Despite considering myself fairly well-read when it comes to comic books, I have never read the infamous Seduction of the Innocent by Fredric Wertham. I have seen originals priced in the hundreds of dollars range but, every once in a while, one publisher or another sets out to reprint it. I had never seen one of those reprints actually come to pass, though, a fact which I lamented recently here on this board. Captain Comics mentioned that he bought a copy that actually was reprinted in 2004, which sent me on a quest. (I remember reading about it, but never saw it solicited or published.) I soon found a copy at a price I was willing to pay.
I first learned about Seduction of the Innocent (and read excerpts) from Jules Feiffer's The Great Comic Book Heroes. Wertham was never mentioned throughout my academic career, including college. In fact, all I have ever heard about him was through "comic book" sources. I have always been interested in reading Seduction of the Innocent, but only as a curiosity, which is the only way I thought it would ever be published. I just finished reading the 2004 edition's 37-page introduction, but so far that's all I've read of it. I was quite surprised to see Wertham championed as "a distinguished psychiatrist of wide and deeply humane interests, a advocate of social reform, and a defender of civil liberties."
James Reibman, who wrote the introduction, does a good job of presenting both sides of the story, but the selected quotes of industry professionals are edited to highlight his particular thesis. (If I said one of the female writer/editors quoted is widely known for shooting off her mouth would you be able to guess to whom I was referring?) I know know more about Fredric Wertham now than I did previously, and I believe he thought he was doing the right thing. (Actually, I've always thought that.) Despite his intentions, I remain convinced that his research was faulty by today's standards and that ultimately he did much more harm than good.
I have always been told (and believed) that Wertham's "research" consisted of him interviewing "juvenile delinquents" and asking them if they read comics. Since almost all kids read comics in those days, Q.E.D. But here's something I gleaned just from skimming his test cases, of which there are 14. They are all boys between the ages of 9 and 12 who read far below their age level, but there's something else that jumps right out at me. I'm not going to defend what "I.Q." means in this context, but these boys had scores ranging from 54 through 74. they did not present themselves well. I wonder what his results would have yielded had he interviewed children with I.Q.s of 100 (which is average) or above who read comic books?
There is also a 16-page section of illustrations culled from contemporary comics which are clearly taken out of context. One of them has a caption which reads: "Comic books are supposed to be like fairy tales." Oh, yeah? Who says? I don't know how much more I'll have to say about this book once I actually start reading it, but I thought I'd start this thread just in case. Frederic Wertham may have been a great guy with the best of intentions, but it's going to be difficult to convince me that he didn't do more harm than good. I will try to read with an open mind.