’s nothing new. Compare the media made for grown-ups compared to the media made for kids. Today kids have a handful of channels and they better hope they get them all because none of the other stations show kid-targeted shows except for some kind of reality exploration show about how awesome nature is or something, and that’s only because the forced education hours that are part of the reason Saturday Morning died is still in effect.
The much-vaunted animal comics are read only by the very young, and are bought mostly by parents. They are showpieces prominently displayed where parents or teachers are apt to be shopping or passing by. They are the only one occasionally read aloud by parents. If a child tries to trade rabbit stuff with other children, he is jeered at because the only comics traded are killer ones.
I’ll read Hoppy The Marvel Bunny. A good story is where you find it. I grew up with crimefighting anthropomorphic animals.
Frequently the “good” comics have bad features, too. They sometimes show cruelty. Ducks shoot atomic rays and threaten to kill rabbits: “I’ll kill the parents, I’m a hard guy and my heart is made of stone.” They have advertisements for “throwing knives,” for pistols shooting steel darts and of course for crime comics. The “good” comics are the pacemakers for the bad ones.
Ducks shooting atomic rays at rabbits What comic were you reading because that sounds fun if done right? It wouldn’t be nowadays because “adults” ruin everything fun lately. And yes, the bad guys are bad guys and they try to kill people. But nobody dies in kids stories unless they died off-panel years ago to advance the plot–and sometimes they’re still found alive.
Take one that looks even more harmless, Howdy Doody. I discussed this with a group of white and colored children. Their reaction was partly giggling, partly inhibited. The book depicts colored natives as stereotyped caricatures, violent, cowardly, cannibalistic and so superstitious that they get scared by seltzer tablets and popping corn and lie down in abject surrender on their faces before two little white boys.
Violent? I’ve seen episodes of Howdy Doody and while I wouldn’t be surprised if the “colored natives”, which assume means it takes place in Africa somehow, were bad stereotypes (it’s not the existence of one but the absence of the other–there were no black characters that I know of on the show…just a few marionettes, a clown, and a white man in a cowboy costume) I would be surprised if it’s anything close to “violent”. But then again, Wertham is surprised that a Bugs Bunny comic may be “violent”, slapstick or not.
The same theme of race ridicule is played up in the good animal comic book Bugs Bunny. Colored people are described as “superstitious natives” and you see them running away. The injury-to-the-eye motif is added, Bugs Bunny being shown throwing little diamonds into the eyes of the colored people. They are “big enough to blind a feller!” says Bunny. “Awk! I can’t see!” says one victim. Is that not the same crime-comic-book ingredient adapted to the youngest set?
Did nobody poke anyone in the eye prior to 1950? He’s rather obsessed with this.
Among other “good” comic books are those that teach history. Typical is one called Your United States. It devotes one page to each state and, although on bad paper and as smudgily printed as the others, it really contains some instructive information. But practically every state, although it gets only one page, has a scene of violence; if one doesn’t, that is made up for in other states where there are two or three such scenes. For instance, a man hanged from a tree by a “vigilance committee”; Negroes in chains; corpses and dying men; a girl tied to a tree, her bound wrists above her head, her skirt blowing up in the wind and a coy facial expression of fright as in a sadist’s dream; a girl about to be raped or massacred. Is that what you want your children to think is the history of “Your United States”?
I looked through a few pages of this comic (mostly to see what they said about Connecticut…including a town named after a clock factory that moved out-of-state years ago because our state government is run by nitwits) and there was indeed mention of violent pasts, but maybe only one section of the page. Here, I’ll bring up that Connecticut page:
There is one…you can’t really call this a panel. You can’t even really call it a comic. It’s fifty pages (actually probably 49 since for some reason Alaska and Hawaii share a page) of posters. But there’s one image of a Redcoat being shot at. The other pages I saw did acknowledge less than noble events of the state’s past prior to the comic’s release (1946). But Wertham seems to be more than willing to ignore the uncomfortable parts of our nation’s past. I think we dwell on it too much nowadays for different reasons, but you can’t ignore it either. This leads to public book burnings of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn because they refer to an escaped black slave by the N word at some point for some reason. And rest assured Wertham is trying to ignore the dark parts of our history.
It has been said that if comic books for children were censored on account of their violence “you couldn’t have a picture of Lincoln’s assassination in a textbook.” Would that be such a calamity? There are many other pictures of Lincoln’s time and life that would be far more instructive.
And yet it is telling that John Wilkes Booth wanted Lincoln dead for wanting to give slaves the right to vote. (I just looked it up on the History Channel’s site and learned things.) It spoke to the state of the country. It is a part of American history as sure as the War Of Independence that led to the founding of our United States. To paraphrase Dinobot in his death scene on Beast Wars: Transformers “let the country’s story be told truly, the ill deeds along with the good and let it be judged accordingly”. We seem to have a culture that either treats anything remotely unpleasant like the ultimate villain while ignoring any good deeds that person or this country have done. Pardon my political moment but you can’t ignore Lincoln’s assassination any more than any Christian can refuse to tell their child about Jesus’s Crucifixion. It’s rather important to the story. It’s not like changing Little Red Riding Hood so the wolf doesn’t have his stomach cut open by the woodcutter.
Here is another comic book dealing with history and education, especially sent to me as a shining example. It has a feature about the Olympic games: “The Olympic games were the greatest sporting event of the ancient world. But any ladies caught watching them were thrown over a cliff.” Here I have gone all these years without knowing that! And lest the child miss the point, an illustration shows it: A well-developed girl with the same coy expression of alarm runs along a steep cliff hotly pursued by a he-man in a helmet. Another item for the child’s information is that there was “fixing” in the Olympic games. One could call this the contemporary approach to ancient history.
Try living in the 2000s. All this negative stuff about our past is shoved in our face. We aren’t allowed to have heroes anymore from any time period. From there Wertham goes into examples of historical fiction that gets some facts wrong. I haven’t seen Johnny Tremain since I was a boy and never read the book because it’s not a subject that interests me but I wouldn’t be surprised to hear it got something wrong. You never go to historical fiction to learn the truth about history unless that was the intent of the writer who did all that research. Remember, he thinks kids are dumb enough to believe Superboy helped George Washington across the Potomac and even the famous art piece has historical inaccuracies. Even stories about real fictional events have been made up for the sake of the story. It’s one of the big complaints against The DaVinci Code.
There are publicity comic books to influence adults. Sylvia F. Porter, the financial columnist, writes about a comic book got out by the American Bankers Association: “The aim is not just to amuse you. Not by a long shot. It is to mold your thinking in a specific way.” If that is true of good comic books for bankers, isn’t it true, too, of bad comic books for children? They mold a child’s thinking in a specific way.
Political comic books are the exact opposite of crime comics. In The Story of Harry S. Truman, for example, characters who might well be featured in a crime comic book are suppressed. Boss Pendergast is not mentioned. And instead of him, there is at the beginning of the Truman saga this domestic scene: Young Truman coming home and saying to his wife, “Bess, the boys at the Legion meeting were talking about having me run for county judge.”
You just complained about Lincoln’s assassination being omitted as a good thing but not a mob boss who for whatever reason worked to get Truman elected? I’m confused. Or did Wertham not like Truman? What historic facts are we allowed to ignore as a good thing?
Those who attempt to use comic books for educational purposes forget that crime comic books have set up in children associations which counteract their efforts. An educational comic book for teen-agers on juvenile drug addiction cannot do any good to adolescents who have been stimulated by other comics about a girl’s dreams “of murder and morphine.”
Yeah, we already know what Wertham thinks can turn kids to drugs, so his judgement is faulty on the subject.
I have never seen any good effects from comic books that condense classics. Classic books are a child’s companion, often for life. Comic-book versions deprive the child of these companions.
They do active harm by blocking one of the child’s avenues to the finer things of life.
Typical cultured snob response.
There is a comic book which has on its cover two struggling men, one manacled with chains locked around hands and feet, the other with upraised fist and a reddened, bloody bandage around his head; onlookers: a man with a heavy iron mallet on one side and a man with a rifle and a bayonet on the other. The first eight pictures of this comic book show an evil-looking man with a big knife held like a dagger threatening a child who says: “Oh, don’t cut my throat, sir!” Am I correct in classifying this as a crime comic? Or should I accept it as what it pretends to be – Dickens’ Great Expectations?
I actually looked this one up, and he’s actually right about the cover…and other adaptations have used the same image redrawn. And this is a poor cover since it doesn’t accurately depict an important part of the book, just one event that happened in Pip’s life. I wonder though was this part “X” of a multipart story and this is where this particular chapter started? That at least would make some sense. I admittedly didn’t look that far in.
The idea that by giving children something good to read, crime comics can be combated, purified or eliminated has proved naive wherever it was tried. It does not take into account the mass character of the seduction, which is precisely why crime comic books are an entirely new phenomenon not equaled before at any time nor place.
Yes, that’s the reason. Certainly not that these kids wouldn’t be interested in the life of a boy being manipulated into upper class society decades before they were born as part of a plot to break a young man’s heart as payback for something he isn’t guilty of but makes a good analog patsy. We then get back to Mr. Stansbury and his illustrated “comic” (I went over that in part one) and his attempt to get some press for the book.
With this series Mr. Stansbury hoped to deal a blow to the onslaught of crime comics. But how to bring this about by getting the project before the public? A national magazine, the Woman’s Home Companion, was enthusiastic about it. They had already prepared a layout for an article dealing with this new comic-book series. But at the last moment Mr. Stansbury was told by the “child care expert” of the magazine, herself a senior staff member of the Child Study Association of America, that he must first “submit” the comic books to the Consultant of Children’s Reading of the Child Study Association of America, who (according to the Kefauver Committee) is in the employ of the comic-book industry. Mr. Stansbury pleaded with the editors who had liked his plan and The Nightingale so much. He asked why he must go to “somebody whose name appears on some of the most objectionable comic books.” But that is what had to be done before they would print his article. He refused, and the Woman’s Home Companion never printed a word about the project. That is how things are sewed up in the comic-book field. The industry won again, and the children lost. I know many other similar examples. They show how unrealistic it is to think that the flood tide of crime comics can be stemmed by trying to launch good comics. The public, of course, does not know about these connections.
I find this all suspect. What reason would the comic industry have to care about this? And again he didn’t create a comic. He created an illustrated book, which might have different rules. The publisher, Crowell-Collier Publishing, wasn’t in the comics business according to Wikipedia. Basically Sansbury shot himself in the foot because he needed to submit to a group allegedly tied to comics and had a fit. I couldn’t find much on the Child Study Association Of America to comment on them.
I’ve over the word limit, and still not at the halfway mark. Lord give me strength. More of this nonsense tomorrow.