When Novelists Attack

In an article for Slate, I took a deeper look at the controversy surrounding Fredric Wertham and the postwar anti-comics crackdown. During the course of my article I made reference to Michael Chabon’s much-loved novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (where Wertham figures as a very minor character). Somewhat to my surprise, Chabon took umbrage at my reference to his novel. His response to my article (and my reply to him) can be found here.

The New York Observer, a gossipy Manhattan weekly, even did a write-up of the whole controversy (proof that this is a very slow, verging on comatose, news day). Rather unintentionally, I seem to have created a literary donnybrook.

I should say, not just in the interest of peace and goodwill but in all honesty, that I have nothing but the highest regard for Chabon as a writer.  

Wertham: Progressive Scholar or Repressive Bluenose?

Dr. Fredric Wertham: not too pleased to be reading a horror comic.

Last week in the Globe and Mail,  I wrote about David Hajdu’s entertaining new history of the post World War II anti-comics crusade, The Ten-Cent Plague, in which Dr. Fredric Wertham, an intellectual leader of the anti-comics crowd, is portrayed as a prissy, humourless scold.  Bart Beaty, a leading comics scholar and also a very fine critic, is the author of an intelligent and sympathetic intellectual biography of Wertham. Not surprisingly, Beaty had problems with Hajdu’s book and my review. We thrash things out in today Globe and Mail, in a back-and-forth that can be found here.

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The Comic-Book Crackdown

A comic-book burning in Binghamton, NY, 1948.

My review of David Hajdu’s new book The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How it Changed America appears in today’s Globe and Mail and can be found here. I’ll have more to say about this book on this blog later this week but in the meantime, here are some excerpts of my Globe review:

Books, if Ray Bradbury is to be trusted, burn at a temperature of Fahrenheit 451; old comic books, printed as they were on cheap newsprint, are easier to kindle. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, thousands of American kids discovered just how flammable comic books could be. Egged on by parents, teachers and such guardians of piety and patriotism as the Catholic Church and the American Legion, countless children (sometimes willingly, but often reluctantly) participated in schoolyard re-enactments of the Bonfire of the Vanities, setting aflame horror and crime comic books that allegedly had the power to corrupt their young innocence and transform them into juvenile delinquents. (It is highly probable that among the comics burned were copies of the EC Comics series Weird Science-Fantasy, which, appropriately enough, published adaptations of Ray Bradbury stories.)

The postwar anti-comics movement, an astonishing outburst of media-induced hysteria, originated in the United States but had repercussions in many lands, including England, Mexico, Taiwan, the Philippines and Canada. In 1949, E. Davie Fulton, an up-and-coming Tory MP from British Columbia, got Parliament to pass a private member’s bill banning crime comics from our pristine dominion. Fulton’s efforts were loudly praised by a 10-year-old Baie Comeau boy named Brian Mulroney, who delivered an award-winning speech denouncing crime comics.

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