Friday, March 27, 2009

Seduction of an Innocent, Pint-Sized, Pipsqueak Book Collector

On April 21, 1954 a subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee was charged with investigating the causes of juvenile delinquency and went right to the heart of the matter: comic-books.

The subcommittee's first and starring witness was Fredric Wertham, author of Seduction of the Innocent, which, in so many words, asserted that comics were Lucifer's lure, Beelzebub's bait. Seduction of the Innocent was a Book-of-the-Month Club selection, excerpted in Ladies' Home Journal, and published two days before Wertham testified before the Sub-committee. The hearings were televised.
After viewing, a baby-faced, three-year old miscreant took it on the lam. A precocious, hard-core comic book fan (even if, at the time, I couldn't actually read them) I shamefully accepted damnation but They weren't going to take me alive! A search party was formed, I was discovered in the basement of the house and was returned upstairs for trial, supper, and summary judgment. Remanded to the custody of my parents, I was sentenced to a life of guilt.

While in jail, I undertook a program of self-improvement. To better my chances in life, I began furiously reading and collecting Classics Illustrated comic books. My friend Donald, another four-eyed juvenile delinquent with reading issues, and I would get together to read, talk, and trade our Classics Illustrated, which kept us off the streets and out of trouble but did nothing for our social skills.

Thumbnail image for 250px-Mohicanslast.jpgClassics Illustrated comic books began as Classic Comics in 1941. Founded by Albert Kantor, the first of what would ultimately be 164 titles was The Three Musketeers. In addition to the literary adaptations, the comics featured author profiles, and educational filler. The series' name was changed to Classics Illustrated in 1951 and the cover art morphed from colored line drawings to full paintings executed by some of the top commercial artists of the era. Publication of new titles ceased in 1962.

I read every one of the 164 Classics Illustrated titles. They provided a foundation in world literature that led to reading the actual books, annuities for my optometrist and optician, and a career in the book trade.



Fun, comics-related factoid for today, permission granted to use as a party ice-breaker (or ender): By the mid-1950s, Joe Schuster, the artist and co-creator of Superman comics who had ceded all his rights, was nearly blind and completely broke. Offered an opportunity for work, he grabbed it. The books (actually comics) would be distributed in shady shops in Times Square in New York City. The distributor, Eddie Mishkin, was arrested on obscenity charges and his appeal went before the U.S. Supreme Court, the case now named after the series of offending comics that Schuster illustrated: Nights of Horror, now highly collectible as 'Fifties kitsch S&M-themed erotica. No shock, Mishkin lost but would return to appear before the Supreme Court in 1964 when another conviction of his in concert with two other related cases, would lead to the Supreme Court's liberalization of obscenity law.


Originally appeared in Fine Books & Collections on this date.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Subscribe to BOOKTRYST by Email