6.1 Post-War Resurgence and the Arrival of Dr. Wertham
While comics historian John A. Lent rightly observes that “the comic book controversy already had a full head of steam before the momentous events of the late 1940s” (16), 1948 was an important turning point in the debates over children and comic books. This was the year renowned child psychologist Dr. Fredric Wertham began to make a strong impression on the public consciousness. The German-born Wertham had opened the Lafargue Clinic in Harlem in 1946, where he treated primarily local teenagers at a greatly reduced fee. He claimed that it was in the care of these young, black patients that he first detected a connection between comic book reading and a greater tendency to delinquent behaviour.
He disseminated his findings among his peers through a symposium on "The Psychopathology of the Comics" attended by like-minded specialists and organized by him and his research assistant, Hilde Mosse. The proceedings were published in the American Journal of Psychotherapy. His message that "crime comics" (an umbrella term he used to describe any comic in which criminal behaviour was depicted) were inuring and inciting young people to delinquency reached the general public through a few widely-read articles in popular journals. In "The Comics... Very Funny!", published in Saturday Review, Wertham offered a summary of his findings about how children reproduced the criminality they witnessed in comics. Perhaps most influential in shaping public opinion about comic books was Judith Crist's "Horror in the Nursery," published in Collier's Magazine, which cast Wertham's findings in a highly sensationalized light. Wertham's thesis throughout was that young people were so susceptible to the content of crime comics precisely because their natural innocence made them incapable of understanding the consequences of what the saw depicted. The newspapers and other magazines quickly picked up the story and a wave of articles and editorials on this insidious threat followed.