Crime Comics and Juvenile Delinquency

Review of: Seduction of the Innocent. By Fredric Wertham, M.D.(Pp. 397+x; illustrated. 21s.) London: Museum Press Ltd. 1955.

British Medical Journal, 14 May 1955, p. 1198

The traffic in crime comics in the United States has grown rapidly in recent years. In 1947 they represented about one tenth of the total of all comic books, in 1949 one-third, in 1954 "the vast majority." About 90 million copies are now sold every month, and a million dollars a week are taken from the pockets of children. Copies pass from hand to hand in a brisk second-hand trade and are read by many children. Dr. Wertham estimates that the average American child reads over 14 comic books a week. The publishers, usually subsidiaries of big firms, constantly change their names and are, in effect, anonymous.

   The trade is horrifyingly evil. Turning over the 16 pages of photographic reproduction in Dr. Wertham's book, one sees baseball played with a man's head; a close-up of the face of a hanged man (cover picture); two men tied to the back of a speeding car, their faces being "erased" in the grit; a girl screaming while her right eye is held open and a hand approaches it with a stiletto. Advertisements offer the child, for money sent through the post, switchknives, throwing knives, pistols shooting steel darts. To quote the author, "The cover of the comic book draws the child's attention to a crime, the text describes one, the pictures show how it's done, and the advertisements provide the means to carry it out."

   It would seem self-evident that such a pabulum must have a debasing and demoralizing effect. This is, however, not the established psychiatric view in the U.S.A. Psychiatrists of repute can be hired by publishers to endorse the harmlessness of their products; and the child-guidance experts think the causation of juvenile delinquency is so complex that it would be altogether too "simple" to suppose that crime comics had anything to do with it. Psychoanalysis teaches us that the foundations of personality are laid down in the first six months, so that by the time he comes to read these books the child is already predestined to delinquency or to sanity.

   Dr. Wertham's book is all too readable, and should be widely read; but it is not a satisfactory presentation of his powerful case. Facts and arguments are not marshalled in an orderly way, and the book badly needs a good index.