Max Allan Collins’s novel The Seduction of the Innocent is a great read. The plot centers on a murder mystery, set against the backdrop of the anti-comic hysteria of the 1950s. [pullquote]The novel has a pulp air to it, a perfect of noir atmosphere that doesn’t feel contrived.[/pullquote]
The novel draws heavily from a real moral panic from that time period. In 1954, Dr. Fredric Wertham published an (allegedly) non-fiction book of the same name. In Dr. Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent, the kind doctor put forward a theory that comic books caused juvenile delinquency.
The novel has a great flavor to it. The novel has a pulp air to it, a perfect of noir atmosphere that doesn’t feel contrived. It feels like a pulp novel from the fifties, but it doesn’t feel like the author’s trying to hard for it. Additionally, the place has a great sense of place, something many novels neglect. In an interview, the author contributes this to time spent in New York, in addition to research:
I’ve spent a fair amount of time in New York, starting in the early ’70s, so some of it just comes from experience. I looked at several indie films of the period on DVD — BLAST OF SILENCE for one — and found a nice color documentary on the Village in the late fifties. These were helpful. Also, I keep Jack Starr’s world fairly small — I have used the Waldorf in all three novels, and of course the offices of Starr are consistent from book to book, as is the police captain’s office. The latter I drew from the classic film THE NAKED CITY, which was shot on location in the late ’40s.
The novel itself is entertaining, and keeps the reader interested. But there is a bigger implication here. [pullquote]The only acceptable censor is a TV remote, or tossing a book or comic book aside because you don’t like it.[/pullquote]
In the 1950s, comics were different from they are today. There were kid’s titles, but a major chunk of the comic industry was aimed at adults. Many of the most gruesome, violent, and sexual titles were so wordy that most kids wouldn’t read them. In a way, the comics of the 1950s were more analogous to modern anime, with more sophisticated sensibilities. Like many a moral panic, Pied Piper was a somewhat morally ambivalent characters in the author’s view:
The book’s views on Wertham mirror mine, but I don’t pretend that my Dr. Fredrick is a detailed, accurate view of Wertham. I’m providing a caricature, a cartoon, but good caricatures have a basis in reality, cartoons, too. He was primarily misguided, but he also was a media hound. The very day last week that SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT was published, in a fabulous coincidence, the New York Times revealed that a college professor had proven Wertham’s research was not only flawed, but faked.
The moral panic related to comics had lasting effects. The comic industry buckled to political pressure and opted to self-regulate. As such, the Comic Code dictated comic content for decades and the medium was reduced to a dumbed-down shadow of its former glory. It took years before comics began to deal with more mature themes again. Right now, people are looking for scape goats. Our society has problems. And people are looking for easy answers. Right now, the media, including movies and video games are facing a lot of the same well-meaning, but misguided scrutiny. In Collins’s own words:
There is violence in movies, TV and video games that goes too far, in my opinion. But that’s just a matter of taste and is nothing that should be dictated. The only acceptable censor is a TV remote, or tossing a book or comic book aside because you don’t like it.
On its surface, Seduction of the Innocent is a great little pulp novel. But there’s more going on. It’s topical without dwelling on modern issues or pulling you out of the story for a lecture. I’d highly recommend giving this one a read.
This article was posted as part of the Seduction of the Innocent Blog Tour, celebrating the release of Max Allan Collins’ new Hard Case Crime novel. For the opportunity to win a copy of the book, simply tweet “I would like a copy of Seduction of the Innocent @TitanBooks #MaxAllanCollins”.
Find out more about the book and the tour at www.titanbooks.com/