Posts Tagged ‘Dr. Fredrick Wertham’

Comics on Campus

Tuesday, April 14th, 2015

This past week I had the pleasure of sitting in on a free lecture “Comics and the Art of Visual Communication” by legendary comic creator and theorist, Scott McCloud www.scottmccloud.com who was out promoting his new graphic novel, The Sculptor.

The event  was hosted by Rutgers University at their Camden, NJ campus. This was the same campus that hosted the second annual Camden Comic Con just a month ago where CO2 Comics presented a panel on our experience as independent publishers reuniting with some of the crew from our days publishing Comico comics back in the 1980’s.

It is so exciting to see the medium of comics finally being accepted by the great halls of higher education! When I was in college back in the early 1980’s at the Philadelphia College of Art, the administration and faculty showed complete disdain for the medium describing it as derivative and kitsch while vowing to break me of my interest in this lowly form of art. It is ironic that now, renamed the University of the Arts, they boast about  graphic novel writer Neil Gaiman’s inspirational commencement speech in 2012where they also presented Gaiman and Pulitzer Prize winning, editorial cartoonist Tony Auth each with an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts!

My, how times have changed!

More and more colleges and universities are including comic art or graphic novel courses into their curriculum. Some are beginning to build robust libraries dedicated to collections of comic books. Because of the rise of the graphic novel format and the popularity of comic related adaptations into other forms of media, educators have begun to take the comic medium seriously and since the first publication of Scott McCloud’s book Understanding Comics in 1993, educators have had a blueprint for teaching the subject.

My experience at PCA was not unusual. Comics history is wrought with degradation by  educators who widely considered it a form of base communication with no educational merit. Comics were believed to contribute to the delinquency and corruption of the minds of young readers. This notion was exasperated further by Dr. Fredrick Wertham’s book Seduction of the Innocent. Discussion among educators was more focused on how to steer readers away from comic books than to encourage them. Many even resorted to public burnings of the comics!

This sentimentality was buffered slightly by the comic industry’s 1954 adoption of a self imposed censorship called the Comic Code Authority which warranted against  any corruptive material in comics in the wake of a U.S. Congressional inquiry. It stood for decades as possibly the most rigorous form of censorship of any American medium.

Somehow, comics managed to still find a way to be interesting and in the early 1960’s with the help of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, Marvel Comics discovered how to appeal to young adults despite the shackles of the Code. The interest in the medium by college students in that era developed a fertile foundation for the future generations of comic creators to grow from.

Stan Lee recognized the interest of the college students and brought his show on the road as evidenced by this recording of Stan addressing students at Princeton University in 1966. Marvel comics spoke to the youth movement of the sixties. Those comics empowered some to create more comics that grew with the readers and reflected the unrest of the new culture that was rising.

Comics evolved throughout the seventies and eighties giving rise to the underground and independent movements that aborted the Comic Code, fought for creators rights and developed a new distribution system that allowed the unfettered medium to flourish. By the dawn of the new millennium comics were poised to explode as a form of powerful artistic expression.

Then came the internet, digital distribution, and print on demand.

Few mediums have benefitted so greatly by modern technology to put both the literal and visual power  into the hands of a single creator. From this has come great works of expression that need to be digested by those interested in learning and understanding the powerful form of visual literature known as comics.

Colleges and universities have figured this out and are actively reaching out to communities to share the mechanics of this exciting medium that has had such an incredible impact on popular culture.

A quick browser search revealed a few programs since the beginning of the year at schools like Vassar,  William & Mary, University of FloridaOhio State University, The University of Hartford, Drake University, and Northern Illinois University.

Those combined with the stops on Scott McCloud’s tour which have already included Mississippi State, Wittenberg University, Champlain College, and Rutgers University make it a wonderful time to be enlightened about the true cultural value of the comics medium and how it extends so far beyond what many know as just superheroes or funny animals. If you love comics, you may want to get to know them better at a college campus near you.

Take the time to check with colleges or universities in your area to see if they are promoting any public lectures on comics. Some provide courses that may be accessible to you. I promise you will be impressed by the diversity of the group that attends, it will be what you expect from any college, a broad mix of age, gender, and culture and everyone had a great time. Special thanks to Rutger’s Digital Studies Center, the Office of Campus Involvement, the Chancellor’s Office, the Department of English, and the Department of Fine Arts for pulling their resources for a great event that covered so many disciplines.

Gerry Giovinco

Halloween and Comic Books: A Frightful Pair

Tuesday, October 28th, 2014

Last week’s blog Before Cosplay there was Halloween got me thinking that Halloween and comic books have a much deeper and horrific connection than dressing as our favorite character.

Though your average person may immediately think “superheroes” when they hear the term comic book, any comics fan knows that comics as a medium covers a vast array of genres of which superheroes are currently at the forefront.

Just look at the offerings here at CO2 Comics and you will see a sampling of the broad range of topics that comics can cover.

Actually, throughout the late 1940’s to the very early 1960’s, it was horror comics that filled the newsstand shelves. The terrifying comic books had such a dominant impact on the industry that they ignited a witch-hunt fueled by Dr. Fredrick Wertham’s writings in his book Seduction of the Innocent. The ensuing hysteria led to hearings by the  Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency and resulted in the comics industry adopting a self-imposed form of censorship called the Comics Code Authority.

For many the true terror was not the content of the comic books but watching them being burned and censored in a place like America where the freedoms of speech and press were being so harshly violated.

Comic books continued to have mildly scary themes with plenty of monsters, vampires and werewolves but they were watered down for decades until different forms of distribution allowed underground and  independent publishers the opportunity to produce comics without the vice of the Comics Code Authority.

Now there are plenty of truly scary horror comics available again to inspire the many ghouls and zombies that will wander from door-to-door this Halloween.

The monsters you encounter in forms of fiction like comic books are a healthy reminder that good and evil are relative, measured only by the extremes of each other. Horror stories allow our imaginations to witness the fear of indescribable terror without physically experiencing it. They allow us to develop defenses that will hopefully protect us from the real monsters that lurk in the world.

So grab a flashlight and a good horror comic book then crawl under the covers in a really dark room and read till you are scared to death! Then remember, when you are celebrating this Halloween, that some of those monsters in frightening costumes may be real.

If you are not careful you could easily become a bloodied victim, dismembered and buried in a shallow grave while your eyeballs float, suspended in a thickened liquid that fills a vintage mason jar capped with a rusty lid, proudly tucked away on the top shelf of a mildew encrusted Frigidaire in the basement of a quaintly-painted, suburban townhouse inhabited by an unlikely serial killer named Pinky Silverberg, the innocent looking, wide-eyed waif  who sold you that scary comic book at your local comic shop.

Happy Halloween!

Gerry Giovinco



Dixon and Rivoche: Critical of the Right

Tuesday, June 17th, 2014

Give Chuck Dixon and Paul Rivoche a lot of credit. They certainly stepped outside the box in an effort to promote their new book, a graphic adaptation of Amity Shlaes’ THE FORGOTTEN MAN, by attacking  comic industry liberals in their Wall Street Journal OP-ED piece, How Liberalism Became Kryptonite for Superman.”

They managed to generate a lot of interest  and even had the opportunity to tout their book, published by Harper Perennial, on FOX NEWS!

Thank God that most of the hardcore conservatives that pay attention to these narrow-minded resources couldn’t care a rat’s ass about comics or they would have seen through the thin veil of deception that is so brilliantly dissected  by Janelle Asseline in her Comics Alliance piece, “Superhuman Error: What Conservatives Chuck Dixon & Paul Rivoche Get Wrong About Politics In American Comics.”

In their effort to be Uber Americans by defending the Political Right, Dixon and Rivoche tread on one of the most valued American liberties that comic creators have fought decades for, the right to freedom of speech and expression which is protected by the First Amendment.

Their endorsement of the Comics Code Authority, which was a direct product of McCarthy era conservatism and possibly the most strict code of censorship of any American medium, flies in the face of anyone who truly loves and values the most basic and fundamental principles of freedom set forth by the founders of this country.

It was particularly odd that both gentlemen conveniently ignored the comics history of the 1980’s where creators rebelled against the big publishers of superhero comics  and defined the potential of the Direct Market by working with Independent publishers that defied the rules of the Comics Code Authority.

Both Dixon and Rivoche saw their first works published by Independent publishers in 1984. (not the 1970’s as stated.)  Chuck Dixon’s EVANGELINE which, originally published by Comico, told a tale about a nun with a gun that was an assassin for the Vatican.Canadian Paul Rivoche illustrated Mister X published by Toronto based Vortex. His story was about a mad scientist that induced his own perpetual sleeplessness with a fictitious drug. These were not comics that any of the Code publishers would consider touching at the time!

It is ironic that these pioneers of “moral ambiguity” in comics should be so vocally opposed to its current existence in the medium!

The success and proliferation of similar independent projects eventually led to Marvel and DC’s softening and ultimate departure from the Code. This was  an orchestrated effort to compete with and eradicate Independent comics publishers  who had gained substantial  market strength.

The market dictated the newfound liberal mores with which comics were created! If audiences did not clamor for these new “left-minded” ideas we would all be reading comics with the seal of approval on it today. Worse, comic books would most likely have faced an inevitable extinction.

The comics of the 90’s that the two chose to credit with the moral departure were created by a  wave of young talent that cut their teeth reading comics and being inspired by the likes of Dixon and Rivoche. These upstarts recognized that it was time for a jailbreak and sought to distinguish themselves as the New World Order in comics.

Dixon and Rivoche are among many creators moderately associated with the old guard, despite their groundbreaking achievements, to be trampled by the inmates intent on running the asylum, finally free of the restraints of oppressive censorship (a page torn right from Dixon’s own Batman stories.)

Jerry Ordway has similar gripes but does not blame left leaning politics in his plea for work, Life After Fifty.
For many, like Ordway, it is rather an overwhelming lack of respect and appreciation for the contributions of creators that in the past would have been revered industry-wide.

Fortunately the Independent movement (not just of the 80’s and 90’s but that of the 70’s  Underground Movement, the Web Comic  Movement of the 00’s and the current Digital Movement) has solidified the rights that creators have to express themselves freely through the medium of comics. There is a now place  and an opportunity for any kind of comic regardless of “right” or “left” leaning politics. This is good for everyone, especially those with idealistic American values.

Without this new, expanding market for comics there would be no publisher that would have been interested in THE FORGOTTEN MAN, a comic not about superheroes and not targeted specifically at children. That would be a real shame.

Dixon and Rivoche should have remembered their true roots and celebrated their masterful execution of their own creative rights rather than endorse a close-minded, faux conservatism that could potentially crush other creators’ rights to freedom of speech and expression in a new witch-hunt reminiscent of the one perpetrated by Dr. Fredrick Wertham that led to the development of the restrictive Comics Code Authority.

Dixon and Rivoche need to ask themselves which Right is more important; the creatively inhibitive conservative views of the Political Right or our Inalienable Right to free speech and expression that has given comics the opportunity to flourish?

Making Comics Because We Want to,

Gerry Giovinco



A true, capitalism-endorsing conservative would let the market decide.

The New Villain is Superhero Play

Monday, May 27th, 2013

Let’s play The Blame Game! This is the favorite pass-time of people that don’t want to take responsibility for anything. Well, it is time to blame superheroes again for some kind of corruption of the youth of America.

It is a scary fact that there is an actual “Superhero Play” label that can turn up pages of content intent on its suppression. Apparently this discussion among educators has been going on for years!  Amazingly, it has been met with with little reaction or concern from the comic book industry whose bread and butter is superheroes and who should be afraid of history repeating itself.

How can this happen? Aren’t superheroes supposed to be the good guys?

Superheroes have never been more popular.  It is impossible not to be exposed to them now that they have saturated  our culture through every form of media and and merchandizing. Though superheroes were derived from comic books which for many decades were targeted primarily at children, today they appeal to audiences of all ages because they are able to deal with more mature and sophisticated themes than they were previously permitted to.

The complexities of the modern superhero are not always digested well by the youngest fans of the genre who are attracted to the characters’ brightly colored costumes, incredible physicality, heightened abilities and heroic deeds. Children remain focused on the simple themes of good triumphing over evil through the use of power which is usually exercised by fighting.

Superhero Play is commonplace in schoolyards everywhere and has been a concern to educators and parents who worry about the consequences of what is viewed as “rough-housing.” There is  agreement among most child psychologists  that it is healthy and natural for children to engage in this type of activity, provided there are supervised limitations, as displayed in this wonderful video.

Unfortunately schools today are driven to have a knee-jerk reaction to anything that resembles violence and though there are many positive moral and ethical virtues that can be learned from the mythological characters that superheroes have become, there is a real movement to ban Superhero Play as demonstrated by  a preschool in the Philadelphia area.

A memo from the pre-K school in question claims that their children are exhibiting dangerously overactive imaginations which are causing injuries. The school claims to encourage creative thinking and imaginary play but found it necessary to ban Superhero Play, monster games and wrestling. The memo also requests that parents monitor what their children may view at home suggesting that  it is the re-enactment of violent television shows and movies during play time that is causing the problem, not their inability to manage, educate and nurture these three to four year-olds.

This type of reaction to media being responsible for the corruption of our youth is frighteningly similar to the witch-hunt inspired by Dr. Fredrick Wertham whose 1954 book, Seduction of the Innocent, claimed that the content in comic books was dangerous to children. His accusations inspired a Congressional inquiry that ultimately led to the comics industry’s creation of the Comics Code Authority which is possibly the most strict, self-imposed, industry-wide form of censorship imposed on any American media to date.

The Comics Code states:

  • Crimes shall never be presented in such a way as to create sympathy for the criminal, to promote distrust of the forces of law and justice, or to inspire others with a desire to imitate criminals.
  • If crime is depicted it shall be as a sordid and unpleasant activity.
  • Policemen, judges, government officials, and respected institutions shall never be presented in such a way as to create disrespect for established authority.
  • Criminals shall not be presented so as to be rendered glamorous or to occupy a position which creates a desire for emulation.
  • In every instance good shall triumph over evil and the criminal punished for his misdeeds.
  • Scenes of excessive violence shall be prohibited. Scenes of brutal torture, excessive and unnecessary knife and gunplay, physical agony, gory and gruesome crime shall be eliminated.
  • No comic magazine shall use the words “horror” or “terror” in its title.
  • All scenes of horror, excessive bloodshed, gory or gruesome crimes, depravity, lust, sadism, masochism shall not be permitted.
  • All lurid, unsavory, gruesome illustrations shall be eliminated.
  • Inclusion of stories dealing with evil shall be used or shall be published only where the intent is to illustrate a moral issue and in no case shall evil be presented alluringly, nor so as to injure the sensibilities of the reader.
  • Scenes dealing with, or instruments associated with walking dead, torture, vampires and vampirism, ghouls, cannibalism, and werewolfism are prohibited.
  • Profanity, obscenity, smut, vulgarity, or words or symbols which have acquired undesirable meanings are forbidden.
  • Nudity in any form is prohibited, as is indecent or undue exposure.
  • Suggestive and salacious illustration or suggestive posture is unacceptable.
  • Females shall be drawn realistically without exaggeration of any physical qualities.
  • Illicit sex relations are neither to be hinted at nor portrayed. Rape scenes as well as sexual abnormalities are unacceptable.
  • Seduction and rape shall never be shown or suggested.
  • Sex perversion or any inference to same is strictly forbidden.

Nudity with meretricious purpose and salacious postures shall not be permitted in the advertising of any product; clothed figures shall never be presented in such a way as to be offensive or contrary to good taste or morals.

The implementation of the Comics Code did prevent the complete abolishment of comic books but it prevented the young medium of comics in America from maturing at a natural pace as an art form. It also established a covenant that released parents from doing their job of being involved with their child’s comic reading consumption.

Though the Comics Code has not been heavily enforced since the 1980’s and was abandoned completely in 2010, it’s conservative directives established a standard that affected generations of comic book readers, most of which are still parenting, under the assumption that superheroes are meant for children only and require no supervision.

Our society has routinely given parents the opportunity to place the blame on media, schools, and government for the failure to provide  safety and education to our children by imposing rules and regulations designed to prevent liability. Consequently our youth are stifled as they grow, suffocating in bubble wrap that impedes their natural sense of adventure, competition, imagination, social interaction and individuality.

Banning Superhero Play deprives parents and educators the opportunity to take advantage of all the positive messages that superheroes can present. Superheroes help define the struggles between good and evil. They are advocates for the positive responsibilities of strength and power. They demonstrate that it is possible to overcome adversity.

Superheroes are also the champions of individuality and diversity. Each superhero has a unique power or ability that defines them and makes them special. They make a decision to use that power to help others in need instead of their own personal gain. They choose not to take the easy road and retreat into hiding, to avoid being judged, challenged  and labeled by others. They are noble.

It is time that we ban the Blame Game and hold parents and teachers accountable for raising children by allowing them to express their imaginations, intelligence and energies in a natural way in a responsibly supervised environment.

A mother lion in the wild can supervise her cubs as they tangle and wrestle. She intervenes when it is appropriate and the cubs grow to lead normal healthy lives. Are we so intelligent as humans that we can’t figure out how to do that?

Superhero Play is not the villain. Children have emulated the actions of their heroes since David slew Goliath. The villain is anyone that can stand by and let the imaginations and physical interactions of our children be suppressed. We are raising a nation of mindless, lifeless zombies and it is guaranteed that Zombie Play will be the next thing banned in our schools.

Why don’t they just ban it for what it is: Child’s Play.

Comic book companies can be the hero in this if they will stop ignoring the threat. Marvel and DC can protect their valued, shared Superhero trademark by taking a proactive position and promote positive ways to encourage Superhero Play rather than see it abolished. They, unfortunately would rather spend their money to shut down people posing as superheroes at birthday parties.

If you like superheroes it is time to support them. If you love your children it is time to let them be children. Don’t ignore this threat to our culture. It is more dangerous than any bump or bruise. It is more malicious than any terrorist threat or violent action. It is pervasive. It is eroding the foundation of who we are as a nation and as individuals. It is a threat to our freedom to be who we are and who we can be and we are allowing it to happen.

Soon there will be no heroes. We will not know how to become one. We will be a nation of victims and our greatest villain will have been ourselves for having ignored the inevitable.

The answer is simple. We can all be super by supervising our children. Let them show us how great it is to have an unadulterated imagination. Teach them how to be a good superhero and not a villain. If they get hurt, pick them up and help them. tell them everything will be OK. That’s what heroes do. The child will learn a lesson about limitations. They will feel loved and cared for and, most of all, they will feel super.

Making Comics Because We Want to,

Gerry Giovinco


Comics, Everyone?

Monday, February 27th, 2012

Click to see the full version

Sometimes you come across some amazing stuff on facebook like this photo that popped up and blew me away .

The photo of a man-child smoking a cigarette at the ripe-old-age of four and reading a Mickey Mouse comic book conjured thoughts of poster children for Dr. Fredrick Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent. A chuckle or two later I was envisioning future Marvel and DC editors ensuring that the medium would grow and mature with their personal tastes leaving behind the more innocent subject matter that they enjoyed as children along with the audience it catered to.

This little kid would grow up to be one of the Comic Book Men from Kevin Smith’s new television venture on AMC, completely immersed in the medium, trapped in a twilight zone that only those of us who grew up with similar experiences could appreciate. I mean, there were girls that read comics when we were kids but 99.99% of them were able to shake off their passion for Archie and Lil’ Lulu.  Something about comics always seemed to be a guy-thing and a certain kind of guy, derogatorily identified as geeks.
Of course we know that the stereotype, epitomized by The Forty Year Old Virgin and The Big Bang Theory is not really true.  Guys that like comics just know something that people who don’t read comics do not. The comic medium is very special. It is a door to visual fantasy that has only recently been able to be matched by animation and live action film enhanced by CGI at a tremendous cost to the producers.

Thanks to Manga and more specifically Shojo, more women than ever have been bitten by the comics bug and it is this influx of the feminine touch that is beginning to blow the medium wide open. Web Comics, Indy Comics and even some of the mainstream comics are developing a sensitivity to all audiences. The idea of comics being limited to a narrow scope of genres is quickly becoming past history. We like to think that this broader scope is reflected here at CO2 Comics and we wany our readers take the time to explore our share of all that variety.

I hope that a show like Comic Book Men will make the effort to include more women into the club. The X-Men have women why can’t the Comic Book Men. Team Unicorn in their Katy Perry “Califoria Girls” parody entitled “Geek and Gamer Girls” sure had a lot of fun with the concept of women being included in this new world order of comics for everyone.  Who knows, maybe some day  there will be more comics for kids too, which will be fine by me so long as the little ones don’t light up while they read.

Comics are flammable after all.

Just ask Dr. Wertham.

Celebrating Thirty Years of Comics History!

Gerry Giovinco



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