New York Times features Tilley's comics research

Posted: February 21, 2013

The New York Times covered Assistant Professor Carol Tilley's recently published research on Fredric Wertham, a psychiatrist and anti-comics critic whose 1954 book Seduction of the Innocent inspired federal hearings that decimated the comic book industry. Tilley's research is based on a review of Wertham’s personal archives, which were made available to researchers in 2010. During her review, she found numerous inconsistencies between the case notes of children treated by Wertham and the content in his book. An excerpt from the full article:

Carol L. Tilley, an assistant professor at the University of Illinois’s Graduate School of Library and Information Science, reviewed Wertham’s papers, housed in the Library of Congress, starting at the end of 2010, shortly after they were made available to the public.

In a new article in Information & Culture: A Journal of History, Dr. Tilley offers numerous examples in which she says Wertham “manipulated, overstated, compromised and fabricated evidence,” particularly in the interviews he conducted with his young subjects.

Drawing from his own clinical research and pointed interpretations of comic-book story lines, Wertham argued in the book that comics were harming American children, leading them to juvenile delinquency and to lives of violence, drugs and crime.

“Seduction of the Innocent” was released to a public already teeming with anti-comics sentiment, and Wertham was embraced by millions of citizens who feared for America’s moral sanctity; he even testified in televised hearings.

Yet according to Dr. Tilley, he may have exaggerated the number of youths he worked with at the low-cost mental-health clinic he established in Harlem, who might have totaled in the hundreds instead of the “many thousands” he claimed. Dr. Tilley said he misstated their ages, combined quotations taken from many children to appear as if they came from one speaker and attributed remarks said by a single speaker to larger groups.

Other examples show how Wertham omitted extenuating circumstances in the lives of his patients, who often came from families marred by violence and substance abuse, or invented details outright.

Tilley's article, “Seducing the Innocent: Fredric Wertham and the Falsifications that Helped Condemn Comics,” was published in the November-December 2012 issue of Information and Culture: A Journal of History. Her research has created a large buzz online and has also been covered by several media outlets including I09, BleedingCool, ComicsBeat, and ThinkProgress.

Filed Under: Youth Literature, Culture, and Services, faculty news, comics