Carol Tilley: Comic Book Crusader
From Joel Steinfeldt
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Carol Tilley, a professor in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at Illinois, has become a rock star in the comic book world. She champions the use of comic books in classrooms and libraries with a mission of getting kids to read. Tilley, who is a long time comic book fan was researching the relationship of libraries, comics and kids when she stumbled upon a very different topic.
In the 1950’s comic books were read by more than 95 percent of children. Parents grew concerned about some of the comics’ violent and sexual imagery. Civic groups were encouraged to speak out and to block the influence of comics on young minds. The girl scouts and boy scouts even organized comic book burnings across the country.
The leader of the anti-comic movement was Dr. Frederic Wertham. His book, Seduction of the Innocent, claimed that comic books lead to juvenile delinquency and were a “public health problem.” Wertham’s message reached the Halls of Congress when Senator Estes Kefauver of Tennessee chaired a hearing on comic books and juvenile delinquency. Wertham testified that his extensive research proved that comic books inspired children to commit violent acts. The result of the hearing was the creation of a comic book code. For a comic book to be approved by the Comics Code Authority it must follow many rules such as not using “terror” in the title, not depicting any illicit sexual relations, and that good shall always triumph over evil. The code forced hundreds of comic book publishers and creators out of work and essentially crippled the industry.
Tilley was one of the first people to be given access to Wertham’s research notes and manuscript drafts, which comprised some 200 boxes in the Library of Congress. She found that Wertham lacked supporting scientific evidence for his conclusions and even fabricated some of his data.
Today the comic book industry is flourishing again as evidenced by popular movies and the crowds at comic book conventions. Fans are thankful that Tilley has set the record straight about their favorite art form, and that she is encouraging the next generation of librarians to give kids comics!