We can't really talk about comic books without really mentioning a very dark time and also controversial time for comic books. The man in the above picture is Fredric Wertham, the name might sound familiar to many comic fans, but not so familiar to others, He was a psychiatrist who worked primarily in the field of children. He was an early proponent in the claims that violence in mass media, including TV and comic books made children violent. He considered TV a school for violence and stated in TIME Magazine "If I should meet an unruly youngster in a dark alley, I prefer it to be one who hasn't seen Bonnie and Clyde".
In 1954, when the US was gripped by the threat of the Communism, Wertham turned his attention to comic books. He started a campaign to get them banned initially, as what he saw in them was what he believed unfit for children. The EC horror comics of the era were particularly gruesome for the era, but would be considered tame now, but it wasn't just gory images he found. He also claimed that female nudity was hidden in images, Batman and Robin were gay, Wonder Woman was a lesbian with a bondage fetish and that Superman was a Communist. Most of his horror claims stemmed from the fact that they had these gory images, then had adverts for guns and knives.
While his actions forced many Senate hearings on the subject and eventually lead to the creation of the Comics Code Authority, Stan Lee said that Wertham "said things that impressed the public, and it was like shouting fire in a theater, but there was little scientific validity to it. And yet because he had the name doctor people took what he said seriously, and it started a whole crusade against comics". It was later revealed through his research that it was all falsified. He had used the "correlation equals causation" fallacy, as he stated 95% of reform school children read comics, ergo, they must be violent. In 2010, Carol Tilley, assistant professor at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois did some research into Wertham's own research and found that
Wertham manipulated, overstated, compromised, and fabricated evidence—especially that evidence he attributed to personal clinical research with young people—for rhetorical gain.
— Carol Tilley, Seducing the Innocent: Fredric Wertham and the Falsifications That Helped Condemn Comics
Wertham had deliberately lied about his sample size, used already mentally troubled youngsters as test subjects. He'd also paraphrased his test subjects responses and edited them to fit his agenda.
After Wertham's book had gained popularity and had started senate hearings on violence in comic books that was corrupting America's youth, the Comics Code Authority was established in 1954. It's aim was to act as a censorship guide as to what was acceptable in comics at the time. The list of what was forbidden is as follows:
- Crimes shall never be presented in such a way as to create sympathy for the criminal, to promote distrust of the forces of law and justice, or to inspire others with a desire to imitate criminals.
- If crime is depicted it shall be as a sordid and unpleasant activity.
- Policemen, judges, government officials, and respected institutions shall never be presented in such a way as to create disrespect for established authority.
- Criminals shall not be presented so as to be rendered glamorous or to occupy a position which creates a desire for emulation.
- In every instance good shall triumph over evil and the criminal punished for his misdeeds.
- Scenes of excessive violence shall be prohibited. Scenes of brutal torture, excessive and unnecessary knife and gunplay, physical agony, gory and gruesome crime shall be eliminated.
- No comic magazine shall use the words "horror" or "terror" in its title.
- All scenes of horror, excessive bloodshed, gory or gruesome crimes, depravity, lust, sadism, masochism shall not be permitted.
- All lurid, unsavory, gruesome illustrations shall be eliminated.
- Inclusion of stories dealing with evil shall be used or shall be published only where the intent is to illustrate a moral issue and in no case shall evil be presented alluringly, nor so as to injure the sensibilities of the reader.
- Scenes dealing with, or instruments associated with walking dead, torture, vampires and vampirism, ghouls, cannibalism, and werewolfism are prohibited.
- Profanity, obscenity, smut, vulgarity, or words or symbols which have acquired undesirable meanings are forbidden.
- Nudity in any form is prohibited, as is indecent or undue exposure.
- Suggestive and salacious illustration or suggestive posture is unacceptable.
- Females shall be drawn realistically without exaggeration of any physical qualities.
- Illicit sex relations are neither to be hinted at nor portrayed. Rape scenes as well as sexual abnormalities are unacceptable.
- Seduction and rape shall never be shown or suggested.
- Sex perversion or any inference to same is strictly forbidden.
- Nudity with meretricious purpose and salacious postures shall not be permitted in the advertising of any product; clothed figures shall never be presented in such a way as to be offensive or contrary to good taste or morals.
Many publishers didn't survive this period and sadly died off when their product was banned under the rules and their new code friendly comics didn't sell as well, forcing them to cancel. EC comics was perhaps the hardest hit by the code. The code itself had no real enforcement over the publishers themselves, however, most distributors refused to carry comics that DIDN'T carry the seal. Dell and Gold Key didn't display the seal and escaped unscathed.
Wertham dismissed the CCA as an inadequate half measure. However, many people said that it guaranteed a G rating for comics from 1954 to 2000, when the CCA was pretty much made defunct, companies started adopting their own ratings system.
So there we have it, a run down of what Fredric Wertham did for comics in the 1950s and how it has affected them ever since.