THE PEANUT GALLERY: The Author Meets The Critics Round 2: Frederick Wertham Versus Edwin J. Lucas

I mentioned in a previous post about Frederick Wertham debating Al Capp on The Author Meets The Critics that Wertham appeared also on another episode… I recently listened to it. You can do so here.

Wertham gets completely destroyed in the debate by Edwin J. Lucas, who makes good use of Wertham’s own words in discrediting him. As stupid as Wertham sounds, he is joined by another even less coherent person apparently also making a career out of disparaging funny books, a miss Virginia Peterson… she does a lot to make his case even weaker.

In spite of being squarely on his side in the debate, I disagree with the fundamental argument Mr. Lucas makes, though.

Personally, I am a first amendment extremist… but I no longer buy the argument that is often made by other first amendment extremists that a reader’s behavior is not affected by media that they intake.

To claim that a child is always unaffected behaviorally by a violent image unless they were previously maladjusted seems deeply disingenuous. Few would argue that a child can not be positively influenced by media (after all, textbooks are media, right?)… so why wouldn’t they be able to be negatively influenced by it?

The real issue… which, strangely, no one seemed to be arguing at the time… is that artists and writers should be able to make any sort of art they damn well please without having to cater to censors or worry about what effect it will have on their readers. Their job is to make the art, not to worry about what effect it will have.

If the media consumers do not like something they read, watch or listen to, they can choose not to read, watch or listen to it. If they are children, their parents should be taking responsibility for what media they are exposed to. Obviously, no parent can monitor everything that a child sees… nor should they attempt to. But to censor media out of concern that children could potentially be exposed to it is reprehensible, as it comes at an enormous cost to freedom of expression.

This cost of this sort of censorship can be easily evidenced by reading a sampling of comics made before and after the comics code was implemented. Before the code, there were many vibrant and entertaining comics… after the code entertaining comics were few and far-between. Readership plummeted. The art form was effectively neutered for years until the underground comics brought it back from the dead with a vengeance… and that was for a comparatively microscopic audience.

The effect of the censorship is still felt… comics have not sold in anywhere near the same numbers as they did before the code to this day. In the mid-fifties, Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories had a monthly circulation of over three million copies. Almost every kid read comics… needless to say, literacy rates were much higher. Now 100,000 copies sold of a comic book is considered wildly successful. While obviously censorship is not the only reason for this, I would guess it may be one of the biggest ones.

THE PEANUT GALLERY: The Author Meets The Critics: Frederic Wertham Versus Al Capp

Tom Spurgeon linked to this interesting interview with Frederic Wertham and Al Capp from an old radio show called The Author Meets The Critics on his Comics Reporter blog the other week. I got around to listening to it today. It was recorded when Capp was at the height of his popularity in the fifties, and the focus of the discussion is largely on the Schmoo. Capp decimates Wertham, but you kind of end up wishing he used better arguments. Capp is ill-informed about what is in the comics on the newsstands, and is under the impression that the majority of comics published at the time are reprints of newspaper comics, which was not the case (as Wertham correctly states). Capp believes the comics have all been thoroughly censored (since in his mind, they are reprints of comic strips, which he knows are thoroughly censored)… which, strangely, Capp seems to have little problem with, or if he does he does not elaborate on it. Wertham makes much more inaccurate, spurious and poorly articulated arguments, though… hearing him talk, it is actually hard to believe anyone could have ever taken him seriously. Must have been the accent.

You can hear the interview here.

I just noticed that wasn’t the only episode of The Author Meets The Critics Wertham appeared on either… I haven’t listened to it yet, but here is another one.

There are many more old-time-radio shows on that site as well… it appears to be quite a treasure trove.

View the Frederic Wertham Memorial Funnybook Library here.

THE PEANUT GALLERY: Where I Wish The Wild Things Weren’t

HR Pufnstuf image courtesy of the Life Magazine image archive on Google.

This is not a review of the Where the Wild Things Are movie. I haven’t seen it. I’m not going to. So, if you are inclined to see it, you may very well want to ignore this rant.

I love Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are… but I have no interest in seeing it turned into any full-length movie, regardless of whatever quality said movie may or may not have. Two hours of rampaging fursuits could never be as charming to me as Sendak’s sparse 48-page masterpiece.

While the filmmakers sound considerably more well-intentioned than the evil shits who have made “adaptations” of Seuss in recent years (the adaptation is written by Dave Eggers, the instigator of the wonderful McSweeney’s), the concept of turning Wild Things into a full-length, live action movie just doesn’t work for me.

The trailer, which I regret morbid curiosity beckoned me to watch, made me kind of queasy to look at (the atrociously inappropriate music didn’t help). Maybe if it was animated and 15 minutes long, it would be more appealing. And unmarketable, of course.

There is always the argument (a good one) that however awful an adaptation, the book is still on the shelf… which is true enough. Certainly, some works are enhanced by different interpretations… Alice in Wonderland, for example, has been reinterpreted hundreds of times and is much richer for it.

Wild Things is too personal of a vision to be improved on by this sort of reinterpretation, in my view. It seems sad to me that some kids will grow up with memories of this movie instead of the brilliant book.

THE PEANUT GALLERY: The Genius of a Black Panel

I just posted the below here on The Comics Journal Message Board.

T. Hodler on the Comics Comics blog argues that whoever did the first all-black panel in comics was a genius.

No, I don’t think he is kidding.

I have long found black paintings to be a perfect litmus test. If someone thinks an all-black painting is a work of genius, or even worth more than a second’s consideration, I can’t take anything they say seriously.

Maybe it is a problem with me.

I like some “fine art,” but the vast majority of post-Duchamp art seems like the Emperor’s New Clothes to me. Duchamp put a urinal in an art gallery… the major point being, in my view, “look what these schmucks think is great art!” His imitators have been doing the same schtick ever since, but they don’t get the joke. Mostly “fine art” appears to me to be designed as some kind of arcane currency for the exceedingly wealthy and gullible. A hoax that neither the perpetrators or the victims are aware of.

Comics, until recently, has avoided this kind of cluelessness for the most part, thanks to being considered by the fine art world to be beneath notice. With the exception of the pathetic swipes of Lichtenstein, comics were ignored by museums and galleries for the most part. This is no longer the case, obviously.

Comics have their flaws, sure, but they have generally been produced by artists with an interesting and personal view of the world… which is why comics have remained a popular and vital artform since their inception. The majority of “fine art,” as I see it, is a strange masturbatory exercise of interest primarily to a shinking “intellectual” elite. Since mainstream “fine art” is so insular and boring, it is only natural that they are now attempting to claim comics as part of their morass.

As with the black painting, the black panel apparently also serves as a litmus test.

Sure, a black panel is a different story than a black painting… it is in the context of a larger comic strip it can be quite effective in storytelling, right?

It is telling, I think, that Mr. Hodler declares that the first black panel was an act of genius, without any consideration to the context a black panel might be in. He does not know where the first black panel appeared… but wherever it did, it was genius! Sure, a black panel can be an effective part of a comic, but Mr. Hodler doesn’t care about the context… he just cares that the ink is India.

Which is pretty funny, really. It’s right out of Art School Confidential.

The Comics Comics blog reads to me more like unintentional self-satire every day. The Dark Vision of… Carl Barks? 80% of alternative comics are unreadable? And now black panels are genius! These guys are on a roll!


I recently commented on this post on the Comics Comics blog by Jeet Heer, “The Dark Vision of Carl Barks.”
Here is what I blabbered:

This viewpoint of Barks’ ducks seems very narrow to me, Jeet. The Ducks were some of the most well rounded characters in kids comics at the time… which is probably the biggest reason why they were so successful.

While the ducks were certainly capable of greed, malice and avarice… they were also capable of affection, generosity and heroism. So I don’t really understand an interpretation that paints them as flat and one-dimensional as Little Dot or Richie Rich. If this is your viewpoint of them, I suggest you read more Barks! Check out almost any of his many Christmas stories for some good examples.

While there are certainly some dark themes in Barks’ comics, implying an overarching darkness to them seems absurd to me in the extreme.

The Barks that wrote the duck stories was most likely a very different man from the Barks you quote from shortly before his death. My understanding is that his later years were a very dark time for him with the loss of his wife and some exceedingly unscrupulous business handlers. I don’t see this degree of bitterness in his stories at all.

THE PEANUT GALLERY: Wait a Week to Watch the Watchmen


I started a Facebook group here that I encourage you all to join encouraging people to wait a week (or more) to watch the movie adaptation of Watchmen. Here is what I posted there:

The movie Watchmen was made without the consent or participation of the writer of the book, Alan Moore.

Out of respect for Mr. Moore, members of this group should wait at least one week (preferably more) after the theatrical release of Watchmen to watch it, as a small protest to the consistently poor treatment of Mr. Moore by Time Warner and DC Comics. DC comics, it should be noted, has a long and notorious history of poor treatment of cartoonists, going back at least to screwing a couple of teenagers out of the rights to Superman.

I am not arguing that it is wrong to go see the Watchmen movie if you really want to. I am just suggesting you wait a bit to see it, out of RESPECT for the person who wrote it, as his wishes for it are not being honored.

I repeat… this is an issue of RESPECT. It is not a legal issue. It is not an issue of artistic merit, or lack thereof. It is not even an issue of being completely sick of seeing marketing for this movie everywhere, even though I certainly am. It is an issue of respecting the intent of an artist whose works you respect.

Furthermore, a week is a VERY small time to wait if you really want to see this thing. It is an important time to the Time Warner Corporation, however, as how a movie is received in its first week very much effects how successful it is overall.

I’ve read many objections to Mr. Moore’s complaints about the film. Yes, Mr. Moore was doing work for hire… yes, he sold the rights to Watchmen. It was certainly a bad business deal.

Mr. Moore signed a contract where the rights to Watchmen would return to him after the book had been out of print for a designated period of time. At the time Watchmen came out, there was no precedent for a graphic novel NOT going out of print. Watchmen, Dark Knight and Maus changed that. Mr. Moore naively thought at the time he signed the contract that he would get the rights back, and DC Comics was happy to exploit him.

Regardless of whatever mistakes Mr. Moore has made in this instance, his works have greatly enriched my life. Out of respect for him, I don’t think it is asking a lot to wait a week or two to see whatever travesty they have made of his book on the screen… or, better yet, you could choose not to see it at all.

The book is still on the shelf, and will always be the best way to experience this masterpiece of comics fiction. Why not do yourself a favor and read it instead of watching the Hollywood aberration?

If you’ve ever read and enjoyed any of the wonderful works of Alan Moore, please consider affording him this extremely small favor.

Here is an interview with Alan Moore on the subject at Entertainment Weekly.

Here is an overview of Mr. Moore’s history with the movie business from the New York Times.

For another view on this, see this interview with Watchmen artist Dave Gibbons, who approves of the movie.

Slime-coated Hollywood producer Don Murphy calls Alan Moore a hypocrite and a liar, and completely misses the point, as you would expect.

(Note: Above image is Creative Commons licensed on Flickr here.)

THE PEANUT GALLERY: Celebrity VD, and Translatophone


Nobody believes me when I tell them this, but I invented the game “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.” Only when I invented it, I called it “Celebrity VD.” Players would follow the path of a theoretical strain of venereal disease passed from one celebrity to another based on movies or television shows they had been in together.

Usually this would involve thinking of two celebrities, figuring out the quickest way to link them to Jack Nicholson or Michael Caine, and then linking to the other celebrity the same way. Years ago I used to play this inane game in my head for hours while I had a gig doing landscaping work.

I told some people about it, and a few years later the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon meme is everywhere. Coincidence? Could be, it isn’t that great of an idea… but it is a good way to pass time while landscaping if you are somewhat of a movie buff.

It’s a lot easier to market it to the public under the much more wholesome name with Kevin Bacon than Celebrity VD, I suppose.

Yeah, I didn’t think you’d buy it either- but it is true, I tell you.

UPDATE: One other thing I should have noted is that one advantage of Celebrity VD over Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon is that the VD angle makes it so you can play with different assumptions to make it more challenging. The beginners game would be “Hollywood orgy free-for-all” rules, where anyone can give vd to anyone else… but for more advanced play you can have it transmit only through the celebrity’s actual or rumored sexual orientation.

Anyhow, I have a new game I invented to share with you all. I’m calling it “translatophone.” It is based on the game “telephone,” but this is a version you can play solitaire.

To play, you simply take any phrase, drop it into Google Translate or another internet translator, translate it to another language, and translate it back. Keep going to a variety of languages and observe the amusing results. Here is an example:

It was the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring not even a mouse.

To Japanese:


Back to English:

And Christmas, all the previous night in the house not a creature, was not impressed with the mouse.

To Hindi:

और क्रिसमस, घर में सभी पिछले रात नहीं एक प्राणी है, माउस से प्रभावित नहीं था.

Back to English:

And Christmas, all in the house not a creature is the last night, was not affected by the mouse.

to Ukrainian:

І Різдво, все в домі не витвір це останній вночі, не постраждали від мишей.

Back to English:

And Christmas, everything in the house not a creature of this last night, is not affected by the mice.

to Filipino:

At Christmas, lahat ng bagay sa bahay ng isang hindi nilikha ng huling gabi na ito, ay hindi apektado ng mice.

Back to English:

At Christmas, everything in the house not a creature of last night, and it has not affected the mice.

to Arabic:

في عيد الميلاد ، كل شيء في المنزل وليس مخلوقا من الليلة الماضية ، وأنها لم تؤثر على الفئران.

Back to English:

Christmas, everything in the house, not creature of the night, and that it did not affect mice.

to Greek:

Χριστούγεννα, τα πάντα στο σπίτι, δεν πλάσμα της νύχτας, και ότι δεν επηρεάζουν τα ποντίκια.

Back to English:

Christmas, everything at home, no creature of the night, and that does not affect mice.



I ran across the above photo from of a Minneapolis comic convention from 1982, taken by Comics Buyer’s Guide founder Alan Light. Denis Kitchen is seen digging through comics on the left, and I am pretty damn sure that is a very young Michael Drivas, proprietor of the excellent Big Brain Comics on the right. You can see all of Mr. Light’s photos from the Minneapolis 1982 Comic Con here, a set of photos from the 1982 San Diego Comicon here, a set of old photos of cartoonists here, and the rest of his photo sets here.

When I was a kid (and for that matter, ten years ago) if you wanted to read comics, you had to buy them. They were rarely reprinted and if you didn’t buy them when they came out, they only got more expensive in the back issue bins. When they were reprinted as books, libraries rarely carried them. If you wanted to read old comics, they were rarely reprinted and you to pay out the nose for original copies.

Today comics are frequently reprinted as books to the point where it rarely makes sense to buy comic books in “pamphlet” format (with the notable exception of anthologies, which are rarely reprinted).

If I miss a comic in the store when it comes out, it usually gets less expensive to buy, and then I can frequently buy it in a superior book format. If I use the internet to buy comics (not recommended… support your local comic shop!), it can get ridiculously cheap, particularly if the book isn’t new.

A lot of libraries now do a pretty good job of stocking comics. There are numerous comics I wouldn’t consider buying, but don’t mind reading for free courtesy of the library.

Old comics are currently undergoing a golden age of reprinting projects, and items that were previously seen only by handfuls of people are now seen by thousands. Although the vast majority are still not reprinted, and probably never will be, there is an amazing wealth of old material available in new books in print.

If you can’t find examples of an old comic in print, it is not unlikely you may be able to find scans of it on the internet… more are out there all the time, usually for free. You can find the new stuff out there too for free too, of course, if you’re inclined to do so and not inhibited by the idea of modern cartoonists needing to make a living.

It has never been easier to have access to so many fantastic comics. Those of you new to reading comics can be thankful you will probably never have to lift a long box of comics.

UPDATE: I emailed Michael Drivas and he denies the young imp in the above photo is him, as he was reading all his comics for free and returning them via the distributor via his old man’s drug store at the time. However, he also said I could start whatever rumors I wanted… so it is Drivas all right.

The Peanut Gallery: February 4th, 2008

This blog has been fortunate enough to get a lot of link love lately for the Crumbling Paper Index
The Beat
Collected Comics Library
The Comics Reporter
The Fate of the Artist (Eddie Campbell’s Blog)
History News Network

Thanks much to everyone who has linked here… it is much appreciated!

I commented extensively on Eddie Campbell’s blog here regarding some confusion over what I said regarding the world of the early comics versus the modern world in the post I made on race and ethnicity in the early comics.

UPDATE: The esteemed Mr. Campbell noted something in my comments that I should have… that it wasn’t his confusion I was commenting on over on his blog, but rather confusion one of his commenters had.

The Peanut Gallery: January 11th, 2008

I’ve decided to start posting links to other places around the web I spout off and babble incoherently at for your amusement, horror, or grim-faced avoidance.

First of all there are some additional comments I made since yesterday on the Comics Journal comics reprints thread I mentioned yesterday.

Today I posted (under the username mrmonkey23) a comment to this essay on Fletcher Hanks at Noah Berlatsky’s Hooded Utilitarian blog.

I also posted (under the username mrmonkey23) comments on this post on Marshall Rogers and other things on the Comics Comics blog in reaction to the bizarre quote:

“Y’know, the hackiest hack who worked for Marvel in the early ’60s had a better sense of basic figure drawing and naturalism than almost any contemporary cartoonist.”