Was Fredric Wertham an evil monster who took comics away from the kiddies? Or simply misunderstood?
Comic Mix points out a Slate article on the psychiatrist who, in the 1940s and 50s, led a crusade against what he thought were "bad elements" in comics. In 1954 he wrote a book called "Seduction of the Innocent" which blasted the comic book industry and resulted in a bunch of really crappy issues of Wonder Woman where she goes stamp collecting.
Was Wertham a villain for attacking books like EC Comics' horror line and, essentially, driving them off the spinner racks of our great nation? Was he leading a witchhunt? Or, as the Slate article seems to be saying, was the witchhunt eventually turned upon Wertham?
"Wertham was particularly concerned about the violence, misogyny, and racism that were endemic in comics (and other popular art forms). He wasn't wrong on this point. Many of the comics now nostalgically celebrated by Hajdu and Chabon were extremely unsavory in their social attitudes. EC comics regularly featured husbands and wives ending marital spats with knives, axes, and poison. On the racial front, Will Eisner's much-loved Spirit featured a Sambo-like sidekick named Ebony White, who was childish, had thick lips, and spoke in an illiterate minstrel dialect."
The question as to Wertham's relative guilt or innocence in terms of his place in comic book history is a tough one. Certainly, as the result of his interference, a lot of crappy books came out from The Big Two until Showcase and Lee/Kirby.
On the other hand, having read a number of these EC horror titles -- some of this stuff is really, really gruesome. Having some sort of warning on those books as to the content, instead of racking them up next to Superman, might have prevented a lot of EC's grief. I know some people hate this argument, and hate the idea of putting warning labels on comics. But a comic about Superman meeting a caveman and a comic about a baseball diamond covered with internal organs are not the same thing.
I clearly remember looking at a stack of Fangorias when I was seven over some friend's house. Those images -- severed legs stacked on a table, melting heads -- played over in my head and gave me nightmares for years. I would say that these images of violence are far worse for a child to look at than even the T&A and "bad language" the American entertainment industry so assiduously tries to protect youngsters from. If I have to choose between reading the word "s**t" or looking at a boob in a comic and viewing someone getting their brains blown out, I'd pick the former.
Then again, Wertham seemed to have this idea that comics like Batman promoted homosexuality. Which is indirectly how we got that annoying Aunt Harriet in the TV show, by the way.
So maybe he was a jerk.
What do you think: was Fredric Wertham aw-ful or awe-some?
(note: I've seen his first name spelled "Fredric" and Frederic" on various websites. I'm going with Wikipedia.)