- The History of Comic Books  

Biography: Dr. Fredric Werthan M.D.

Fredric Wertham was a lot more than a psychologist that picked on comic books. He is extremely important in American history. Read on and see...

Fredric Wertham was born on March 20, 1895, in Nuremberg, Germany. He went to the University of Wurzburg and received his MD in 1921. After a year of post-graduate study, he got a job at the Kraepelin Clinic in Munich. The clinic's founder, Emile Kraepelin, had the theory that a patient's environment had to be considered when deciding upon a course of treatment for them. This was a new idea at the time, but it appealed to Fredric, and was used throughout his career as a psychologist.

In 1922, Wertham moved to the U.S. and got a job at the Phipps Psychiatric Clinic at the Johns Hopkins University. While there, he wrote his first book entitled The Brain as an Organ this book was published in 1926. The theories espoused in this book were different than those supported by most psychologists at the time, but the book nevertheless went on to become a widely-used medical textbook. Because of this, Dr. Wertham would become the first psychiatrist to receive a National Research Council grant.

In 1932, Wertham left his job at Phipps Psychiatric for one of the most prestigious posts in the psychiatric field--Senior Psychiatrist at Belleview Hospital in New York. There, Fredric wrote several articles for psychiatric journals, and gained an interest in the connection between mental health and criminal behavior. He helped the state of New York set up a psychiatric evaluation for convicted criminals.

In 1941, Dr. Wertham wrote a true life story about a 17-year-old teenager who killed his mother in Dark Legend. The book was very successful and was eventually made into a play. Dr. Wertham's book was almost made into a film as well, but the deal fell through because he insisted that the details of the book remain the same. In 1949, Dr. Wertham got his third book published, Show of Violence. This book talked about several real-life cases instead of just one. It also showed Dr. Wertham's experience with psychiatry in criminal cases.

It should also be noted that Wertham had a lot of experience providing his professional opinions to the government. In 1951, he testified in front of the New York State Legislature about the psychiatric aspects of criminal behavior, mentioning also the "bad influence" of comic books. Dr. Wertham gave some more significant testimony--speaking against school segregation-- to the Delaware Chancery Court. This testimony was used in the U.S. Supreme Court case of Brown vs. The Board of Education, resulting in a Supreme Court ruling declaring that racial discrimination in public schools was unconstitutional.

In 1954 his big, bad, Seduction of the Innocent book came out. I won't bother talking about here because I've gone into extensive details in my Main Page. In 1958, Dr. Wertham produced his fifth book entitled The Circle of Guilt. In this book, Wertham proclaimed that people were beginning to feel less and less responsible for their actions, and that this was causing more violent crime in America. Wertham suggested that comics and the mass media were contributing to this. In 1966, Wertham wrote another book about human violence called A Sign for Cain. His campaign against comic books continued in this volume as well.

Still, what surprised comic readers was his final book (published in 1973), The World of Fanzines. This book looked at a subculture of people interested in comics and science fiction of all sorts and how they communicate through fanzines. Fanzines were magazines that fans created and distributed, talking about whatever or whoever was the object of their admiration. Fanzines were a new form of communication at that time, and Wertham only promoted them by stating that:

"(fanzines) constitutes a vivid and vital kind of method of interchange of thoughts and opinions."

"Fanzines show a combination of independence and responsibility not easily found elsewhere in our culture."

"achievements such as fanzines...are worthwhile and constructive. Communication is the opposite of violence. And every facet of communication has a legitimate place."

I guess all those kids who read comic books back in the 50's didn't turn out so bad after all.