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Sunday, June 6, 2021

Revisiting Wertham

I recently reread Seduction of the Innocent, psychiatrist Fredric Wertham's infamous book taking aim at the comic book industry. This time around, I paid particular attention to arguments I didn't cover in my initial post about the 1954 publication. As one example, Wertham criticized Millie the Model and similar comic books for setting unrealistic beauty ideals for girls.

Among his other concerns, Wertham asserted that the visual storytelling of comic books caused children to develop poor reading habits, such as picture reading: reading only the title and maybe the text on those pages with particularly violent or sexually intriguing illustrations. To Wertham, even comic books stating that "crime doesn't pay" were harmful as they showed children how to become criminals.

In writing Seduction of the Innocent, Wertham acknowledged that some psychiatrists regarded his claims as overzealous. Wertham countered that such colleagues made the mistake of seeing juvenille delinquents as fundamentally flawed while ignoring the pernacious influence of comic books. In another generalization, Wertham characterized comic book writers as dissatisfied with their own work.

For clarity, Wertham distinguished comic books from the newspaper comic strips, which he described as intended for adults and subject to tigher publishing standards. Here, Wertham employed a double standard, dismissing Flash Gordon and other comic books derived from newspaper strips as mere caricatures of the originals. In short, even comic books of the highest quality were inherently tainted by virtue of being comic books.

Millie the Model #55 (August 1954) appeared in print the same year as Seduction of the Innocent. Decades later, Millie guest-starred in Defenders #65.
Flash Gordon was one of several Golden Age adventurers reintroduced in the Defenders of the Earth limited series published in 1987 under the Star Comics imprint of Marvel Comics.

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