Monday 28 April 2008

now here's a real life example of what we've been talking about:
Friday- Radio program, Ireland - Mother complaining about rape scene in a Batman comic she gave to her seven year old son. The dialogue is read out (I'm deducing it's the Miller-Lee serial). Somebody posits that it's aimed at adults and not kids.
The host: "But what are adults doin' raydin comics?"
Indeed, what?
Sin City is brought up by a phone-in observer who talks about Batman's different incarnations, and the art form and Frank Miller's Sin City, and in the context he sounds a bit daft and really should have known better. The mother, who is no dummy, sensibly points out that they don't market Sin City muscle suits to kids.
I believe we'll be hearing a lot more of this sort of thing and it is no accident that we've been arguing about Frederick Wertham over the last few days.
I personally would not wish to be put, as I have in the past, in a position of having to explain and justify comic books. And most particular of all, I would hate to be put in a postion of having to read any of them.
(link via my Irish correpondent)

When hanging was too good for some

Most family historians crave details about their forebears' lives that put flesh on their bones - even if the revelations can sometimes be quite shocking. Now, thanks to the online publication of details of nearly 200,000 Old Bailey trials, many of history's black sheep have been named and shamed...
Stephen Comber, accused in 1850 of "unlawfully laying his hands on a cow with intent"...
And Albert Feist, master of Newington workhouse - accused in 1858 of stealing bodies he was supposed to have had buried and selling them to a hospital for dissection.
Ann Petty of Holborn caught clipping the edges off silver coins in the 17th Century after her husband hanged himself. Found guilty, she was sentenced to be drawn on a hurdle to Smithfield and "there to be burnt to death"...
"In parts of the world, people still pray in the streets. In this country they're called pedestrians."- Gloria Pitzer.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder if that same mother would complain about the rape scenes in the bible? Or the other bits about bestiality, or sodomy, or stripping with a view to incest? If they're an Irish family, it's likely her son would have a good book of his own. But I guess they don't sell Jesus muscle suits to kids either...

29 April 2008 at 04:11:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

29 April 2008 at 05:11:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...


I presume that's our dear friend in Hobart...

Um, not sure you noticed I'm entirely on the side of the Irish mammy on this one.

Don't mind you disagreeing with me, of course...

Did you listen to the recording?

(reposted to fix spelling)

29 April 2008 at 05:13:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I sympathise with the lady in this broadcast completely. You can't disagree with the argument that the comic appears to be pitched at children - you can find its website here.
Something that counts Shaun the Sheep and Spongebob Squarepants amongst its stable-mates is clearly aimed at youngsters. Note in the URL above that the category all these products appear in is called "Kids". So what they're doing picking this particular story to reprint is anyone's guess. The fault must ultimately lie with the publisher - unless the newsagent is explicitly told that something is mature content, how is he or she going to know? But clearly, this particular story should never have made it into a kids comic in the first place.

29 April 2008 at 11:25:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Aaron White said...

"And most particular of all, I would hate to be put in a postion of having to read any of them."

I'm confused (not an uncommon situation) by this. do you mean you wouldn't want to read comics such as this Miller object, or do you mean that you're utterly soured on comic books? I'd certainly be sorry if the latter were the case.

29 April 2008 at 13:42:00 GMT-5  
Blogger SRBissette said...

To correct you, Eddie, on your earlier post -- Wertham DID openly advocate censorship -- and relevant to the immediate issue (the Miller/Lee All Star Batman and Robin debacle):

Allow me to quote Dr. Wertham himself, the final paragraph of his article "“It’s Still Murder: What Parents Still Don’t Know About Comics Books,” The Saturday Review, April 9, 1955, pg. 48:

"Mammon is at the root of all this. The comic-book publishers, racketeers of the spirit, have corrupted children in the past, they are corrupting them right now, and they will continue to corrupt them unless we legally prevent it. Of course there are larger issues in the world today, and mightier matters to be debated. But maybe we will lose the bigger things if we fail to defend the nursery."

"UNLESS WE LEGALLY PREVENT IT" -- Wertham was calling for LEGAL redress. Call it what you wish -- it's censorship.

He was not impressed with the Comics Code Authority, stated absolutely that self-regulation would NOT work (though it did for almost two decades), and implied (that would take longer quotes) that elimination of the comics outright was the preferred route.

Earlier on the same page, he writes, “At present it is far safer for a mother to let her child have a comic book without a seal of approval than one with such a seal… The problem is really simple. You either close down a house of prostitution or you leave it open. You can’t satisfy both those who want it open and those who want it closed. How long are we supposed to wait for the comics clean-up?”

The clean-up in Wertham's time was happening even as he wrote -- though never, ever to the doctor's satisfaction (as noted, he railed against the then-brand-new Code at great length in the same article).

I'm not sure what you're saying or, by proxy, arguing at this point, Eddie.

You're IMPLYING any sensible person SHOULD find the Miller/Lee and like material objectionable/

You're IMPLYING something should be done.

You're saying Wertham was or is -- what? He was right? He was honorable? That being a good man (which I, too, believe he was) lend the weight of credibility to all his writings?

I mean, you drew FROM HELL, I published TABOO, where FROM HELL first appeared. I paid you to draw FROM HELL for the first couple of years. I drew the page that Alan wrote and John Totleben inked that lost the Comics Code for SWAMP THING, and from that non-Code-approved DC 'Sophisticated Suspense' titles and the whole furshgurgling Vertigo line emerged. You self-published BACCHUS, which would give mothers epileptic seizures if they bothered to read it.

And I love all that. I love BACCHUS, I love FROM HELL, and I'm proud of TABOO and all that emerged from it. I think it was important -- the right project at the right time.

Would Wertham have approved? I'm not being glib -- his amazing book on fanzines (1969) champions self-expression above corporate culture, and that's what we were most definitely doing.

We're not saints in this department -- but as I learned when I published the all-ages "safe" TYRANT, even carefully avoiding the most obvious taboos, one treds into other blasphemous turf (I got hate letters from Creationists for my cuddly dinosaur comic).

But we did it for art, yes?

BATMAN is a loaded issue still, as it always was.

It's a 'kid's comic' to this day in the eyes of many. That perception is part of the problem.

Wertham railed against BATMAN, in its "more innocent" pre-1954 incarnation, for pages and pages, and reiterated some of those objections (in less strident form) in his 1966 summary of his work, A SIGN FOR CAIN: AN EXPLORATION OF HUMAN VIOLENCE.

Frank Miller and Jim Lee have provoked renewed outrage and controversy with this new incarnation of BATMAN, and Mammon rules still: it's raking in the $$ for DC and all involved.

With Marvel's shameless cover ballyhoo on KICK-ASS ("Sickening Violence! Just the Way You Like It!"), we're in the realm of comic books sold with the same breathless lunacy of the drive-in horror movies of the 1970s.

Seriously -- what do you make of all this?

What are you saying?

29 April 2008 at 13:52:00 GMT-5  
Blogger spacedlaw said...

Aaargh. Here he goes again...

29 April 2008 at 13:54:00 GMT-5  
Blogger SRBissette said...

I reckon it's another conversation started by folks who don't want to have one.

29 April 2008 at 15:30:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

29 April 2008 at 17:06:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

(reposted to fix an error)
I did actually summarize my position a couple of days back, but since nothing followed it except Jody's amusing quip, I'm not sure you read it. Here it is again, with spellings fixed and a couple of interpolations:

I personally have never been censored, though I have had stuff changed in the publisher's office, usually because the editor didn't understand something I'd written or something was too complcated (in response to somebody asking how I'D feel about an inker changing or erasing my drawings... if you sell a house or apartment it now belongs to somebody else and they are at liberty to paint it a different colour or add to it or subtract from it... that has always been the way. I have never had a problem with that though I did once think it was fair to request my name be removed from a job since the changes made it no longer something I myself would say. they removed my name and that was the end of it, no problems. The job was so daft i'd have been happier to do it anonymously from the get-go.) All objections to From Hell over the years were met and overcome. I have no beef whatsoever about the subject of censorship. The good guys usually win (eg. Gordon Lee.. though the issue of the cost of defending the matter is a separate problem. I have moral issues about a government department causing private funds to be used up to the tune of 100,000 bucks and presumably feeling a kind of victory that way. That is reprehensible). On the other hand I think it's a good thing that there are dissenting voices in the community against all kinds of things that you or I may or may not regard as evils, such as abortion. That is a serious moral question, and if we have to also tolerate trivialities such as whether showing Picasso's willy is morally acceptable, or whether the existence of dinosaurs conflict with some loony's dumbass religious views, then so be it.

For what it's worth, I personally also regard the old horror comics as junk, though of course I have no problem with them existing. If my kids had been reading them I would probably have regarded it as unhealthy and tried to turn their attention to something else, but then I'm a wishy washy liberal (they all looked at From Hell, and I did not see that as a problem but let's not get into the finer distinctions of that argument) . Other people would have tried to ban them at the source. Some people think like that. I have no problem with it. They probably have a stronger sense of community than I do. If society collectively thinks that somebody else is doing something bad, I think it's good that society as a collective tries to stop it, whether it's killing whales or racism, or mining in land sacred to the people who were there first or viciously oppressing the people of Tibet. If society occasionally gets it wrong and unjustly puts an end to something that later opinions assert wasn't harmful after all, well that's one of the risks, just as jailing innocent people is a risk though it's obviously better to have a system where we don't accidentally hang or electrocute them. It's probably a good thing for a society to have standards of all sorts, apart from what can be governed by legislation, of etiquette and dress and public cursing.

29 April 2008 at 18:19:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...


points accepted about Wertham. let's accept that he did call for censorship. And I like your point that he believed his target was a corrupted commerce rather than legitimate self expression.

You're not sure what I'm saying?
well I did say clearly i was on the side of the Irish Mammy. Just a couple of posts above yours. What's not clear about that? She wasn't calling for censorship either, nor did she go to the police, like the nutter in Georgia, she just wanted to start a discussion as to why there was a lurid misogynistic and sadistic rape going on in the comic book she unwittingly gave to her child when everybody knows that comic books are supposed to be FOR children and there was no warning on this one to suggest otherwise. Obviously you or I would have been canny enough to check first, if only to make sure we were'nt influencing the child with bad art job.

From the reading aloud from the page it sure sounds dodgy to me. I would have been embarrassed to have to try to explain these goings on to one of my children (I did once turn off a morally confused film wee callum was watching because i couldn't for the life of me think of a way of discussing why characters were obtaining carefree hilarity from killing other people in a war context). I haven't seen the current object under discussion, but I can picture the style of the thing, knowing the inventors of the work, and can understand the child's ignorance as to whether he was expected to enjoy it or decry it.

To Aaron,
no I don't read comic books. Not for quite some time. It's not for the sake of principle, as I'm drawing some autobiographical pages right now and I'll have to proofread them before scanning, but there is currently nothing in the field that would hold my attention.

29 April 2008 at 20:08:00 GMT-5  
Blogger SRBissette said...

Thanks, Eddie -- appreciate it!

More Wertham hijinks on my blog later this week. I'm rereading THE CIRCLE OF GUILT, which is by far the best of Wertham's books, and in which he articulates his passions, profession and perspective with far more persuasive clarity and skill than anything in SEDUCTION or his various magazine screeds.

I'll be noting that, BTW.

Like many of my loved ones, I consider Wertham a good man whose views on comics and media violence were/are worlds apart from mine -- for me, Martin Barker and his academic circles are far more intensive and intelligent about their analysis and work.

Agreed on the Irish mother, whose anguish is earnest, and you're right, she didn't call the cops. Bless her for that; calls to mind John Waters's comments about offensive movies ("I mean, I was offended by FORREST GUMP, but I don't call the police!"). Still, the Irish talk show host and the woman from the anti-rape group spout the usual rhetoric, as if forty years of comics (since the undergrounds) just didn't exist -- I mean, his tone about "adults who read comics" is the usual claptrap.

Thanks to the posters on my blog, I can see what the UK repackages of the BATMAN comics are, giving me some idea what they're talking about; it's the trap, in't it? Batman is still thought of as OK for kids, though since the second Tim Burton BATMAN movie and the more recent BATMAN BEGINS, the murder of Robin (1988-89), the breaking of Batman's spine (1993), and all Frank's roughhousing since 1986 (every BATMAN Miller does is clearly not for kids), it's hard to take that without a grain of salt.

It still comes down to 'Retailer Beware', as they're the ones in the trenches.

30 April 2008 at 02:02:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Aaron White said...

Mr. Campbell, I'm curious about your lack of interest in comics; do you feel a bit like an apostate priest? What becomes of a cartoonist who loses interest in cartoons? Does this lack of interest extend to works you've previously praised here, such as The Arrival and Kochalka's autobio strips? Is it a weariness with the form? Or when you say that you aren't interested in comic books are you referring specifically to the caped adventurer genre?

I'm curious, I suppose, because a talented actress friend has grown weary of theatre and I'm trying to understand what leads a devotee of an artistic form to grow sick of it. Although the theme of this exaustion is evident in Fate of the Artist, I suspect that if you could produce a cartoonist's eqivalent of Fitzgerald's The Crack-Up (Not that you're cracking up, of course) I suspect it would be a relevant document for artists in all fields. Or perhaps Fate is that document. I'll need to reread...

30 April 2008 at 10:35:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Eddie,

Yes, me in Tasmania :)

I would have posted back here sooner but I lost a day in the wonderful world of Neil.

Having now listened to the radio broadcast, I stand educated. I went off half-cocked before. The Irish mammy's position is very fair and rational in light of the content of that particular comic, and I agree with you.

After sleeping on it, my thoughts are that whether it's comics, fairy tales or bible stories, there are versions for mature readers, and for younger readers.

Bad behavior will always be portrayed in all forms of story telling. The question is, to what degree for which audience?

Children should be allowed their innocence. Which is why rating systems have their place, in music, film, television, video games and comics.

That said, there is a grey area where kids will read or see something ghastly, and not get the full import of it. What some adults will look upon with horror, a child will shrug off. It is a very grey area though, and while I'm for erring on the side of caution where young ones are concerned, it's something that should be considered on a case-by-case basis.

I think classification, rather than censorship, helps make the world a better place. It won’t solve the problem of people’s stupidity - as in the case of the reaction to Picasso’s nudity - but nothing is a panacea for everything.

As for that town in Mexico… curtains will work better for them than a ratings system on their windows. But imagine the fun you could have with that.

1 May 2008 at 01:16:00 GMT-5  

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