Public Fear and the Attack on Comics

Gillian Wilson
Mar 4, 2017 · 3 min read

When you hear the term “comics,” what do you think of?

I’m guessing it’s usually something along the lines of young nerdy boys eagerly reading brightly colored and action filled stories about superheroes and villains.

Batman comic by Tom

The general view towards comics seems to be that they are just the easy version of books, and are something that only children or nerds would enjoy.

In reality, comics are so much more than society realizes. Despite this, they have been held in a negative light by the public for quite a while.

But why? Well, it could have to do with the work of a psychiatrist by the name of Frederic Wertham, who claimed that based on his research, comic books were dangerous for children to read.

This man was Frederic Wertham, and his attack on comic books still affects the publics’ view of them today. In fact, data shows that the effects of Wertham’s work could have contributes to the decline of comics that occurred in the 1950’s.

This work caused a shift in the public opinion, which was centered around fear. People did not want to risk their children being exposed to potentially harmful content.

An academic journal from the University of Illinois explains that Wertham’s study was anything but scientific:

Wertham manipulated, overstated, compromised, and fabricated evidence — especially that evidence he attributed to personal clinical research with young people — for rhetorical gain.

Even though the information was false, the public continued with their distrust of comics and even held comic book burnings.

It’s incredible to think that such a study could help to change the view of comics so thoroughly that they are still not appreciated over half a century later.

An american cartoonist by the name of Scott McCloud tries to explain what comics really are in his book Understanding Comics:

Comic books were usually crude, poorly drawn, semiliterate, cheap disposable kiddie fare — but they don’t HAVE to be.

Comics can go far beyond the superheroes shown by Marvel and DC. Some comics cover much deeper topics, such as Maus, which tells the story of a Holocaust survivor.

The cover of the comic book Maus

Maus is just one of the many examples of comics with a deeper storyline. Along with meaningful plot lines, many comics contain beautifully done art that many would not expect.

Two pages from the comic book Bloodsong, which contains no words

Even though is such a diverse array of comics, people still think of them in a very narrow way. As long as comics are viewed negatively, less people will want to read them, and less people will want to make them.

What will it take to change this view? Will the public ever change their opinions?

Its hard to know for sure, but it seems over time comics might be able to repair their reputation. They may never be regarded as highly as other mediums such as books, but there is certainly still hope for them.

Media Theory and Criticism 2017

Articles by the MSCM 230: Media Theory and Criticism class…

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