Lot 1 of 500:
Dr. Wertham's SEDUCTION of the INNOCENT 1st Ed., 2nd Print w/ Jacket  

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Lot closed - Sold For (Includes Buyers Premium):$270
Estimate:
$300 - $500

Title:
SEDUCTION of the INNOCENT

Author:
Wertham, Fredric

Place:
New York

Publisher:
Rinehart & Co.

Date:
1954

Description:

397 + [16] black & white illustrated pp. Lacks bibliography, which was removed from most copies at the insistence of the comics publishers named therein. (8vo) cloth-backed boards, jacket. First Edition, second printing, without "circle R" colophon on copyright page. Very good in Good/VG jacket. Tears and creases to jacket, chips to corners and spine ends, spine lettering faded, spine and edges of front and rear panels toned, not price-clipped; a few bumps to cloth, binding solid but very slightly leaning; 1958 ownership inscription to front free endpaper with blacked-out previous inscription, occasional underlinings and marginal notes in ink with some erasures.

"Psychiatrist Fredric Wertham's disastrous but maddeningly well-intentioned attack on horror and crime comics which, he asserted, were ruining American youth. This notorious tome became the fulcrum of a widespread assault on the comics industry, leading to the creation of the Comics Code Authority and almost destroying an art form." -EC, MAD and Pre-Code HORROR Comics of the 1950s (SF: Green Apple, 1997).

Wertham is the ultimate supervillain to many comic book fans, but it's worthwhile to consider his deeper influence on 20th century American affairs before judging him too harshly. Wertham championed the psychological health of New York's overlooked and underserved African-American community, opening the Lafargue Clinic, Harlem's first low-cost mental health clinic. His findings on the psychological effects of segregation were cited in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court case. Wertham, a German-Jewish emigre, strongly opposed fascist ideology, campaigning against lenient treatment for Nazi sympathizer Ezra Pound after his 1945 arrest for treason. His anti-comics campaign is considered by his defenders to be an outgrowth of his concern for the economically, socially and politically disenfranchised (see Bart Beaty's Fredric Wertham and the Critique of Mass Culture, University of Mississippi Press: 2005). Yet despite Wertham's good intentions, his research methodology was tainted by laxity and bias, demonstrating an "ends justify the means" approach that aligns rather awkwardly with the strongman ideology that the doctor-turned-crusader claimed to oppose.

When Wertham's papers were unsealed by the Library of Congress in 2010, Carol Tilley, an information science professor, investigated his research and deemed his findings rubbish: "Wertham manipulated, overstated, compromised and fabricated evidence - especially that evidence he attributed to personal clinical research with young people - for rhetorical gain" (see "Seducing the Innocent: Fredric Wertham and the Falsifications That Helped Condemn Comics," Information & Culture Vol. 47, No. 4, University of Texas Press, 2012). As Stan Lee observed, "There was little scientific validity to it. And yet because he had the name 'doctor' people took what he said seriously, and it started a whole crusade against comics." 

Mark Seifert, managing editor of the Bleeding Cool website, is one of the leading voices of the new generation of comics scholars. His critique of Wertham hinges upon a series of inferences suggesting that Wertham's anti-comics crusade was disingenuous, part of a strategy of political and cultural subversion rooted in Wertham's alleged Marxist ideology. According to Mr. Seifert, it's significant that Wertham named his Harlem clinic after Paul Lefargue, a physician who married Karl Marx's daughter: "Lafargue played a role in the Paris Commune, and in 'Communard' agitation tactics... [He] was an ardent disciple of Karl Marx, who moved him around Europe like a pawn. Lafargue was a very good propagandist and agitator... [and] a radical Marxist revolutionary who worked to destabilize the governments of France and Spain... A curious choice after whom to name a psychiatric clinic in Harlem. Unless you've got similar ideas yourself, of course... And it should come as no surprise that communists around the world were amplifying Wertham's work to create division between America and its European allies." —Mark Seifert in conversation with PBA's Director of Comics, Jan. 2020. 

Mr. Seifert's speculation lends new interest to a strange episode that has puzzled EC Fan-Addicts for years: Bill Gaines' decision to publish his infamous "Are You A Red Dupe?" editorial directly after the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency announced that hearings would be held on the comic book business on February 20, 1954. The satirical ad teasingly accused the anti-comics crowd of being Communist pawns, and suggested that Wertham's book was ghost-written by admitted fellow-traveller and anti-comics polemicist Gershon Legman. Drawn by Jack Davis in a comical style more akin to his MAD work than his horror stylings, the editorial struck precisely the wrong note at exactly the wrong time, resulting in a furious media backlash against EC. As noted by The Comics Journal, "In the context of the times, it was not a wise move, jokingly or otherwise, to call someone a Communist, especially United States senators who are going to investigate your livelihood" (TCJ #302, March 2013). Yet, according to Seifert, Gaines' editorial, however facetious, "was probably right. And no one believed him."

Mr. Seifert's speculation notwithstanding, it should be noted that, according to Wertham scholar Bart Beaty, Wertham denied being a Marxist. A glance through Wertham's art collection shows Wertham certainly had no aversion to amassing considerable personal wealth. His collection of 20th century Modernist works on paper, which included the likes of Chagall, Moholy-Nagy, Malevich and other Constructivist pioneers, madhouse paintings by Zelda Fitzgerald, and even works by cartoonist Lyonel Feininger and caricaturist George Grosz, was worth a veritable fortune (see The Fredric Wertham Collection. Busch-Reisinger Museum, Harvard University: 1990).

Whatever the truth may be about the good doctor, the fact remains that he was one of the first public intellectuals to take comics seriously as a social influence. In later life he attempted to make peace with comics fans, writing The World of Fanzines (1974), in which he gamely celebrates the rise of fandom. He even commends underground man Robert Crumb in a tentative sort of way: "Zap Comics [sic] ...represent a reaction - or rather an overreaction - to the above-ground comic books and to our mass media in general. Such overreaction is all too understandable in a society like the one in which we live at present."

Are Dr. Wertham's concerns about the effects of media saturation on impressionable minds still relevant? His methodology has been largely discredited, his motives have been questioned, and his alarm over colorful children's pamphlets seems quaint in the modern era. One of the central questions of Seduction of the Innocent, however, remains a provocative mystery (especially as green-screen superheroes, latter-day avatars of hooded justice, continue to dominate our collective dream life): "What is the social meaning of these supermen, superwomen, superlovers, superboys, supergirls, super-ducks, super-mice, super-magicians, super-safecrackers? How did Nietzsche get into the nursery?"

This copy bears the ownership inscription of Sam Molnar of New York City. This is presumed to be the same Dr. Simon "Sam" Molnar (1918-1976) who served as Director of Athletics at Potsdam SUNY for 30 years. In his capacity as the university's Chairman of the Department of Health, one imagines that Dr. Molnar may have found much of interest in Dr. Wertham's concerns about the mental hygiene of America's youth. The book is underlined and annotated by Dr. Molnar, and the lively back-and-forth between the two doctors illuminates a number of the social questions of the era, including questions that reverberate down to our present day. Beneath Dr. Wertham's remark that "...millions of American comic books are exported all over the world which give the impression that the United States is instilling race hatred in young children," Dr. Molnar has added a rhetorical sally: "Is not the Klu Klux Klan [sic] a thoroughly American organization?"

A limited edition of 100 softcover and 15 hardcover catalogues are available. Over 200 pages, fully illustrated. Fun reference, great keepsake. Softcovers $40, dust-jacketed hardcover with limitation plate $200. To order, contact [email protected] or visit: https://www.pbagalleries.com/content/comics/.

R. Crumb says, "I found [PBA's catalogue] so interesting that I am saving it for the texts that accompany the comics which were put up for auction. This is some of the best commentary I’ve yet seen on the quality of the content of comic books. I especially enjoyed the reviews of the post-war horror comics. Great. Priceless."

Consignments welcome for PBA's Spring 2021 Comic Book sale. Pre-Code Horror, Golden Age and Silver Age comics, original art and ephemera sought. Send inquiries to [email protected].

Lot Amendments

Condition:


 
Item number:
316889
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