During the 1940’s and the 1950’s, the people had various opinions about the purpose of comic books. While a section of the society believed that comics had a huge negative impact on the children as they instigate criminal behavior, yet a larger section of the society asserted that the comics had a positive impact on children and worked as a source of education. In the articles, Why 100,000,000 Americans Read Comics and Seduction of the Innocent, the authors have put forward various ways in which the comics can contribute towards educating children or polluting their minds. Wertham, the author of Seduction of the Innocent, presents his views that comics play a major role with vulnerable minds of youngsters by teaching them criminal behavior and resulting in an adverse effect upon the society. On the other hand, the Marston presents a contrasting view on the subject by stating that comic books contribute largely towards educating children by writing, reading and engaging activities in the class room. For fully evaluating the meaning behind the rhetorical elements of both the articles, I will compare the distinct claims, evidence, and contexts which each author employs in their arguments.
Martson in his article, Why 1,000,000 Americans Read Comic Books, puts forward the fact that, according to some people, comics are a positive influence on children because they provide them with enhanced capacity to understand language. For example, he claims that “Picture stories have been proven to be effective in teaching school subjects, notably English” (42)”. To further pursue the reader and support his assertion, Marston has pointed out that comic books have much higher vocabulary level as compared to the other material written for children. For instance, “Excerpts from Superman have been used successfully in teaching English in public schools, notably in a junior high school,” which demonstrates an effective utilization of comic books to enhance their contribution as educational tools (42).
Wertham, in his article, Seduction of Innocence, states that although some comic books could be called educational in some particular context, the positive influence of comic books, as asserted by Marston, is not really true. He puts forward the claim that rather than teaching the children about the language or vocabulary, instead the comic books are promoting a certain degree of violence, and crime, and racism amongst children. The author claims that “There is nothing in these "juvenile delinquencies" that is not described or told about in the comic books. These are comic-book plots. (4)” According to Wertham, the sudden increase in the crimes cases committed by juveniles is mostly because of such comics, where the children go unpunished. He puts forwards many real life evidence like “A boy of eleven killed a woman in a holdup. When arrested, he was found surrounded by comic books. His twenty-year-old brother said, "If you want the cause of all this, here it is: It's those rotten comic books. Cut them out, and things like this wouldn't happen." (Of course, his brother was not an "expert"; he just knew the facts. (2)”.
Furthermore, to assert his claims, the author states that with every passing day the fact that all delinquent children have lack of protection and security is becoming more apparent. He states his personal experience that every child delinquent child he treats has in some point in his/her life suffered from the pain of insufficient protection. This points not only towards the materialistic aspects of the child’s life, but also the psychological and social influences. Additionally, these children also get hurt by their parents in the safety of their homes. However, even after all adverse situations, the time when the children are most affected by the societal influence is their leisure time. According to Wertham, the leisure times of children are full of nothing but the crime comics, and this is what becomes deeply ingrained in their minds. Wertham’ book is targeted towards an audience comprising of laymen who are not literary critics, but the concerned parents, teachers and guardians of young children.
The United States during the 1940’s was witnessing a huge change in the society in terms of children behavior or more aptly criminal behavior by juvenile. In this context, Wertham published his books in order to warn the parents about the adverse effects of comic books on the children. Since, the targeted audience was not expected to have a certain level of literary standard, the evidence presented by Wertham was in simple language and also some real-life examples were used so that the parents could easily connect with the arguments presented in the book. For example, Wertham (1954), provides evidence such as “A comic book appropriately entitled The Perfect Crime describes an old and nearly foolproof scheme" to be worked on drugstores. You select one where the owner works alone, telephone him and ask him to deliver something for an emergency case. While he is out you rob his store” (6). Wertham counter attacks the assertions made by Marston, by claiming that comic books do more bad than good. Wertham supports his argument by stating that the good comic books are only a small part of the children’s life, while the more in demand “crime-comics” are the ones which lead to habit development. Children do not remember the mouse and the cat, but they do remember the crime scenes explained by the various comic books.
On the one hand, Marston supports comic books and believes in their positive contribution towards the educational upbringing of children. On the other hand, Wertham completely refuted these claims by stating that the comic books are basic cause behind the destruction of children’s innocence. Marston supports his claims by giving evidence about how the picture comic books brought around a revolution in the learning methods of children and also how comic books help children with vocabulary. Wertham, on the other hand, states that though he agrees with Marston that the picture comic books helps children in learning faster, but the crime comic books are now helping the children to learn how to commit crime at a younger age and with precision. Both the texts present significant claims and evidence for supporting their arguments and overall it can be said that both did justice to their content.
Marston, W. "Why 100,000,000 Americans read comics." The American Scholar, 13 (1), 35–44. (1944).
Wertham, F. Seduction of the Innocent, pp. 1-7. New York: Rinehart. (1953).