April 19, 1954 is a date that has lived in infamy for comics fans.
That's the day psychiatrist Fredric Wertham's Seduction of the Innocent, a book that changed the comics landscape for decades to come, was first published. Wertham's book led to a moral panic over the content of comic books that ultimately resulted in the founding of the Comics Code Authority and the eventual folding of one of the major publishers of the era, EC Comics.
Horror. Crime. Science Fiction. War. Suspense. Oddball humor. Incisive writing. Eye-popping art. These are the elements that made EC Comics irresistible to readers of the 1950s. Their titles were produced by some of the finest creators the comic industry has ever seen.
When the bubble burst, and EC's line of comics fell before a squalling mob of censors, Senators, sinister psychiatrists and simple-minded puritans, one series managed to escape, transform itself into a full-size black-and-white magazine, and go on to turn American culture upside-down with its cleverly absurd approach to humor. And through it all, there was one constant figure lurking behind the scenes: publisher, co-editor, troubleshooter, troublemaker, and visionary William M. Gaines.
The Comics Code Seal of Approval, adopted on this day on 1954 by the Comics Magazine Association of America, is an instantly recognizable image to generations of comic readers. Its modest black-and-white brand adorned the covers of countless mainstream comic books for the better part of six decades, assuring buyers that the contents of their favorite title had met with some not-entirely-clear standards of suitability, and serving as a lingering reminder of an era when comics has been considered a serious threat to society.
When people think of the backlash against comics in the 1950s, one name often springs to mind: Fredric Wertham, the author of the 1954 book Seduction of the Innocent, which linked comic book reading to illiteracy, sexual deviancy (by his definition), violence and drug use.
While Wertham's book was certainly a catalyst for a lot of changes and censorship in comics, it wasn't the first domino that fell toward the development of the stringent Comics Code Authority. Criticism of comics had been growing to a fever pitch for years before that, and io9 has uncovered one example that came a full two years before the publication of Seduction of the Innocent: a full-on United Nations condemnation of Superman. And guess what: It isn't entirely wrong.
Given that his book Seduction of the Innocent and subsequent anti-comics presentation to the United States Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency resulted in the formation of the Comics Code Authority, Fredric Wertham is basically considered the biggest real-life boogieman in the history of the medium. But what if he hadn't become the face of comic-crippling paranoia by asserting that all kinds of comics caused real world social problems? What if he'd been... right all along. That's the question Josh Williamson and Ron Chan chillingly answer in "What if Wertham Was Right?" a six-page segment of the CBLDF Liberty Annual 2013, which drops on October second to fund the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and its efforts to protect the artistic rights of comic creators. CA hit up the duo to see what inspired such a heretical question. See what they had to say, along with a spoiler-free preview of their tale, after the jump.
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