Dr. Frederic Wertham Papers Made Available to Scholars

Chances are if you're reading this you have at least a passing interest in comics. If you're one of those folks that like to think of themselves as an afficianado of the medium then you've most likely heard of Dr. Frederic Wertham. The doctor wrote the now famous (infamous?) Seduction of the Innocent, which attempted to correlate the then horrific and scary storylines of comics with youth violence. It was an interesting time in American psychology and, set against the backdrop of McCarthyism, Wertham used the nation's fear of Communism and confusion about the new medium of comcis to crusade against their sales to kids. The only problem was that kids were the primary consumers of comics at the time.

Recently, the Library of Congress made available his papers. These papers include his research, comics he found offensive and general opinions against comics being peddled to youths. Wertham was so passionate about taking responsibility away from parents and kids (and using government enforcement in its stead) when it came to choosing what to read that he felt not doing so would lead to anarchy.

“There seems to be a widely held belief that democracy demands leaving the regula­tion of children’s reading to the individual. Leaving everything to the individual is actually … anarchy. And it is a pity that children should suffer from the anarchistic trends in our society.”

Wertham, fairly or unfairly, has gotten a bit of a bad rap within the comics community. He worked with the poor in Harlem by starting an outpatient clinic and was a critic of segregation. He was even against outright censorship, but he decided to use his position and intellect for more selfish reasons. Basically, he decided to create a national hysteria about comics and say they were corrupting our youths (hence the seduction of the innocent title). This hysteria lead to book burnings and even him appearing in televised Senate committee hearings, seeking to pass laws essentially banning comics (all outlined magnificently in David Hajdu's The Ten Cent Plague). What comics did he have a problem with? Batman for one.

"At home they lead an idyllic life. They are Bruce Wayne and 'Dick' Grayson. Bruce Wayne is described as a 'socialite' and the official relationship is that Dick is Bruce's ward. They live in sumptuous quarters, with beautiful flowers in large vases, and have a butler, Alfred. Batman is sometimes shown in a dressing gown. As they sit by the fireplace the young boy sometimes worries about his partner: 'Something's wrong with Bruce. He hasn't been himself these past few days.' It is like a wish dream of two homosexuals living together. Sometimes they are shown on a couch, Bruce reclining and Dick sitting next to him, jacket off, collar open, and his hand on his friend's arm. Like the girls in other stories, Robin is sometimes held captive by the villains and Batman has to give in or 'Robin gets killed'."

Wertham's assumption (correct or incorrect) about the relationship between Batman and Robin perpetuated that myth that still stands somewhat today (with less emphasis). His is the classic case of taking advantage of an uninformed public to espouse his own beliefs and thoughts in and effort to dictate legislation. Now that these papers have been made available for public research access maybe we'll be able to gain more insights into the doctor that crusaded against the depravity of comic books in an effort to shield kids from the troubles of the world.