Diagram for Delinquents Documentary

Sequart, the makers of great books offering critical analysis in comics, and the recent Talking With Gods documentary on writer Grant Morrison, have lined up their next project, and it’s a beauty.

Diagram for Delinquents is a doco focused on the recently abolished and controversial Comics Code and really is a fascinating period in history of America’s arts. To make this film a reality, Sequart are seeking donations through Kickstarter to reach their $6000 goal. They’re over halfway there and you have until April 24 to join in.

Beginning in the late 1940s, Wertham began publishing articles linking comic books to juvenile delinquency. This work culminated in his now-infamous 1954 book, Seduction of the Innocent. Burnings of comics were reported across the United States, and Congress held hearings into the matter, which helped spur the creation of the self-censoring body the Comics Code Authority (only just recently dropped by DC and Archie Comics).

Wertham was himself a contradiction. Although forever linked with artistic repression, he was a social crusader whose writings on the damaging effects of segregation were used as evidence in the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling. Although forever linked to the Comics Code, he claimed to be against censorship. Wertham developed his theories about comics while caring for juvenile delinquents, which biased his analysis by ignoring healthy juveniles who read comics — a fact that has caused his case to be often used as a negative example in statistical analysis. But his theories about comics, highlighting Wonder Woman’s themes of lesbianism and bondage, claims of Batman and Robin’s homosexuality, and the excesses of the era’s crime comics, had a lasting impact on the medium.

Wertham’s last book, in 1974, defended the culture of comics fanzines, as if a belated and lackluster apology for his involvement in the by-then infamous Congressional hearings. This led to him being invited to speak at the New York Comic Art Convention, where the audience heckled him. He died in 1981.

Featuring interviews from comics scholars and professionals, this documentary film will not defend Wertham. Instead, it seeks to place the wider story of Wertham and his effects on comics into a historical context, one in which comics subsequently evolved into more sophisticated material that is no longer primarily children’s fare. To illustrate this story, the documentary will use recreations and Wertham’s own files, which were only made public in late 2010 and have mostly never been seen before.

The film’s title comes from Wertham’s own notes, in which he claimed comics provide a “detailed diagram for delinquents.”

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