In this update, we complicate the picture of Wertham as comics boogeyman and offer you some more rarely seen documents about the rest of Wertham’s career.
1. The Complications of Fredric Wertham
Lest you think that the story of Dr. Wertham is a simple one, that the man is shallow, one-dimensional, and composed of only the reputation that he has been assigned within the world of comic books, you only need to read Bart Beaty’s text to learn otherwise.
Beaty’s book, Fredric Wertham and the Critique of Mass Culture is as complete a study of Wertham that exists. His intent is obvious. His argument clear. The picture that the comics industry has painted of Wertham is… wrong. Fortunately, we have Beaty to appear in the film to present his argument to you. I just know you can’t wait!
Does this mean that Wertham was right?!?! Does it mean he created no strife for the lovers of comics and the industry? Of course not. It only means the contention between Wertham and comics is more complex and nuanced than most of us might have been aware.
For instance, let me throw some information your way that makes it a little harder to simply cast Wertham as a stifling force, a man hellbent on ending creativity, free speech, and ultimately our beloved comics. Please, don’t think I am giving him a free pass, but also do not think that I am ignoring his full body of work or that I am not fully investigating his indictment of comics.
Our film, Diagram for Delinquents, is going to present as full a history as we possibly can. The result will hopefully yield just who this Wertham guy really is and how he has made a very long, lasting impact on comic books and the comics industry.
But getting back to what we shall call “The Complications of F.W.”, let’s consider the following details of his life:
Point: Wertham and his work with the underrepresented and disenfranchised. He made real progress in the Civil Rights Movement.
- His testimony during desegregation hearings in the state of Delaware were cited in their decision to end “separate-but-equal” in schools. He was then cited in Brown v. Board of Education.
- He created a mental health clinic in Harlem for African-American children when no one else wanted to help that population. The Lafargue Clinic was opened in 1946, with a little help from Ralph Ellison no less. (See “It Came from the Archives!” below!)
Point: Wertham and his cautioning of the American public to not become consumed by the “(Second) Red Scare.”
- The evidence points to Wertham as a progressive in his thoughts on “commie hunting”, a practice we look back on now as draconian. Of course, in such a time, Wertham had to protect himself from just these types of accusations, so his thoughts were skillfully placed in typically less political contexts.
- During his Senate Subcommittee testimony Wertham was asked about the accusations made by Mad magazine positioning the doctor as a Communist.
EXCERPT FROM TESTIMONY OF DR. FREDERIC WERTHAM, PSYCHIATRIST, DIRECTOR, LAFARGUE CLINIC, NEW YORK, N. Y.
WEDNESDAY APRIL 21st, 1954, AFTERNOON SESSION.
SENATOR KEFAUVER: While you are on that subject, Dr. Wertham, may I see that thing, anybody who opposes comic books is a red?
DR, WERTHAM: Yes; that is part of it.
SENATOR KEFAUVER: I have read a number of your writings. I have read your Seduction of the Innocent. You remember a number of years ago I had several visits with you and you told me about the pressure they tried to apply on you in connection with this. But I noticed here this thing, that anyone who opposes comic books are Communists. The group most anxious to destroy comics are the Communists… This seems to be an effort to tie you up in some way as Red or Communist.
Wertham must have had particular disdain for this accusation which is easily evidenced seven years earlier, hidden away in a literary review of a biography written of Leo Tolstoy that Wertham wrote for The New Republic.
We are living in a time when minds are being deliberately poisoned. The people want peace. But when they read the newspapers they are subtly aroused to suspicion by a continuous stream of insinuations against the country of Tolstoy. All information from Russia is carefully sifted and there is a fierce struggle for survival of the news that is “fittest” to print in this campaign.
Point: Wertham argued for the abolishment of the death penalty. He considered it inhumane, immoral, and terroristic.
Oh… and then there’s this:
Let me again clarify: I consider the above information as only part of a wider, holistic view of Wertham. It doesn’t mean I’m in agreement with everything he did. I’m still considering all the evidence, still working the history. And through it all, I keep asking myself the same question. Despite all the seemingly good work Wertham has done, why does his impact on comics feel so wrong to me? I guess, or I hope, the answer will come with the end of our picture.
2. It Came From the Archives!!!
How can we reconcile the following and Wertham’s reputation with the comics public and their claims of suppression of freedom of speech?
3. Be a Part of Getting Diagram for Delinquents Made
Getting a film produced is difficult and requires the aid of many. Fortunately, using new and creative fund-raising ventures, the internet has made the process all the more achievable.
If you’ve found any of this interesting or historically important, please help us bring you the full story in video form by visiting our Kickstarter site. There, you can watch the promo trailer for the film, and you can make a pledge to help make this film a reality. You can also pre-order your own copy, and there are many other exciting incentives.
Thanks, and we’re looking forward to hearing from you!