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.”

Talking With Gods Review

This is something I’ve been meaning to review for a while. We talked about it on our Extra Sequential podcast a few weeks ago, in episode 15, but I thought it might be worth an extra mention  as we come close to Christmas, as it is a great present for the fanboy or girl in your life. For comics newbies, it’s not that acceessible. That is to say, if you don’t know who Grant Morrison is, then this won’t convince you of his awesomeness. Produced by the fine folks at SequArt, who are known for their insightful literary criticism of comics, this 80 minute documentary did surprise me in at least 2 ways. Firstly, I was sure they’d need to put subtitles on the film as every other time I’ve seen Morrison talk in his thick Scottish accent it was barely decipherable. Maybe he’s softened now that he’s spending more time in America, but it was fine and his casual revelations were easy and entertaining to take in. Secondly, he’s not as weird as I thought. He’s one of those creators, like Alan Moore, whose work is often examined and criticized, because we expect so much of him. Like Moore, he shares an interest in magic, but Morrison seems more public and approachable. When he discusses his dealings with the subject thanks to an influential uncle it just seems matter-of-fact. He also talks about his drug use (but no cocaine) and the strange visions that he experienced, and usually worked into his scripts on Vertigo series The Invisibles.

Of course, there’s many interviews with his fellow creators who aren’t shy on praise, including Frank Quitely, Phil Jimenez, Dan DiDio and many more. Though they’re not always revealing, they at least show Morrison’s down to earth nature and reinforce the fact that he is loved by critics, fans and fellow professionals.

It’s only $34 at Amazon bundled with the unsuprisingly more slick Secret Origin doco on DC Comics, which make perfect companion pieces, especially as most of Morrison’s work has been with DC in the last 20 years. It was Morison’s dynamite run on JLA for DC in the ’90s that cemented my love of comics and from that to WE3 to Seaguy to All Star Superman to a stint on X-Men for Marvel he’s shown that he’s a capable scribe of big ideas.

Talking about his upbringing, his love life, his artistic skills and the respect he has for the storytelling power of superheroes is all fascinating stuff. Unfortunately there are no interviews with loved ones, but the man himself is revealing and honest enough to paint a real self-portrait.

Director Patrick Meaney does a grand job of keeping it visually interesting and although it can divulge into a series of talking heads at times, generous use of the man’s comics work, and convention footage, make sure the visuals stay as interesting as the subject himself. The back cover of the DVD states that it contains, “mind bombs, psychedlic ideas and transgressive concepts,” which sums up Morrison’s work aptly. Of all the possible creators the film makers could have chosen Morrison is in the top 5 most obvious ones for he’s led an interesting and highly creative life. Their next film is on writer Warren Ellis and although I’m less familiar with his work, I’ll be sure to grab it too.

On a related note if you like behind the scenes on creative types, Chronicle Books is releasing Art Work in April which has looks at the notepads and journals from creators from many fields, such as Wes Anderson and Will Self.

Sequart’s X-Men Documentary

It looks like the team at Sequart and Respect Films have been busy. Their Grant Morrison doco is released this year and I’m looking forward to it. It’s quite the coup really. Their web series The Third Age looks great, and I really should get around to watching more episodes. They also have an upcoming feature on a few legendary X-Men creators. This is how it’s described:

Also in association with Sequart, Respect Films is producing a documentary history of the X-Men comics franchise, from its origins in the 60s to its rise to popularity in the 70s and 80s, ending with recent reinventions by Joss Whedon and Grant Morrison. The documentary will feature exclusive interviews with many of the series’ most important creators, including a roundtable reuniting writers Chris Claremont, Louise Simonson and editor Ann Nocenti. Former Marvel Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter, Art Adams and comics historian/Marvel Archivist Peter Sanderson will also appear. This project is being shot over the course of 2009, and will be released in 2010.

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