Tuesday 22 April 2008

after my applauding Bart Beaty's intelligent assessment of Frederick Wertham yesterday, he now weighs in himself on Hajdu's The Ten-Cent Plague (The great comic book scare and how it changed America):

For me, the most surprising thing about The Ten-Cent Plague was that it was missing the entire second day of testimony in the April 1954 Senate hearings. Given that the entire book builds to these hearings as the culmination of the drama, this seemed an extremely curious absence. I initially thought, "Well, he wanted to end with Gaines to put all the emphasis on the Gaines/Wertham relationship."
This particular showdown has become one of the great myths of the comic book (I'm using myth correctly to mean 'sacred story' rather than 'falsehood,' the usual debased meaning given to the word these days). I saw the same thing in Eisner/Miller (Dark Horse 2005)
(Frank) MILLER: Didn't they also just happen to write the Code sentence by sentence to shut down Bill Gaines?
(Will) EISNER: No.
MILLER: But they even prohibited the names of his books! Nothing with "crime" or "horror" in the title.
EISNER: I don't know. I wasn't present at the writing of this thing.
MILLER: It seems to me it was a pretty shitty job, putting the best publisher out of business.
EISNER: Well, I don't know if he was the best publisher at the time. You call him the best publisher? I don't know if historians will agree with you.
MILLER: He had the best line out there at the time.
EISNER: I don't know why you'd call him the best publisher. Is that because he was publishing some of the best stuff?
MILLER: Because EC represented as high a quality standard as I've seen in commercial comics.
EISNER: Well, he had good people.
MILLER: Well, what else makes a good publisher?
EISNER: All right, I don't know.
MILLER: He published really good work.
EISNER: Oh, no, no. I just challenged why you selected him as the best publisher. Also, I don't know where you get your evidence for--
MILLER: I read the Code.
EISNER: But I don't think they sat down and designed it to put him out of business.
MILLER: It listed the titles of his books and said, "You can't use these titles, you can't use these genres!" Everything he did is listed there as being forbidden, and that's about all that's forbidden.
EISNER: They listed his books in the Code?
MILLER: They don't say, "No Crime SuspenseStories." They say, "There will be no comics with the word 'crime' in their title, or 'terror,' or 'horror.' There will be no living dead. There will be no stories that disrespect authority." It's pretty much a laundry list -- that is, without outright saying, "There will be no EC Comics," that's pretty much what it says.
EISNER: To me that's different. It's Charlie Biro (editor at Lev Gleason Pubs) who was using the word "crime," so it was aimed at him too, wasn't it? I challenge why you conclude that it was designed to put EC out of business; I'm not saying I know differently, I'm just challenging your assumption. I don't know whether it's true or ot. I don't think it was written to put Gaines out of business.
MILLER: That's my understanding at least.
EISNER: I think it's written to defend publishers against what they expected would be an avalanche of litigation that would put the comic book business out of business. The Carlino proposal, legislation in New York that I was debating against, was a law that governor Dewey vetoed; it would have forbidden the sale of comic books on newsstands.
At this point Miller should have delved into the matter of the 'Carlino proposal', but he wanted to retell those old stories around the fireside. I'm sure many young readers hoping to learn something from all this pointless blather neglected to work out the dates and note that Miller was born three years after the events he's arguing about so vehemently. If it was me, I'd have tried to learn something from the older man instead of forcing my dumbassed opinion on him.
Like Miller, Hajdu also makes up his own story about what was what in the comic book business of the early 1950s (as noted again by Beaty):
Indeed, Hajdu marginalizes Dell in the most curious fashion. On page 190, for example, he writes that Stan Lee had "helped make Timely the most successful publisher in comics by 1952, with sales half again as great as that of its closest competitor, Dell, and twice that of National/DC." This is worth unpacking. First, Timely ceased publishing comics in 1951 and was replaced by Atlas (which later became Marvel). Second, while Timely's sales declined after the public lost interest in the initial wave of superhero comics during World War 2 they were by no means in bad shape. Monroe Froehlich told the Senate committee that the 35 titles that they published in 1954 averaged a total cumulative sale of 10 million copies (285,000 copies per title). Helen Meyer of Dell, on the other hand, testified a few hours later that they sold 25 million copies per month, or 32% of the total industry. So it is difficult to know what Hajdu means when he claims that Timely was the most successful publisher in comics at that point in history.
God save us from some of these half-arsed historians (one has to wonder about Eisner's faith in them in his fourth line above). At least Beaty wouldn't have missed asking about the Carlino proposal.

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Blogger James Robert Smith said...

Eisner seemed like a decent enough guy the few times I met with him and talked with him. However, I'd be careful about putting too much confidence into the honesty of what he had to say about the publishing industry. He pretty much ran a sweat shop and the publishers were his meal ticket. He wasn't in a position to be able to say much of anything that wasn't colored to an overwhelming extent by his having been so dependent on those folk.

Nice guy and all...but he was no Harvey Kurtzman.

22 April 2008 at 21:11:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

oi, James,
Stick to the subject or go away.

22 April 2008 at 21:17:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

There is nothing in the context that calls for a man's moral character to be called into question. Like Miller You're talking about stuff of which you have no first-hand knowledge. Delete your comment and i'll take these out too.

22 April 2008 at 21:27:00 GMT-5  
Blogger SRBissette said...

The Carlino proposal Will referred to is in my collection (a complete photocopy of the document, that is). It was the NY State Legislative attempt to outlaw the publication of all crime and horror comics in NY state -- and they didn't mince words about it, unlike the conclusions reached by the Senate Subcommittee -- which at that time covered most of the extant publishers, save Gilberton (CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED) and the Holyoke, MA publishers (many of whom claimed to have offices in NY City, so that might have tripped them up for a time).

What's most fascinating about the document is that almost EVERY SINGLE ILLUSTRATION Wertham published in SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT appears in the proposed legislation -- I've never been able to ascertain whether Wertham supplied the material to the NY State investigators, or if Wertham lifted the material for the legislative document. It was proposed in 1949, and again every year after until 1953 -- but as Eisner notes, Governor Dewey refused each time to sign it into law.

Beaty's book on Wertham is terrific in many regards, but my problem with it is he completely misrepresents much of the Kefauver hearings -- a copy of the transcript is, again, here in my files, and I've studied it closely and synopsize it in my JOURNEYS INTO FEAR lecture and my comics classes on censorship. There's some juicy history in that document, and many of the testimonies that have never achieved legendary status are far more compelling reading than the infamous Wertham and Gaines testimonies.

The accountant from Atlas/Timely in particular was a pip -- to him, it was all dollars and cents, and the fact that the "weird comics" (he refused to call them either crime or horror comics) outsold the Bible comics Atlas/Timely had published and cancelled due to low sales said it all. Helen Mayer, Dell editor in chief, stood up to the Subcommittee's bullying quite admirably, and Caniff insisted that a list of the wholesome comics titles (most of which were Dell) be read into the record, to his credit.

My greatest reservation about Beaty is that his capsule version of events in his book on Wertham is as distorted as Frank's, for different reasons. For instance, Beaty's summary asserts that the Caniff and Walt Kelly testimony on behalf of the National Cartoonists Society was a united front -- which is poppycock. Caniff stood up for the comic book industry as being of merit, and noted the potential of the medium -- and noted that much of the material the Senate Subcommittee wished to ban was actually "quite fascinating."

Kelly, on the other hand, made it clear the NCS had no room for cartoonist who drew "that kind of stuff" -- thus referring to the likes of Harvey Kurtzman, Jack Davis, Joe Kubert, Basil Wolverton, Graham Ingles, Al Feldstein, Jack Kamen, Wally Wood, etc. etc. etc. as not being worthy of membership! -- and while claiming to stand up for artistic freedom, did all he could to distance himself and the NCS from comic books. It's a pretty disappointing performance from a cartoonist I otherwise admire greatly.

That said, it must be noted that Kelly was of a generation of cartoonists who looked up to comic STRIP artists as the peak in the field; unlike Caniff, Kelly had labored mightily to pull himself out of the Disney animation studio 'rowing galley,' then out of the comic book field -- where he created Pogo in the Dell Comics his work appeared in -- and 1954 was still awfully close to his triumphant move from the plantation of comic books to the green fields of comic STRIPS.

It's all conjecture from me, of course, but I've always thought this might have had a great deal to do with Kelly's scathing and somewhat hypocritical testimony against the very industry he'd work so hard to transcend and escape from.

I could go on and on about this, but you'd just cuff me anyway, Eddie, so I'll shet my yap. The hell with Beaty and all this yammering over TEN CENT PLAGUE, let's see more current pics of your kids, mate!

23 April 2008 at 00:30:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

Ask and ye shall find out!

thanks, Steve. We need to have a beer some time. I think I've figured a way out of this comic book business at last.

oh, and don't read yesterday's post.

23 April 2008 at 01:09:00 GMT-5  
Blogger SRBissette said...

I did, and I commented. I read your blog daily, as do my students.

Sigh. I'm used to being a smashing post for your occasional asides at this juncture of life, so you owe me two fucking beers, you sod.

Hell, Eddie, I figured a way out in 1999. It was simple -- I left! Exquisitely happy ever since.

23 April 2008 at 07:14:00 GMT-5  
Blogger robsalk said...

Hajdu was here reading in Seattle last week and afterwards I asked him about this very allegation - that the Code was written specifically to shut down Gaines and EC, possibly in collusion with the other publishers who feared his competition.

Hajdu said he had seen it reported that Gaines say that, but essentially discounted it as martrydom and mythmaking (in the "fabrication" sense). He said he did not believe Gaines had much of a commercial impact, especially on the likes of Dell and DC, and it would not have been worth their trouble to shut him down in that manner. In other words, Hadju seemed to be taking Eisner's side of the argument, at least in personal conversation. I have not started reading the book yet, so I don't know what side he comes down on in print.

23 April 2008 at 15:01:00 GMT-5  
Blogger robsalk said...

BTW, it is clear from your post that you are not suggesting Hajdu agrees with Miller regarding the Code and EC, but rather that he is likely an unreliable authority on the commercial realities of the comics publishing in the 1950. That of course may be true. He strikes me as a better storyteller than historian. But he does not buy the conspiracy theory, a la Frank Miller.

23 April 2008 at 15:11:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I fucking love this blog. Those Bissette quotes are priceless. Thanks again!

23 April 2008 at 15:33:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Steven Rowe said...

for what it's worth - Crime continue to appear as the title on Comics Code approved comics, as checking the last issues of CRIME DOES NOT PAY clearly shows. Certainly Miller isnt the only person who believes this despite clear evidence to the contrary.

23 April 2008 at 16:53:00 GMT-5  
Blogger bob said...

The relevant sections of the original Code on titles:

(11) The letters of the word “crime” on a comics-magazine cover shall never be appreciably greater in dimension than the other words contained in the title. The word “crime” shall never appear alone on a cover.

(12) Restraint in the use of the word “crime” in titles or subtitles shall be exercised.

General standards—Part B

(1) No comic magazine shall use the word horror or terror in its title.

So the Crime Suspenstories logo would have been out, if not the title. You can see how Crime Does Not Pay handled it for its last few issues.

23 April 2008 at 18:57:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

"Eisner's side of the argument,"
Eisner wasn't takig a side in the argument, he was challenging assumptions that appeared to be, and are, unfounded.

and the Crime DOES NOT PAY covers that Bob linked to are form the Biro edited title (Lev Gleason Pubs) to which Eisner referred.

thanks all

23 April 2008 at 19:03:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the stuff about the Carlino proposal, Eddie and Steve. I've learnt something today. so I'm ahead of the game.


24 April 2008 at 03:24:00 GMT-5  
Blogger SRBissette said...

Given this exchange, and Bart Beaty's now-widespread online posts on Wertham, I'll be posting a part of my book-length BRAT PACK essay on my blog and site -- www.srbissette.com -- next week.

In short, Beaty is fast becoming an apologist. Though it is indeed vital to contextualize Wertham within his career and within his time, there's no denying that SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT is still a rather vile book with specious arguments supported by nothing but Wertham's rep and often insular, circular logic. One can, perhaps, excuse the rampant homophobia and conflation of homosexuality and pederasty Wertham uses throughout the book, but Beaty is going rather too far of late, defending a book that FEW CAN READ any longer, due to lack of access to the primary text.

I'll also post transcript material, direct from the original Kefauver hearings, of some of the key testimony Beaty ignores and/or misrepresents, and that all of comics history seems to have ignored completely in favor of simply rehashing the Wertham/Gaines sound bytes. There's some terrific stuff there "lost" to history, and I'll put it back in circulation and hopefully promote some lively discussion.

I'll get into it next week on my blog/site, and hope some of you -- and you, Eddie -- will weigh in.

24 April 2008 at 07:20:00 GMT-5  
Blogger SRBissette said...

PS: The portion of the BRAT PACK essay I'll be posting will be the chapter on Wertham and SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT, including extensive quotations from that book and my analysis.

This ties into BRAT PACK via Wertham's attack on Batman and Robin, which is all relevant to Veitch's BRAT PACK -- hence, it's inclusion in that essay for Rick.

Sorry, didn't make that clear in my prior post!

24 April 2008 at 07:23:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's certainly not Wertham's fault that comics collapsed, but that doesn't change the fact that it was all a witch hunt. Comics were made the scape goat for developmental problems in post-WII society. It was a ritual purging of society's ill spirits employing archaic tribalist methods that are ill suited to the modern world and that ultimately are doomed to failure as they accomplish nothing but starting the cycle over again -- this time with rock 'n' roll. Wertham allowed himself to get caught up in the frenzy and there was more than a whiff of latent anti-semitism motivating him, although I certainly give him the benefit of the doubt and believe that he was not conscious of this.

Beaty's review is itself motivated by professional jealousy: Beaty simply can't help himself: Why should Hajdu get this fat contract and big push from a major publisher and all these major reviews and press when he is simply a carpet-bagging johnny-come-lately to comics? Beaty rightly sees himself as having dedicated way more time and energy to understanding all this AND he was a comics guy to begin with. IT'S NOT FAIR! And, of course, it's not. But that's just the way it goes.

24 April 2008 at 08:07:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To all:
The Complete Senate Subcommittee Transcripts that Steve is talking about are already online at: http://www.thecomicbooks.com/1954senatetranscripts.html

I've included with them some of the pictures/stories they were talking about.

Also, I put up the 1954 Code with analysis of which titles fell under the Crime, Horror and Terror. Plus who the other parts were likely aimed at. That is at http://www.thecomicbooks.com/cca1954.html

Was the code aimed at Gaines? Likely. Maybe not JUST at Gaines specifically, but they did want him out of the comic book business. That's probably why they gave all his books a hard time, even over stuff that had nothing to do with what was written in the code (where does it say beads of sweat on a black man is not allowed?)

Gaines wasn't a commercial threat to anybody but he became the public face of the "bad" comic publisher. I think they wanted him out because he was pretty open about defending his books in the media and thus bad PR for the entire industry.

25 April 2008 at 19:17:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's a take that I haven't seen -its more about Wertham's methods in reading comics than his claims:


26 April 2008 at 11:52:00 GMT-5  

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