To commemorate last week’s Banned Books Week, Stephen St Walley tracks down all the comics mentioned in Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent and adds links to downloadable versions.

Obviously, many of the below comics are not intended for children. While all of them were probably read by children, they were not necessarily the intended audience for them as far as the cartoonists were concerned. Harvey Kurtzman’s Frontline Combat, for example, was written with a military audience in mind, and Kurtzman frequently received fan letters from men in the military.

While it’s hard to imagine what was corrupting about the heartwarming sight of Santa bringing toys to urchin tots, the snorting bull on the cover of ALL TOP indicates that sordid thrills may, indeed, lie within.


  1. Hey! It’s equal opportunity! There’s half-naked men there for the ladies, too.

    Though Blondie up front looks like she might be suffering from some lower back problems….

  2. “While it’s hard to imagine what was corrupting about the heartwarming sight of Santa bringing toys to urchin tots…”

    Might have more to do with the hot tamale driving the jeep than ol’ St. Nick. I didn’t grow up in the early 1950’s, but I’ll take a wild guess and say that standard Santa protocol probably didn’t include a burlesque angle.

  3. I don’t see how these Golden Age comics could not have been “intended” for children– if not by the cartoonists, then by the publishers.

    I’m sure a lot of adults sneak-read the comics, especially those that had quasi-adult themes. But I’ve never seen any history of the period that didn’t affirm that the bulk audience for comic books was made up of juveniles, and that the publishers all knew that comics could only succeed by selling to that audience, though some books favored the older set of juveniles.

    That’s why Wertham (according to biographer Bart Beaty) advocated making comics off limits to anyone under 15. That, far more than outright censorship, would have consigned comic books to an early grave.

  4. Last year I got into quite a heated blog debate with a friend of mine who stated, “Wertham is well on his way to being utterly forgotten . . . . we should do nothing to slow that course from finishing itself out.” Happy to see that his sage appraisal of Wertham is going ignored.

    On a related topic (i.e., the Injury To Eye Motif), I’ve been reading Paulette Cooper’s Scandal of Scientology. In Chapter 4, she discusses Hubbard’s book, Have You Lived Before This Life: A Scientific Survey and notes the following: “Throughout Hubbard’s book . . . there is a strange repetitive theme of torture or excision of the eyes, a theme that can also be found in some of Hubbard’s other writings. ” She goes on to describe several types of injury including someone having a needle pushed “through each of his eyeballs into the frontal lobe.”

    Wikipedia states the material for this particular Hubbard book (and one of Scientology’s canonical titles) was gathered from auditing sessions in 1958.

    I’m not drawing any conclusions about causality. Just noting where the motif has gone beyond comics.

  5. Fascinating! Here’s a story you might enjoy:

    My dad was a football jock, but also a big comic lover back in the day. He recently told me the story of how the school Librarian gave him Wertham’s book. He remembers being really confused by it all- but still remembers the “headlight” discussions!

  6. I read Wertham’s book in the early 70’s, when it was available from the local library. I was maybe 13 at the time, and already a CBG-and-Comic Reader-subscribing comic nut.

    I understood Wertham’s argument, especially when it came to some of the EC covers, but simply found those to be ghoulish, and not likely to lead kids to delinquency.

    But then, I was 13 at the time, and what was I reading? You name it, I was looking at it or reading it. ha ha

  7. Mr. Phillips, A lot of the crime and horror comics continued the traditions of the pulps and “spicy” magazines both of which had a significant adult audience.

    Here’s a quotation from “The Monster Show: a Cultural History of Horror” by David J. Skal:

    “The circulation figures for comic books during the early fifties are impressive even today: in 1950 50 million comic books were being printed and distributed every month. They were being read mostly by adults (54 percent, according to one Dayton, Ohio study), and by 40 percent of everybody in America above the age of 8.”

    When you consider that the population of the U.S. was about 152 million people in 1950, 50 million comics is a huge number. Most people probably wouldn’t have thought anything of reading a comic. But then SOTI and the hearings made them out to be dirty, seamy things, so most adults no longer wanted to be associated with that material. And to top it off, the code ensured that most of what was published from then on was only going to appeal to an audience of children.

    Now, that is not to say that children didn’t read horror comics (probably lots and lots of them) did, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they were the target audience.

    If you read the letter columns in those old ECs, there are a lot of well thought out and literary letters. There isn’t a whole lot of “I like your comic. The skeleton was cool. That guy that melted scared me. Signed Bobby, Age 8” though there are a few of those.

    Early EC fandom from what I’ve seen really bears more of a resemblance to early Sci-Fi Fandom (a movement that many of the silver age DC staff were a part of most specifically Julie Schwartz and John Broome) with some real organization and nearly academic thought behind it.