A to Z Challenge - F is for...

...Fredric Wertham!

From the mid-50s until the early 2000s, almost every comic book carried the Comics Code Authority logo on its cover. The CCA was formed in 1954 as an alternative to government oversight in the comic book industry after a U.S. Congressional Inquiry into the comic book industry. The formation of the CCA began fifty years of censorship in comic books and it was due, in no small part, to one man: Fredric Wertham.

Seduction of the Innocent

Wertham was a psychiatrist and author and in the early 1950s he turned his attention on what he saw as the detrimental effects of comic books. In those days, crime and horror books were prevalent in the industry, alongside the super-hero comics that are more recognizable today.

Wertham's book "Seduction of the Innocent" described images of violence, overt and covert sexuality, crime, and drug use, that he claimed encouraged children to emulate. While horror and crime comics did have their fair share of gruesome imagery, a lot of Wertham's assertions were based on skewed data, some possibly falsified, and heavy bias against comic books.

The effect of Wertham's testimony in front of the Senate subcommittee was profound. Some states (Oklahoma and Texas) had comic book-burnings and so, to avoid government legislation and further backlash, comic publishers submitted their books to the newly formed Comics Code Authority. Wertham viewed the CCA as a half measure.

EC Comics

EC Comics produced many horror, crime, and science fiction comic books during the 40s and 50s, including "Tales from the Crypt." After the formation of the CCA, the level of censorship had a catastrophic impact on EC comics. Unable to reinvent themselves, they discontinued their comic line, concentrating on the remaining MAD magazine instead.

CCA guidelines

Included in the Comics Code Authority criteria was:
  • In every instance good shall triumph over evil and the criminal punished for his misdeeds.
  • Scenes of excessive violence shall be prohibited. Scenes of brutal torture, excessive and unnecessary knife and gunplay, physical agony, gory and gruesome crime shall be eliminated.
  • No comic magazine shall use the words "horror" or "terror" in its title.
  • Inclusion of stories dealing with evil shall be used or shall be published only where the intent is to illustrate a moral issue and in no case shall evil be presented alluringly, nor so as to injure the sensibilities of the reader.
  • Scenes dealing with, or instruments associated with walking dead, torture, vampires and vampirism, ghouls, cannibalism, and werewolfism are prohibited.
  • Policemen, judges, government officials, and respected institutions shall never be presented in such a way as to create disrespect for established authority.

Times they are a'changing

Things slowly changed during the 70s and early 80s, as comic books embraced darker themes, and started producing more adult stories. The CCA revised the code several times during this period but it was becoming clear that many in the industry felt it was an outdated, and possibly dangerous form of censorship. Despite still working under the CCA guidelines, many comics continued to push the boundaries and by the end of the century, most comic publishers stopped submitting their books for the CCA stamp of approval.

Fredric Wertham's name is infamous in the comic book world, although he eventually stopped writing about comics and continued in the psychiatric field until his death in 1981.

Do you think comic books are too violent? Suggestive? Do comic books have a deleterious effect on children?



  1. Something tells me Wertham wouldn't have been a fan of video game trends either.

    The AtoZ of EOS


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