Les archives de Frederic Wertham à la bibliothèque du Congrès

De tous les croisés anti-bande dessinée, Fredric Wertham est sans conteste celui dont l’action de propagande aura été la plus efficace outre-Atlantique. Son combat contre les comic-books, censés pervertir la jeunesse, dans les Etats-Unis de l’après-Seconde Guerre mondiale, a obtenu un écho considérable, et joué un rôle important dans l’adoption du Comics Code de 1954. L’impact de son livre Seduction of the Innocent a été maintes fois souligné, et Fredric Wertham est à présent une figure obligée des études sur la bande dessinée américaine.

Mort en 1981, la Bibliothèque du Congrès a acquis ses archives en 1987. Depuis lors, l’accès aux archives Wertham était soumis à autorisation des ayant droit. Or depuis mai 2010, l’ensemble des archives Wertham est librement accessible, ce qui devrait grandement faciliter les « études werthamiennes »… Ci-dessous, des extraits du post publié fin août sur le blog de la Bibliothèque du Congrès pour annoncer la nouvelle.

Papers of Comic-Book ‘Villain’ Open at Library

“I think he was part of a movement that is uniquely American – this need to protect children from adult life – that started in the 1950s. It was the same movement that said every child ought to graduate from high school and have the opportunity to go to college,” said Sara Duke, curator of the Library’s comic arts collections in P&P. “Until we can synthesize Wertham in his time, he will be demonized by historians for changing the comic-book industry and affecting the way generations of adults see comic books.”


The late psychiatrist Fredric Wertham examines a comic book in his office. (Photo by E.B. Bratner)

Among comic-book aficionados, psy chiatrist Fredric Wertham (1895–1981) is considered as much of a villain as those he assailed in the crime and horror comics he criticized. However, Wer tham was more than just an outspoken crusader against comic books. He was dedicated to protecting children from harmful material in all mass media. His research about the detrimental effects of segregation was used in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education court case. In addition, Wertham founded a clinic in Harlem, providing mental-health services to the underprivileged African American community.

The Library of Congress acquired his papers in 1987, through the estate of his wife, Florence Hesketh Wertham. In May of this year, all 222 containers were opened to public research access. Previ ously, they were sealed except to people approved by the estate.

“We realize that donors have certain interests they want to respect,” said Len Bruno of the Library’s Manuscript Divi sion, which houses the collection. “Of course, things can’t stay closed forever,” he added, saying that the Library often agrees to reasonable restrictions in order to acquire materials.

Bruno said that since access became unrestricted, interest in Wertham’s papers has increased. His papers add another component to the Library’s collections, which include comic books in the Serials and Government Publications Division, about 128,000 works of cartoon art in the Prints and Photographs Division and the papers of Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung and the International Psycho-Analytical Association in the Manuscript Division.


Patient notes by psychiatrist Fredric Wertham describe the effects of a “Superman” comic book on a young boy. (Library of Congress/Abby Brack photo)

Wertham was born Fredric Wertheimer in Munich, Germany, on March 20, 1895. He received a medical degree in 1921 and moved to the United States to teach at Johns Hopkins University and practice at the university’s Phipps Psychiatric Clinic a year later. In 1932, he moved to New York City to serve as the head of the Court of General Sessions psychiatric clinic, which examined every convicted felon in the city. In 1936, he was named director of Bel levue’s Mental Hygiene Clinic in New York and later became director of psychiatric services at Queens Hospital Center.

Despite his humane interests and broader concerns with violence and protecting children from psychological harm, Wertham is best known for his book “Seduction of the Innocent” (1954) and its resulting fallout. The book was the culmination of a decade-long campaign against comic books.


Wertham’s notes on this 1967 “Kid Colt Outlaw,” comic book: “111 pictures; 62 scenes of violence = more than half.” (Library of Congress/Abby Brack photo)

Among the items in the Library’s col lection of Wertham’s papers is a selection of comics he deemed offensive, with notations he wrote inside.

His copy of “Kid Colt, Outlaw” (1967) includes a note that of the 111 pictures, 69 were scenes of violence. An issue of “Justice League of America” (1966) includes markings calling attention to the sounds of violence like “thudd,” “whapp” and “poww.”


“Guns Against Gangsters,” 1948. Fredric Wertham papers. (Library of Congress/Abby Brack photo)

In addition, Wertham’s papers include patient drawings and his analy sis of those sketches. He writes of a young patient: “This case demonstrates the confusion created by comic books between fan tasy and reality … cruelty in children’s play especially directed against girls.”

Wertham testified six times under oath on the harmfulness of comic books, including provid ing testimony before the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency. Though the committee’s final report did not blame comics for crime, it recom mended that the comics industry tone down its content voluntarily, thus resulting in the Comics Code Authority.

According to comic book historian and blogger Mike Rhode, Wertham’s research would likely not be accepted by most today as it relied on anecdotal evidence of children he saw in his Harlem clinic. Still, his legacy reverberates among comic-book fandom with his objection to even the most beloved heroes like Super man, Batman and Wonder Woman.

L’intégralité du billet par là : http://blogs.loc.gov/loc/2010/08/papers-of-comic-book-villain-open-at-library/

Pour une introduction à Fredric Wertham, on se reportera au livre de Bart Beaty, Fredric Wertham and the Critique of Mass Culture, University Press of Mississippi, 2005.
Côté français, on compte des équivalents tout aussi intéressants, tels que Raoul Dubois ou Georges Sadoul, auxquels Thierry Crépin consacre d’intéressantes pages dans sa thèse (Haro sur la gangster ! La moralisation de la presse enfantine, 1934-1954, CNRS éditions, 2001) ou l’abbé Béthléem, figure centrale de la censure catholique de la lecture, à qui ont été consacrés plusieurs articles (notamment Jean-Yves Mollier, “Aux origines de la loi du 16 juillet 1949, la croisade de l’abbé Bethléem contre les illustrés étrangers”, dans On tue à chaque page !, dir. T. Crépin, T. Groensteen, Paris, Ed. du Temps, 1999). Les archives de l’abbé Béthléem sont, elles, disponibles à la Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal et n’ont, a priori, pas fait l’objet d’un dépouillement systématique.


4 réflexions au sujet de « Les archives de Frederic Wertham à la bibliothèque du Congrès »

  1. Bonjour,

    je me permets de donner les références d’un article que j’avais consacré à Wertham, il y a quelques années et réfléchissant à la diversité des logiques de son engagement contre les comics.
    « Logiques et coûts d’un investissement militant. La croisade de Fredric Wertham contre les comic books : la mise en scène d’une psychiatrie sociale et engagée », in Hamman P., Méon J.-M., Verrier B. (dir.), Discours savants, discours militants : Mélange des genres, Paris, L’Harmattan, 2002, p. 225-250.
    Merci pour votre travail de veille et d’information,
    Jean-Matthieu Méon

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