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Papers of Fredric Wertham open at Library of Congress

Fredric Wertham

The papers of the infamous psychiatrist at the center of the anti-comics crusades of the 1940s and 1950s are now available to the public.

In 1987, the Library of Congress acquired the papers of Dr. Fredric Wertham, author of Seduction of the Innocent, from the estate of his wife Florence Hesketh Wertham. Now all 222 containers are open for research; previously, access was granted only those people approved by the estate.

Wertham, who died 1981 at age 86, served as head of the Court of General Sessions psychiatric clinic, which examined every convicted felon in New York City. In 1935 he testified at the trial of serial killer Albert Fish, declaring him insane. The following year Wertham was named director of Bel­levue’s Mental Hygiene Clinic in New York and later became director of psychiatric services at Queens Hospital Center.

However, it was his concerns with violence and protecting children, and the 1954 publication of Seduction of the Innocent, that propelled Wertham to the national stage and forever changed the comics industry. The book paid particular attention to the gore and violence in EC Comics’ crime and horror titles, “homoerotic overtones” of some science fiction and jungle comics, and the “psychologically homosexual” nature of the Batman stories and, now quite famously, the Batman-Robin relationship.

Wertham went on to testify on the harmfulness of comics before the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency, which led the comics industry to adopt the self-regulatory Comics Code Authority.

The Library’s collection includes a selection of comics Wertham deemed offensive, along with his notations. “His copy of Kid Colt, Outlaw (1967) includes a note that of the 111 pictures, 69 were scenes of violence,” Matt Raymond writes on the Library of Congress blog. “An issue of Justice League of America (1966) includes markings calling attention to the sounds of violence like ‘thudd,’ ‘whapp’ and ‘poww’.”

(via Ars Technica)


Science corner: Moving pictures

From the "Hokusai Manga"

From the "Hokusai Manga"

The comics page is static, yet artists have many ways to make the characters move: speed lines, superimposed images, or simply having the character lean in the direction of motion. The 19th-century Japanese artist Hokusai used another technique, placing his characters in unstable postures that often defy gravity.

Curious about how the brain detects motion, a group of researchers at Kyoto University showed images from the Hokusai Manga to test subjects while observing their brain functions using MRI. Although it’s hard to imagine reading a comic during an MRI, the researchers found that indeed, when the subjects saw Hokusai’s off-balance wrestlers and swordsmen, the parts of their brains that sense motion lit up, while his drawings of priests standing still had no such effect. Next, the researchers are planning to see if drawings of animals or even ocean waves can trigger the same response as the human figures.


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