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DIAGRAM FOR DELIQUENTS (review)

Review by Clay N Ferno
Produced by Robert A. Emmons, Jr., Julian Darius, 
Francesco Gambino, Peter Gambino, Mike Phillips
Executive Produced by Robert A. Emmons, Jr., 
Francesco Gambino, Peter Gambino, 
Julia Nelson, Shannon E. Riley, Allen Woll
Written and Directed by Robert A. Emmons, Jr.

Sequart takes on the Senator McCarthy of comics, Dr. Frederick Wertham in their latest deep dive into comic book history.

Longtime fans of comics are familiar with the Comics Code Authority stamp on nearly every comic book cover until very recently, and those with a sharp sense of comic book history are familiar with Wertham’s damaging 1954 book, Seduction of the Innocent.

The book blamed comic books and other media for the rising problem of juvenile delinquency in the United States and spearheaded regulation for the funny books.

1954’s comic book hearings in front of United States Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency had Wertham as the key witness.

From censorship to juvenile delinquency to the severed heads in EC Comics, Diagram for Delinquents looks at the tarnished side of the Silver Age and how one man changed the face of comics and book publishing forever.

This documentary explores the nature of the censorship in the 50s and the lasting effects of how the Comics Code continues to ripple into how publishers make decisions to this day.

Wertham’s motivations are explored and his little known contributions to the African-American Civil Rights Movement are also spotlighted, showing that the man was complex, compassionate and not as much of a demon as everyone may perceive.

While not for the casual fan, this documentary goes deep into issues ingrained in how we have been reading comics for the last 60 years. As a comic book journalist and podcaster with reviews and criticisms under my belt, reading Seduction of the Innocent seems the intellectual equivalent of reading the sacred texts of any religion or picking up Mein Kampf to read critically.

As much as I’d like to believe I would take the time to brew some tea and relax and pour over the copy of Seduction on my iPad some slow Saturday, the truth is I haven’t. And I probably won’t.

There are too many Detective Comics and Wolverine issues that will take priority.

Diagram For Delinquents was well worth the time investment for me, however. Taking a deep dive and having the Wertham doctrine spoon feed to me with clever visual animations and a peek into his world was interesting on a few different levels.

Railing against a new and violent post-war world and specifically going after the problem of Juvenile delinquency, he went after what he saw as the source, violent and sexual comic books.

While obviously misguided and misdirected, his motivations as a doctor to improve the mental health of young people and keep kids from causing trouble on the streets drove him to his dubious research and the riling the parental feather everywhere. Seduction mixed fact with fiction, and like all propaganda feed the fire of overprotective parenting to the next level, thus generating support.

EC Comics took a huge brunt of the attack with titles like Weird Science, The Vault of Horror, and Tales from the Crypt.

Publisher Bill Gaines did stick up for himself and comics in the Subcommittee investigation, perhaps a logical cool head rival at loggerheads with the stick in the mud Wertham and cohort Chief Counsel Herbert Beaser.

Without recapping the intensive research covered in the doc, this leads to the comic book industry self-regulating ‘Comics Code Authority’ that continues to have a lingering affect on the way comics are published today. The self-censoring code that appeased the moral right gave publishers a choice. Publish under comics code or risk not having your books read. With some rare exceptions – Stan Lee and Gil Kane’s 1971 “Green Goblin Reborn” arc in The Amazing Spider-Man #96-#98 – mainstream Marvel and DC Comics held the seal on each of the books. The aforementioned Spider-Man story itself led to the Comics Code to be rewritten because of the story cautioned against drug use itself, through the vehicle of Harry Osborn.

Sequart writer and director Robert A. Emmons Jr. does the hard work for us with Wertham. It is probably not for the casual fan of comics, but more for those die-hard comics fans that are obsessed with the legacy of the creators and the limitations and censorship affecting the page or even the process before ink hits the actual paper. Another suggested audience, beyond the scope of the comic fan are those with First Amendment rights and censorship academics.

Lots of people in the last century used fear as a rally cry, and by learning the history we can avoid the problems of the past.

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