Comics Referenced in Seduction of the Innocent by Frederic Wertham, M.D.

Comic Cover Special Collections, Historical Collections

The Nightingale NN - October 1948

Frederic Wertham notes that “the only good comic book in existence” is The Nightingale (An Uncle Andy Book) by Hans Christian Anderson, published by Once-Upon-A-Time-Press, Inc. in October 1948. Illustrated by Doug Kingman and edited by Henry H. Stansbury, this rare book was distributed only in Weschester County and Bronx, New York. Referenced on pages 312-313.

The Seeds of Censorship & the Comics Code Authority

Fredric Wertham (b. March 20, 1895 – d. November 18, 1981), a German-American psychiatrist and author, developed an early reputation as a progressive psychiatrist who treated poor black patients at his Lafargue Clinic in Harlem at a time when mental health services for blacks was uncommon. Wertham also authored a definitive textbook on the brain and his findings concerning institutional stressors were cited in court cases which overturned multiple segregation statutes, most notably the historic Brown v. Board of Education.

Official Seal of the Comics Code Authority

Despite these noteworthy accomplishments, Wertham remains best known for his concerns about the effects of violent and sexual imagery in mass media, particularly the effects of comic books on the development of children. Seduction of the Innocent (1954), his best-known work, asserts that comic books influenced youths to become delinquents. Wertham, who earned a fierce reputation denouncing comics from both his articles and Seduction of the Innocent, testified during the U.S. Senate Sub-Committee on Juvenile Delinquency. Wertham’s book and his expert testimony in these hearings led in September 1954 to the establishment of the Comics Code Authority, or CCA, a voluntary group formed by comic publishers to self-regulate their publications as an alternative to government censorship.

Prior to publication, members of the CCA submitted comics to be screened for compliance to the established code. If a comic met code requirements, the CCA then authorized the CCA seal to appear on the cover. At the height of its influence, the CCA was the de facto censor for the U.S. comic book industry.

Since the CCA was voluntary, however, no law required publishers to adhere to or use the CCA standards. Some comic publishers — including Dell, Western, Classics Illustrated and Treasure Chest — never used the Code. By 2001, some publishers bypassed the CCA and Marvel Comics abandoned the code completely. By 2010, only DC Comics, Archie Comics, and Bongo Comics still submitted to CCA censorship. Bongo broke with the CCA in 2010. Holdouts DC and Archie soon followed the rest of the industry, and in January 2011, the Comics Code Authority was finally abandoned.

The comics referenced in Wertham’s scathing attack are part of the historical pop culture record, and are books prized by collectors. The list below will expand as time allows so that more comic enthusiasts can appreciate not only the comics that were charged with influencing America’s youth to dastardly and sometimes deathly deeds but also this pivotal moment in the comic industry, after which comics would be forever changed.

Comics referenced in Seduction of the Innocent, along with page numbers, are listed on the Seduction of the Innocent web site.