Fredric Wertham Was A Douchebag aka Hooray For The Comics Code Authority!
It is Tuesday and I already can’t wait for my comics to get here by the end of the week. Sweet Monkey Jesus do I love comic books!
I don’t even remember how my romance with comics started to be quite honest. I’m pretty sure it had something to do with Channel 11 in New York City featuring an afternoon line-up of the old Adam West Batman TV show, the old George Reeves Superman TV show and the old Clayton Moore Lone Ranger TV show. To an impressionable child, THAT IS A STACKED LINE-UP! It also helped that I was born in 1972 and you could get comics at the local news-stand. A block and a half away from me was my local news-stand, complete with grumpy store owner who actually would tell me that his store was not a library. I think all news-stand owners go to the same trade school and have to spend hours practicing saying “This isn’t a library!” in just the right tone. I imagine that would be “News-Stand Owner 101” because if you can’t pass that class and say that phrase just right, you have no business running a News-Stand.
The advent of the local comic shop/specialty store has pretty much killed the news-stand as the place to get your comic books. Sure you can still grab a Batman, Superman and Spider-Man comic there, but I am not getting a new issue of of say, Fables or Hellblazer there. If you do have a local News-Stand that carries Hellblazer I want to now about it!
I imagine it is tucked away on some London side street, run by some failed English Lit major. This News-Stand owner frowns upon anyone talking about mainstream comics and really only carries 2000 AD and Vertigo books. If you even mention the movie Constantine, he will forbid you to purchase anything from his tragically emo News-Stand. You must tread carefully around him, for he will do nothing but talk about Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore, that is if you get him to talk. The last thing you need is tragically emo News-Stand owner talking your ear off about Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore because if that conversation starts, then there is a good chance that you will die at that news-stand, regretting you even looked at that copy of Swamp Thing or Sandman.
Shit! Now I lost my train of thought. Oh yeah, COMICS! As a child I was expressly denied the glory of superhero comics. This isn’t to say I didn’t HAVE superhero comics, I just wasn’t ALLOWED to have them. I was only allowed the Harvey Comics characters (Richie Rich, Casper etc…) or Archie comics. Thank God I wasn’t home-schooled or else I never would have gotten my hands on the latest Batman, Superman or the occasional issue of the Incredible Hulk. I never really understood why my parents were so anti-Superhero. Maybe being in heir late teens in 1954 both Mom and Dad read seduction of the innocent and believed all those terrible things that Psychiatrist/douchebag Fredric Wertham wrote about Batman. Maybe my parents just wanted to raise a seriously uptight little boy that would endeavor to be an accountant. I really don’t have any idea why my parents were so against superheros.
I already have a feeling most of the non-comic book readers are asking the question of “Who is Fredric Wertham”? Fredric Wertham is to comic book fans what Hitler is to the Jews, or at least he should be. Ok, I might be overstating myself. But seriously, if you’re going ot get over howmuch of a douchebag a guy is Hitler is your “Go To” guy to compare with, though I imagine Osama Bin-Laden has been steadily rising in this category since 2001.
Wertham was a psychiatrist who wrote the foul tome known as Seduction Of The Innocent, which basically proclaimed comic books, especially those of the super-heroic, crime and horror nature, to be a massive negative influence on people and led to juvenile delinquency and possible homosexuality. Wertham cited Batman and Robin as subversion and basically branded them as homosexuals. Wertham also looked too deeply at drawings of things like tree bark and saw hidden images of naked women. About the only thing he had right was the bondage subtext of Wonder Woman, which was no surprise to anyone who actually bothered to read Wonder Woman. FUCK! Wonder Woman creator William Moulton Marsden pretty much laid it out that way in the very first appearance of the character. Of course Wonder Woman is rooted in so much Greek Mythology that is central to the character that Wertham just kind of glossed over those facts.
How far was Wertham off his rocker?
When someone claims that Superman is un-American and likens that character to a fascist, well that person should just be plain laughed at. The words ‘Un-American’ and ‘Superman’ should never be uttered in the same breath. The fact that Wertham was called before a Senate Subcommittee Hearing on Juvenile Delinquency, where he got to further espouse his nonsense only made matters worse. This led to that all to familiar brand on American comics known as The Comics Code Authority. Pretty much every mainstream comic book was slapped with that label from 1954 until 1971 when my hero and yours Stan Lee basically told the CCA to fuck off by publishing the non-code approved issues of The Amazing Spider-Man (Amazing Spider-Man #96-98). Now understand, the CCA was NOT a government run body, it was actually formed by the comic publishing industry after the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency determined that the industry should be ‘allowed’ to police itself as to what should and shouldn’t be published. Basically, the United States Senate sent a thinly veiled threat to the comic publishers “Clean up your act or we’ll clean it up for you!”. Thus the Comics Code Authority was born.
So what did my hero and yours Stan Lee and The Amazing Spider-Man do to end 17 years of strict self-censorship by the CCA?
Why have the government ask them to write a special anti-drug story of course. Stan was asked by the United States Department of Health, Education and Welfare to write a comic story about the horrors of drug abuse. tan figured that since he had been asked by the Government to write the story that he would have no problem getting it past the CCA. Stan was wrong, as the acting head of the CCA John Goldwater, refused to release the story under the CCA brand. Goldwater was the publisher for Archie Comics and all its assorted titles, probably the shining example of what a ‘Code Approved’ comic book was supposed to be. Without the CCA approving his story Stan and his publisher Martin Goldman did the only thing they thought was right, they released the books without the CCA’s stamp of approval.
These days the CCA is still around but is pretty much archaic as most publisher’s will publish without CCA approval. Marvel withdrew from the CCA in 2001, which given Marvel’s current style of storytelling is a good thing because there is no way 99% of the stuff they publish would ever get past the CCA. Only DC ad Archie remain, both submitting stories to the CCA. DC does so for main DC Universe line as well as their Johnny DC line of all ages books. DC will publish a non-Code approved book though. I think the coming of the Anti-Christ will be heralded when Archie releases a non-Code book. The story would have to involve Jughead on Crystal Meth most likely or Betty & Veronica’s private slumber party.
So why this little history lesson on the Comics Code Authority?
I don’t know really. I remember as a kid looking at the seal of the CCA and thinking “If it is approved by the Code then it has to be good”. For years I didn’t realize that the CCA was actually a legitimate body that said ‘Yea’ or ‘Nay’ on what was acceptable. I just figured the the seal was on there to make parents and kids feel safe about what they were buying ,which it kind of was, but was just like a maguffin, completely fictional like the comics I was buying. Yet, no matter how many books with a CCA stamp I brought home and showed to my Mother, if they had Batman or any such character in them, they went straight to the trash. I remember being 11 and having horded quite a stash of comics under my bed. I was extra careful to make sure that my Mom never discovered their hiding spot. That summer I went to camp in Maine. For the record, Maine sucks. Sorry all you Mainers, its true and no amount of L.L. Bean merchandise will change my mind on that. Anyway, I got home from camp and the only thing I cared about was getting to my little stash of comics. I rushed in my room, looked under my bed and… nothing! “Jamie” my mother said in an unamused voice, “I found them!”. Amazingly I didn’t get in trouble. It was soon after that I was given a weekly allowance. I could buy my own comics and then nothing could be said about it. However there was a devious catch to all this… the allowance I was given was… 1 penny a week. Comics were at the 60 cent mark at this point. I could save for a year and not have the funds to buy one comic book. I think it was then that I learned the meaning of the word irony!