Anorak | 1940s Pre-Code Comic Book Horrors And Dr Wertham’s 1954 Seduction of the Innocent

1940s Pre-Code Comic Book Horrors And Dr Wertham’s 1954 Seduction of the Innocent

by | 29th, June 2014


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“There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written or badly written.”

– Oscar Wilde


Dr. Wertham’s 1954 book, Seduction of the Innocent , was an American bestseller it tapped into the fears of parents from sea to shining sea and led to the a frenzy of censorship in the comic book world.  The irony, however, is that the book was so poorly researched, that much of its content was simply made up.  Of course, the public didn’t give a baker’s f**k about facts, and Seduction of the Innocent became a sensation.

A few imaginative fabrications from the book…



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The book claimed that this woman had been raped and murdered.  First of all, if you read the source where this panel was copied, you’ll find no evidence whatsoever the girl was raped.  Perhaps, this was just Wertham’s dark fantasy, or perhaps he just wanted to spice it up for the public.  Either way, it’s not factual not to mention this panel didn’t even come from a comic book it came from a magazine!



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Wertham claimed that there were dirty images hidden in these comic panels. In the image above, referenced in his book, can you spot the hidden naughtiness?



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The man’s shoulder seems to resemble a woman’s pubic area.  Hmmmmm…. I have to admit, it does look like it, but I doubt I would’ve picked up on it had Wertham not pointed it out.  It makes you wonder what kind of dirty mind this Wertham guy had if he’s seeing naked chicks everywhere he looks.



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Wertham’s book said that children call these kinds of comics “headlight comics” in reference to the preponderance of epic level boobage…. but did they? It was a term used in the trade, but it was far-fetched to say kids called them anything of the sort.

I know it sounds trivial calling Wertham on semantics, but with so much actual sex and sadism going on in comics back then, one wonders why the need to make things up. Here’s the rub: Dr. Wertham may have been a dishonest pervert, but it’s a fact that comics back then were often shockingly brutal and degrading.  Thus, the Comics Code Authority was created in 1954 to deal with the public outcry against comics like this one from 1947.



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“Step aside, Frankie!! Let me give her a goin’ over, woman style! I’d like to sharpen my nails on that fat face!!”

Unfortunately, the code ended up being just as over the top as the comics they were trying to regulate with ridiculous rules such as “In every instance good shall triumph over evil and the criminal punished for his misdeeds.” The code also has the dubious distinction of bringing down the creative and talented powerhouse of EC comics. Tales from the Crypt was no more (but their publisher, William Gaines, would go on to success with MAD magazine).



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For an example, one stipulation of the code was that “Females shall be drawn realistically without exaggeration of any physical qualities.” Thus, even Junior (Fox Features’ answer to the Archie comics) wouldn’t pass the test.

And speaking on not passing tests, the most infamous example is issue number 22 of Crime SuspenStories (1954)….



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When the Senate Committee of the Judiciary to Investigate Juvenile Delinquency began hearings in New York City in 1954, this particular cover caught the eye of Senator Estes Kefauver. William Gaines, the publisher of E.C. Comics, was put in the awkward position of having to defend the cover:

“Here is your May issue. This seems to be a man with a bloody axe holding a woman’s head up, which has been severed from her body. Do you think that’s in good taste?” asked Kefauver.

“Yes, sir, I do…for the cover of a horror comic. A cover in bad taste, for example, might be defined as holding the head a little higher so that blood could be seen dripping from it, and moving the body over a little further so that the neck of the body could be seen to be bloody,” replied Gaines.

“You’ve got blood coming out of her mouth.”

“A little.”

By the end of the day, William Gaines had achieved nationwide notoriety and crime comics had been pronounced guilty of corrupting the youth of America.


It’s easy to jump on the anti-censorship bandwagon in this case especially when the censors were behaving so irrationally.  However, nothing is ever black and white (okay, many of these comics were indeed black and white, but let’s not get technical).  As I stated earlier, comics of the 40s and 50s could be shockingly brutal and degrading.

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Posted: 29th, June 2014 | In: Books, Flashback, Key Posts Comments (2) | Follow the Comments on our RSS feed: RSS 2.0 | TrackBack | Permalink

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