Showing posts with label censorship. Show all posts
Showing posts with label censorship. Show all posts

Friday, February 21, 2020

Commentary: Alexandra Bowman of Georgetown's "The Hilltop Show" Responds to Callout and Critics

by Alexandra Bowman

Ms. Bowman is a 19-year-old student, political cartoonist, and humorist at Georgetown University. We interviewed her last December. When I met her in person last weekend, she told me about a minor university controversy about a pulp paperback book collection in a GU dorm library that had started to go national due to Brietbart picking it up. I offered her space at ComicsDC for her response. For the record, I'm in my mid-50s and grew up with many of the books pictured in the Georgetown Review story around the house, I have read some of them, and I personally do not find them generally offensive myself. However, I do believe that she and her colleagues have a right to make their opinions known without being trolled. And at least one of the books, The Cunning Linguist, is genuinely hardcore pornography. - Mike Rhode

Launched in fall 2019, The Hilltop Show is Georgetown University's political comedy show. Our team aims to make current campus, national, and international events accessible and entertaining to those who might not typically engage with the news - including not only students but the broader Georgetown community and beyond. In line with this mission, we publish journalistic pieces as well as comedic sketches and interviews with political practitioners and comedians. 

I founded the show last April. I write sketches and "informational monologues" (the thing John Oliver does), conduct and coordinate journalistic investigations, organize film shoots, edit videos in Adobe Premiere, and conduct outreach and PR for the Show. I create our graphics, drawing many by hand with traditional and digital media, like our Season 2 poster:

The Hilltop Show meets in a study space in a dorm that would be more accurately described as a glorified broom closet. Until a few weeks ago, the space included a bookshelf, on which were hundreds of books have been there since 2003 when the dorm opened and an alum donated them. During a weekly team meeting, we noticed one book that caught our eye, entitled Cherokee, which depicted a young Native American girl on the cover illustrated not only in an objectifying way but also with blood on her clothes. Upon further inspection, we realized that at least one of the books was hardcore pornography, but many others of them included derogatory racial elements and glamorized rape, including that of underage girls. We asked the university and multiple organizations if they were aware of the books and if they had any background knowledge of their origins, and within hours of one of our emails being sent, every book disappeared from the dorm library. 

The Hilltop Show partners with an independent student media publication on campus, The Georgetown Review, and we worked with them to publish a journalistic report based on The Hilltop Show's research and the events that had transpired. The Show also filmed and published a sketch (a Goodfella's parody) on the same day the books were removed. 

Shortly thereafter, the university newspaper, The Hoya, published an article that included a statement from me, with some remarks indicated as representative of the team's views and some as my own. As I noted to them, "While some were simply raucous crime noir murder mysteries representative of the literary and cultural time in which they were written, other books included extremely problematic and damaging elements, including the glamorization of rape, including that of underage girls. Completely naked women of all races were frequently featured on these books' covers. Further, many books fetishized young nonwhite women." 

The books were typical of the time in which they were written, but our main question was whether the university knew that they were present considering that the books' racist and pornographic content, regardless of when the books where written, could be harmful to those who read them. Several young children under the age of ten live in the buildings where these books were kept, not far out of their reach.

I'd point to how Disney has approached the issue of many of their older films containing culturally outdated and racist elements. On the new streaming service Disney+, films with these elements have warnings in their descriptions.  For example, on the 1967 film "The Jungle Book," the following lines are included in the description of the film: "This program is presented as originally created. It may contain outdated cultural depictions."  I believe that even a small plaque on the walls of the McCarthy and Reynolds library with a similar sentiment would have been enough. When we reached out to the university, we didn't want the books to ultimately be removed. We wanted them to be contextualized in a similar way to how Disney has handled such content typical of mid-20th century media.

Conservative higher education news site The College Fix published a laughably biased article, which was not based in fact nor particularly concerned with providing much context for the situation whatsoever. Breitbart apparently then noticed this article and then wrote one of their own based on the College Fix's report. 

Breitbart reported the story in a way that suits the narratives popular with their reader base. Their report paints the story thus: liberal snowflake college students complained when something offended them, and the university folded and banned the books those students whined about. The image accompanying the article, a photo of books engulfed in flame, has prompted thousands of commenters to compare what we did - which was to raise questions to the university regarding the presence of dime novels that glamorize rape and pedophilia - to Nazi book burnings. 

Brietbart's article has been shared over 38,500 times as of February 20th. Over 11,000 comments have been left. 

The Hilltop Show has released a statement via a tweet commenting on the Breitbart article: 

"First, we didn't want the books removed altogether. We wanted them contextualized. Censorship? Nope. Second, if you're a fan of keeping books around that glamorize rape and pedophilia, we have Some Concerns. Something tells us you didn't read @thegureview's actual report."

I'd like to conclude by saying that we are more entertained by our Breitbart callout by anything else. After all, Breitbart has now called the Hilltop Show a "crack research team." Rest assured that "Crack Research Team Member" T-shirts are currently being designed. Cheers.

More information about The Hilltop Show can be found on our website, where you can also sign up for our newsletter. Our YouTube channel is linked here. We post updates, political cartoons, memes, and more on our social media pages: we are @hilltopshow on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. As our slogan states, we will continue to #capitalizeonthechaos. 

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Rob Roger's political cartoon exhibit opens at GW's Corcoran

Rob Rogers
by Mike Rhode

I was able to briefly stop by last night as Rob Rogers made a few short remarks about an exhibit of his cartoons, including 10 original pen and ink drawings and the companion colored prints critical of Trump that a Pittsburgh newspaper refused to print before they fired him. Also included are prints of sketches that they turned down before they became completed cartoons. Rogers' contentious relationship with the papers new editor has been written about extensively and soon after he was fired, GW announced they would exhibit his cartoonist directly across the street from the White House complex (information from their press release follows the images). The exhibit is sponsored by GWU and the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists. AAEC president Pat Bagley and Washington Post cartoonist Ann Telnaes contributed to the text of the exhibit.

The sold-out event drew local cartoonists Mike Jenkins, Joe Sutliff, Carolyn Belefski, Politico's Matt Wuerker, and Al Goodwyn a freelance cartoonists who appears locally in the Washington Examiner, in addition to Library of Congress curator Martha Kennedy (whose exhibit on women cartoonists is on display at the Library), and the Washington Post's Michael Cavna.

More photos can be seen here.

Incomplete sketch rejected by newspaper

Cavna, Goodwyn, Jenkins, Belefski

Belefski, Sutliff and Wuerker

Sutliff, Wuerker and Kennedy

Bagley's statement

 'Spiked: The Unpublished Political Cartoons of Rob Rogers' Opens at the GW Corcoran School of the Arts and Design

Editorial cartoonist was dismissed from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette after facing censorship of his cartoons

WASHINGTON (July 18, 2018)-The Corcoran School of the Arts and Design at the George
Washington University opened "Spiked: The Unpublished Political Cartoons of Rob Rogers"
today. This pop-up exhibition in the atrium gallery of the Corcoran School's historic Flagg
Building features 10 finished cartoons and eight sketches that went unpublished by Rob Rogers'
employer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, between March 6 and June 3, 2018.

Mr. Rogers served as the editorial cartoonist for the Post-Gazette for 25 years, until his firing in
June 2018. Prior to his dismissal, the newspaper refused to publish a series of cartoons
produced over three months.

"I believe the role of a newspaper is to be a watchdog, keeping democracy safe from tyrants. I
hope that visitors to the exhibit get a sense of the important role satire plays in a democracy and
how dangerous it is when the government launches attacks on a free press," Mr. Rogers said. "I
am excited to have my original cartoons on display at the Corcoran. The fact that these are
cartoons about the president and now they will be on shown a few blocks from the White House,
that is pretty incredible!"

The Corcoran strives to promote diversity of thought and experience, address critical social
issues and educate the next generation of creative cultural leaders.

"Mr. Rogers' work has tremendous educational value to our students by speaking to the skills of
technical virtuosity, iteration, perseverance and creative methodologies on how to critique
power," Sanjit Sethi, the director of the Corcoran said. "His work also becomes a powerful point
of departure for this community to speak with each other about issues around censorship,
freedom of the press, journalistic and creative integrity and the consequences of hypernationalism to a democracy."

The Corcoran organized "Spiked" in conjunction with University of Pittsburgh's University Art
Gallery and in collaboration with the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists.
"Freedom of speech is more than words. It's pictures, too," Pat Bagley, president of the
association, said. "This exhibit draws attention to Rob Rogers, a popular voice at the Post Gazette
for 25 years. It points to what people in power do to people who draw funny pictures of
the powerful and why that is an important measure of a free and open society."

In addition to the exhibition this summer, the Corcoran will host a series of conversations this fall
regarding issues around censorship, freedom of the press, journalistic integrity and the consequences of nationalism to a democracy, in collaboration with both the Association of
American Editorial Cartoonists and GW's School for Media and Public Affairs.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Post Syndicate kills single Barney & Clyde strip; Weingarten discussing live now

The chat is here:

By the end of the chat, I felt the most significant piece to come out was that Horace LaBadie actually wrote the offending strip.  I know Gene has talked about having writing help, but the last I recall was his son. However, LaBadie is credited on the Syndicate's webpage for the strip at

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

More on The Post's censorship of Telnaes' cartoon

Washington Post Pulls Ann Telnaes Cartoon Featuring Depiction Of Ted Cruz's Children
Tom Spurgeon
December 23, 2015

Washington Post's Cruz cartoon rekindles debate over candidates' children 

(Reporting by Erin McPike and Susan Heavey; Editing by Bill Trott)

Reuters Dec 23, 2015

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Post runs a blog editorial by a Fun Home non-reader

Alison Bechdel's graphic biography Fun Home offends some college students.  Here's one explaining his reasoning:

I'm a Duke freshman. Here's why I refused to read 'Fun Home.'

It's not about being uncomfortable. It's about being asked to do something that I think is immoral.

PostEverything blog

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Meet Nik Kowsar, an Iranian-turned-American cartoonist

by Mike Rhode

Soon after the Charlie Hebdo massacre, the Cartoonists Rights Network International began a fundraising campaign. I reached out to Nikahang "Nik" Kowsar at the time, but for one reason or another, his interview stalled in cyberlimbo. Sadly, Nik's thoughts will remain relevant for the foreseeable future. Since this interview was conducted in February, we've seen American writers of PEN sharply disagree about whether to give a courage award for Charlie Hebdo's cartoonists and presumed attempted murders at a Mohammad cartoon contest in Texas.

What type of comic work or cartooning do you do?
I do editorial cartoons, as well as running, that's an online platform made for helping non-cartoonists making their own cartoons.

How do you do it? Traditional pen and ink, computer or a combination?
I use felt tip pens, scan with my iPhone using Scanner Pro app, and color the work with Photoshop, so it's a combination of all.

When (within a decade is fine) and where were you born?
I was born in 1969 in Tehran, Iran. I'm technically Canadian, but a US resident. Canadian cartoonists helped me get out of Iran.

Why are you in Washington now?  What neighborhood or area do you live in?
I think Washington is the most relevant place on earth to work in relation with politics on Iran, and I've been running a Persian citizen journalism platform since 2009, and living in DC and the DC metro area since 2010. I'm now living not that far from JFK's "Eternal Flame" in Arlington.

What is your training and/or education in cartooning?
I studied Geology, and started drawing cartoons and caricature after buying a collection of David Levine's artwork when I was 21. A year later I was hired by Golagha Magazine, Iran's top satirical publication at the time and started working with professionals, that helped me get better with the trade. I also attended painting classes in Iran.I studied Journalism in Canada after leaving Iran.

Who are your influences?
I was in love with David Levine's lines and views, discovered Pat Oliphant and Kal through papers and magazine that reached the University library in Tehran. I also was influenced by Iranian cartoonists such as Iraj Zareh, Ahmad Arabani, Ahmad Sakhavarz and Afshin Sabouki. The last two are now residing in Canada.

If you could, what in your career would you do-over or change?
I would have started again by taking sketching courses and quitting Geology! I would have loved to study Journalism and  Design simultaneously and work harder. I would also get more sleep!

What work are you best-known for?
The Crocodile cartoon I drew in 2000, that lead to a National Security crisis in Iran and was the cause of a 4-day protest by the clergy in Qum, and hundreds of thousands of people attending Friday prayers chanting for my death. I had portrayed a crocodile, shedding "Crocodile Tears" strangling a journalist with its tale. Crocodile in Persian is "Temsah" that rhymed with the name of the cleric I had try to mock, who was Ayatollah Mesbah (aka Professor Mesbah). He was, and is, a pro-violence high ranking cleric who had made allegations against Iranian journalists. He also alleged that a CIA operative was in Tehran at the time, with a big suitcase full of US dollars to bribe Iranian journalists against Islam. This was a few weeks before the parliamentary elections in Iran. Many responded, and my response was that cartoon. I was arrested and spent 6 days at the notorious Evin prison, and was literally kicked out after the backlash of my arrest had become bigger than the parliamentary elections. I was on the covers of newspapers and a distraction for political parties for a week.Because of that single cartoon, the Ayatollah is called Professor Temsah (Crocodile), and I always wear Lacoste shirts to remind myself of the cartoon that totally changed my life.I have received death threats, and lived in exile as a refugee since 2003. Canada was my safe haven at that time, and my family joined me in 2007.

What work are you most proud of?
I was part of the group that founded the Iranian Cartoon House and we started the classes that became a center to discover talent. Many of those young kids are now seasoned and experienced artists; some are working as professional cartoonists and animators. It was great seeing two of them in San Francisco a few weeks ago.My work in the late 90's and after had impact on the newspaper readers and editorial became very popular in Iran, where I had to work for 3 different newspapers a day. I somehow became my own competition. We have very great cartoonists in Iran, and possibly I was a good communicator who was helpful in creating jobs for many of those highly talented but shy artists. Cartooning became a serious business in those years and politicians used to respond to this sort of critique. That also turned me into a target of the Islamist hardliners.At last, being with Cartoonists Rights Network International is something I'm really proud of. I was once their client, and now a member of the board, trying to find ways and means to support cartoonists who have experienced hard situations and need their voices to be heard.

What would you like to do  or work on in the future?
I love to find enough funds to turn to a tool for masses, to give them a voice through cartoons, and help local and national campaigns against dictators. This cannot happen without technical help of brilliant cartoonists. I would also love to create a safer situation for my colleagues in Islamic countries to who are under threat and have to self censor themselves in fear of radical Islamist retribution.

What do you do when you're in a rut or have writer's block?
I watch movies. I also have a Fibromyalgia block! Sometimes I can't even draw a line without pain. Fibromyalgia attacks or flares really block anything...mind, muscles, wrist...I think I can't take anything for granted anymore!

What do you think will be the future of your field?
It's been a really hard decade for editorial cartoonists, but I think millions of people have understood the impact of cartoons and I hope publishers learn from the masses as well and hire more cartoonists.In the digital age, we have to find a way to connect better and deeper and possibly mixing cartoons with applications that could also give audiences a chance to communicate with us and other people would give a new meaning to our profession.

What local cons do you attend? The Small Press Expo, Intervention, or others? Any comments about attending them?
I usually attend meetings or events at the Newseum, National Press Club and sessions at a number of think tanks in DC.

What's your favorite thing about DC?
It's a beautiful place. I love the National Mall, museums, theaters, Georgetown,  National Airport, and the monuments. DC is not only a historical place, but you sense the history in the making.

Least favorite?
Ummm...some taxi drivers who expect you to be a devoted Radical Muslim and discuss matters that you hate! I'm a Muslim lite! I drink alcohol and love bacon and avoid people who tell me what I should do or be!I've met many cab drivers who were in love with Iran's former president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. I told one that if he loves Mahmoud that much, he should leave DC immediately, go to Iran and work for him! He changed the subject after I made that suggestion!

What monument or museum do like to take visitors to?
I love Lincoln Memorial for many reasons. The Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and the Udvar-Hazy center near Dulles, remind me of the days I hoped to become a pilot! National History Museum gets me back to the days I studied mineralogy and  paleontology. And as a journalist, who could not love the Newseum? I've also taken friends to the Library of Congress and the Congress.

How about a favorite local restaurant?
For meat loving times, Ray's Hell Burger and Ruth's Chris Steak House.
For Pizza, Pupatella in Arlington.
And for Iranian cuisine, Amoo’s House of Kabob in McLean.
For fast food, I cannot love Moby Dick House of Kabob enough.

Do you have a website or blog?
I run and I'm the editor in chief of
I'm not a journalist, but I should probably note that Nik recently turned the tables and interviewed me for the CRNI on “Supporting Mohammad Saba'aneh,” the Palestinian cartoonist  who also ran afoul of Islamic cartooning.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Thursday, February 27, 2014

March 5: Ecuadorian cartoonist Bonilla speaks

Communications Law in Ecuador: 

When Censoring a Cartoon Becomes a 

Presidential Priority


Communications Law in Ecuador:
 When Censoring a Cartoon Becomes a Presidential Priority 
Since his reelection, President Rafael Correa has used a series of laws and decrees to constrain   criticism and dissent. In June 2013, the National Assembly passed a restrictive communications law that designates the media as a public service subject to government regulation. Political cartoonist Xavier Bonilla was the first victim of this law following the publication of a cartoon that depicted the house raid of journalist FernandoVillavicencio. President Correa called Bonilla, among other things, “an assassin with ink.” Bonilla was forced to publish a correction, and El Universo paid a large fine. Join the Center for International Media Assistance and the Latin America and Caribbean program at the National Endowment for Democracy for a discussion on the restrictive nature of the communications law in Ecuador.
Xavier Bonilla
Political Cartoonist at El Universo
Martha Roldós
Fundación Mil Hojas
Carlos Lauría      
Committee to Protect Journalists
Wednesday, March 5
12:00-2:00 p.m.
Lunch will be served from 12:00-12:30
1025 F Street, N.W., Suite 800
Washington, DC 20004

About the Speakers 
Xavier “Bonil”Bonilla is the daily cartoonist for Ecuador's biggest newspaper, ElUniverso. He also publishes in five other important magazines and is a member of international organization, Cartooning for Peace. He has published eight books and received international recognition for his work from the Inter-American Press Society, World Press Cartoon, and the United Nations Ranan Lurie Political Cartoon Award. He was the first journalist to be sanctioned by Ecuador’s new Communications Law.
Martha Roldós is a lifelong political and civil society activist. In 2006, she was elected to Congress representing the province of Guayas, and in 2007 was elected to serve in the Constituent Assembly. After a failed presidential run in 2009, she joined the coalition ‘United for Democracy,’ which advocated for a no vote to the 2011 referendum which sought to give greater control over the media and judiciary to the executive. Throughout her career, she has been a strong advocate for government transparency and accountability, and for freedom of expression and association. She fought against the passage of the communications law, and later joined a group to challenge the law before Ecuador’s Constitutional Court. She now serves as Executive Director ofFundación Mil Hojas, an organization that investigates government corruption. 
Carlos Lauria is the senior Americas program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists where he serves as chief strategist and spokesperson on press freedom issues in the Americas. He monitors and documents press freedom violations in Latin America and has led missions to Mexico, Colombia, Guatemala, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Haiti, Brazil, El Salvador, and Argentina. Lauría began his journalistic career in Buenos Aires in 1986 and settled in New York in 1994 as U.S. bureau chief correspondent for Editorial Perfil, Argentina’s largest magazine publisher. He serves on the board of the Maria Moors Cabot Award for excellence in Latin American journalism, which is sponsored by Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He is a graduate of journalism from the Universidad Católica Argentina.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Zunar's appearance at Busboys and Poets

Malaysian cartoonist Zunar, whose books are regularly censored in his home country, appeared at Busboys and Poets in Washington, DC. With his permission, I've uploaded photographs and a recording of his talk, which was sponsored by Cartoonists Rights Network International. He speaks about his book being banned, and being arrested for sedition, as well his countersuits against the government. He's a brave man.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Wertham papers in Library of Congress add fuel to 60-year old battle

 If video killed the radio star, psychiatrist Fredric Wertham did the same for comic books. His papers in the Library of Congress have been recently opened, and Carol Tilley wrote article about his research methodology that's getting some big media attention.
Scholar Finds Flaws in Work by Archenemy of Comics

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Our buddy Bernard examines Wertham's cold remains

Local comics historian Warren Bernard (friend of ComicsDC, SPX grand poobah) volunteers at the Library of Congress' prints and photos division, identifying editorial cartoons and topics for them, but he snuck over to the building next door to research and write an article on Fredric Wertham's anti-comics crusade for the Comics Journal #302. Warren's kindly convinced the journal to put his research material online.

Warren Bernard's Citations and Fredric Wertham Documents
BY Warren Bernard Feb 6, 2013

Friday, October 19, 2012

Cartoonists Rights Network supports editorial cartoon contest

Draw Attention to Impunity: IFEX launches the International Day to End Impunity Editorial Cartoon Contest

Artwork courtesy of the design and branding firm The Public Society

im·pu·ni·ty \im-'pyü-nə-tē\ n. without punishment, without consequences

Attention all cartoonists!  Help us draw the world's attention by creating an editorial cartoon about impunity. IFEX, an international network of free expression groups, is launching an editorial cartoon contest.  Titled the Draw Attention to Impuniity: Editorial Cartoon Contest, this cartoon contest will be part of the second annual International Day to End Impunity on November 23, 2012.  The deadline for entries is November 4, 2012.  Some of the entries will be featured on the International Day to End Impunity website, and the top three winners will receive cash prizes.

Journalists, photographers, musicians, writers, human rights defenders and others continue to be sued, threatened, attacked and even murdered with impunity in countries like Mexico, Russia, Iraq and Somalia for simply practicing their right to free expression.  In our free expression community, impunity consistently ranks among the top concerns and remains a global issue that has defied all borders and political structures. 
IFEX, based in Toronto, Canada, is the most extensive community of leaders defending and promoting freedom of expression around the world.  The Cartoonists Rights Network International is a proud member of IFEX.  Executive Director Robert Russell and Deputy Director Drew Rougier-Chapman will be two of the judges on the panel which will consist entirely of IFEX affiliated indivduals who are fighting for free speech rights.  

For contest details in English, see
For contest details n French, see
For contest details in Spanish, see
For contest details in Arabic, see
For contest details in Russian, see

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Post wimps out on Zits strip

YOU PLAY THE EDITOR: The Post didn't run this 'ZITS' strip — would you?
By Michael Cavna
Washington Post Comic Riffs blog May 9 2012

Boy, the Post just doesn't let up on protecting its few remaining readers of the comics pages -- or should that be infantilizing them? One wonders what pictures from the current wars they also decided not to offend our delicate sensibilities with...

Click on the 'censorship' tag below to see plenty of previous examples.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

FoxNews story on big, bad comics

Relaunched Comics Using Sex and Violence To Sell:

Here's that FoxNews story which appears to have been about as bad as guest commentator Ray Bottorff Jr. expected - there's a text article on this site:

Relaunched Comics Using Sex and Violence To Sell
Sherri Ly
myfoxdc 18 Jan 2012,

Big Planet Comic's Jared Smith is quoted (if misidentified). And in Fox's defense (I can't believe I wrote that), Starfire's new approach to casual sex has been questioned in the comics community as well, as has the T&A of the Catwoman comic. Neither of which I'm reading so take my opinion with a grain of salt too.

and here's some commentary:

TV Report Targets DC Comics For Sex and Violence

I especially like the comparison picture here:

and advice from the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (I'm a member):

Retailer Advisory: How To Manage A Media Attack

January 18th, 2012

By Charles Brownstein

and although DC wouldn't comment to Fox, here's commentary they did do on the same day:

Why Jim Lee And Dan DiDio Decided To Reboot DC Comics [Video]
BY Kevin Ohannessian and Adam Barenblat
January 18 2012

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Guest reporter post : Fox 5 News DC Just ran a promo for an upcoming story on comic books

Ray Bottorff Jr reports:

WTTC Fox 5 of Washington DC, ran a promo during the NFC Divisional Playoffs Saturday evening January 14 on an upcoming special report that appears to be a Wertham-style attack on comic books.

Scheduled to air on Wednesday January 18th, on their 11:00 pm newscast, the promo presents to the audience the suggestion that comics are full of sex and violence, using the quote "Playboy meets comics."

With what sensationalized call to arms, the ad purported to show in the news story how parents can "KO" these comics for their kids.

Certainly a 30-second plug for a late night news story will not cover everything that will be mentioned during the story when it airs. But the promo certainly gave the impression that it will malign the industry and deliver the usual stereotypes on how comics are only for kids (never mind that the comics shown are not for kids), and that smut is being peddled by comic book stores to children (which they are not).

What kind of vigilance should comic book fans do to this modern day Wertham-style attack? Swamp Fox 5 with phone calls? Protest at the Fox 5 studios? Something else?

Here's the post-broadcast update.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Bill Day on Herblock and his tribute cartoon

A guest post by the excellent cartoonist Bill Day on the great Herblock, after I saw yesterday's cartoon online and asked him about it...

Discovering Herblock is a transcendent moment in my early awareness as both a cartoonist and a young southerner coming of age in the segregated South. At around 8 or 9 years old in the late 50's, I became very aware of the inequality of my region, trying to comprehend why America would talk about freedom and then not allow it. The water fountains, the separate entrances, the back of buses, the separate schools, and the unpaved roads in 'Goldboro', the black section of town. I saw all of that clearly and looked for understanding from my parents, who while loving and kind, failed it support my opinions. There seemed to be no one who would support me.

   I was beginning to really like cartooning and found a Herblock cartoon as an example of 'editorial cartoons' in the World Book Encyclopedia. It was "Fire!" It was the first editorial cartoon I had ever seen and it opened up my world. I started looking for them in newspapers in my home town library where there were many out of state newspapers. There I discovered Mauldin, Haynie, Conrad,  and many others. As the civil rights movement started to shake the foundation of the deep south, I would go to the library and see what these cartoon heroes of mine would draw to explain the events unfolding. Herblock was my very favorite and I followed him closely. My interest in the newspaper section at the library began to be noticed by the chief librarian. I was about 12 years old by then and it was unusual for a boy my age to be spending so much time there. I was also naive about her interest in me. One day she came over and asked what had my intense interest. I gladly showed her the Herblock cartoon and spoke so admiringly about him. She was not happy about it.

    Several weeks later I went to the library to catch up on my cartoon education. I looked everywhere for the Washington Post, but I couldn't find it anywhere. I went up to the counter and asked where it might be and the librarian told me that the subscription had been canceled. I asked why, and she told me that she was not going to have the youth of her town corrupted by such Communist propaganda! I was absolutely crushed.

    Of course, it was too late. I was already corrupted by the education I had learned from Herb, and her action only reinforced my understanding of the events rocking the South. The door had been opened.

   In 1974 I made a trip to Washington and met Herb. He was so wonderful to me. The nicest, sweetest guy I have ever met. We stayed in touch for years after that. Herb would send me clippings of the cartoons he saw of mine when they popped up in Newsweek or the New York Times. It was always a thrill to get a letter from him. He was following me as I had followed him for all those years. It hurt so much when Herb died and I was depressed about it for a very long time. I loved him.

I debated with myself about whether to do a 'takeoff' of Herb's famous cartoon. I finally decided that Herb would have liked it, since he was a dear friend of mine. I reversed the water bucket with the fire, making it different enough. I hope Herb is smiling now. He is such a hero to me. -- Bill Day

Monday, January 24, 2011

Comic Book Legal Defense Fund profile

Anyone who's serious about comics should be a member of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.

Meet the CBLDF, the people who make sure you aren't arrested for reading comic books
By Cyriaque Lamar
January 24 2011

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Fredric Wertham Papers opened at Library of Congress - the author's cut

This was shortened drastically when it appeared in the Washington City Paper's print version and online as "Hate Comic Books? Library of Congress Opens Papers of Comics Opponent Fredric Wertham," Aug. 11, 2010, last year. Completely understandable, as I turned in 3,500 words when they asked for 2,000 and had space for 1,000. Starting a new year, I'll assume ComicsDC readers may be interested in the longer version. My thanks again to everyone who helped me out and cooperated with writing this. Except for the first 3 words, this is as I wrote it last August.

This past summer, the Library of Congress opened a collection of papers from the man who almost singlehandedly destroyed comic books in the 1950s. Or perhaps they instead opened the collection of one of the first psychologists to be concerned with children's mental health and pop culture's possible effects. Opinions vary, and people of good faith disagree, but this past May, the Library of Congress quietly opened 222 containers of psychiatrist Fredric Wertham's papers. While the great majority of Americans haven't heard of the man, for a select few, the ability to read through his letters will be a big deal. That's because Fredric Wertham wrote a book about comic books and juvenile delinquency. Wertham's Seduction of the Innocent came out in 1954 as a culmination of a decade-long campaign against comic books, and quickly became a rallying point for Cold War concerns about teenage culture. Although the Library has had the records since 1987, they've been sealed except to people approved by Wertham's estate—and in that time, only two people were allowed to use them.  


 "For comic-book fans, Fredric Wertham is the biggest villain of all time, a real-life bad guy worse than the Joker, Lex Luthor, and Magneto combined," comics historian Jeet Heer wrote for Slate's review of David Hajdu's book, The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America. "For Wertham, even the most beloved comic-book heroes were suspect: Superman reminded him of Nazi Germany's SS (a cadre of self-styled supermen), the adventures of Batman and Robin had homoerotic overtones, and Wonder Woman threatened to turn healthy young girls into lesbians." Many comic book collectors believe that Wertham almost destroyed comics, as after being hauled before a Congressional investigation, publishers created a Comic Code Authority to self-police themselves and began selling the bland superheroes that the 1960s Batman television show would mock. Amy Nyberg, author of Seal Of Approval: The History Of The Comics Code, places a good bit of the blame on Wertham. She wrote, "The key witness at the Senate hearings and the leader of the crusade against comics was Wertham. He took the position that comic books were harmful, and he pressed for legislation restricting the sale of comic books to children under age sixteen." In Nyberg's work, we see the first signs of rehabilitating Wetham's reputation and she continued, "But Wertham's argument was much more complex than the idea he was often accused of perpetrating: that there was a direct causal link between comic book reading and juvenile delinquency. The problem of juvenile delinquency, he believed, stemmed from the fact that society was trapped in a 'cult of violence' of which comic books were simply a manifestation."


Bart Beaty, one of the two people permitted to use the collection before this summer, has probably done the most to renovate the reputation of Wertham with his book, Fredric Wertham and the Critique of Mass Culture.  At its core, Beaty's book argues that Wertham was right and comic books should have been regulated; however it is worth noting that Beaty, as a Canadian, has no First Amendment rights or protections in his own country. It is also notable that Wertham's crusade against comic books was replicated in many other countries – John Lent's book Pulp Demons: International Dimensions of the Postwar Anti-Comics Campaign details a similar story in Canada, Germany, Australia, Britain and Asia.


Wertham's research wouldn't be accepted by most today, as it relied on anecdotal evidence from youngsters he saw in his Harlem practice, where he ran the Lafargue Psychiatric Clinic. However, in an online debate with Craig Fischer posted at The Comic Reporter as 'Let's You and Him Fight: Fredric Wertham and the Critique of Mass Culture Day One,' Beaty wrote "A great many of the things that Wertham believed are things that I believe today, and in his writings and papers what I found was not some crazed loon, but a highly intelligent and highly principled man unafraid to take unpopular stands in troubled times. When comic book fans tell me that Wertham should rot in hell for criticizing EC Comics I am mystified. Here's a man who opened a free psychiatric clinic in Harlem at a time when he was one of a small handful of doctors who would even treat black psychiatric patients, working there no less than two nights each week as a volunteer, and providing testimony that was important to overturning American school segregation, and we're worried about the fact that he didn't like EC? Talk about missing the forest for the trees."


Among the 88,000 items in Wertham's papers are "notes, drafts, and related materials for Wertham's major works including Seduction of the Innocent (1954)." In Seduction, Wertham showed multiple examples of disturbing scenes reprinted from comics, including torture and murder. According to Sara Duke, the librarian who mentioned the opening of the collection on the Comix-Scholar's e-mail list, rather than sending the comics to be housed with the rest of the library's collection, "The Manuscript Division is keeping the comic books [Wertham used] because he made notations on onion skin paper and inserted them in his comic books." Wertham's papers add another important component to the library's comic-art collection, which includes comic books in the Serials Department and original comic art in the Prints and Photographs Division (including the original artwork to the first Spider-Man appearance).


Beaty's devoted a significant portion of his life to studying comic books – an avocation that he feels that Wertham probably wouldn't appreciate. In the third day of his debate with Fischer, Beaty noted, "…[I]n Seduction Wertham sees absolutely no value in comic books. It's hard to find a single approving thing he has to say about comics in the entire manuscript (whatever exceptions exist are sarcastic). On the other hand, he does seem to find some value in them in The World of Fanzines, his last book. I sometimes wonder if this is a drastic late career shift in belief (as many argue) or a natural continuation and logical extension of his existing thinking. It seems to me that Wertham did recognize some value in comics - particularly comic strips. He was friendly with people like Milton Caniff (and owned a Caniff original) and Al Capp, for example.  I think that The World of Fanzines sheds some light on the reasons: Wertham didn't hate the form so much as the industry (though, clearly, he was no fan of the form). Some of the excised material from Seduction would have made this even more clear. Wertham spoke with a number of cartoonists who told him that it was the publishers who required more blood, guts and gore in the book, and many of these whistleblowers saw Wertham as someone who could help end a practice that they themselves were uneasy with. The draft that Wertham sent to the publisher, for example, contained revelations about DC's treatment of Siegel and Shuster that came right from the source, and would have blown the lid off the shoddy treatment that they received decades before it became a cause celebre in fandom. The lawyers, however, thought it would be actionable and that entire chapter becomes a series of unnamed sources, which considerably dampens its impact (it's so gutted and toothless that I sometimes wonder why he even bothered to retain it)."


Charles Hatfield, author of Alternative Comics: An Emerging Literature says he had "never heard or read a defense of his work until 1995, when I attended a conference panel in comics studies that happened to include Wertham scholar James Reibman. To say that I was surprised to hear Reibman defend Wertham, and endorse some of the findings of Seduction, would be a pitiful understatement. I was shocked, frankly, and I remember discussing that panel with my wife and others afterward and trying to grapple with the possibility that there could be a reading of Wertham other than the comic fan's usual demonization. I would soon learn that Wertham was a progressive intellectual, that his expert testimony played a part in dismantling legal segregation in this country, and that he provided low-cost or free mental health care to the disenfranchised and neglected.  While I don't endorse Reibman's interpretation, it's hard not to admire, and to be fascinated by, a figure such as Wertham, one who defied many of the prejudices of his time and took such forward-looking and liberating positions."



"I still believe that Wertham was wrong about comics: not necessarily about the content of the most retrograde and vicious of the comics of that era (there was indeed some hateful material in those comics), but about the supposed impact of the form on literacy and reading habits, which he saw as uniformly detrimental. The larger literacy argument that Wertham tried to make was and still is generally neglected, as opposed to the moral hygiene and social justice arguments, and I think on the literacy question he was dead wrong. After more than fifty years we are still obliged to reference Seduction in much of our comics scholarship, and so the opening of Wertham's papers to more researchers should be celebrated. This is a very important resource!"


Joseph Witek is the author of the groundbreaking study Comic Books as History: The Narrative Art of Jack Jackson, Art Spiegelman, and Harvey Pekar. He's undertaken a project where he is now reading a lot of pre-Comics Code books and notes, "One thing that gets lost in the demonization of Wertham  is something that has become clear now that digital scans of pre-Code comics are becoming widely available:  his characterization of those comics is often absolutely accurate.  To a large extent, later comics readers have been misled by the narrow selection of reprinted crime and horror comics that were previously available--EC comics were not "average" in taste or quality by a very long shot.  You don't have to agree with Wertham's ideas about the social or moral consequences of reading such comics to see that many of them contain depictions of violence, sex, and to some extent, racism that go far beyond anything shown in most other media of the day.  Many comics were available to anyone big enough to put a dime on the counter that certainly would have "Mature readers" or other content warnings today. "


"The question of whether Wertham was "right" depends on what he is supposed to have been right about--he made a lot of sweeping statements about a number of complex issues, and it's obvious that the main question of media effects has yet to be resolved, if indeed it ever could be. Comics of the day often: Were more graphically violent than almost any other popular media; were extremely racist and sexist; were poorly drawn, written, and edited; were shoddily printed; contained manipulative and arguably fraudulent advertisements;  were available to readers of all ages; and contained story content and ads aimed at readers of wildly different ages. How such content actually affected the behavior of different readers and what, if anything, should be done about such comics are different matters."


Joel Pollack, owner of the local Big Planet Comics store, came to comic books as Wertham's crusade was fading a bit. "I discovered comic fandom (and Wertham) at the age of 14. I assumed the popular belief that Wertham had tainted comics, and peoples' opinions of comics, in an irreparable manner. I regularly borrowed Seduction of the Innocent from the Silver Spring Public Library, but never read it fully cover-to-cover. Nonetheless, I felt Wertham was wrong, and that he never recognized comics as an art form. Of course, by the time I discovered Wertham, TV was established as the dominant corrupter of youth, and comics were already becoming a very minor player in youth media. However, I believe the CCA did stifle creativity. Seeing what EC Comics accomplished, even with all of their excesses, made me realize how soporific comics became once the code was installed. As a retailer, I like to know what to expect in the comics I sell, but I'm not sure a ratings system is necessary, as they tend to be inconsistent and often unpredictable."


The Library didn't actually collect Wertham's papers for his comic book work. Len Bruno, Manuscript Historian, is a specialist in science and technology collections at the Library. He's one of ten specialists in different fields that break up the responsibility for collections between them. When one specialist retired, Bruno noted, "I got all the Shrinks. Sigmund Freud's papers are a magnet that bring in other collections. Having the Freud papers here is the lodestone, the foundation for other collections to come in and build upon. The Library documents any and all aspects of American life." The opening of the collection after 23 years doesn't surprise him. "It's not an unusual situation. A lot of collections come with "ten years after my death" provisos.  It's business as usual for us. " Personally I feel that Beaty's sympathetic reading of Wertham's lifework, in contrast to much else written about him, was the key to the estate's changing its terms of access.


Bruno described the process that a typical collection goes through before the public can access it easily. "It was processed and put in some kind of order. We're really blessed that we have a bunch of archivists that are schooled on how to do this and follow classical and traditional ways and respect original order. They look at every piece of paper and spread everything out and once they understand the person and his or her career and why it's here, they put like with like. To them it's business as usual. It's amazing what they do. It takes a certain type of person who can see both the forest and the trees. You see just one and you're unable to do the job. The average person would look at it and just throw up their hands. They have to respect the details, but not get overwhelmed by them. And once they do it all, the finding aid really is literally that - it tells you need to go to a box to find a particular thing without wasting your time. They prepare the finding aid, right a biography of the person, and a little scope note. They produce a complete package when they're done - really essential when you want to use a big collection like that. To use it, you register with the Library, and get a reader card, and then show up, and be over 18 and behave yourself. You can have four boxes at a time, and check with us before photocopying.  It's stored offsite and we've been calling in boxes so there's next-day service."


Bruno  says, "Yes, there have been a number users already. I thought there would a waiting line, and fortunately there weren't. It's been steadily, but not heavily used. I'm not in the reading room so I don't always know when something's been used.  Casual readers are welcomed at the Library – "European researchers always mention that they didn't have to demonstrate credentials or have an interview, and they're very happy at the way we run things. We're geared to do one thing, and that's to serve readers." One restriction does exist though – "We're required to segregate patient records. There were the equivalent of four boxes of obvious patient records so they were physically removed and put in a closed box at the end of the collection. We had the feeling that Wertham, the way he did things, may have patient information that didn't jump out at you so there's a requirement that researchers agree that they not disclose patient information or names they come across."


When asked if he had any plans for the collection, Bruno replied "No, given that it just opened, it's only come to the forefront for us and we've only started recently thinking about it. It's just business as usual." Bruno's not a comic book reader now, but "When I was a kid I was; I grew up in the 50s, I had Daffy Duck and Scrooge McDuck... I grew up in a blue-collar household and money was a little spare, so comic books were exceedingly a luxury. When I was very sick at home for more than a few days, my dad would drop off one or two, and for me that was very thrilling." Bruno also noted the Manuscript Division had a couple of other collections of interest – "Jules Feiffer's papers, he's a top of the line cartoonist whose a curious, biting intellect, interested in lot of things. Herblock too - 205 boxes of his papers for a total of 75,000 items."

Other divisions of the Library have records that may mesh well with Wertham's papers. Georgia M. Higley, Head, Newspaper Section of the Serial & Government Publications Division is responsible for the Library's comic books. She tells us, "The Comic book collection is one of the largest in the United States, comprising over 120,000 issues. It is mainly, but not exclusively, a product of copyright deposit over the decades. We have original print issues as well as color microfiche comprising several thousand issues. Also, the library recently acquired the Underground and Independent Comics, Comix, and Graphic Novels database produced by Alexander Street Press. Over the past seven years or so there has been increased interest in comic books by both the Library and researchers. The Library has invested considerable resources to inventory, deacidify, rehouse, and preserve the comic book collection—they are stored in acid free containers in a climate controlled facility. In part due to our inventory efforts as well as increased interest in popular culture by researchers, our comic book collection is being used in greater numbers and with a diversity of titles and subject interests. It is my hope that we will have more interest in the collection, especially since holdings are available through the library catalog giving researchers a good idea of what they can expect to find when they get here."

Sara Duke, Curator, Popular and Applied Graphic Art, Prints & Photographs Division, is in charge of another big collection – "The Prints and Photographs Division has about 128,000 works of cartoon art on paper, dating back to the 16th century. We have some exceptional comic book works that have come in by gift -- an R. Crumb page, the Steve Ditko art for Spider-Man's first appearance in Amazing Fantasy #15, and works produced in reaction to 9/11. However, the Library never had a full-scale collecting effort, soliciting works from individual creators, the way it did with editorial cartoons, comic strips, New Yorker cartoons and illustration." In response to my question as to why not, Duke responded, "I have never seen any written record of any decision-making regarding comic book illustrations. In my personal opinion, it would be easy to draw the conclusion that the Library was affected by Wertham. Perhaps it was because the artists who worked for the comics publishers were treated like work-for-hire and their original art was retained by the publishers. Now, we're preparing for a collecting effort, but of course we're not in the forefront and so it's harder to collect. We can't hope to compete with private collectors at auction. Everyone thinks the Library has deep pockets, but because we're collecting in so many different directions - even within Prints & Photographs we're acquiring architectural and engineering works, photographs, fine prints, posters, illustration and cartoon art. For me, it doesn't make sense to spend my portion of the budget on one comic book page - because I'm not serving researchers well. So I have to think about all the ways researchers approach the collection and look to fill in gaps the best I am able. However, I do approach comic artists for gifts and so far have been well received. Perhaps someone who has collected comic book illustration will feel moved, as Erwin Swann, Art Wood and the Herb Block Foundation have done, to make their collection part of the Library of Congress in the future."

Duke's colleague Martha H. Kennedy, also Curator, Popular & Applied Graphic Art, feels, "The release of Wertham's papers will make possible careful study of the questionable research methods on which he based his publications, which had such a devastating impact on the comic book industry. This material will hopefully generate much needed reassessment of Wertham's motivations underlying his work on comic books, the child rearing climate in which he produced it, and his place in the cultural and social landscape of 1950s America."

Duke realizes "Comics haven't been "just" about superheroes for a long time, but now they have an impact on almost every field of study imaginable. We are in the process of developing a game plan so that we may collect more systematically.  I hope the opening of the papers has a huge impact on my department - that researchers will be drawn into the Library to access the Wertham papers and then avail themselves of the opportunity to look at original cartoon art. The mission of the Library is to make its collections available to researchers, both via the Internet and in person, and if the Wertham Papers increase scholarship here, it's all to the good."