• Faking data + comics = HULK SMASH!

    If you didn’t know it before, I’ve got a bit of a comics problem. My collection at this point probably numbers in the tens (plural) of thousands. I love, love, love comic books. Like pretty much everything I seem to enjoy, they’ve been blamed for all that’s bad in society:

    Behavioral problems among teenagers and preteens can be blamed on the violence, sex and gore portrayed in the media marketed to them – that was the topic of televised public hearings held by the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency in 1954 to address the scourge of comic books. The hearings, which resulted in the decimation of what was an enormous comic book industry, had been inspired in large part by the book “Seduction of the Innocent,” by psychiatrist Fredric Wertham, based on his own case studies.

    This attitude still persists today. There’s even a Comics Defense Legal Fund to protect authors/illustrators/etc. who are unfairly attacked.

    But let’s get back to Dr. Wertham, whose studies and books were the main evidence in the case of comic books. Turns out that he appears to have fudged his data:

    As she [Carol Tilley] pored over his files, she began to recognize the case notes of children referred to in “Seduction,” and typing their quotes into her laptop computer. But when she returned to her hotel room and compared her notes to Wertham’s book, she found numerous inconsistencies. “I thought well maybe I’ve missed something, maybe I typed incorrectly,” Tilley said. So she began photocopying portions of Wertham’s files and comparing them closely to his book. “That’s when I realized the extent of the changes.”

    For example, in “Seduction,” Wertham links “Batman” comic books to the case of a 13-year-old boy on probation and receiving counseling for sexual abuse of another boy: “Like many other homo-erotically inclined children, he was a special devotee of Batman: ‘Sometimes I read them over and over again. … It could be that Batman did something with Robin like I did with the younger boy.’ ”

    What Tilley found in Wertham’s notes, however, was that the boy preferred “Superman,” “Crime Does Not Pay” and “war comics” over “Batman,” and that he had previously been sexually assaulted by the other boy – all information that Wertham left out.

    That was just the start of his seeming-fraud. There are lots of other examples. Go read the piece.

    I think there’s a special place in hell for scientists who commit professional fraud like this. That he did it with comic books? That makes me angry. He wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.


    (h/t Alyssa Rosenberg)

    • Comics after Wertham had his way with them in the 50s became even greater vehicles for teaching children conformity. The Disney funny animal comics were banned by the socialist government of Chile in the early 70s since they indulged in stereotypes of marxists and indigenous peoples. Ariel Dorfman, part of the revolutionary government, wrote sarcastically about how there were no married couples in the Disney comics, while children were often twins or triplets under the care of an aunt or uncle. The lack of sexuality also meant there was no room for love or genuine affection among the characters.

    • I love comics too and have a couple thousand in the basement still. Last summer I read David Hajdu’s The Ten Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America. Good book, lots of interesting information on the early years and Wertham. If you haven’t read it already, you’ll probably like it.
      This winter my sister was flying back from Europe and seated next to someone who was drawing. She started talking to him and he said he was a comics artist and his father had been too. She asked him if he was Stan Lee’s son. (The only name she remembered from my collecting days.) No, he’s the late Joe Kubert’s son. He autographed one of his comics and she gave it to me. Great story about a 12 year old Joe Kubert walking in to a publisher in the 30s with some drawings and being hired on the spot in Hajdu’s book.

    • A ten cent plague now costs a minimum $2.99, usually more. I’m looking forward to DC’s economics inspired, soon to be released titles “The Green Team” ( for the 1%) and “The Movement” (for the remaining 99%). http://www.wired.com/underwire/2013/02/dc-comics-occup-movement/