When Seduction of the Innocent was published in 1953, Dr. Fredric Wertham became the public face of the anti-comics campaign. In the book (and the Ladies’ Home Journal article entitled “What Parents Don’t Know About Comics” that preceded it), Wertham warned mothers that comic books were tainting their children, teaching them about bloody murder, promiscuous sex, and–gasp!–non-binary gender roles. He largely did so by using undocumented interviews with children he supposedly met with at his clinic in Harlem, making harmful generalizations about both comic books and the populations he assumed read them, and citing facts and statistics without bothering to include a bibliography or a list of further reading for concerned parents.
Wetham’s diatribe against “crime comics”–a broad term that encompassed everything from the exploits of 1920s gangsters to the horror storylines that made companies like EC Comics famous, and even to the superheroes who are perhaps now the go-to image when one thinks of comics in the modern day–eventually made him the country’s “leading expert” on comic books and juvenile delinquency. His work caused a wave of anti-comics hysteria and landed Wertham a star witness spot on the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency.
But as they say, know thine enemy. As comic book lovers, it’s important for us to understand the history of the medium and to read the works of detractors, both to better argue against unfounded points and perhaps to learn something about what might need to change. I think Seduction of the Innocent is required reading for any fan of comics, but I also know it can be a painful task. So I’ve put together a short drinking game that might help you get through it.
Grab your drink of choice (alcoholic or non) and give it a try. At the very least, you’ll probably have had enough by page 3, and then you can reward yourself with a nap.
Take a drink when…
- Wertham attempts to describe a comic book panel.
- Another child whose life was supposedly destroyed by comic books is introduced.
- Wertham makes an outrageous, unsubstantiated claim. (i.e. This line about an eleven-year-old girl who was one of his patients: “Of average intelligence, she had a reading retardation undoubtedly caused by constant reading of comics.”)
- There’s any discussion of “bosoms” or “buttocks.”
- Wertham employs another awful metaphor (i.e. “Children’s minds are at least as sensitive and vulnerable as a man’s stomach.”)
- It is implied that girls’ lives are being ruined by romance comics.
- Wertham shares exact dialogue from his conversations with children supposedly ruined by comics, complete with editorializing.
- Any crossing of the gender binary is mentioned as being harmful to the children reading the comics.
Take a shot when…
- Wertham discusses “phallic women.”
- There is any mention of “super-breasts.”
- Wertham quotes an actual philosopher, as if that helps legitimize his arguments.
- “The Batman stories are psychologically homosexual.” (Just drink through this entire section, anything you’d like.)
- Wertham mentions Wonder Woman. (Bonus shot if he calls her the aforementioned “phallic woman.”)
- Wertham describes comics or the reading of comics as “abnormal.”
Finish your drink when…
- You finish the book. You deserve it.