Why I Believe in Comic Readers, by Joe Kelly
June 25, 2018
They tried to destroy us once, you know. Almost got away with it, too.
In 1954, the United States of America held congressional hearings to determine, as unscientifically as possible, whether or not comics could be directly blamed as a cause for juvenile delinquency, violent crime, and other acts of “indecency.” It’s hard to believe when you look at the prevalence of superheroes on today’s T-shirts and movie screens. It’s not so hard to believe when you watch the news or check in on Twitter or dive deep into certain message boards that shall and should remain nameless.
Fear breeds misguided shepherds on the lookout for scapegoats.
Dr. Fredric Wertham, a child psychiatrist who served as an expert witness in the aforementioned hearings, is the name to Google. He’s a charming fellow who helped build the case to destroy the comics industry, and gave America an excuse to take a steaming dump all over the First Amendment. Wertham’s bestselling 1954 book, Seduction of the Innocent, attempted to damn the medium as a corrupting force on all youth. Wertham and his cadre of trembling jingoists—who thought there was a Commie hiding around every corner—managed to eviscerate an industry that was reaching millions of readers. Millions. All for fear and ignorance.
Only one thing kept comics from extinction in the intervening decades…
Despite the prevailing belief that comics were dumbed-down vehicles for stories about men in tights meant for children or the very slow-witted, you chose to make up your own mind. Doing so, you joined the ranks of a counterculture whose members were not only seekers of high adventure and cosmic drama, but of bona fide literature. You may not have known it at the time, but yes, that was you. You proved that the Comics Reader is intelligent. She is thirsty for meaningful content. He wants to understand the human condition. They seek art and story that reflect their truth. Comics Readers are Readers are Thinkers are smart.
Especially Younger Readers.
The Younger Reader wants to be entertained, yes, but they are also taking the first steps on their journey of self-discovery. That journey, hopefully, is endless and, as such, requires fuel. Comics can be that fuel, so long as overzealous agents of paranoia or the self-appointed Thought Police aren’t burning them on the lawn. (Yes. Happened. Look it up.) The Younger Reader has a nose for authenticity. They want truth. They want life. They want to hold fear in their hands and work their way through it page by page. They want to be challenged and, in that challenge, find hope.
If they find these things, Younger Readers become Lifelong Readers. Some even become writers and artists themselves, continuing the cycle. Comics loves that.
You, dear Reader, by virtue of your curiosity, intelligence, and open mind forced this industry to remember its roots and step out of the shadows. You gave creators the opportunity to not only prove ourselves, but also to prove our collective belief that Comics can be as important and meaningful and emotional and creative and passionate and political and challenging as any other art form. You did that.
You did that for us. For me.
I believe in Readers because Readers saved the industry I love and force it to evolve year after year.
Please: don’t stop. Push us. Demand better. Demand diversity. Demand art. Demand a challenge. Demand a mirror and a lens and a window that you can roll up and carry in your back pocket.
The journey continues. We have a lot of fuel left in the tank.
- Joe Kelly
New York, 2018
Joe Kelly is the co-creator (with Ken Niimura)/writer of the Eisner-nominated/International Manga Award winner I Kill Giants, and screenwriter/producer of the acclaimed film adaption. He is also the co-creator (with Max Fiumara)/writer of Four Eyes, a YALSA “Great Graphic Novel for Teens,” and Kid Savage (with Ilya), all from the Man of Action imprint at Image Comics. Kelly and his Man of Action Entertainment partners, Joe Casey, Duncan Rouleau and Steven T. Seagle, are the creator/writer/exec producers of the $4.5 billion Ben 10 franchise, the upcoming Mega Man show, many upcoming TV/film projects and creators of the team/characters in Disney's Academy Award-winning Big Hero 6.