Comics: A Once-Missed Opportunity

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By Carol L. Tilley, Assistant Professor, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Abstract

During the 1940s and 1950s, comics were the most popular form of reading for young people in the United States, despite widespread disapproval for the medium by librarians and other guardians of reading tastes. Beyond simply reading comics, young people also used comics as a basis for developing participatory cultures. For instance, adolescents published fanzines and entered into political discourse about comics. This paper highlights some of these early examples of participatory cultures around comics to urge today’s librarians to reflect on what media and technology-based practices we may be neglecting to nurture among contemporary adolescents.

Professional and popular resources about teens and libraries from the past decade often feature buzzwords such as “participatory culture,” “content creation,” “multimodal literacy,” and “affinity spaces.” We study how they live as “digital natives” and ponder what services, programs, and resources that libraries can provide them that will be relevant, desired, and even developmentally appropriate. We investigate alternatives to traditional notions of texts and strategize opportunities for engagement by investigating adolescents’ multimodal literacy practices outside schools and libraries. Of course, the popularity of these terms reflects larger social and cultural concerns about how people of all ages engage with digital resources and communities: we are living in an age that fetishizes, celebrates, and frets about the immersive, online Web X.0 world and its impact on our more “traditional” analog lives. Teens creating content in the online world? A good thing, unless the content they create are sexts. Adolescents engaging in participatory cultures in ways that simultaneously enhance their multimodal literacies? Wonderful, as long as the object of their fascination is something other than a time-wasting video game. The alarm for the media panic—perhaps not a panic as much as a heightened sense of immediacy—having been sounded, we librarians, educators, and youth experts step in to scrutinize the situation, plan our action, and respond just in time for the next new panic to arise.[1]

Both culturally and professionally, we tend toward ahistoricism. In part these blinders are necessary, keeping libraries and the librarians who serve young adults focused on the realities of here and now. Yet these blinders are also a hazard, obscuring information and stories that have the ability to inform current and future practices. For example, in the United States during the 1940s and 1950s, teens engaged in participatory culture, spurred by their interest in a particular set of cultural artifacts. They were content creators who engaged in the same kind of information-gathering, thinking, and creative practices in which Mary Ann Harlan, Christine Bruce, and Mandy Lupton found today’s young people engaging in networked digital communities.[2] These teens from previous generations talked with one another about their engagement with these artifacts, sharing recommendations and discussing their favorite creators, though without the computer-supported structure that researchers like Zorana Ercegovac have studied.[3] Through their affinities for these artifacts, other teens found career direction as well as inspiration for social and political action. Moreover, teens living in the 1940s and 1950s participated in this culture largely without the support of libraries or librarians. Just as with Angel and the other adolescents that Lalitha M. Vasudevan discusses, these youths engaged in “rich literacy practices . . . overlooked due to their perceived distance from academic literacy.”[4] The focus for all of the teens’ efforts? Comics.

This article presents a series of vignettes illustrating some of the ways in which teens in the mid-twentieth century engaged with comics. These vignettes undergird an argument that constructs such as “participatory culture” and “multimodal literacy” are not wholly new, at least in practice. Rather, young people have some modes of interacting with media that transcend time. By attending to these patterns, librarians and other professionals can break the cycle of our participation in media panics and become more proactive in managing our resources and services for teens. Certainly these patterns do not offer complete enlightenment. For instance, studies of contemporary teens find that only about a quarter of them are digital content creators, for instance, so one could argue that a similar portion of mid-century teens behaved similarly.[5] Comics are not the only medium around which youth have organized in a participatory manner; important insights may well be gleaned from the development of youth-produced amateur newspapers in the late nineteenth century or even from amateur filmmaking communities in the twentieth century. Furthermore, historical studies of young people’s media practices challenge researchers because there are scarce evidentiary resources that are unmediated by adults (e.g., surveys, news articles) or by the passage of time (e.g., interviews, memoirs).[6]

Historical Context

The comics medium enjoyed its greatest popularity in the United States among young people from the late 1930s through the mid-1950s. Children, teens, and some adults followed favorite characters such as Dick Tracy, Superman, Donald Duck, and Hopalong Cassidy in the form of comic books, comic strips, and their related media such as radio and film serials. Comic books, originally conceived in the early 1930s as promotional pamphlets that repackaged newspaper comic strips, captured the imaginations of young readers, especially after superheroes and other original adventure, humor, and science fiction content became common in the late 1930s. Surveys of comics readership by both marketers and reading researchers found that nearly all young people—boys and girls—read comics regularly. Although comic book readership declined in adolescence, more than 80 percent of teens still read comics in some form frequently. A study conducted by Market Research Corporation for Fawcett Comics in 1943, for instance, found that about 95 percent of elementary-aged children read comic books often but only about 90 percent of high school–aged students did.[7] This near-ubiquitous readership propelled sales of new comic books from about 10 million issues monthly in 1940 to nearly 100 million copies monthly by 1954,[8] the equivalent of thirty comic books a year sold to every person then living in the United States. Because readers often traded or resold comic books, publishers estimated the pass-through rates—that is, the number of additional readers—for that format at between five and eight people, further extending comics’ reach.

A colossal community of young readers notwithstanding, librarians wanted little to do with this medium and its myriad expressions. Although the profession began moving away from its gentle compulsion for dictating literary tastes where adult readers were concerned, many librarians continued to view proscribing young people’s reading as a sacred commitment.[9] Because comics reading was both self-selected by children and teens and because librarians viewed it as literary detritus at best, comics seldom found their way into libraries’ collections or librarians’ reading recommendations. For instance, only one comic book—True Comics, an often insipid nonfiction periodical issued by Parents Magazine Press—made its way onto a list of magazines recommended for juvenile library collections, although on occasion librarians could muster enthusiasm for Walt Disney comics.[10]

More commonly, librarians joined with other adults in deprecating comics and fretted that children’s comics reading would lead to “a coming generation even more ferocious than the present one.”[11] In the years following World War II, comics publishers expanded their offerings to include stories with criminal, romantic, and macabre themes, lending urgency to librarians’ and other critics’ concerns. Consequently, many municipalities considered or implemented ordinances restricting sales of particular comics to young readers. At least one librarian called for her peers to lend their voices to anti-comics advocacy efforts. The American Library Association maintained official silence on the matter of comics. In the wake of a 1954 U.S. Senate investigation of the relationship between juvenile delinquency and comics reading, comics publishers implemented a restrictive editorial code, and the Free Library of Philadelphia welcomed psychiatrist Fredric Wertham—arguably the biggest star of the anti-comics movement—as its fall festival speaker.[12]

Comics Culture as Participatory Culture

Despite—or perhaps, in spite of—the derision that many librarians and other adults directed at comics, teens developed their own participatory cultures focused around comics. Although “participatory culture” as a concept is frequently linked to technologies such as smartphones or social networking, perhaps the most expansive definition, proposed by media scholar Henry Jenkins and his colleagues, is technology agnostic. For Jenkins and his group, a participatory culture can be identified as one having the following:

1. relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement,

2. strong support for creating and sharing creations with others,

3. some type of informal mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced is passed along to novices,

4. members who believe that their contributions matter, and

5. members who feel some degree of social connection with one another (at the least, they care what other people think about what they have created).[13]

Comics’ ubiquity, low cost, and otherwise easy accessibility to young people made it an easy locus for participatory culture. Even to create one’s own comic or fan contribution required minimal materials: a pencil, some paper, perhaps a postcard-size letterpress (a novelty now, but available via mail order from the Sears catalog), or other inexpensive technologies. Similarly, because such a high proportion of young people read comics, it was not difficult to find someone who had a shared knowledge of—and frequently, a shared affection (or disdain) for—particular characters or stories. Thus, comics easily fueled conversations and connections among tweens and teens.

For the past decade, I have studied the historical intersection of librarians, young people, and comics. My initial interest centered on how librarians responded to the increasing popularity of comics among young readers in the 1940s and 1950s. In examining hundreds of articles from professional journals, archival sources, dissertations, newspaper articles, and similar sources for this research, I occasionally encountered brief glimpses of young people’s actual engagement with comics. When my investigation led me to psychiatrist Fredric Wertham’s papers at the Library of Congress a few years ago, I was astounded to find letters to him from children and teens; in this correspondence, young people offered their own firsthand accounts of comics reading. I found similar correspondence in the National Archives contained in the records of the 1954 Senate hearings on the role of comics reading in spurring juvenile delinquency. Now I have begun searching intentionally for evidence of young people’s comics reading, going back to older sources, examining additional ones such as memoirs and comic book contest pages, and, when possible, interviewing adults in their seventies and eighties, who were once those young comics readers in the 1940s and 1950s.[14]

Part of my goal in undertaking this work is to answer a rather broad question: How did young people engage with comics? The vignettes presented here provide a partial answer to this question. More specifically, they help to answer a related question: What did adolescents’ participatory cultures organized around comics look like? These examples—selected in part for their richness in detail—point to types of literacy experiences that took place largely, if not completely, outside the purview of librarians, teachers, and other gatekeepers of young people’s literary and literacy cultures. Not every example that follows meets all five requirements that Jenkins et al. established, but they demonstrate ways in which adolescents found purpose, forged relationships, played creatively, and otherwise engaged with the world in ways centered around comics.

Fandom and Creative Expression

Bob “Bhob” Stewart had a peripatetic childhood, living with his family in small towns in Mississippi, Louisiana, and other southern states. Like most children of his generation, he developed an interest in comics at a young age. In conversations he and I have shared over the past year, Stewart told me that he sometimes read comics aloud on the playground to humor his classmates. Although he enjoyed comics of all kinds, the New Trends line of comics from EC, the Entertaining Comics Group, fascinated Stewart. Maxwell Gaines, a pioneering comics publisher, established EC in the mid-1940s, although at that time it was known as Educational Comics and published titles such as Picture Stories from the Bible and Tiny Tot Comics. Gaines died unexpectedly in 1947 and his son William “Bill” Gaines took over the company. Between 1950 and 1954, Bill Gaines invigorated EC by ceasing publication on the titles he inherited from his father and launching titles such as Shock SuspenStories, Frontline Combat, and Weird Fantasy. These new comics featured captivating artwork and riveting stories filled with black humor, surprise twists, and authentic details; they were aimed at teens and other more mature readers.

In 1953 at age sixteen, Stewart established the EC Fan Bulletin, the first fanzine dedicated to EC and its New Trends line. Stewart produced the multiple-page bulletins using hectography, a process that requires cutting stencils for each original page. These stencils are transferred onto inked gelatin; by pressing sheets of paper on the gelatin, one creates copies, with a typical run of no more than fifty. Hectography produces neither many copies—perhaps fifty before the quality degrades completely—nor copies that hold up well over time. Thus, copies of early fanzines like the EC Fan Bulletin are difficult to find. Former comics-reading teens turned comics historians Bill Spicer and John Benson provided me with scans of pages from the second issue; the original copies they have may be the only ones in existence for this issue. That second issue highlighted two fanzines, one about Superman produced by another teenager, Ted White, and a science fiction one that was attempting a resurrection of sorts as its original publisher had entered college. Other features included a trading post, where readers could identify comics they had available for sale or for swapping, and a complete index of the Vault of Horror comics to date. Teenager Bill Spicer provided the cover art, a space homage to EC’s Al Feldstein.

Stewart’s EC Fan Bulletin lasted only a couple of issues—he also published another short-lived title—but he inaugurated a rich tradition of fanzines dedicated to EC’s titles. His fanzine provided him and other teens with an opportunity to critique and discuss a medium that mattered to them. Stewart’s interest in comics and his fanzines helped him forge a career in comics and related cultural industries. Some of the other readers and contributors to the EC Fan Bulletin followed suit. For instance, Bill Spicer worked in comics as a letterer and founded Graphic Story Magazine, a periodical that served as a platform for critical and historical examinations of comics. Another reader, Tom Inge, went on to a distinguished career as a humanities scholar, writing Comics as Culture, one of the first academics to argue for the value of studying comics.[15]

A few years younger than Bhob Stewart, Phil Proctor grew up in New York City, although he often spent his summers in northern Indiana with his grandparents. In a May 2012 conversation with me, Proctor revealed, “Any comics from 1945 on, you can bet that I saw them.” He read the Sunday newspaper funnies alongside his parents, pored over more innocuous comic books like Archie and Little Lulu, and swapped comics with other boys in their treehouse-cum-clubhouse. In his childhood, comics were more than something to read: they, along with the movie serials he viewed, were also inspirations for play. Proctor and his friends created games based on scenarios they read and viewed, dressed up like superheroes, and attempted to build things that they saw in comics from the junk they found in alleys.

In his early adolescence, Proctor’s comics-inspired creativity took a more personal and literary turn. One of Proctor’s favorite comics was Tom Corbett, Space Cadet, a series inspired by a Robert Heinlein novel. His interest in Tom Corbett led him to create his own comic, Jim Solar. It was a science fiction–influenced story that featured “tanks of the future,” and he traded episodes of it with his school friend John Pryke, who Proctor recalled was a more talented artist. Proctor also got “turned on” by the EC’s New Trends titles—“the absolute top of comic-book-dom”—and, later on, by the company’s other hallmark publication MAD magazine. He wrote two letters to EC: one was published in MAD and the other in Panic, the company’s short-lived companion comic to MAD, giving him a national audience of his peers. When EC’s titles came under attack by social and cultural critics in the mid-1950s and the company ceased publication of everything save for MAD, Proctor was incensed. That incident helped set him on the road to becoming a satirist and co-founder of the groundbreaking comedy group the Firesign Theater because he wanted to spend his life making fun of “blue-nosed, tight-assed censors.”

For other young people, fan culture took a variety of forms. Harley Elliott—a Salina, Kansas, native—was an EC fan as an adolescent in the early 1950s. He told me in an interview in May 2012 that he and some of his friends would share gossip about EC’s comics, its new issues, and their favorite artists. Weaned on superheroes like Hawkman and Green Lantern, Ron Baumgardner also turned to EC’s titles as a teen in central Illinois. In an October 2012 interview with me, he recalled writing letters and contributing song titles (e.g., “Oozing Down the River,” for “Cruising Down the River”) to EC. From the 1930s onward, thousands of young readers—including many teens—entered contests, wrote letters, solicited for pen pals, and submitted book reviews in comics as varied as Captain Marvel, Blue Bolt, Famous Funnies, and Flash Comics. Although some of these actions required little investment (e.g., filling out a contest coupon), in those pre-Internet days, they all required at least the expense of postage and a trip to the mailbox.

Civic and Social Engagement

In 1945 teens from a Youthbuilders Citizen Club in New York City were motivated to take action against racist imagery in comics. Their focus was on Captain Marvel, one of the most popular comic books of the 1940s. The Big Red Cheese, as the titular character was sometimes known, early on employed an occasional valet named William Steamboat. An African American, Steamboat was depicted in the stereotypical manner common for the time—with nappy hair, swollen lips, and apelike features—and the Youthbuilders teens decided that Steamboat had to go. They gathered signatures on a petition and presented the petition in person at the Fawcett Publications office to William Lieberson, the company’s editor. Lieberson initially resisted their request, noting that “white characters too were depicted in all sorts of ways for the sake of humor.”[16] The group’s representatives countered that because Steamboat was the only African American character, his representation especially mattered. “This is not the Negro race,” one teen argued, “but your one-and-a-half million readers will think it so.”[17] Lieberson was swayed, and Steamboat’s run came to an end.[18]

A few years earlier in 1940, Louise Crutcher developed a lending library of comics and Big Little Books. Crutcher was an African American high school sophomore living in Chicago’s South Side neighborhood when she was spurred to action by a conversation with a once-institutionalized girl who expressed a desire for amusement and diversion. Knowing that young people enjoyed reading comics, Crutcher amassed a collection of comics, including some donated by the boxer Joe Louis and others she scavenged and taped back together. By March 1941, her collection exceeded 1,500 items.[19] Crutcher ran her service in true library style with borrowers cards, a two-week loan period, and a request list. She traveled by bus on Saturdays to visit young readers in hospitals, children’s homes, and even to the homes of individual children with disabilities. Notably she loaned books to both African American and white children, stating “we’re both people.”[20] Crutcher was motivated to do good in her community, and comics served as the material for her work. Other young people used comics in similar ways. For instance, a brief newspaper article mentions Billy Abelove, a twelve-year-old Pennsylvania boy who created a comics rental library with proceeds going to support the Red Cross. He was inspired to action by Eleanor Roosevelt.[21]

In the summer of 1954, Los Angeles, California, city councilman Ernest Debs introduced legislation that would restrict the sale of horror and crime comics to minors. Since the end of World War II, various local and state municipalities around the country had experimented with legal measures designed to reduce the influence of comics in young readers’ lives. Some of these measures met with limited success, but all told the popularity and sales of comics flourished rather than abated.[22] Debs’s proposal was passed to committee for a public hearing on September 1, 1954.

Abe Hoffman, a sixteen-year-old comic aficionado, attended the hearing because, as he recalled in an October 2012 interview with me, “I had a garage full of comic books and I heard this was being considered, so I wanted to go testify.” At the hearing Hoffman took the floor to remark on the violence depicted in folktales such as “Hansel and Gretel,” which are commonly shared with young readers. He wanted city leaders to understand that readers—especially teenagers—had the capacity to discriminate, and that they would not be swayed to violence simply by encountering depictions of it in comics. Besides, Hoffman argued, if Los Angeles restricted the sale of comics, readers would simply order them by subscription, a point the committee and councilmen had failed to consider. The ordinance died in committee, less because of Hoffman’s testimony and more because of objections raised by a local magazine publisher.[23]

Hoffman was not the only adolescent who challenged politicians as they attempted to regulate comics sales. In 1954 the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency held hearings on comics and other forms of mass media to investigate the role of these media in spurring juvenile delinquency. In the summer and autumn of that year, the subcommittee received several hundred letters, many from tweens and teens. Phil Proctor, whom I highlighted earlier in this paper, wrote to the senators to tell them that he was not, nor did he aspire to be, a juvenile delinquent.[24] Other young people wrote to exclaim the value of comics and to urge the senators to protect people’s right to read. For instance, sixteen-year-old Isidor Saslav wrote:

I am sixteen years old, level-headed, I believe, and have chosen my life-work, and am studying seriously. Certainly there are episodes of sadism and violence in these comics, but every time I read one, I don’t go out and rob a bank or kill somebody. . . . You are the custodians of my constitutional rights until I reach the age of 21. Please don’t send them down the drain for the interests of a small, but vocal, minority.[25]

Within a year of having written this letter, Saslav joined the Detroit Symphony as a violinist, one of its youngest members; he went on to a distinguished career as a musician and concertmaster, earning a doctorate from Indiana University.[26] Fourteen-year-old Donald Lowry also wrote to the senators, proposing what the senators eventually concluded: that juvenile delinquency is a complex phenomenon, one not solely induced by comics reading. He wrote:

I believe you’re wasting your time investigating comic magazines. Comics are a harmless form of entertainment meant for people that enjoy good reading and good art. If a child’s mind is weak enough to be driven to crime by comic books, he was on the verge of delinquency to start with. I believe that juvenile delinquency is caused by bad family relations, not by comic books.[27]

Discussion

In the polarized and racially segregated mid-1950s, twenty-nine high school freshmen in Florida wrestled with the issue of prejudice as part of a unit on social stratification. The instructor facilitated a formal debate centered on the following resolution, “That segregation laws by the states are valid and should be enforced according to the Constitution of the United States.” Six students—three presenting arguments in support of the resolution, three against—argued in a perfunctory style informed more by opinion than research. The day after the debate, a student who in the discussion that precipitated the debate had pressed his classmates toward tolerance asked if he could read a story to the class.

Over the next several minutes, he read aloud “In Gratitude,” a fictional tale of a returning Korean War veteran, Joey.[28] It was a bittersweet homecoming; Joey had lost a hand, but through the sacrifice of his comrade Hank, who leapt onto an exploding grenade, he had not lost his life. Joey’s parents, grateful for Hank’s devotion, agreed to bury him in the family’s plot. Joey learns, though, that the townspeople prevented his parents from this act upon learning that Hank was black. Angry, Joey confronts the locals: “What did he die for? What did I give my arm for? You say you’re proud of me. Well, I’m not proud of you. I’m ashamed! I’m ashamed of you . . . and for you!” The instructor reported that following this reading, “There was complete silence in the room. No one spoke for several seconds. . . . The story seemed to upset the group more than anything else that happened during their discussion of racial prejudice.”[29]

The story that unsettled a room filled with fourteen-year-olds came not from a library book or a contemporary magazine; rather, it came from a comic book. That an adolescent would select a comic book story to share with his classmates in the mid-1950s is not especially surprising, as most young people growing up during the 1940s and 1950s in the United States immersed themselves in comics. Yet that a comic book story could have such an emotional impact on its readers or that it would discuss socially relevant issues like racial prejudice would likely have surprised many adults who read the instructor’s account; undoubtedly some adults today might be incredulous.

Comics—whether in the form of newspaper strips or pamphlet-bound periodicals—have long been equated in popular wisdom with ephemerality, amusement, and childhood (if not childishness). That said, public perceptions are changing. In contemporary scholarly and literary realms, comics have increased credibility. There are academic journals and conferences devoted to the medium, highlighting scholarship on topics such as character histories or structural aesthetics. News outlets report extensively on fan conventions and comics-related media franchises. The New York Times Book Review reviews long-form comics (i.e., graphic novels). Within little more than a month of its release, The Avengers (2012), a comic-based superheroic fantasia, became one of the three highest-grossing films of all time in the United States and internationally.

Consider the library profession’s response to comics in recent years. A teenager browsing almost any school or public library collection in the United States today will likely encounter comics. Whether graphic novels, trade anthologies, comic strip compilations, manga, or some other format, comics have become ubiquitous in library collections during the past two decades. Likewise, libraries increasingly feature programming for teens such as mini-conventions, manga clubs, and cosplay events that center on comics and related culture. The Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA)—which owns the journal in which this paper is published—sponsors an annual booklist highlighting the best in graphic novels for teens. Various professional review journals such as Voices of Youth Advocates (VOYA) offer recommendations for comics to purchase for library collections. Library conferences such as the American Library Association’s Annual Meeting host sessions on comics in library collections and programs; the exhibit floors feature comics publishers, vendors, and creators. Yet despite the generally widespread acceptance that comics are afforded among librarians today, comics readership among teens does not come close to approaching its apex in the early 1950s.

It often comes as a shock to librarians who work with teens that this fast friendship between comics and libraries is a recent development that was anything but quick in coming to fruition. For librarians who are young and new to the profession, this surprise is understandable, as they have grown up in a world where popular culture materials including comics are accepted in library work. For some more mature librarians, there occasionally exists a sort of professional amnesia that veils a time before comics and perhaps even before series books came into library collections. Still for a few other librarians, a focus on “giving ‘em what they need” persists, and comics are seldom—or only grudgingly—viewed as what young people need.

Bhob Stewart, Phil Proctor, Louise Crutcher, Abe Hoffman, and the other young adults who took part in fandom were inspired to creative expression, engaged in civic action, and otherwise participated in comics culture in the mid-twentieth century, and they acted largely outside and without the support of libraries and librarians. Held back by our fears of a medium we failed to understand and not recognizing alternative paths to literate/literary fulfillment, youth services librarians missed the grand opportunity that was comics. We were not champions for young people’s intellectual freedom. We were not advocates, as Dorothy Broderick, co-founder of VOYA (Voice of Youth Advocates), encouraged us to be in that journal’s inaugural editorial:

Young people know better than any adult, however wise, what their needs are. Helping them obtain the right to act upon their self-knowledge of needs is what it is all about.[30]

What do young people need today and how can libraries and librarians help them achieve it? What are young adult librarians overlooking in our service to teens? What opportunities to nurture and facilitate participation, content creation, and multimodal literacies are we missing?

References and Notes


[1] The invocation of “media panic” is quite intentional. New media and young people’s engagement with them often provoke broad social concern. In many instances, the child-caring professions such as librarians, educators, and physicians, as well as more general cultural critics and scholars, are drawn into the conversation and tasked with intervening. See Kirsten Drotner, “Dangerous Media?: Panic Discourses and Dilemmas of Modernity,” Paedagogica Historica: International Journal of the History of Education 35, no. 3 (1999): 593–619; and Mark I. West, Children, Culture, and Controversy (Hamden, CT: Archon, 1988).

[2] Mary Ann Harlan, Christine Bruce, and Mandy Lupton, “Teen Content Creators: Experiences of Using Information to Learn,” Library Trends 60, no. 3 (2012): 569–87.

[3] Zorana Ercegovac, “Letting Students Use Web 2.0 Tools to Hook One Another on Reading,” Knowledge Quest 40, no. 3 (2012): 36–39.

[4] Lalitha M. Vasudevan, “Looking for Angels: Knowing Adolescents by Engaging with Their Multimodal Literacy Practices,” Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 50, no. 4 (2007): 256.

[5] Comprehensive and current data on this topic are unavailable, but a recent survey examining how adolescents make use of online video found that 27 percent of teens surveyed had recorded and uploaded video to the Internet. See Amanda Lenhart, Teens and Online Video, Pew Internet and American Life / Pew Research Center (May 3, 2012), http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2012/Teens-and-online-video.aspx (accessed April 5, 2013).

[6] See M. O. Grenby, The Child Reader, 1700–1840 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011); and Kate McDowell, “Understanding Children as Readers: Librarians’ Anecdotes and Surveys in the USA, 1890–1930,” in The History of Reading, Vol. 1: International Perspectives, c. 1500–1900, ed. W. R. Owen and Shafquat Towheed (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), 147–62.

[7] Louise Dunlop Yuill, “The Case for the Comics,” School Executive 64, no. 12 (1944): 42–44.

[8] See “The Hundred Million Dollar Market for Comics,” Publisher’s Weekly 165 (1954): 1906. For more information about the comics business during this time period, see Jean-Paul Gabilliet, Of Comics and Men: A Cultural History of American Comic Books, trans. Barty Beaty and Nick Nguyen (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2010); and Gerard Jones, Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters, and the Birth of the Comic Book (New York: Basic, 2005).

[9] See Evelyn Geller, Forbidden Books in American Public Libraries, 1876–1939: A Study in Cultural Change (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1984). For more information on how librarians responded to comics during this time period, see Carol L. Tilley, “Of Nightingales and Supermen: How Youth Services Librarians Responded to Comics between the Years 1938 and 1955” (PhD diss., Indiana University, 2007).

[10] Laura Katherine Martin, Magazines for School Libraries (New York: H. W. Wilson, 1947); Gweneira Williams and Jane Wilson, “They Like It Rough: In Defense of Comics,” Library Journal 67 (March 1, 1942): 204–6.

[11] Sterling North, “A National Disgrace,” Chicago Daily News, May 8, 1940, 56.

[12] Two good overviews of the anti-comics movement are David Hajdu, The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America (New York: Macmillan, 2009); and Amy Kiste Nyberg, Seal of Approval: The History of the Comics Code (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1998). Additional information about Fredric Wertham, his role in the anti-comics movement, and problems with his research can be found in Carol L. Tilley, “Seducing the Innocent: Fredric Wertham and the Falsifications that Condemned Comics,” Information & Culture: A Journal of History 47, no. 4 (2012): 383–413. The librarian who sought to rally her professional peers was Jean Gray Harker. See her article “Youth’s Librarians Can Defeat Comics,” Library Journal 73 (December 1, 1948): 1705–7. The text of Wertham’s Philadelphia speech can be found in “Reading for the Innocent,” Wilson Library Bulletin 29 (April 1955): 610–13.

[13] Henry Jenkins et al., Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Reports on Digital Media and Learning (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2009), 5–6. For a more interdisciplinary and nuanced view of participatory culture, see the recent volume by Aaron Delwiche and Jennifer Jacobs Henderson, eds., The Participatory Culture Handbook (New York: Routledge, 2012).

[14] My work on comics includes the pieces mentioned in some of this article’s other notes: Tilley, “Of Nightingales and Supermen”; Tilley, “Seducing the Innocent”; and Tilley, “Children and the Comics.” Beyond this work, you may interested in the following two selections: Carol L. Tilley, “Comics in the Classroom: Using Comics to Teach the Language Arts in the 1940s and 1950s,” in Graphic Novels and Comics in the Classroom: Essays on the Educational Power of Sequential Art, ed. Carrie Syma and Robert G. Weiner ‘ (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2013): 12–22; and Carol L. Tilley, “Superman Says ‘Read': National Comics and Reading Promotion,” Children’s Literature in Education 44, no. 3 (2013): 251–63.

[15] M. Thomas Inge, Comics as Culture (Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 1990).

[16] “Negro Villain in Comic Book Killed by Youngsters,” Chicago Defender, May 5, 1945, 11.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Richard Dier, “Kids Crusade to Eliminate Stereotypes,” Baltimore Afro-American, September 8, 1945, 6.

[19] Diana Briggs, “Louise Crutcher’s Library,” Chicago Defender, March 15, 1941, 15.

[20] “Little Cripples Find a Friend in Girl of 14,” Chicago Daily Tribune, September 8, 1940, S2.

[21] “Rents Comic Books,” Bradford (PA) Era, June 6, 1940, 3.

[22] See Hajdu, The Ten-Cent Plague.

[23] Abraham Hoffman, “The Los Angeles City Council and the Comics Caper,” undated manuscript.

[24] Philip Proctor, letter to the Subcommittee, received June 9, 1954, Box 169, “Corres Pro-Comic Letters,” Records of the United States Senate Judiciary Sub-Committee on Juvenile Delinquency [10E3/16/11/2], National Archives, Washington, DC [hereafter Subcommittee Papers].

[25] Isidor Saslav, letter to the Subcommittee, received June 10, 1954, Box 169, “Corres Pro-Comic Letters,” Subcommittee Papers. It is worth remembering that at the time Saslav wrote this letter, the legal voting age in the United States was twenty-one.

[26] See “Dr. Isidor Saslav: Obituary,” Longview (TX) News-Journal, January 29, 2013, http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/news-journal/obituary.aspx?pid=162722543 (accessed August 27, 2013).

[27] Donald Lowry, letter to the Subcommittee, received June 18, 1954, Box 169, “Corres Pro-Comic Letters,” Subcommittee Papers. For more on young comics readers’ protests, see Carol L. Tilley, “Children and the Comics: Young Readers Take on the Critics,” in Protest on the Page, ed. J. Danky, J. Baughman, and J. Ratner-Rosenhaugen (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, forthcoming).

[28] “In Gratitude,” Shock SuspenStories #11 (October/November 1953), EC [Entertaining Comics].

[29] Thomas J. Hill, “Early Teen Agers and Racial Prejudice in the South,” Clearing House 30, no. 1 (September 1955): 28, 30.

[30] Dorothy M. Broderick, “What Is Youth Advocacy?” Voice of Youth Advocates 1, no. 5 (1978): 20.

About Anna Lam

Anna Lam is a Communications Specialist for the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA).
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