Friday, February 7, 2014

Josette Frank: Alone Against the Storm, Part 2

March 10, 1942

The Most Reverend John F. Noll, D.D.,
Bishop of Fort Wayne,
Fort Wayne, Ind.

Your Excellency:

     It has been called to my attention that our most recent publication, "Sensation Comics", is included in the N.O.D.L. listing -- Classification for March, 1942.
     While I am pleased to see that comic magazines as a whole have been eliminated from this N.O.D.L. list, I am, of course, rather concerned that "Sensation Comics" was included, particularly in view of the fact that I was the originator of the entire comic magazine field.
     Overlooking Max Gaines' bit of self-aggrandizement at the end of that paragraph, the content of his letter to Bishop Noll revealed a real problem for All-American Comics. The National Organization for Decent Literature (NODL), a Catholic Church group led by Noll and founded in late 1938 to combat "lewd literature", had singled out SENSATION COMICS for condemnation. While the comic's title was likely troubling in itself, it was its star that led to to the ban.
     "You will no doubt recall a visit made to you the latter part of August of last year by Miss Josette Frank of the Child Study Association and Mr. Harry E. Childs of our Executive Department, as a result of which three of the Superman-DC Publications, "Adventure", and "Detective Comics", and "Superman", were taken off the N.O.D.L. list."
     Frank was obviously being utilized more and more as the respectable voice of DC/AA. The line between her various employers had become blurred to the point that at a February, 1942, conference on children's radio programming, Frank represented Superman, Inc., while other speakers appeared on behalf of the CSAA.That she was being paired with public relations man Childs indicates that the publisher wanted to take no chances that their point of view was misconstrued.
     "I am sending you the last several issues of "Sensation Comics", and I call your particular attention to the May issue, in which we publish Alice Marble's endorsement of "Wonder Woman", and the page entitled, "Have You A Civilian Defense Club In Your School?"
     I am also enclosing some other material about comic books and our Educational and Defense activities which may prove interesting to you.
     Would you be good enough to advise me, at your earliest convenience, which of the five points in your "Code for Clean Reading" has been violated by anything which appears in "Sensation Comics"?"
     The NODL code Gaines was referencing directed that literature is banned which:
     1)  Glorifies crime or the criminal
     2)  That is predominantly "sexy"
     3)  That features illicit love
     4)  That carries illustrations indecent or suggestive
     5)  That carries disreputable advertising 1
     Gaines' request as to which of the points was violated by SENSATION came in Bishop Noll's letter of March 13th.

Dear Mr. Gaines,

      I have your letter of March 10 attached to the April, May and June numbers of SENSATION COMICS, for which I thank you.
     Practically the only reason for which SENSATION COMICS was placed on the banned list of the N.O.D.L. was that it violates Point Four of the Code in the same degree that many magazines do.
     Wonder Woman is not sufficiently  dressed nor are many of the characters with whom she deals. There is no reason why Wonder Woman should not be better covered, and there is less reason why women fall under her influence should be running around in bathing suits.

     Gaines had to be concerned, but surely not surprised. The suggestive qualities exhibited by Wonder Woman and the other Amazons, even though depicted in Harry G. Peter's somewhat archaic style, were readily evident to any reader. What had to be concerning for Gaines was the wide acceptance of the Code. Not only were millions of Catholics pledged to adhering to it, but so too were many others who responded to its bans.
     At the same time Wonder Woman was raising the ire of the Catholic Church, she was also enjoying growing popularity among readers of SENSATION. In a letter to Frank dated March 23, 1942, Gaines included a detailed survey comprised of readers' responses about their favorite features within SENSATION COMICS.
     "The remarkable thing about this tabulation is, first, the almost unanimous approval of "WONDER WOMAN", and her selection as first choice, not only among boys and girls, but also in every age group.
     Another surprising thing about this poll was the unusual number of coupons sent in by men and women--mostly women--over 18 years of age. We received over twenty-five such coupons among the first thousand replies, the same proportion of these twenty-five choosing "WONDER WOMAN" first, as did the boys and girls."
     Its hard to know how seriously Gaines took these results and furthermore, how he expected Frank to respond to them. The results of any such poll were inherently unscientific, taken as they were from a sampling of voluntary responses from readers already buying the comic with Wonder Woman as the lead feature. And Frank,who was concurrently conducting her own study of the effects of comic books, had to view such a survey with a jaundiced eye.
     In any case, Gaines followed this with another letter to Frank on May 4, in which he assured her that,"A copy of my letter of March 10 was shown to Mr. Liebowitz (both Mr. Maxwell's and Mr. Childs' superior in Detective Comics, Inc. and Superman, Inc. and partner in All-American Comics) before it was sent out to the Bishop."
     Enclosed was a copy of the letter he received from Bishop Noll.
     "We would have omitted SENSATION COMICS from our May objectionable list," wrote the Bishop, "if it were not for the fear of being charged with not applying the same rule to all publishers."
     "However, since we have no other comic magazines on our list, I shall instruct  the publisher of the ACOLYTE [the NODL house organ] to remove SENSATION COMICS from the June list."
     While Gaines was undoubtedly thrilled by Noll's absolution of SENSATION, Frank likely received the news with mixed emotions. She had her own concerns about Wonder Woman; concerns that would surface in the not-too-distant future.

May 18th, 1942

Dear Mr. Childs:

      You asked me to write to you about the meeting I attended at White Plains on the subject of the Comics.
     It was a a small group (perhaps thirty) composed largely of school librarians from all over Westchester County. On the panel, beside myself, were Miss Lockie Parker of Story Parade [note: a children's magazine], Mrs. Edmonds of the Ethical Culture Schools and someone from N.Y.U. The chairman was the M[t]. Vernon librarian with whom you corresponded. 
     Frank's letter to Childs recounted the program. Several readings of papers about comics, Sterling North's editorial, a couple of positive pieces including a DC published pamphlet and, "an attack on comics quoted from 'the eminent psychologist and college professor, Dr. William Marsten. [sic]' (I quote this from the reader's presentation)"
     After all the presentations had been made, including mine--the gist of which you are familiar with--the chairman said that she had hoped to have the D.C. publications represented by a big, husky  man at whom they might hurl their criticisms, and were therefore disappointed that "this nice lady" (meaning me) came instead!
     On the whole, I think the discussion accomplished something for those librarians who came to it with an open mind. The chairman was very emotional and resentful of the Comics. The others were, however, more thoughtful.
     Along with being the face of  DC/AA in such public venues, Frank was also becoming its scapegoat. Although she good-naturedly recalled the chairperson's gibe in her letter to Childs, she would increasingly find herself the subject of far less genial attacks.

Dear Miss Frank:

      Enclosed herewith please find a copy of the first chapter for the proposed SUPERMAN book which I promised to let you see at the first opportunity.
     When you have finished reading it, I'd appreciate it if you'd promptly return it to me with your comments.
     Hope Stanley [sic] was pleasantly surprised by the acceptance of his synopsis. The check I sent to DC to be forwarded to him, has probably already reached him.
     Best personal regards. I may be in New York near June 13th and hope to see you at that time.

Jerry Siegel

    Siegel's mention of "Stanley" and the acceptance of his synopsis was a actually a reference to Frank's young son, Steve, who had submitted a Superman story idea. While this plot line wasn't used in either the comic or the radio program, it did garner a personal letter from Harry Childs and apparently, a check from the company. Coincidentally, it recalled a recently published, similarly themed comic written by Gardner Fox in FLASH COMICS #32 (Aug. 1942).
     More significantly, this letter of June 1, 1942, was accompanied by Siegel's 25-page opening chapter to his proposed Superman book. It was apparent from the first page that his writing exhibited more enthusiasm than skill. 
     "Hundreds of thousands of light years distant from our planet Earth there once rotated in space the colossal, proud planet of Krypton. No ordinary planet, this. Like our own world it supported life. But--unlike our world--the life on that far distant world had evolved millions of years beyond our own. Where Earth is peopled by Men, Krypton was inhabited by SUPERMEN!
     What is a SUPERMAN?
     A SUPERMAN is a human being whose physical structure is developed to the ultimate peak of physical perfection. He has a body that is at once astounding and beautiful to behold for sheer amazing physical development. And he has powers far beyond that possessed by ordinary men.
     For instance--the strongest man on Earth would have to struggle pretty desperately to raise a huge boulder into the air with his bare hands...if he could do it at all. But on planet Krypton it was a mere everyday occurrence for SUPERMEN not only to lift mighty boulders,but to rip tremendous mountain ranges apart!" 2
     Siegel's limitations as a writer were surely evident to Frank, who had made a career of critiquing books. Whether it was at her suggestion or not, Siegel was replaced as author by George Lowther, one of the writers of the radio program. Frank herself provided the book's foreword.
     "America has had many fabulous heroes. As our country grew, there sprang up tall tales of men whose wondrous deeds and strength were beyond ordinary men. In the great lumber country men told of Paul Bunyan, mighty logger, who moved mountains and changed the course of rivers to suit the lumbermen. The opening of the West created Pecos Bill, who could lasso a tornado and mount a demon stallion. As the railroads pushed south and west came black John Henry, steel-driver, spitting hot rivets and laying rails just ahead of the speeding trains. And now--Superman--wrestling with the mechanized might of today's world of airplanes and submarines and super-villainy." 3
     Frank saw something in Superman beyond his science fictional origin. To her, he was the latest hero of American myth; a mythos she was instrumental in crafting. And if she could help remake Superman, she could help change the public perception of comic books in general.

     Frank's opinion mattered. Not only in editorial matters, but also on a more personal level, as evidenced by a letter concerning a new publication.

 October 13, 1942

Dear Miss Frank,

     Thanks for your note of October 12th about "All-Flash", and for your interest in "Picture Stories from the Bible".
     You will be interested in knowing that a trial run of 100,000 copies of "Picture Stories from the Bible" was distributed in about 80 cities throughout the country and the results were sufficiently good to warrant our going back to press with an additional 235,000 for a national newsstand and chain store distribution.
     You will note that in the December issues of four or five of our magazines, we ran a full page ad with a coupon telling the youngsters that if they can't find "Picture Stories from the Bible" on the newsstand, to send in the coupon, with a dime. Yesterday and today, we received over 200 of these coupons, which is a very satisfactory response and an indication that there is a keen interest in this type of book.
     Plates for the second issue are now in work and it will go on sale in December.
     The third issue--the last of the Old Testament editions--(unless we decide to extend the fourth one to cover the balance of the Old Testament characters) will go on sale in March.
     I have letters from ministers of every Protestant denomination, praising "Picture Stories from the Bible", and we have sold many thousands directly to Protestant churches of every denomination, as we are giving them a special price of 5¢ a copy.
     A great many Jewish schools and Talmud Torahs have ordered and are ordering them every day.
     So you can see that on the whole, there has been a very favorable reaction, which is extremely gratifying to me personally because I had been working on this idea for a number of years and it's nice to know I am on the right track.
     Again thanking you for your interest, I am

Very sincerely,
M. C. Gaines
     It appears that Gaines valued Frank's approval of his pet project. Her approval wasn't always so easily won, though. A fact that Gaines would soon realize.

     To this point, most of the debate about comics had been chiefly academic. As demonstrated in Frank's letter, it was librarians, teachers and clergy who truly fretted over the effects of comics. Indeed, Frank herself shared some of these concerns, reflected in her continual commentary on the poor lettering and print quality of many comics.
February 3, 1943

My dear Harry:

     I want to tell you that I find the new "Boy Commandos" very good indeed and that I particularly like that fact that the lettering is good.
     The question of lettering remains, however, a very serious stumbling block to any wholehearted recommendation of the comics as reading matter for children. I think I have never gone to any meeting at which some parent has not said something to the effect that she has no objection to her children reading the comics except that they are dangerous to the eye-sight.
     You knew we have talked of this, you and I, many times and I feel that some progress has been made. Not, for example, "Bible Comics" [sic] whose lettering is above reproach. In the current action comics I find most of the lettering much better but not all of it.
     I still cannot understand, despite your editorial department's protest, why, if some comics can be well lettered, others cannot. I really wish you would give me a chance to talk with your editorial department on this subject, for as it is I find it impossible to defend you against attacks on the comics on this score.
     Won't you see if you can make some further effort along these lines?

     Arguments pro and con filled scholarly journals; credential-heavy professionals citing their own personal studies and quoting others. And although it was Frank who most often showed up in public venues and radio broadcasts, other members of the Editorial Advisory Board,--Thorndike, Sones, Bender--provided articles promoting the positive aspects of comics.
     In truth, most Americans had other concerns. The country was immersed in a war that was championed by nearly everyone, including comic book characters who fought the Axis with superhuman fervor and touted war bonds. It was hard to hate such good citizenship.

February 8, 1943

Dear Harry,

     Several people on my committee have pointed out to me what seems to be some violations of your own "code" in one of your publications. I refer to Wonder Woman, which flaunts a partly dressed woman on the cover.
     Since you yourself have old me that this voluntary restriction which you have put upon your magazines has been dace for the purpose of avoiding any possible criticism of the ground of being "sexy", I do believe this constitutes a violation of your policy.
     A further violation, it seems to me, is the fact that the "ladies" in this strip always seem to appear in chains or irons--whatever you would call them--and this might perhaps come under the head of sadism.
     I am passing these criticisms along to you because they have seemed important to our committee and therefore should be important to you. As for my own personal feeling about these factors you know how I have always felt about this particular strip, and I may say here that while I cannot honestly say that I think it would be damaging to children, I do believe it lays you open to justifiable criticism.

     Frank had touched a sore spot, but as the public face of AA/DC and their most vocal defender, her words were taken seriously by the publishers. Just to make sure that they were, less than a week later, in a letter to Gaines dated February 17th, she follows an evaluation of the lettering in ALL STAR COMICS by further stressing her concerns about Marston's Amazon.
     "May I take this occasion also to tell you that there has been considerable criticism in our committee concerning your WONDER WOMAN feature, both in SENSATION COMICS and in the WONDER WOMAN magazine. As you know, I have never been enthusiastic about this feature. I know also that your circulation figures prove that a lot of other people are enthusiastic. Nevertheless, this feature does lay you open to considerable criticism from any such group as ours, partly on the basis of the women's costume (or lack of it), and partly on the basis of sadistic bits showing women chained, tortured, etc.
     I wish you would consider these criticisms very seriously because they have come to me now from several sources. I should like very much to talk this over if you think that would help."
     While her initial letter to Childs apparently didn't produce any results, her letter to Gaines did.
     A memo from editorial assistant Dorothy Roubicek coming just two days after Frank's letter, contained suggestions that Wonder Woman be kept off Paradise Island and changes to her costume in pursuit of modesty.4
     Marston himself, having obviously been made aware of Frank's letter, shot off a reply to Gaines on  February 20th. In it, he called Frank, " avowed enemy of the Wonder Woman strip, of me and also of you insofar as she predicted that this strip would flop and you rubbed it into her that it hadn't." 
     The apparently infuriated Marston also chose to question Frank's loyalties to Gaines by declaring that she had, "...a determined drive to ruin this Wonder Woman strip if possible, or injure it all she can, and you can bet she's doing that everywhere she goes, despite the fact that you are paying her to work for you." 5
     Mixed opinions coming from other Editorial Advisory Board members, Bender and Sones, only exacerbated the debate. Fellow psychologist Bender generally sided with Marston's benign view of the feature, while education professor Sones agreed mostly with Frank.
     Gaines was on the fence. Here was a successful feature, perhaps his most successful, being attacked by comics' most ardent defender. Yet, while he was likely somewhat assuaged by reassurances from Marston and Bender, something about the strip bothered him as well. This lingering concern was actualized when Gaines received a letter from a reader professing the erotic pleasure they got from the thought of women in bondage.
     "This is one of the things I've been afraid of, (without quite being able to put my finger on it)," Gaines wrote to Marston in a September14th note,"in my discussions with you regarding Miss Frank's suggestions to eliminate chains."
     Gaines, though, offered a solution rooted more in corporate pragmatism than in addressing any bothersome psychological predilections or offensive depictions.
     "Miss Roubicek dashed off this morning the enclosed list of methods which can be used to keep women confined or enclosed without the use of chains. Each one of these can be varied in many ways--enabling us, as I told you in our conference last week, to cut down the use of chains by at least 50 to 75% without at all interfering with the excitement of the story or the sales of the books."

    "The Children's Book Committee of the Child Study Association has watched with increasing interest and concern the growth of comic magazines as a form of children's reading.Approximately twenty million of these magazines are circulated monthly. They appear to have almost universal appeal to children of all ages and both sexes, regardless of I.Q. or cultural background." 6
     These lines introduced the eagerly awaited results of the comic book survey undertaken by Frank and her very formally bylined colleague at CSAA, Mrs. Hugh Grant Straus. Appearing initially in the Summer 1943, issue of CHILD STUDY, "Looking At The Comics" became the oft-quoted argument in the defense of comic books.
     The survey undertook the task of studying and evaluating "about a hundred current comic magazines" in an attempt to,"offer suggestions by which parents and others may help children learn to discriminate among these as among other forms of reading." 7
     That is where Frank and like-minded comic defenders had chosen to make their stand. They conceded that not all comics were "good", understood to mean visually appealing, literate or thematically moral.
     What they had determined to do was establish a criteria for differentiating the "good" from the "bad". To accomplish this, Frank and Strauss separated comics into different genres: Adventure, Fantastic Adventure (superhero), Crime and Detective, War, Real Stories and Biographies, Love Interest (romance), Fun and Humor, etc.
     This categorization was quite possibly the first time comic books had been considered as subjectively unique. Although not part of their expressed purpose, this accurately presaged the genre specialization that would define the era of comics to come after the superhero-heavy boom years of WWII.
     The survey took pains to describe the general themes, to access their appeal and to determine their impact upon children.
     The genre they called Fantastic Adventure, "centering around a superhuman hero such as Superman or one with magic powers, as Mandrake the Magician," found that, "a frequent pattern is the changeling personality, assuming special powers with a change of costume. Sometimes there are pseudo-scientific devices, usually for grand-scale destruction. The villain is often a "mad scientist," and many of the stories are weird and grotesque."  8
      Following the authors' disciplined script, each entry would offer perceived benefits and caveats, and most importantly, their recommendations to supervising adults.
     "These stories seem to satisfy the same emotional needs as do the traditional fairy tales: escape and wish-fulfillment. The fact that they combine fantasy with current, every-day life adds a satisfying element for our modern children. They undoubtedly serve many children as emotional release for feelings of aggression or frustration, and may have positive value in this respect.
     Some children, particularly those who are emotionally disturbed or insecure may need to be protected from a too-heavy reading diet of fantastic stories in this as well as in other literature. Adults object to a certain sameness about these stories, which may or may not bother the children. They are often not really imaginative but merely variations on a stereotype theme." 9
     Each theme in turn was reviewed in similar fashion.
     Despite her connection to the comic book industry, Frank was an unbiased critic. Her evaluations of comics were consistent with opinions she had expressed years before her employment by AA/DC. And her public criticisms matched her private communications. One example was her constant complaint about the lettering that was mentioned frequently in her correspondence and in the survey.
     "The whole question of legibility is a serious one, for many of the magazines appear to be a strain on children's eyes. Publishers should be urged to remedy this fault and children should be urged to select their magazines with this factor in mind." 10
     The survey concludes with an even-handed look at the Pros and Cons of Comics Reading.
     "To many adults, all comic books alike. This Committee, however, finds that these magazines cannot be grouped as all of a kind, or as either "good" or "bad". As in other publications there is a wide variety among them, not only in their content and drawing, but in their editorial standards. Some are carefully edited. Others are not. Some have amusing or interesting ideas, others not. Some have good drawing, good color work, good lettering, others not. It is important for us to recognize these differences and to help our children learn to discriminate among them." 11
      Frank and Straus's survey was widely read and generally well received. One such enthusiastic response came from Catherine Mackenzie, NEW YORK TIMES writer of the influential Parent and Child column.
     "Your and Mrs. Straus's study is so full and rich that I've found it difficult to do anything adequate in a resumé," wrote Mackenzie in a June 30th letter to Frank, "so I've taken the highspot [sic] we talked about and added your comment. (The editor thinks it is 'very good indeed' and is pleased with the constructive suggestions)."
     Her subsequent July 11, 1943. article lauded, "the sheer physical endurance and mental stamina involved," and offered, "a vote of thanks," to both Frank and Straus. Along with a few highlights from the survey, Mackenzie paraphrases an interview with Frank.
     "One trouble with anti-comics tactics," wrote Mackenzie, "lies in an effort to substitute "good" books. Well, she (Frank) says, we can't. "We have to be realistic about it," and think no more of taking children "off" the comics than we do of taking them "off" candy--instead we offer them other food too." 12

     Not everyone, though, was as pleased with Frank and Straus's survey as Mackenzie.
     "It seems to me that after reading this article, " wrote George Hecht of Parent's Magazine Press in a June 11th letter to Frank, "parents, librarians and educators do not know any more as to which are good comics than they did before they read it. I believe that you should name the magazines in each classification which are the best of their type. Certainly, some of the magazines in each classification are better than others in the same classification. Why not tell your readers which are those of the better type in each group?"
     This was not the comics survey that Hecht had previously encouraged or expected. Moreover, although he actively sought Frank's approval of his comics in their previous correspondence, there was only a passing reference to his TRUE COMICS in the CSAA survey and he was clearly incensed by the perceived short shrift given his books.
     "In all the classifications of the comics except "Real Stories and Biographies" you have printed evaluations," Hecht continued, "However, under the classification which our principal comics come there is no general evaluation of our publications as they are now. You say they have potentiality for the future, implying that if they got better they may render a greater service. You say that some children like this kind, and some children like this and other kinds, and then you tell parents not to urge our kind of comics because they may prejudice children against them, but you do not publish any evaluation of the job our comics are doing."
     Hecht read something more into this slight. "I have an idea the you think our comics have not been very much of a success and that they are bought largely by  parents who force them on their children. We know this isn't so," he wrote, bolstering his argument with sales figures showing that his company's five current titles all had circulations between 250,000 to 350,000 copies each.
     Obviously exasperated, Hecht opined, "The most definite piece of advice that you give parents is to counsel them not to urge children to read our type of comics. When you stop to think it over, it has a humorous aspect!"  
     His final paragraphs, however, revealed what he thought the real reason was behind the lukewarm endorsement of his type of comic books. 
     "Furthermore, this survey is published as an unbiased study and yet it undoubtedly was largely prepared by you, who are [sic] a paid adviser and propagandist for a particular group of comics. This does not seem to be quite forthright particularly as no mention of your association with this comic group is made in connection with this survey.
     "And it seems to me the height of inconsistency that you should continue to have your name used as Chairman of the Editorial Advisory Board of comics, some of which have scantily clad women on the front covers, and that feature stories dealing with criminals and what appear to be degenerates--in general, comics that members of the Child Study Association and people who are influenced by the opinion of the Association, would surely not wish to have their children read."
     As angry as he was already, it can only be imagined what Hecht's reaction would have been if he had read the memorandum sent to Frank on April 14th by Harry Childs on Detective Comics, Inc. stationary.

SUBJECT: "True Comics"

Dear Miss Frank:

     As you suggested, I have asked Dave Marke to glance over a copy of "True Comics" that I happened to have in my office. This is dated September, 1942, and has two historical stories in addition to a number of current history treatments. Because of limited time, Dave confined himself to these two stories alone and has not even considered the remainder of the magazine. 
     The story "The Lost Colony" beginning on page 9, has several inaccuracies as indicated on page 11 of this marked copy. The date of Sir Richard Grenville's expedition is inaccurate, and the statement about 108 colonists is misleading in that nobody knows exactly how many colonists sailed with Grenville.

     What follows are four more paragraphs pointing out the historical inaccuracies in the two stories considered by Marke. While this intercompany evaluation alone would have been enough to infuriate Hecht, the identity of the evaluator would surely have made him explode.
     David Marke was the former editor of TRUE COMICS.
     Hecht even authored an introduction to Marke on the inside front cover of TRUE COMICS #1, "All of the art work and captions are supervised by our Editor, David T. Marke, a young but already eminent authority in the field of history." Marke's tenure at Parent's Press lasted until the fifth issue of TRUE, and in the small world of comic book publishing, he had landed at DC.
     "This is," Childs wrote in summary, "of course, a sketchy criticism of "True Comics" Miss Frank, but it does show what even a cursory examination will reveal. Fictionalization is fully justified only when it is quite clear that it is fictionalization, but should not be presented as Gospel.
     Hope this is helpful in your analysis."
     While it's not possible to know how much influence this information had upon Frank or the survey, knowing that DC had a hand in evaluating comics for her gave at least some truth to Hecht's insinuations.

January 29th, 1944

Dear Mr. Childs,

      I am enclosing herewith [a] copy of a letter to Mr. Gaines. I am sure this will be no news to you, for you have known for allong [sic] time that I have been disturbed about this feature. It seems to me most unsuitable as a member of your family.
     I am sorry if this request I am making causes any embarrassment to you or to anyone else. I can only assure you that I am making it after considerable deliberation and with deep regret.

     Frank had had enough. Her short note to Childs surely came as no surprise, nor did her qualified letter of resignation from the Editorial Advisory Board sent to Gaines. She could no longer allow her name to front the comics carrying the Wonder Woman feature.
     "Intentionally or otherwise, the strip is full of significant sex antagonisms and perversions," she wrote to Gaines, "Personally, I would prefer an out-and-out strip tease less unwholesome than this kind of symbolism."  13

     Despite receiving a paycheck from and essentially serving as the conscience of  the company, Frank enjoyed a unique independence at DC (Gaines having recently been bought out and All American merged).
     Her position on the Book Committee at the CSAA was always her primary calling. And in that capacity, other comic book publishers would seek her guidance and hopefully, her approval. Among those was Robert Wheeler of Novelty Press. He came to her in regards to what probably was an early issue of FRISKY FABLES. Her response on September 22, 1944, showed the serious consideration given to even the smallest details.

Dear Mr. Wheeler,

      Several of our staff and Mrs. Straus, Chairman of our Children's Book Committee, have gone over the drawings you left with me and none of us feel hat the subject matter of the strip would be frightening. It has some touches about it which we like very much but there are some we felt should be eliminated. 
     One--we all agree with you that the animal should be either a rabbit or a kangaroo but not both. Personally I think a kangaroo would be more unusual and therefore I should like to see it definitely a kangaroo.
     Two--most of our staff felt very strongly about the "hotfoot", as being a rather cruel form of joke and always objectionable wherever it appears. I am afraid that I think the children would enjoy the hotfoot very particularly but as a parent and an educator I have always found it a very obnoxious form of joke. You will probably have to make your own decision about that.
     Three--we all object violently to the burning and threatened roasting of the hero. This is the only spot which I feel very strongly should definitely be eliminated. I think you would be just as well off or perhaps even better if you pictured your hero running away, pursued by the flames rather than threatened with cooking. The cries of help and the rescue by the elephant could still take place and this, by the way, is a touch we all liked.
     Four--some objection was raised to the use of the devil as a symbol of fire since he is a quasi religious symbol and his appearance here might be misinterpreted. Wouldn't your strip be just as effective if you used some other character invented for the occasion just as the ingenious little figure of the flame has been invented?
     The drawings in the whole strip is excellent and the humor is certainly the kind children will love. On the whole we would see no reason not to use it with the modifications I have suggested.
     I hope this criticism will prove helpful to you.

     The Journal of Educational Sociology was, unsurprisingly, intended for a primarily academic audience.  Its pages were usually filled by serious-minded monographs authored by educators and social scientists trying to establish a basis of educational procedure in the relatively new discipline of educational sociology.
     Such a publication would seem to be an odd forum for the current sensationalistic debate over the effects of comic books upon children. But so it was that the December, 1944 issue not only was given over to this subject, it became the high-water mark of the comic book industry's offensive against the growing rumble of criticism.
     Under the umbrella title of "The Comics as an Educational Medium", the contents page listed "The Comics--There They Stand!" by issue editor, Harvey Zorbaugh, "The Comics as a Social Force" by CSAA directory, Sidonie Matsner Gruenberg, "The Psychology of Children's Reading and the Comics" by Dr. Lauretta Bender, "The Comics and Instructional Method" by W.W.D. Sones, "Some Uses of Visual Aids in the Army" by Major Paul Witty and Josette Frank's "What's in the Comics?".
     Each author took a different approach. Zorbaugh focused on the worldwide popularity of comics, Dr. Bender on the their relatively benign psychological effects based upon her own research, while Sones and Witty lauded the application of comics as learning aids.
     Frank's essay relied heavily on the results of the CSAA survey. She began by noting that, "Children of all ages, of high and low I.Q., girls as well as boys, good readers and nonreaders, in good homes and poor ones--the all read the comics, and read them with an avidity and an absorption that passes understanding."  14
     As in her survey, Frank discussed each comic book category in turn. She took the time, though, to flesh out her survey evaluations and to add some further comments.
     When discussing "fantasy adventure" comics, Frank wrote that, "Indeed, man has always made such fantasy stories for himself. The myths and legends of ancient Greece, the folk legends of America's Paul Bunyan and Pecos Bill, and the classic fairy tales themselves attest to the human need for escape and wish fulfillment."  15
     While consistent with her often expressed beliefs of the beneficial aspects of comics, echoes of her foreword to George Lowther's Superman book could be heard.
     "Stories which push back the boundaries of reality have long served civilized man for the release of feelings of aggression and frustration. Identifying with "Superman", one can overcome all obstacles, do battle for the weak and against the wicked, triumph over one's enemies, and generally transcend the hampering restrictions of a hard world."  16
     Frank's previous correspondence with Hecht garnered a more positive, yet still tepid approval of his historical/biographical comics.
     "They are sometimes both inspirational and instructive and point he way to new educational materials," she wrote, "As in other reading, there is a place in the comics for informational stories as well as for fiction and fantasy, and many children enjoy both."
     "There is no reason to believe, however," Frank continued, adding a qualification that would surely annoy the Parent's Press publisher, "that fact is more suitable than fiction for children's reading, or the assume that only "educational" stories are valid."  17
     Frank was dismissive of jungle adventure comics, as in her view, "...struggles between rapacious monsters and fair maidens are hardly desirable juvenile reading."  18
     Noting that at the time that romantic love only entered into a few comics, Frank observed, "For the most part hero and heroine are noble, courageous, chivalrous, and sexless." 19
     Her next comments, though, seemed more pointedly aimed at her battles over Wonder Woman.
     "Magazines that exploit the female form or picture amorous embraces with the obvious purpose of stimulating sex interests are certainly not suitable for children, nor are these found among the children's favorites."  20
     Notably, Frank's most favorable evaluations were given to comic book types published by DC and less enthusiastic reviews went to types not coming from that publisher. This subtle selectivity colored not only her essay, but that of her CSAA colleague Gruenberg, who also wrote a positive piece about comics, bolstered with examples from Fawcett Publications.
     It was likely more than coincidental that Zorbaugh and Gruenberg served on Fawcett's editorial advisory board, while Frank, Sones, and eventually Bender, served on DC's. Looking at it impartially, it is hard not to imagine that there wasn't some sort of coordination between the two publishers behind this effort. Though bitter and litigious rivals, they had a shared interest in maintaining their lucrative slices of the publication business.
     Fact was, that while not published by the comic book industry itself, this issue of the Journal of Educational Sociology effectively became its greatest public relations coup of the Forties.
     Soon though, such scholarly discussion would move into more publicly accessible venues, as the debate over comics was becoming anything but academic.

Catholic University of America, STUDIES IN PSYCHOLOGY AND PSYCHIATRY, pg. 22 (1943).

Siegel, Jerry, "The Origin of Superman", Chapter One, pg. 1 from unpublished SUPERMAN, (1942).

Frank, Josette, foreword to SUPERMAN by George Lowther, (1942).

4   Daniels, Les, WONDER WOMAN: THE COMPLETE HISTORY, pg. 62 (2004).


6   Frank, Josette and Straus, Mrs. Hugh Grant, "Looking at the Comics", CHILD STUDY, pg. 112, (Summer 1943).


Ibid., pg. 113.


10  Ibid., pg. 116.

11  Ibid

12  Mackenzie, Catherine, "Children and the Comics", NEW YORK TIMES, July 11, 1943.

13   Daniels, op. cit., pg. 72. 
14  Frank, Josette, "What's in the Comics?", THE JOURNAL OF EDUCATIONAL SOCIOLOGY, pg. 214, (Dec. 1944).

15  Ibid., pg. 216.

16  Ibid., pg. 216-217.

17  Ibid., pg. 218.

18   Ibid., pg. 219.

19   Ibid., pg. 219-220.

20  Ibid., pg. 220.


  1. Ken,

    Fascinating stuff, particularly the disagreements between Frank and Gaines on Wonder Woman. The question of toning down a comic that was a huge seller for the publisher is interesting. While there appeared to be some slight changes Gaines went along with, he obviously didn't listen to everything Frank suggested, particularly any changes in Wonder Woman's attire.

    It's also interesting to see the furor raised over lettering in the minds of adults. Howard Ferguson's lettering was obviously clear and easy to read on Boy Commandos. Were these same complaints raised over comic strips as well?

  2. In the comic industry as in just about any other business, money will win out over decorum. Gaines wasn't about to kill his golden goose, no matter what Frank or anyone else thought. Indeed, the same could be said about most other comic book publishers.

    I don't know whether comic strips suffered the same complaints about lettering, Nick, but I suspect not. It was the sheer amount of time kids spent reading comic books that had people questioning the effect the legibility would have on their eyesight. Not to mention that strips were far more respected and mostly immune to the criticisms directed at the comic books.