Academic journal article American Journal of Psychotherapy

The Psychopathology of Comic Books

Academic journal article American Journal of Psychotherapy

The Psychopathology of Comic Books

Article excerpt



Psychiatry was practiced intramurally in institutions originally, and only gradually concerned itself with the mental hygiene problems outside. In the same way psychotherapy was originally confined to the consultation room and is only now beginning to overcome its own claustrophilia and take an interest in the social influences that come to bear on the individual. It is, therefore, in the best scientific tradition to consider a social phenomenon so enormously widespread as comic books. The idea of this symposium originated in researches first carried out by the Lafargue Clinic.

This is the first exhibition of comic books. You see here examples of about one-third of all the comic book titles. This is also the first report on scientific research about comic books which is not under the auspices of the comic book industry itself. It was carried out in clinics, in schools and in private practice.


The aggressive content of comic books is so conspicuous that most people fail to notice that this aggression is rigidly channelized, that the willingness of any reader to accept a fantasy escape from his frustrations presupposes a willingness to achieve something less than total and actual escape.

The comic books concentrate on aggressions which are impossible under civilized restraints-with fists, guns, torture, killing, and blood. The internalized censorship of both artist and child makes this attack respectable by directing it against some scapegoat criminal or wild animal, or even against some natural law like gravity, rather than against the parents, teachers, and policemen who are the real sources of the child's frustration and therefore the real objects of his aggression. At the same unconscious level that the child identifies himself with the heroic avenger, he may also identify whoever has been frustrating him with the corpse.

Violence displaced in this way from its intended object invariably appears in larger and larger doses, more and more often repeated. Twelve years ago, in 1936, there was not one comic book published in the United States. Today, at a conservative estimate, there are five hundred million yearly. The secret of this unprecedented success-the greatest, fastest literary success the world has ever seen-is, of course, violence. All comic books without exception are principally, if not wholly devoted to violence.

The price being only a few cents apiece, and the distribution national, every city child can, and does, read from ten to a dozen of these pamphlets monthly, an unknown number of times, and then trades them off for others. If there is only one violent picture per page-and there are usually moreevery city child who was six years old in 1938 has by now absorbed an absolute minimum of eighteen thousand pictorial beatings, shootings, stranglings, blood-puddles, and torturings-to-death, from comic books alone. The fortification of this visual violence with similar aural violence over the radio daily, and both together in the movies on Saturday, must also be counted in. The effect-and there are those who think it has been a conscious intentionhas been to raise up an entire generation of adolescents who have felt, thousands upon thousands of times, all the sensations and emotions of committing murder, except pulling the trigger. And toy guns-advertised in the back pages of the comics-have supplied that.

Disguises are still necessary. At the lowest age level the necessary violence is presented as taking place between little anthropomorphic animals; gouging, twisting, tearing, and mutilating one another-Disney style-to a running accompaniment of all the loud noises and broad swift motions enjoyed by, and forbidden to small children.

About a fifth of all comic books today openly glorify crime, and even these have to take it all back in fatuous exhortations to law and order at the top of every page. …

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