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A Crisis of Innocence

6.2 Wertham's Influence Spreads


Cover of U.K. Edition of Seduction of the Innocent (1954)

Wertham's message about the dangers comics posed to young people and more broadly to public health was well-received by a public already panicked not just about juvenile crime but by other preoccupations of the peiod, such as the threat of communist infiltration. In 1954, public alarm about the corruption of children's innocence by an unscrupulous comics industry would come to a head. At the centre of the intensified anti-comics campaign was Wertham's aptly named Seduction of the Innocent, his book-length study of comics and juvenile delinquency. While the book sold only moderately well, the simplfied version of its premise became accepted public opinion. The cover of the U.K. edition captures both the spirit and tone of Wertham's alarmist argument and the anxiety of the public it stoked. The wide-eyed look of terror portrayed on the boy's face suggests his vulnerability to comic-book violence and sex, while at the same time showing him to be transfixed them. If anything, the image helps confirm in the adult viewer's mind the need to shield the innocent young from the insidious spell of comics from which they are unable to protect hemselves.

Cedar Rapids Gazette October 10 1954.pdf

"Nation Stirred Against 'Love' and 'Horror' Comics," Cedar Rapids Gazette (1954)

Educational Video on the Dangers of Comics


Another, even larger, flood of magazine and newspaper pieces followed the publication of Seduction of the Innocent, whch seemed to find an epidemic examples of youth crime inspired by comic books. The early days of television helped dramatize the effects on young people Wertham had documented in his clinical research. While current scholars have widely criticized the inaccurate - some have said dishonest - clinical methods and reporting Wertham used as the basis for his study, his findings were broadly accepted at face value and would serve as essential evidence in the Senate Subcommittee Hearings on Juvenile Delinquency that were convened the same year Seduction was published.