Are the Comics Bad for Children?

That was the question asked in the April 17th, 1942 issue of The Family Circle magazine a full decade before the attacks on comic books led by Fredric Wertham and Senator Estes Kefauver.  Whereas they answered the question a resounding “yes” in the early 1950’s, this article reached the opposite conclusion.

Family Circle - April 17, 1942

Family Circle - April 17, 1942

In fact, the article by H. Dyson Carter assured parents that comics were not bad for their children, and were nothing more than the fantasy they read in storybooks.  Carson noted, “Your youngster doesn’t read the comic books simply for words and pictures.  This devotion to pen-and-ink desires isn’t all a matter of thrills and chills.  A boy doesn’t follow Superman through his adventures.  He is Superman-outwitting the villain, rescuing the fair lady in distress, setting things right. ”  Carson continues, “Yes, you say, but is this healthy? And what you mean is: Isn’t it dangerous to put so much faith in fantasy?  Isn’t this escapism?  Doctors Baker and Lourie answer no to both questions.  Your child isn’t wrong.  It’s you who are wrong.  You’ve lost touch, as adults invariably do, with the essence of childhood-which is a magic compound of imagination and fantasy.  It isn’t so much his faith that a child puts into these comic book stories.  It’s his gathering emotions, his craving for self-expression, his desire to be a part of great adventures.  And great adventures, at his age, are limited only by the limits of his imagination.  And where his imagination leaves off, Superman begins.”

The article goes on to examine the psychological issues faced by parents in the early Golden Age of Comic Books, but reads like it was promoted and sponsored by the comic book publishers of the day.  Needless to say, no criticism was leveled at the “harmless” comic books of 1942, and parents were urged not to worry.  Carter concludes by telling his readers, “It would seem, then, that Superman and his comic book contemporaries occupy a rightful and harmless place in your child’s scheme of things; that juvenile taste in entertainment changes very little from generation to generation; and that to sum it up, parents are taking the comic-book craze more seriously than it deserves.”  I wonder what he would have said if he was reviewing the crime, horror and EC Comics that came about close to a decade later.  I bet Dr. Wertham would not have agreed with his conclusions in any event!

The other interesting aspect of this article is the images depicted with the text.  On the cover, you’ll find Batman and Robin front and center as reprinted from the cover of Batman #9 (February-March 1942).  I found it interesting that Batman and Robin were on the cover, where Superman was more prominently mentioned in the article.  Inside, you’ll find images pulled from other Golden Age comic book covers.

Family Circle - April 17, 1942

Family Circle - April 17, 1942

First, the Flash is side by side with Hop Harrigan.  I don’t know where the image of Hop Harrigan came from, but the Flash was taken from the cover of All-Flash Quarterly #1 (Summer 1941).  You’ll next see Superman from the cover of New York World’s Fair Comics #2 (Summer 1940) and Wonder Woman from the cover of Sensation Comics #6 (June 1942).  There’s also an image of Buck Rogers, source unknown.

Family Circle - April 17, 1942

Family Circle - April 17, 1942

This is an interesting article as it shows that even in the early days of the Golden Age of Comic Books there were concerns being expressed about the contents of comics and whether they were bad for the children.  In 1942, the publishers were able to sway public sentiment in their favor with articles like this, but ten years later things certainly changed for the worse.


About Bill Jourdain

Bill is the host of the Golden Age of Comic Books Podcast. Learn more about Bill in the "About Bill" page to this site.
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4 Responses to Are the Comics Bad for Children?

  1. Great post Bill. It’s interesting to see an early article coming down on the positive side. Maybe it was underwritten by Donenfeld & Co. hoping no one would dig deeper and learn about their various “spicy” pulp history.

    Seriously though, I grew up on comics and now I’m a clergyman. Comics can’t be all that bad.

  2. Pat Curley says:

    I do think it’s important to note the differences in the comics at this point as you indicate, Bill. While the comics were violent, they were somewhat less violent than they started out, especially DC, and they were cartoonish in their violence as compared to the realism that was often featured in the EC horror mags.

    I am less confident about a lot of modern comics being good for kids.

  3. Hi, Pat. I would agree to a point, but there are some pretty violent comics from this general period (i.e. The first few Spectre appearances) but I would agree that the late 40’s and early 50’s were much worse as are some of our modern comics. Of course, our entire entertainent industry (movies, television, video games) would have shocked the conscience of Mr. Carter and others in the early 1940’s. There is no disputing the more realistic depictions in the EC line; after all, that’s what made them so popular!

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