Friday, September 30, 2005

Hampering, anecdote and opinion

In one sample of this new psychotherapeutic aggression-removal, there are seventy-three scenes of violence, corpses, wounded, murders and assault. In another a policeman who asks a criminal for his driving license is shot outright. Recently I was asked to help in the defense of a youth who had committed exactly this crime in Connecticut.

Many children read all varieties of crime comics and even poor children get hold of them in astonishingly large numbers. A thirteen-year-old girl, in trouble for habitual truancy, said, "I like jungle books. But I read the others, too. My sister buys romance books, Diary of Real Life, True Romance, Sheena, Jo-Jo, Jungle Jim—they are exciting! I like to see the way they jump up and kick men down and kill them! I like Penalty, Crime Does Not Pay. I don't like them because the crook gets caught. I'd like him to get away with it. They show you how to steal. A woman walked in a store and took a dress and walked right out and a woman caught her. I like to see women catch them. Sheena got a big jungle she lives in and people down there likes her and would do anything for her. When I get ready to got to bed I read them—about four comic books. We don't all the time have enough to eat, because my mother hasn't got enough money to buy any."

In this case I saw a previous report by a psychologist which stated: "Marked sexual preoccupation hampers her objectivity." It makes no mention of comic books—but it seems to me that they "hampered her objectivity" most.

Thursday, September 29, 2005


During the time when the trend toward love-confession comics seemed to be in the ascendancy, those crime comics which continued without changing their policy were read more than ever. Towards the latter part of 1950 a reversal started. Having betrayed their experts by suddenly proclaiming that psychological need and popular demand was not for murder but for love and confession, the industry reversed itself again and set sail for sadism on the old and much-publicized theory that this is what children really need to get rid of their aggressions.

New crime comic books sprang up. Where formerly Murder, Inc. had become My Private Life, and Western Killers had changed to My True Love, it was now the other way around; My Love Memoirs became Hunted, All Romances became Mr. Risk, and My Intimate Affair became Inside Crime. Thus does an alert industry follow the abrupt changes in the psychology of American children. Or is it perhaps the other way around?

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

What twelve-year-old girls learn

In the Daily Colonist (Victoria, B.C.) Arnie Myers reports on an interesting study of love comics like Intimate Love, My Desire, Love Scandals, Lovelorn, and dozen of other similar titles. They are read mostly by "adolescent and pre-adolescent girls." The heroine invariably falls in love at first sight "probably because of space limitations . . . The books contain crime aplenty—murder, suicide, abduction, arson, robbery, theft and various types of mayhem—but crime is always subordinated to love . . . The heroines indulge in vast amounts of waywardness, infidelity, cheating, lying and assorted kinds of trickery." One national Parent-Teacher-Association publication termed them "unsuitable for any age." Some newsdealers considered them "as bad as, or worse than, crime comics." One reported "a sale of thirty love comics to a sailor in his mid-twenties." Whatever the mentality of this lonely sailor may have been, is this how we want to bring up eleven- or twelve-year-old girls nowadays?

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

A mother, a daughter, and love

A nice friendly girl of twelve was brought to me by her mother because she had stolen some money from a lodger. "She has a mind of her own," the mother said to me. "It goes and comes. The teacher complains that she can't get any work out of her at times." Careful study of the girl over a period of the girl over a period of time showed little that was wrong. A social worker asked the mother how the girl spent her time after school. "Reading love comics," the mother replied. "I have nothing against comic books, but she reads them all the time."

This girl I found to be an expert on love comics. She told me she bought some, "but mostly I trade them." I asked her about stealing in love comics. She laughed, "Oh, they do it often. A boy stole a bracelet from a girl he loves very much. He got caught but she still loved him. He spent a term in jail. The girl went to jail to see him, but she fell in love with another boy and got married." This girl was full of such plots. It was hard to determine whether she had daydreamed more of loving or stealing.

Monday, September 26, 2005

"Home was never like this, baby!"

The youthful reader can also acquire the technique of how to seduce a girl. First you get her boy friend away on a fictitious errand, "knowing it would keep him for most of the night." After a dance you invite the girl for "a little bite" at "a roadhouse just over the state line": "Here we are, Gale! A nice little private booth! Like it?"

The girl: "'Yes' — I wouldn't for the world let Nicky think I wasn't sophisticated enough to appreciate it!"

Then you make love to her.

"Nicky! Let me go! All these people!"

Nicky: "You're right, honey! What do we want all these people for? Let's go upstairs to the terrace!"

"Upstairs was a long, narrow hall with five or six doors! Nicky opened the nearest one and I found myself in a small, shoddy-looking room!"

Nicky: "I think we'll be much more comfortable in here, don't you, honey?"

Heroine: "Nicky! I want to go home! Please let me go!"

Nicky: "Home was never like this, baby! COME ON, GIVE PAPA A KISS!"

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Learning to steal dresses

In one love comic a demonstration is given of how to steal a "very expensive gown, Paris original" from a department store:

"I'll slip it on in the dressing-room. They won't notice me! I'll put it in the box and walk out, while the saleslady is busy with someone else! . . . I walked out, trying to keep calm, trying to look and act natural . . . Nobody has seen me! Ohh! If I can only reach the door!"

Saturday, September 24, 2005


Flooding the market with love-confession comics is so successful in diverting attention from crime comic books that it has been entirely overlooked that many of them are crime comic books, with a seasoning of love added. Unless the love comics are sprinkled with some crime they do not sell. Apparently love does not pay.

Friday, September 23, 2005

New formula

The confession comic has a totally different style: the new love-comics formula. One story, "I Was a Spoiled Brat," begins with a big picture of an attractive girl looking at herself in the mirror and baring herself considerably. The dash of violence here is supplied by a hit-and-run driving accident and by the father's dying of a heart attack when he hears about his daughter's life. It all comes out right in the last picture: "But I did live down my past. Tommy is now a leading merchant in Grenville."

Thursday, September 22, 2005


Another confession comic book is the reincarnation of a previous teen-age book with an innocuous title. That one was, despite its title, one the most sexy, specializing in highly accentuated and protruding breasts in practically ever illustration. Adolescent boys call these "headlight comics." This is a very successful way to stimulate a boy sexually. In other comic books, other secondary sexual characteristics of women, for example the hips, are played up in the drawing.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

A common misconception

It is a mistake to think that love comics are read only by adolescent and older children. They are read by very young children as well. An eight-year-old girl living in a very comfortable environment on Long Island said, "I have lots of friends and we buy about one comic book a week and then we exchange. I can read about ten a day. I like to read the comic books about love because when I go to sleep at night I love to dream about love."

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Every investigation has its dark moments

One day I received a letter from a highly intelligent and socially active woman who had taken great interest in the curbing of crime comics. She wrote me that in her opinion the love and confession comics may be in bad taste, but at least they do no harm to children although they "give a false picture of love and life." This letter gave me the first doubt that I could ever achieve any practical results from my time-consuming investigation. What more harm can be done a child than to give him "a false picture of love and life"?

Monday, September 19, 2005

Warning labels, and the mushiness, the cheapness.

Just as some crime comics are especially marked on the cover "FOR ADULTS ONLY" (which of course entices children even more), so some of these love-confession comics are marked "NOT INTENDED FOR CHILDREN." And just as there are supermen, superwomen, superboys and superducks, so the industry now supplies a "SUPER-LOVER."

Studying these love-confession books is even more tedious than studying the usual crime comic books. You have to wade through all the mushiness, the false sentiments, the social hypocrisy, the titillation, the cheapness.

Sunday, September 18, 2005


If we were to take seriously the experts of the comic-book industry, the psychology of American children completely reversed itself in 1949. In order to provide for the "deep psychological needs" of children, the industry had been supplying more and more comic books about violence and crime. Now suddenly it began producing dozens of new titles of love comics, to satisfy children's new needs. Murder, Inc. became My Private Life; Western Killers became My True Love. With the new and profitable policy of the industry, the needs of the children had changed overnight. All this would be funny if the happiness and mental development of children were not involved.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

The questionable solution

In direct response to all these events of 1948 the industry executed a brilliant and successful maneuver. Leaving their psychiatric and child experts with their explanations and justifications, they struck out on their own. The experts had said that what the children need is aggression, not affection—crime, not love. But suddenly the industry converted from blood to kisses. They tooled up the industry for a kind of comic book that hardly existed before, the love-confession type. They began to turn them out quickly and plentifully before their own experts had time to retool for the new production line and write scientific papers proving that what children really needed and wanted—what their psychological development really called for—was after all not murder, but love! In this new genre, shooting a girl in the stomach was out, though previously it had been so necessary.

There had of course been teen-age comics before. But they were mostly not about love or kissing, but in large part about humiliations, a disguised kind of psychological sadism. The confession type, on the other hand, implies a love relationship. There are misunderstandings, jealousies and triangle troubles. The girl is either too shy or too sociable, the boy friend is either the wrong one altogether or he says the wrong things. In many of them, in complete contrast to the previous teen-age group, sexual relations are assumed to have taken place in the background. Just as the crime-comics formula requires a violent ending, so the love-comics formula demands that the story end with reconciliation.

Friday, September 16, 2005


At the end of 1948 the 60-million-comic-books-a-month were split up between over four hundred comic-book titles of assorted types. All through 1948 the trend of the industry was toward crime comics. Experts of the industry were busy explaining to credulous parents that the industry was only giving to children what they needed and wanted, that scenes of crime and sadism were necessary for them, even good for them, and that the industry was only supplying a demand. But in the meantime my advice to parents had begun to take at least some hold. They had begun to look into crime comic books, and different groups and local authorities started to contemplate, announce, attempt—and even to take—steps.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Things noticed in the comic books that adapt literature into illustrations

A writer of children's books, Eleanor Estes, has said of these comics (in the Wilson Library Bulletin), "I think that worse than the comic books that stick to their own fields are the ones that try to rehash the classics. They really are pernicious, for it seems to me that they ruin for a child the fine books which they are trying to popularize."

David Dempsey, writing in the New York Times Book Review, has said of the comic book Julias Caesar that it has "a Brutus that looks astonishingly like Superman. 'Our course will seem too bloody to cut the head off and then back the limbs . . .' says Brutus, in language that sounds like Captain Marvel. . ." and he notes that "Julius Caesar is followed by a story called "Tippy, the Terrier.' "

An adaptation from one of Mark Twain's novels has the picture of two small boys in a fight, one tearing the other's hair—a scene not the keynote of Mark Twain's novel. Inside, three consecutive pictures show a fight between two boys ("In an instant both boys were gripped together like cats") and the last picture shows one boy with a finger almost in the other's eye (the injury-to-the-eye motif again).

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Pictures of Moby Dick (and a Gershon Legman statement)

Comic books adapted from classical literature are reportedly used in 25,000 schools in the United States. If this is true, then I have never heard a more serious indictment of American education, for they emasculate the classics, condense them (leaving out everything that makes the book great), are just as badly printed and inartistically drawn as other comic books and, as I have often found, do not reveal to children the world of good literature which has at all times been the mainstay of liberal and humanistic education. They conceal it. The folklorist, G. Legman, writes of comic books based on classics, "After being processed in this way, no classic, no matter who wrote it, is in any way distinguishable from the floppity-rabbit and crime comics it is supposed to replace."

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

There are also super-children, like Superboy.

Superboy can slice a tree like a cake, can melt glass by looking at it ("with his amazing X-ray eyes, Superboy proves the scientific law that focussed concentrated X-rays can melt glass!"), defeats "a certain gang chief and his hirelings." Superboy rewrites American history, too. In one story he helps George Washington's campaign and saves his life by hitting a Hessian with a snowball. George Washington reports to the Continental Congress: "And sirs, this remarkable boy, a Superboy, helped our boys win a great victory."

One third of a page of this book is a picture of Washington crossing the Delaware—with Superboy guiding the boat through the ice floes. It is really Superboy who is crossing the Delaware, with George Washington in the boat. All this travesty is endorsed by the impressive board of experts in psychiatry, education and English literature.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Wonder women, ducks and advertisements

Just as there are wonder women there are wonder animals, like Wonder Ducks. In one such book there is a full-page advertisement for guns, "throwing knives" and whips, and a two-page advertisement for "Official Marine Corps knives, used by the most rugged branch of the armed forces, leathernecks swear by them."

Sunday, September 11, 2005

A violent duck

Of course there are also super-animal magazines, like Super Duck. In one of them the duck yells: "No! I kill the parents [of the rabbits]. I am a hard guy and my heart is made of stone!" The scene shows a rabbit crying and begging for mercy, the duck poised to kill him with a baseball bat.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Corpsies and Kewpies

One Lafargue researcher asked a little six-year-old girl what comic books she liked and was told "corpsies." This baffled the researcher (the name would fit so many!). It finally developed with she produced the comics that she meant "kewpies." It was one of the very few artistic comic books and had on its inside back cover a charming "Map of Kewpieville" showing Kewpie Square, Willow Wood, Mischief Grounds, Welcome Bridge, a Goblin Glen, Forsaken Lake, Blue Lake and a Snifflebrook. What was impressed on this child's mind, however, were the "corpsies" he had seen in the crime comic books of her friends.

Friday, September 09, 2005


We have asked many children how they subdivide comic books. A thirteen-year-old boy, in a letter to a national magazine commenting on one of Sterling North's excellent articles on the subject, named five groups of harmful comics: "Fantasy comics, crime comics, superman or superwoman comics, jungle comics (the worst, in my opinion) and comics which still pretend to be funny but throw in a lot of nudity to help them sell."

Many children have a simpler classification. They distinguish between "jokey" books and "interesting books." The latter they also call "exciting books" or "danger books." Very young children who supposedly read only harmless animal comic books often see others in the hands of their older siblings or in other places.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

But when Superman has no penis

Superwoman (Wonder Woman) is always a horror type. She is physically very powerful, tortures men, has her own female following, is the cruel, "phallic" woman. While she is a frightening figure for the boys, she is an undesirable ideal for girls, being the exact opposite of what girls are supposed to want to be.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

I can't stop thinking about Superman

Superman not only defies the laws of gravity, which his great strength makes conceivable; in addition he gives children a completely wrong idea of other basic physical laws. Not even Supermen, for example, should be able to lift up a building while not standing on the ground, or to stop an airplane in midair while flying himself.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Superman is a fascist and a Top

Superman (with the big S on his uniform—we should, I suppose, be thankful that it is not an S.S.) needs an endless stream of ever new submen, criminals and "foreign-looking" people not only to justify his existence but even to make it possible. It is this feature that engenders in children either one or the other of two attitudes: either they fantasize themselves as supermen, with the attendant prejudices against the submen, or it makes them submissive and receptive to the blandishments of strong men who will solve all their social problems for them—by force.

Monday, September 05, 2005


This Superman—Batman—Wonder Woman group is a special form of crime comics. The gun advertisements are elaborate and realistic. In one story a foreign-looking scientist starts a greenshirt movement. Several boys told me they thought he looked like Einstein. No person and no democratic agency can stop him. It requires the female superman, the Wonder Woman. One picture shows the scientist addressing a public meeting:

"So, my fellow American, it is time to give America back to Americans! Don't let foreigners take your jobs!"

Member of the audience: "He's right!"

Another, applauding: "YEAHHHH!"

The Supermen type of comic books tends to force and superforce. Dr. Paul A. Witty, professor of education at Northwestern University, has well described these comics when he said that they "present our world in a kind of Fascist setting of violence and hate and destruction. I think it is bad for children," he goes on, "to get that kind of recurring diet . . . [they] place too much emphasis on a Fascist society. Therefore the democratic ideals that we should seek are likely to be overlooked."

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Morality and prizes

In another Superman story a tenement building is set afire—also to be taken care of by Superman after it is afire. Until near end of the book, attempts to kill people are ot looked upon askance, and are not to be prevented apparently by humans but only by a superman. Then the lesson that after all you should not kill is expressed like this: "You conniving unscrupulous cad! Try to murder Carol, will you!" This is scarcely a moral condemnation. The lawyer who does not share in a million-dollar swindle is praised by Superman because he "remained honest." In fact this honesty is rewarded with a million dollars! A gun advertisement with four pictures of guns completes the impression that even if you can't become Superman, at least you can rise above the average by using force.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Endorsements, pranks and obscenity in the Superman comics

The Superman group of comic books is superendorsed. A random sample shows on the inside cover of the endorsement of two psychiatrists, one educator, one English professor and a child-study consultant. On the page facing this array is depicted a man dressed as a boy shooting a policeman in the mouth (with a toy pistol). This is a prank—"Prankster's second childhood." In the story there is a variant of the comic-book theme of a girl being thrown into the fire: "Her dress will be afire in one split second! She'll need Superman's help!"

Friday, September 02, 2005

Untitled poem #1

In the jungle books
the jungle is not really a place
but a state of mind.

It is easily transposed
into outer space
in the interplanetary
and science-fiction books.

The girls are similarly dressed
and similarly treated.
Torture is more refined.

If someone is to be blinded
it is done with some
extra-scientific instrument:

"Now, ye Maid of Auro,
reveal where the thorium has been hidden

or my electric prong
will burn the eyes from your pretty head."

The supermen are either
like their jungle brothers

or dressed
in fancy raiment that is a mixture

of the costumes of

S.S. men,


and robots.

In one comic book of this group
old-fashioned mugging
—in recent years so frequently practiced by juveniles in large cities—
is a recurrent theme,
despite the interplanetary trappings.

Blood flows freely,
bosoms are half-bared,





Thursday, September 01, 2005

'Emotional release'

Quite apart from its sadistic groove, the imagination expressed in comic books is mechanical rather than in any way creative. For instance, in a jungle book with the subtitle "THE JUNGLE GIRL," the "Satanic Dr. Zanzere . . . transplants a pair of bat's wings on a tiger." The rest of this book is the usual parade of invitation to sadistic perversion, race hatred and violence for violence's sake.

What about the "emotional release" a child is supposed to get according to the defenders of the comic-book industry? One story concludes with a close-up of a fist holding a gun and these words:

"A gentle squeeze of the trigger and the last breath of life will be squeezed out Nyoka! Read on for Part Three of 'The Treasure of the Tiger's Paw.'"