Sunday, February 6, 2011

Part 2: Fredric Wertham, Censorship & the Timely Anti-Wertham Editorials

1953 saw Fredric Wertham renew his attacks on comic books in earnest. Having failed in his attempt to outlaw crime comics, his vitriol now was directed against the myriad graphic horror comics that lined the newsstands. While Atlas published the most horror comics quantitatively and there were numerous other publishers of similar fare, the company that took the real heat from Wertham's radar was William Gaines' EC Comics line, a smaller line helmed by editor Al Feldstein and producing arguably the finest crime, science fiction and horror comics in the industry, backed by a cadre of enormously talented artists.

At Timely Comics, now better known as Atlas Comics, Editor-in-Chief Stan Lee took it upon himself to mock the antics of a resurgent Dr. Wertham. In the very last issue of the horror/mystery title SUSPENSE, #29 (April/53), a title licensed from CBS where both radio and television versions existed, Stan Lee and his top artist/collaborator Joe Maneely skewered Dr. Wertham with a 4 page story titled "The Raving Maniac". In a nutshell, a raving, angry man runs into the offices of a comic book company to complain about their horror comics. The editor (Stan himself!) counters him deftly with logic and common sense before the men in the white coats burst in and haul him off.  Stan pulls no punches. The man was a raving, foaming at the mouth maniac and this was Fredric Wertham in effigy. This was a forgotten story for decades before I dredged it up in the1990's for a Comics Buyer's Guide article on Stan Lee. I gave the article (with the story) to Stan Lee's biography co-writer George Mair when he was looking for background on Lee early in the research for the book. It appeared therein and Marvel then ran with it as Stan's stand against censorship. Unfortunately, Mair gave no credit sources whatsoever in the book so I'm stating it right here that I was the source for much of the factual Timely and Atlas data in the book dealing with the actual comics themselves, to whatever minimal degree it was covered.

SUSPENSE #29 (Apr/53)

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Stan Lee wasn't finished. Suspense's cancellation paved the way for MENACE, the closest Stan's Atlas line came to E.C., not in caliber of storytelling, but in a single title edited and written by a single voice (Stan wrote the first 7 issues in their entirety). Menace was a showcase for Bill Everett, the main cover artist and often lead story artist who was a good as anyone at EC for depicting rotting corpses and creeping dread. It was right after this issue that Stan Lee stopped writing horror stories for Atlas, preferring to write primarily humor stories for the teen titles. Did the encroaching firestorm have a part in his decision, as he always signed his name to every story he wrote? Did Stan feel by signing his name on these horror stories he was putting a bullseye on his back? My opinion is that he did.

In issue #7 (Sept/53), together with artist Joe Sinnott, Stan wrote the story "The Witch in the Woods", a 5-page vignette which once again mocked the resurgent Dr. Wertham. The splash shows a small boy reading an issue Uncanny Tales in bed, being yelled at by his father for reading such junk. Dad then pulls out a "real" book, a copy of Grimm's Fairy Tales, and proceeds to read his son the story of Hansel and Gretel, whereby he scares himself silly from all the violence in the tale, especially the part where the children push the witch into the burning oven where she fries to death! This is the exact same pitch anti-Wertham forces had been making for years going back to 1948, that children get just as much violence in real books and the Bible itself.

MENACE #7 (Sept/1953)

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Media coverage once again increased. Newspapers chimed in from all over the country. Many with critical attacks and some with reports of local municipalities enforcing outright prohibition to minors:


 E.C.’s “The Night Before Christmas” in PANIC #1 was banned in Massachusetts and the December 28, 1953 issue of the New York Times shouted “Comic Book Ban Fought”.

PANIC #1 (Feb-Mar/54) [Bill Elder]

NY TIMES 12-28-53

HARTFORD COURANT February 14, 1954

When the November, 1953 issue of Ladies’ Home Journal published a summary of a forthcoming book attacking the comic book industry, the tempest was ready burst out of its teapot.

The article was "What Parents Don't Know About Comic Books" by the industry's major nemesis, Dr. Fredric Wertham, and the effect was devastating. Wertham had not only not gone away, but he had spent the last 3 years collating all his evidence, case studies and minutia for a forthcoming book. Just before the books publication, Wertham primed his audience, reaching out to a population that would surpass even his books distribution and sales, the major women's publication for the family and home, Ladies' Home Journal, a magazine found in nearly every home in America. Published then as a huge bedsheet sized magazine (Life Magazine size), Ladies' Home Journal presented the piece "twice up" (as we say), bowling over mothers with detailed descriptions of crime, brutality and sadism, all amalgamated by Dr. Wertham into an explaination for the shocking rise in violent juvenile crime. We see our old friend Jack Cole's "injury to eye" panel blown up now to exaggerated proportions and I must say, re-reading this today, I was struck by the case he made, even though I personally blame the shocking "apparent" lack of parenting as a major culprit in Wertham's examples. All of his case studies consist of unsupervised "young" children out on their own, roaming the streets at will and getting into trouble. Here below are images of the first 4 pages and accompanying illustrations. The quality is suffering in some due to the fact that they are photographs rather than scanned images. The magazine is just too large to fit on a scanner bed.





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Page 52-53

In reality, all the points of Wertham's diatribe were already old news. The article is 100% about crime comics and by the article's publication, crime comics had already been pushed out and supplanted by horror and war comics as the dominant form of male children's comic book reading habits. Whether crime comics had run their natural waning course by themselves caused by over-saturation (like the romance comics did), or publishers got tired of Wertham's hammering away in the media and cut back, is up for debate. The point is that crime comics had fallen to a smaller niche by the time of the publication of this article. In effect, Wertham had beaten the crime comics publishers, whatever the cause and reason. To use an example, Timely at their height, had 11 crime titles on the stands from mid 1951 to mid 1952. By mid 1953, the time of this article, It had "one", the long-running Justice Comics. Three additional spy comics were on the stands and a case could be made for crime-like content, but they were more a spin-off of the war comics genre than "true-crime" type books.

In fact, using Timely-Atlas as an industry barometer, lining up all the major genres, breaks can be spotted along the way. Romance appeared, glutted and fell from 1949-1950. Crime then rose, peaked and fell by the end of 1952. The Korean War jump-started war comics and the big fall-off was Spring of 1953. Lastly, horror comics ascended at the start of 1952 (from a slow rise since 1949) and dropped "before" the code at the end of 1954, Atlas being a situation where the drop-off was not precipitous and they fared the change from horror to mystery very smoothly.

War comics as a genre really got off the ground immediately after the start of the Korean war, with much of their content being "extremely" violent and often xenophobic, but like the animated cartoons of the film industry, were not as strongly and actively pursued by anti-comic book critics, except for rare instances (see below).

WAR COMICS #11 August, 1952 [Russ Heath]

MAN COMICS #22 January, 1953 [Bill Everett]

Of note to us here is that we see that one of Wertham's illustrative highlights is the Timely crime story "Kid Melton" published in Lawbreakers always Lose #7, (April 1949).To start, Dr. Wertham doesn't even like the title "Lawbreakers Always Lose". His beef with the title is the fact that the word "Lawbreakers" is large and prominent while the rest "Always Lose" is small and easily not noticed by a potential impressionable future juvenile offender. So his thrust is that while the criminal always gets it in the end, little junior is too "stimulated" and enraptured by the action and violence to realize it. The Wertham assumption is that junior will only assimilate and absorb the bad, never the good.


So let's look at what's all the hubbub with "Kid Melton". First let's look at the images on page 51. There are four different complaints. Starting on the left:

1) "One story alone has ten pictures of girls getting beaten with a whip, strangled, choked by hand, choked with a scarf". This is a suggestive gun-moll type headlight panel

2) "The great attraction of crime comics is alleged to be continuous fast action. But action slows for detailed scenes of brutality." As I've already mentioned, this Jack Cole panel really gave Dr. Wertham agitaand he milked a ton of media mileage out of it. Unfortunately, it's pretty hard to defend other than the violence in the panel never took place, occurring in a drug-induced nightmare. Hmm.. hard to defend that also.

Skipping to #4...

4) "In the spring of 1951 a teen-ager driving a stolen car tried to run down a policeman. People tried to wonder about such cold-blooded brutality, asked how a young boy gets such ideas". Such ideas? How about he's a hardened punk kid from a broken home who never had any parental guidance? Sure, blame it on the excuse "he read it in a comic book". How utterly naive.

3) "The ever-recurring theme: It's smart to 'double-cross your pal', as child readers learn to put it." So "that's" the problem. Double-crossing a pal is the nefarious message sent by Kid Melton.

Let's have a look at "Kid Melton":

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The story is pretty mild as pre-code crime comics go. Some gun-play, lots of tough third-rate crime noir dialogue, and the killer gets it in the end. Gee, to me it looks like a lesson of what "not" to ever imitate or follow. The harshest material Dr. Wertham would object to is the title splash where Kid Melton rants on about "I'd stick a shiv in my best friend's back if it would give me an easy buck! Friendship is for suckers! Loyalty -- That's for jerks!", and panel 1 on page 4 where Melton smacks his moll around.

#2539 Page 4, panel 1

Before we take our leave of the Ladies' Home Journal article, let's take a look at the small comic rack photo at the lower left bottom of page 52. I spot a slew of Timelys!  On the left there is an issue of the Human Torch, in the center I spot The Witness #1 (Sept/48), Lawbreakers Always Lose #7 (Oct/48), On the right is Complete Mystery #1 (Aug/48), another Human Torch and an issue of All-True Crime that appears to be #30 (Nov/48). If the newsstand photo is legitimate and not staged, it gives some support to the theory that Timely and Atlas comics often came out with a "range" of cover months, in this case, over a 3 month range.

Spring of 1954 saw the book’s publication, Dr. Fredric Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent, the culmination of six years of propaganda and ceaseless vociferating. It immediately caused a firestorm as newspapers, magazines and commentators reviewed its contents and acclaimed its rhetoric and conclusions. I am purposely not going into a deep examination of this book as others have written about it extensively over the decades in more detail than I can ever do here. Needless to say, this was now the beginning of the end of the comic book industry in its then current incarnation, an incarnation of incredible artistic diversity, innovation, excitement, violence, crassness and "flying by the seat of its pants" ingenuity. We would not see its like again.

Seduction of the Innocent was reviewed below in the New York Times (OCR'd for clarity)

NEW YORK TIMES April 6, 1954

It was also reviewed in Wertham's old stomping grounds, The Saturday Review of Literature, in the April 24, 1954 issue by Winfred Overholser, M.D., superintendent of St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington D.C. and editor-in-chief of The Quarterly Review of Psychiatry and NeurologyWhile the title of the review "Want to Laugh?" gives the impression that the reviewer is mocking Wertham's conclusions, the text, while not 100% corroborating Wertham's evidence and conclusions about the pernicious effects of comic books, does end with an agreement that the periodicals likely have an "educational" effect.

April 24, 1954

April 24, 1954

1954 also saw the publication of the British equivalent of Seduction of the Innocent by Geoffrey Wagner, Parade of Pleasure, published by Derek Verschoyle in London. This was re-published by a rarely seen American version in 1955 by Library Publishers and just re-published once again now by Greg Theakston's Pure Imagination.

"Parade of Pleasure", as the cover of the book states, was "a study of popular iconography in the U.S.A." and referenced many different venues of American popular culture from film, television, radio, pin-up magazines and murder-mystery magazines, to comic books.  The main thrust is the disturbing trend towards violence, sex and the effect on children and young people. Much more so than SOTI, which skewered mainly crime comics, POP did focus a great deal on sexy pin-up images and war comics, including many ultra-violent Korean War covers and stories. Just from the cover image above, several Atlas war titles are easily seen: Battle ActionBattle BradyBattlefrontCombat and Combat Kelly.

E.C. publisher William Gaines fought back hard, publishing a satirical ad on the inside front cover
of Tales from the Crypt #43 (Sept. ’54) titled “Are You a Red Dupe?” mocking Wertham, as well as a
full page editorial “This is an Appeal For Action!”, urging readers to write the Senate Subcommittee on
Juvenile Delinquency, recently organized and initially chaired by Senator Robert Hendrickson.


EC editorial

The New York Times headline ran “Comic Book Hearing to Start Tomorrow.” It was this Subcommittee where Senator Estes Kefauver took testimony  from Wertham and Gaines, testimony another New York Times headline blared, “No Harm in Horror, Comics Issuer Says.” Gaines' testimony, unfortunately, turned out disastrous. (See below).

A two-day hearing by the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency into "sadistic comic books and their impact on adolescents" will begin tomorrow in the United States Court House, Foley Square. Twenty witnesses are expected to testify at the televised hearings, Senator Robert C. henderson, Republican of new jersey, the subcommittee's chairman, will preside. Other members of the subcommittee expected to attend are Senators William Langer, Republican of North Dakota; Estes Kefauver, Democrat of Tennessee, and Thomas C. Hennings Jr., Democrat of Missouri.

Senator Hendtrickson said: "We are conducting these hearings in New York, the heart of the comic-book industry, because of the thousands of letters we have received. We are vitally interested in evaluating the impact of horror and crime comics upon the young mind". 

The Senator said that the comic-book industry was "a gigantic business, with an output of nearly 100,000,000 books each month". He added that possibly one-quarter of that total output could be classified in the "horror" category. The subcommittee has conducted hearings in Boston, Denver, Washington and Philadelphia.

The two days of scheduled hearings actually became three days and ran Wednesday April 21, Thursday April 22 and Friday June 4. The hearings themselves are so interesting that I'll refer anyone interested in reading the transcripts to this site:

I will not be covering this material in any detail. There is just too much to cover. It can all be read at the above link.  For our purposes, the testimony of William Gaines is the most important:

More coverage - headline with OCR'd text:

NEW YORK TIMES April 23, 1954

CHICAGO TRIBUNE April 25, 1954

Commentary Magazine had an article by editor Robert Warshow in their Vol 17, June, 1954 issue titled "Paul, The Horror Comics, and Dr. Wertham". Paul was Warshow's 11 year old son, an avid comic book reader and E.C. Fan-Addict. The essay traces his perfectly well-adjusted son's obsession with comic books, especially EC horror comic books, and his own discomfort with the material. Not out and out dismissal of their value (the author actually liked Mad and Panic) but just a pervasive ill at ease feeling when taking into account what Dr. Fredric Wertham has been blathering about for years. Mr Warshow is familiar with both SOTI and William Gaines' testimony before the Senate Subcommittee Hearings, yet has a big problem with Dr. Wertham's system of logic and lack of, or better yet "refusal", to give any corroborating evidence for any of his assertions. Here is the first page and I will put in a link to the entire article, something I recommend all to read for its sheer straightforwardness and honesty. My only complaint is that while the author does not back Wertham, he doesn't seem "to get" comics either, in spite of the fact that he appears extremely knowledgeable about them.  Warshow would tragically die the very next year at age 37 and getting to know his son by way of this intimate article makes reading this doubly poignant. Paul would be without his father by age 12. A collection of nearly all of his essays was released in a book in 1962 titled The Immediate Experience: Movies, Comics, Theatre, and Other Aspects of Popular Culturere-released in 2001 by Harvard University Press with a cover by Al Feldstein from Weird Science-Fantasy Annual #1 (1952). It's available on

2001 (Al Feldstein cover)

COMMENTARY Vol 17 June, 1954

Finally, on August 17, 1954, all the major elements of the comic book publishing industry founded the Comics Magazine Association of America (CMAA) and enacted guidelines governing the contents, cover, story, art and advertising in comic books. This set of guidelines was called the Comics Code and all Code-approved books would now carry the large Comics Code “stamp” of approval on the cover.

Gaines’ comic book line was decimated and his horror and crime books were cancelled, forcing his
New Direction line (all depicted in a full-page editorial), which likewise would eventually wane, his
salvation ultimately coming from MAD. Many smaller publishers went under and some larger publishers
left the market entirely to concentrate on other areas of publishing, like Avon, Ace and Fawcett. The
Committee would move on into 1955 and focus on music, film and television, and while attacks on comic
books waned, the damage had been done.

HAUNT OF FEAR #28 (Nov-Dec/54)

The media carried stories of the code and its aftermath (OCR'd for clarity) ....




NEW YORK TIMES February 26, 1955


The March, 1955 issue of Better Homes and Gardens had a lengthy article by National editor Mort Weisinger in which explained the need for the comics code and how it functioned. Starting out with a description of all the titles in the universe of comic books "from Action Comics to Ziggy Pig", I immediately wonder how Weisinger even knew of the character, a back-up in the 1940's Timely Krazy Komics and short-lived own 5 issue run from 1944-1946.

Weisinger then smugly explains how the trouble came about, using phrases like:

"The result of conscienceless editing by a minority of unethical publishers within their ranks".

"It is because of past activities of the lunatic fringe that the entire industry is smeared".

"When private citizens inspected the contents of the horror-type comics published by this mercenary minority, they were shocked to find such themes as cannibalism, torture and grave digging."

"As a result of this grass-roots rebellion against offensive comic books, even the ethical publishers started to suffer."

I suppose Weisinger is basically referring to Bill Gaines here and flat out calling him 1) unethical, 2) a lunatic and 3) a mercenary. Of course the white halls of National of the time would be one of the "ethical" publishers.

Weisinger then goes on to explain how the code was formed, who runs it and gives 12 of the 30 editorial restrictions on the subject matter and how it is depicted, including:

#7) "Scenes dealing with or subject matter associated with walking dead, torture, vampires, ghouls, cannibalism and werewolfism are prohibited".

Also of interest was the description of a debate between the code "czar", Judge Charles F. Murphy, and an editor about a story based on the classic novel Treasure Island. Murphy wouldn't pass a sequence about pirates fighting and gutting with swords. The editor explained that the scene was in the original novel and even more violently graphic. Murphy didn't care and as an example stated that he wouldn't even pass the fairy tale Hansel and Gretel because of the scene where the witch gets stuffed into a blazing oven.

So basically the code is admitting that children can still get violent reading material from "the classics" and from "fairy tales", but they won't be getting even "that" level from comic books any longer.

We learn that five female reviewers were hired, all women with college backgrounds. Women were hired, according to Judge Murphy, "because it has been my experience that women are more sensitive than men in most matters of good taste". 

Martin Goodman fared this entire calamity fairly well. Leading up to the Code, in early 1954, Goodman
was publishing 13 ongoing horror titles. By mid-1954 a handful of titles were trimmed away, possibly
due to their titles using words ultimately banned by the Comics Code (MenaceAdventures Into Terror and Adventures Into Weird Worlds). When the Code hit Goodman, starting on cover date March 1955 (the exception being “pre-Code” Mystic #36, March ’55), nothing happened to Goodman’s titles except the immediate blanding of the cover art and story writing. Horror was out and fantasy or mystery was in. Contrary to most publishers, by the end of 1955 Goodman actually began to "expand" the fantasy line and the post-Code expansion added seven additional titles through 1956 for a total of 16 fantasy titles at the time of the Atlas implosion, but that’s a story for another day. Crime comics were even less affected. At the code Goodman had "one" crime title, Justice ComicsIn the entire post-code period only 2 more short-lived tiles would be tried and cancelled... Police Badge #479 (one issue) and Caught (5 issues). Crime as a genre was long dead even before the code. 

Stories prepared and ready for publication at this juncture were scrutinized for offending panels and if you look closely at March 1955 stories across the line, last minute changes and touch-ups are evident in many stories. As an example, Joe Sinnott’s story "Sarah” published in Uncanny Tales #29 (Mar/55) has panels noticeably changed to reflect the new Code standards. The features of an old woman originally drawn by Sinnott to look like an old witch-like hag is touched up to look like a normal old woman, a ridiculous bit of tampering.

Story-wise, the writers clearly struggled to find their bearings under the Code regulations. With companies leaving the business in droves, the competition for story art increased with the net effect of many artists leaving the industry completely.

There was an influx at Atlas of former E.C. artists looking for work with the demise of Gaines’ comic book line. Throughout the post-Code period, stories by the likes of John Severin, Joe Orlando, Reed Crandall, Jack Davis, Angelo Torres and Bernie Krigstein will appear in abundance, especially Severin, who became one of the most prolific Atlas post-Code artists and at some point may have joined the staff. Severin had been an earlier pre-E.C. Timely staffer in 1948 and 1949. Lesser appearances will be seen by Wally Wood and Johnny Craig. Even Al Feldstein would briefly cameo, scripting the very first issue of Yellow Claw following his departure from E.C. and before retuning to helm the post-Kurtzman MAD.

One year after the formation of the Comics Code, Dr. Fredric Wertham once again was writing, "It's Still Murder", in the April 9,1955 issue of the Saturday Review of Literature.  Until now, while I 100% disagreed with nearly all of Dr. Wertham's conclusions and am incredulous at his lack of scientific testing methods, I nevertheless, in the back of my mind, gave him the benefit of the doubt, cutting him a break as I felt at the very least he thought he was doing work to help children. With this article, the wheels come off Wertham's cart!

In a year that has seen the demise of E.C. Comics, in the months since the implementation of the comics code where the 100% loss of all graphic depictions of violence (in crime comics that for the most part didn't even exist any longer but where violence could still be found in "classic" literature and vintage folk and fairy tales) and horror (that could still be seen in the cinema), Dr. Wertham was "STILL" ranting (yes, "ranting") against his hidden enemies and detractors. I'm telling you, he is starting to sound as paranoid as Captain Queeg as he scolds his readers about a memo sent to Barron's in February where it was acknowledged "Wertham was the problem" and that since he probably won't go away, "he must be knocked out".

Wertham also repeats again and again his oft-voiced screed that while children have always read sub-literary trash, comic books are a different animal and worse than anything ever published since Gutenberg, with pictures "glorifying violence, cruelty, sadism, crime, beating, promiscuity, sexual perversion, race hatred, contempt for human beings descriptions of every conceivable crime, every method of concealing evidence, and every way to avoid detection".  Is Wertham for real? First of all, this is AFTER THE CODE HAD BEEN IMPLEMENTED!! Second, this was perhaps 5% of the comic books of the pre-code period and I disagree with every one of his assertions that such behavior or depictions were "glorified".  But we've been through this before with him. He hammers away incessantly spouting the same unsubstantiated   sermonic preachings we've been hearing for 7 years now, over and over until even "he" believes it to be true. The industry had been decimated to the level of pablum and Wertham is actually ratcheting up the rhetoric now, seemingly more dissatisfied than before.

Wertham then goes ballistic on each and every similar-credentialed peer and professional who has had the gall to defend either the comic books or the industry. We go back to my credo about Wertham being right because "he says so". Now, as he writes even more maniacally, he once again spells out one of his most insidious grievances, the fact that "some claim that only unstable children who are insecure, or otherwise predestined or preconditioned, are adversely affected by comics", something he says is hogwash.  With this statement we must acknowledge that there is no arguing or debating that could "ever" have been done with Dr. Wertham.  Fully steadfast in his demonstrably incorrect reasoning and backed by his extensive accomplishments and educational credentials, he had become a monster of conceit, detachment and snobbery. The ultimate of "anti-scientific" methods, anti-reason and anti-common sense.


"Comic books interfere with elementary mechanisms of learning to read"
"The damage may show up years later in the disinclination, or inability, to read"
"Comic books do widespread harm in the ethical sphere"
"Comic books also do great harm to children's sexual development"
"They stimulate morbid, especially sadistic, sexuality in young children, without leaving any other outlet except deviate daydreaming, masturbation, or delinquency".  

I can go on and on but Wertham is really ranting against what he is calling an "ineffectual code" that didn't go far enough and has done nothing. Was he even paying attention? Further on, his "real" grievance is revealed. Yes, the industry has a code, but what he "really" wanted was LEGISLATION! He wanted to basically outlaw comic books and he didn't get it. He got the code instead and it was galling him. Comic books still existed. It was still sub-literate literature. Now that his earlier complaints about violence were met, he had no where to go so he still complained, now hitting comic books from an educational angle.

Another revealing quote is "You either close down a house of prostitution or you leave it open. You can't satisfy both those who want it open and those who want it closed." According to Dr. Fredric Wertham, the house of prostitution was left "open".

April 9, 1955







In years following Seduction of the Innocent, Dr. Wertham published Circle of Guilt in 1955, consulted and debated Alfred Hitchcock on violence in the mass media, published Sign for Cain in 1966 and The World of Fanzines in 1973. He would pass away on November 18, 1981 at Bluehills Farm in Kempton, Pa.


The material presented above came from a wide variety of sources. All of the newspaper articles, both original and OCR'd, came from the massive comic book newspaper and article collection of historian Barry Pearl, who has been accumulating these pieces of history for over 40 years. This blog post could not have been accomplished without that resource and in fact, perusing such an archive was one of the impetuses for collating all this info into one place, namely here. Much of the material had to be left out for brevity's sake. The February, 1949 Family Circle article also came from the Pearl Collection as did the March, 1955 Better Homes and Gardens piece.

The early history of 19th century children's literature came from the journal Victorian Periodicals Review, a publication of the Research Society for Victorian Periodicals, a large stack of which I found at the Argosy bookstore for a dollar a copy. The main source for the data and research came from the wonderful thesis "Childhood's Champions: Mid-Victorian Children's Periodicals and the Critics" by Marjory Lang, a study that immediately draws comparisons to the anti-comic book crusade of the mid 20th century. In fact, the comparison is uncanny as the exact same arguments are made a century apart with the exact same fears expressed about children being exposed to "vulger" literature.  

The March 27, 1948 Collier's article came from Rodrigo Baeza, who first displayed it in a post to his wonderful comics blog that can be found here: comicscommentary.  I've since acquired a copy of this magazine but the large size makes scanning the pages unwieldy so Rodrigo's cropped pages are much clearer.

Throughout the post I've set up links to websites where some info was found and there are two additional sites that cover a lot of the same ground I've covered here but in a different manner: This is the site to end all sites for SOTI related study. The Psychopathology of Comic Books published images, the image and article review of SOTI from The Saturday Review of Literature April 24, 1954 issue as did the Gleason Code page, all came from this wonderful archive. written by Adrian Wymann. This is a remarkable site that goes much more deeply and into more detail on many aspects I've covered above. I discovered the site during the midst of writing this post and I immediately saw we were often covering many of the same things. With that in mind, some similarities in content will be unavoidable. The March 29, 1948 Time Magazine image came from Adrian's site. The text of the article was in the Pearl Collection.

Jamie Coville's comic book history site TheComicBooks is another great site and I've linked the 1954 Senate Subcommittee Transcripts and the testimony of William Gaines from that site. The cover image from the April 9, 1955 The Saturday Review of Literature also came from there. The rest of the article I was able to scan from a bound volume of the entire year's issues.

Much of the timeline aspects of the censorship history came from two sources, Ray Bottorff, Jr. and Steven E. Mitchell. Mitchell had a series of articles in the Comics Buyers Guide in 2003 and 2004, issues I read at the time but could not access for this post. Ray Bottorff summarized a lot of Mitchell's data, adding his own extensive material in a series of e-mails covering Comics Censorship History to the GCD Chat mailing list back in 2004. This material is so data dense that I've barely skimmed the surface above.

All Timely and Atlas comic book images and history come from my own collection, my own writings and my own research. The May 29 (Wertham) and July 24, 1948 (David Pace Wigransky) issues of the Saturday Review of Literature and November, 1953 (SOTI) issue of  Ladies Home Journal articles came from copies of those magazines I posses myself. The data on David Pace Wigransky was additionally helped by artist and historian Michael T. Gilbert's own research published in Alter Ego Magazine #90 (Dec/09). The images of the Headline Comics #25 original Simon & Kirby art autographed to David Wigransky (and the comic cover scan) came from the Heritage Auctions website. The image from Wertham's The Show of Violence is from my own copy of the book as are the risqué paperback images. The handful of E.C. comics images also came from my own material. 

FOOTNOTES : "What's Old is New"

  • (a) Lang, Marjory. "Childhood's Champions: Mid-Victorian Children's Periodicals and the Critics", Victorian Periodicals Review, Vol XII, Numbers 1 & 2, Research Society for Victorian Periodicals, University of Toronto, Spring & Summer, 1980
  • (b) Lady Eastlake, "Children's Books", Quarterly Review LXXIV, 1884
  • (c) Lang, Marjory. "Childhood's Champions: Mid-Victorian Children's Periodicals and the Critics", Victorian Periodicals Review, Vol XII, Numbers 1 & 2, Research Society for Victorian Periodicals, University of Toronto, Spring & Summer, 1980
  • (d) Dickens, Charles. "Frauds on the Fairies", Household Words VIII, 1853; reprinted in Lance Salway, Peculiar Gift: Nineteenth-Century Writing on Books for Children, London, 1976
  • (e) Royale, Trevor. Introduction to Marion Lochhead's The renaissance of Wonder in Children's Literature, Edinburg, 1977
  • (f) Lang, Marjory. "Childhood's Champions: Mid-Victorian Children's Periodicals and the Critics", Victorian Periodicals Review, Vol XII, Numbers 1 & 2, Research Society for Victorian Periodicals, University of Toronto, Spring & Summer, 1980
  • (g) Greenwood, James. "Penny Packets of Poison", The Wilds of London, London, 1874; reprinted in Peter Haining, ed., The Penny Dreadful; or, Strange, Horrid, and Sensational Tales, London, 1975
  • (h) Lang, Marjory. "Childhood's Champions: Mid-Victorian Children's Periodicals and the Critics", Victorian Periodicals Review, Vol XII, Numbers 1 & 2, Research Society for Victorian Periodicals, University of Toronto, Spring & Summer, 1980
  • (i) Salmon, Edward. "Literature for the Little Ones", Nineteenth Century XXII, 1887
  • (j) ibid.
  • (k) Cited by F.J. Harvey Darton, Children's Books in England: Five Centuries of Social Life, Cambridge, 1958
  • (l) Lang, Marjory. "Childhood's Champions: Mid-Victorian Children's Periodicals and the Critics", Victorian Periodicals Review, Vol XII, Numbers 1 & 2, Research Society for Victorian Periodicals, University of Toronto, Spring & Summer, 1980
  • (m) Yonge, Charlotte. What Books to Lend and What to Give, London, 1887
  • (n) Ewing, Juliana Horatia to George Bell, MS, Bell's Publishing, May 4, 1881
  • (o) Lang, Marjory. "Childhood's Champions: Mid-Victorian Children's Periodicals and the Critics", Victorian Periodicals Review, Vol XII, Numbers 1 & 2, Research Society for Victorian Periodicals, University of Toronto, Spring & Summer, 1980
  • (p) Salmon, Edward. "Literature for the Little Ones", Nineteenth Century, XXII, (1887)
  • (q) Ibid.
  • (r) Ibid.
  • (s) Lang, Marjory. "Childhood's Champions: Mid-Victorian Children's Periodicals and the Critics", Victorian Periodicals Review, Vol XII, Numbers 1 & 2, Research Society for Victorian Periodicals, University of Toronto, Spring & Summer, 1980
  • (t)Weisse, H.V. "Reading for the Young", Contemporary Review LXXIX, 1901
  • (u) Lang, Marjory. "Childhood's Champions: Mid-Victorian Children's Periodicals and the Critics", Victorian Periodicals Review, Vol XII, Numbers 1 & 2, Research Society for Victorian Periodicals, University of Toronto, Spring & Summer, 1980 

(in approximate order of appearance)

  1. Edinburgh Evening Courant, April 5, 1739, p.3
  2. Lang, Marjory. "Childhood's Champions: Mid-Victorian Children's Periodicals and the Critics", Victorian Periodicals Review, Vol XII, Numbers 1 & 2, Research Society for Victorian Periodicals, University of Toronto, Spring & Summer, 1980 
  3. Bottorff, Ray. "Comic Books and Juvenile Delinquency Cycle of Outrage", GCD, GCD Chat List, November, 2004
  4. Mitchell, Steven. Comics Buyers Guide, (numerous articles), Krause Publications, 2003-2004
  5.  "Comic Supplements Publicly Denounced", The New York Times.1911
  6.  North, Sterling. Chicago Daily News, May 8, 1940
  7. Evans, Gladys Buyington. "Give Your Child's Comic Books Your Scrutiny", Chicago Tribune,     January 19, 1943
  8. "Comic Books-Their Effects on Child's Eyes..", Southtown Economist. April 1, 1945
  9. Gabriel, Lynn. The Case Against The Comics, The Catechetical Guild, 1944
  10. Official True Crime Cases #24. Fall 1947
  11. Justice Comics #7. Fall 1947
  12. "Comic Publishers get City Warning", The New York Times, February 4, 1948
  13. Wertham, Frederic M.D. "Dark Legend : A Study in Murder", Duel, Sloan & Pierce, New York, 1941
  14. "The Psychopathology of Comic Books", American Journal of Psychotherapy, July 1948 
  15. "A Message From -" (Gleason Code), Crime Does Not Pay #63 & Crime and Punishment #2, Lev Gleason Publications, May, 1948
  16. Ludwig, Arnold M. Comments on Fredric Wertham, MD, et al, 1998
  17. Brown, John Mason. "The Case Against The Comics", Saturday Review of Literature, March 20,1948
  18. Crist, Judith. "Horror in the Nursery", Collier's Weekly, March 27, 1948
  19. "Comic Books Dissected at Psychiatric Forum", The New York Herald Tribune, March 21, 1948
  20. "Puddles of Blood", Time Magazine, March 29, 1948
  21. "Controversy Over Crime Comic Books Grows", The New York Herald Tribune, May 9, 1948. Christ, Judith (via Sean Howe).
  22. Wertham, Fredric M.D. "The Comics ... Very Funny!", Saturday Review of Literature, May 29, 1948
  23. Cole, Jack. "Murder, Morphine and Me!", Page 2, panel 6True Crime Comics, Magazine Village,Vol 1, #2, May 1947.
  24. Cole, Jack. "Murder, Morphine and Me!", Page 1, True Crime Comics, Magazine Village,Vol 1, #2, May 1947.
  25. Wertham, Fredric M.D. "The Comics ... Very Funny!", Reader's Digest [reprint], August, 1948
  26. "Agree on City Plan to Censor Comic Books"Chicago Tribune, April 22, 1948
  27. "Juvenile Delinquency Seen on Increase"The New York Times, June 24, 1948
  28. "Women Make Survey and Object to 40 of 280 Comic Books"Chicago Tribune, February 20, 1948
  29. "Sex and Sadism Banned in Code on Comic Books"Chicago Tribune, July 2, 1948
  30. "Children Cremate 2000 Old friends -- Their Comic Books"Chicago Tribune, October 26, 1948
  31. "Roots of Delinquency"Chicago Tribune, December 16, 1948
  32. Editorial #1, Marvel Comics, November-December, 1948
  33. Editorial #2, Marvel Comics, January-March, 1949
  34. Wigransky, David Pace. "Cain Before Comics", Saturday Review of Literature, July 24, 1948
  35. Gilbert, Michael T. Mr. Monster's Crypt : Cain Before Comics", Alter Ego #90, December, 2009
  36. Headline Comics #25, Prize Publications, July, 1947
  37. Editorial #3, Marvel Comics, April-May, 1949
  38. Editorial #4, Marvel Comics, June-July, 1949
  39. "Parents are Warned Not to Blame Comic Books for Juvenile Crime", The New York Times, October 7, 1948
  40. Frank, Lawrence. "The Status of the Comic Book"The New York Times, February 6, 1949
  41. Muhlen, Norbert. "Comic Books and Other Horrors", Commentary, January, 1949
  42. Wertham, Fredric M.D. "letter to editor", Commentary, February, 1949
  43. Muhlen, Norbert. "letter to editor", Commentary, February, 1949
  44. Ellsworth, Whitney. "letter to editor", Commentary, March, 1949
  45. Muhlen, Norbert. "letter to editor", Commentary, March, 1949
  46. ACMP Stamp
  47. Wertham, Fredric M.D. The Show of Violence, Eton Books, 1951
  48. Zorbaugh, Harvey & Mildred Gilman"What Can You do About Comic Books?", Family Circle, February, 1949
  49. “Comics, Radio, Movies and Children”, New York City Public Affairs Committee, 1952
  50. "Anti-Comics Drive reported Waning", The New York Times, January 31, 1949
  51. “Many Doubt Comics Spur Crime, Senate Survey of Experts Show”, The New York Times, November 11, 1950
  52. "Crime and the Comics"The New York Times, November 14, 1950
  53. Tracy, Don. "How Sleeps The Beast", Lion Books, October, 1950
  54. Royer, Louis-Charles. "African Mistress", Pyramid Books, Almat Publishing Corporation, 1953
  55. "6 State Bills Seek Comic Book Curb"The New York Times, February 20, 1952
  56. Lee, Stan & Joe Maneely, "The Raving Maniac", Suspense #29, Broadcast Features Publications, Inc. (Marvel Comics), April, 1953
  57. Lee, Stan & Joe Sinnott, "The Witch in the Woods", Menace #7, Hercules Publishing Corp. (Marvel Comics), September, 1953
  58. "Sale of Comics to Minors Made Illegal by Ribicoff", Hartford Courant, July 19, 1953
  59. Feldstein, Al & Bill Elder, "The Night Before Christmas", Panic #1, Tiny Tot Comics, Inc. (E.C. Comics), Feb-Mar, 1954
  60. "Comic Book Ban Fought"The New York Times, December 28, 1953
  61. "Comic Books and Juvenile Delinquency", Hartford Courant, February 14, 1954
  62. Wertham, Frederic M.D. "What Parents Don't Know About Comic Books", Ladies' Home Journal, November, 1953
  63. Heath, Russ. War Comics #11, U.S.A. Comic Magazine Corp. (Marvel Comics), August, 1952
  64. Everett, Bill. Man Comics #22, Newsstand Publications, Inc. (Marvel Comics), January, 1954
  65. "Kid Melton", Lawbreakers Always Lose #7, Crime Bureau Stories, Inc. (Marvel Comics), April, 1949
  66. Wertham, Fredric M.D. Seduction of the Innocent, Rinehart and Co., 1954 
  67. Mills, C. Wright, "Nothing to Laugh At", The New York Times, April 6, 1954
  68. Overholser, Winfred M.D. Want to Laugh?, Saturday Review of Literature, April 24, 1954 
  69. Wagner, Geoffrey Atheling. "Parade of Pleasure", Derek VerschoyleLondon, 1954
  70. Gaines, William. "Are You a Red Dupe?", inside front cover, Tales From The Crypt #43, I.C. Publishing Co., Inc. (E.C. Comics), Aug-Sept, 1954
  71. "This is an Appeal for Action", editorial, Tales From The Crypt #45,  I.C. Publishing Co., Inc. (E.C. Comics), Dec-Jan, 1955
  72. “Comic Book Hearing to Start Tomorrow”The New York Times, April, 1954
  73. "Senator Charges 'Deceit' On Comics"The New York Times, April 23, 1954 
  74. "Those Comic Books : A Warning"Chicago Tribune, April 25, 1954
  75. Senate Subcommitte Hearings of April 21, April 22 and June 4, 1954
  76. Testimony of William Gaines, Wednesday, April 21, 1954
  77. Warshow, Robert. "Paul, the Horror Comics, and Dr. Wertham", Commentary, Vol 17, June, 1954
  78. Warshow, Robert. "The Immediate Experience: Movies, Comics, Theatre and Other Aspects of Popular Culture", Harvard University Press, 2001
  79. Comic Code Stamp, 2-Gun Western #4, Margood Publishing Corp. (Marvel Comics), May, 1956
  80. "In Memoriam", editorial, Haunt of Fear #28, E.C. Comics, Nov-Dec, 1954
  81. "Comics Code is Slated", New York Times, 1955
  82. "Horror Comics Banned", New York Times 1955
  83. "140 Stores in Chain Ban Comic Books", Southtown Economist, January 19, 1955
  84. "Norwich Drive on Comic Books a Success as Children Rush to Trade 10 for a Classic", The New York Times, February 26, 1955
  85. "Reform of Comic Books is Spurred by Hearings", The New York Times, June 12, 1955
  86. Weisinger, Mort. "How They're Cleaning Up Comic Books", Better Homes and Gardens, March, 1955.
  87. Wertham, Fredric. "It's Still Murder", Saturday Review of Literature, April 9, 1955


  1. Michael,
    Now you've really got me wondering about that memo to Barrons (sic) in Feb 1955 that states "Wertham was the problem"? Who wrote it?

  2. I wasn't able to turn up a copy. The quote came from Wertham himself in the April 9, 1955 Saturday Review piece he wrote. If you locate it, please send me a scan or photocopy. I'll put it into the post.

  3. Mike,

    An excellent, thorough job in researching this period. Reading the magazine and newspaper articles gives one a better understanding of the times, and your insights are informative and worthwhile.

    I was particularly stunned by the loss of outlets such as Safeway and A&P, which must have been devastating to the publishers. I wonder how many other large (and smaller) outlets were lost, never to return. Do you know if stores such as Safeway ever brought comics back, or was this part of the percipitous decline in sales that would continue for decades?

  4. I agree with your point that Stan wanted to distance himself from the horror material, and I suspect it was one reason his name was not on any of the monster books that appeared a few years later, as tame as they were.

    I suspect that Stan may even have written a few, but deliberately left his name off, as is the case with some of the Ditko-Lee fantasy stories (I've written about this in more depth in an issue of Ditkomania). I think it was only when time passed and shows such as the Twilight Zone began recieving critical acclaim that Stan felt comfortable signing his name to "those" comics.

    1. I think you're right Nick. And the fact that the Ditko stories circa 1961 are all signed by Lee as well proves The Twilight Zone influence.

  5. Michael, many thanks for the most interesting and well-researched articles on Wertham and the war against comics.

    This is from a 2/7/11 New Yorker article on actor Jonathan Goldsmith, who is "The Most Interesting Man In The World" in the Dos Equis beer commercials: "[Goldsmith's] Postcollegiate dissolution (and a session with the famed psychoanalyst Fredric Wertham) led him into an acting class at the Living Theater..."

    I think it would be interesting to hear from anyone who ever sat in with Dr. Wertham for anything, especially a psychiatric session. I'd like to know if he asked Jonathan Goldsmith if he read comic books.

  6. The 1955 It's Still Murder is scanned and available at my site here:

    And yeah, it's been my opinion that Wertham hated comic books period. He wanted them all off the racks. He knew he couldn't convince mothers that Donald Duck comics were bad for their kids. He complained about the crime and horror comics, then slipped in that the "kids" comic were even worse. I believe he's plan was to get any comic depicting a crime to be made adults only material and use that to declare Elmer Fudd shooting a gun at Bugs Bunny a "crime" comic and get it off the newsstands too.

  7. Doc, An excellent article! Kudos!

  8. Interesting that the likes of Wertham had all the imagination of a serial killer - they could only see horror stories as how-to guides. Gaines and Feldstein were so appallingly naive though - they played a big part in the virtual ruination of comics.