Subcommittee to Investigate Juvenile Delinquency and Comic Books Afternoon Session
Thursday, April 22, 1954
The actual date of this episode is 1954-04-21. For technical reasons, it shows up incorrectly above.
This episode is from the WNYC archives. It may contain language which is no longer politically or socially appropriate.
Proceedings or U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency from the Federal Court in lower Manhattan, Afternoon Session
Robert C. Hendrickson, New Jersey, Chairman
William Langer, North Dakota
Estes Kefauver, Tennessee
Thomas C. Hennings, Jr., Missouri
Dr. Fredric Wertham - Author of "Seduction of the Innocent"
Mr. William Gaines - Publisher of EC Comics
Walt Kelly, Milton Caniff and Joseph Musial - The National Cartoonist Society
Afternoon session opens with swearing in of Dr. Frederic Wertham, who identifies himself as specialist in both neurology and psychiatry by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. Have also served as examiner on the board in brain anatomy and psychiatry.
Wertham explains his testimony will be in four parts.
First, what is in comic books? How can one classify them clinically?
Secondly, are there any bad effects of comic books? ("I may say here on this subject there is practically no controversy. Anybody who has studied them and seen them knows that some of them have bad effects.")
Third, how farreaching are these bad effects?
Fourth: Is there any remedy?
Dr. Wertham explains that his testimony is based clinical investigations regarding the influence of comic books which I started in the winter of 1945 and 1946. He notes that in addition to youths seen at clinics both at Queens and Lafargue, he and his researchers "have studied whole school classes, whole classes of remedial reading clinics, over 300 children in a parochial school and private patients and consultations."
Wertham describes some particularly gruesome comic books. He explains the state of "ethical and moral confusion" caused by these books, noting a school in New York state where crime and pregnancy rates are high. He does not blame comic books alone for these problems, but believe they contribute.
Dr. Wertham also notes that comic books of all types harm children's self-image and retard their reading skills. He notes that the books engender race hatred, citing derogatory terms used in comics.
Wertham cites other well-known professionals who agree with Wertham.
Wertham doesn't believe that children under 15 should be able to buy comic books, "You see, if a father wants to go to a store and says, "I have a little boy of seven. He doesn't know how to rape a girl; he doesn't know how to rob a store. Please sell me one of the comic books," let the man sell him one, but I don't think the boy should be able to go see this rape on the cover and buy the comic book."
He states that he does not believe in censorship, however he believes in supervision for children.
Wertham discusses his book "Seduction of the Innocents," which has been made a Book of the Month Club selection.
He calls Hitler "a beginner compared to the comic book industry. "They get the children much younger. They teach them race hatred at the age of 4 before they can read." He believes that the comic book industry teaches race-hatred.
Several committee members note that they are currently reading Wertham's book.
Next, William Gaines, a comic publisher is sworn in and makes a statement. He speaks of his father who was instrumental in starting the comic industry. Gaines explains that comics serve a purpose - reading enjoyment. He notes that he publishes Picture Stories from the Bible, and was also the first publisher of horror comics. He argues that no normal child has ever been ruined by a comic book.
Gaines responds to Dr. Wertham's charges of creating race hatred. He argues that the example provided by Wertham was taken out of context. The comic book in question actually encourages interracial understanding.
Gaines goes on to note the very many instances of crime reported in newspapers.
Gaines is questioned about how the books can be used to teach interracial understanding, but not teach murder, etc. He is also asked if he knows if vampires really exist
He is asked specifics about how many corporations he owns - he has five, and each publishes about two magazines. The panel questions whether the business is set up this way so if one is closed down he can go on publishing through the other corporations.
He is also questioned about about the fan club he advertises in his comic books. He describes what children receive for the 25 cent fee.
Finally, three members of the National Cartoonist Society testify. Walt Kelly, Milton Caniff, and Joseph Musial testify that they believe there should not be artistic rules dictated by law. However, it is the duty of the creator of the material to ensure that may have harmful effects.
Kelly demonstrates for the committee what goes into created a comic strip.
For Morning Sessions see Catalog # 2238, LT3023.
Transcripts, including evidence entered into the record and in some cases exemplar images from the 1954 Senate Subcommittee Hearings into Juvenile Delinquency, with the special focus on Comic Books located here: http://www.thecomicbooks.com/1954senatetranscripts.html
Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection
WNYC archives id: 73027
Municipal archives id: LT3024