I confess I had never heard of Max Allan Collins before I received not one but two unsolicited books by him in a short span of a few months. After reading Wikipedia’s entry on him I realized it was surprising I had not heard of him because since he’s quite a prolific writer and I like to think I’m well read, especially in the mystery genre.
The first of his two new novels is called Seduction of the Innocent and it is his fictional take on the government war on comics in the 1950s. As he talked about in the interview, this witch hunt was sparked by Dr. Fredric Wertham and others telling the public that comics were dangerous to society and especially to children. Wertham’s most famous book was called – and, of course, this is no coincidence – Seduction of the Innocent. More on that shortly.
The second is a book, Complex 90, he co-authored with Mickey Spillane, the late author of the Mike Hammer books.
Collins’ past work ranges from the graphic novel Road To Perdition (which became a movie) to novels based on movies and TV series ranging from Saving Private Ryan, Air Force One, CSI, Bones and NYPD Blue. He collaborated with the late Spillane on four anthologies and he also made an award-winning documentary, Mike Hammer’s Mickey Spillane.
Let’s get to the interview.
Nice to meet you,Max. How and why did you decide to write a novel, as you put it, “inspired by the real-life 1950s witch-hunt against Tales From the Crypt publisher EC Comics”?
I’ve been a comics fan since childhood, and grew up in the Fifties. I have a vivid memory of the witch hunt period, of seeing the comic books I’d just discovered, like the ECs, suddenly gone, and the rest heavily censored, even comic-strip reprints like Dick Tracy. Parents Magazine would have a list every month of comic books parents should not let kids see, though fortunately my mom was pretty loose about it. Still, it was a very, very early, even formative experience where censorship was concerned.
As comics fandom became some less solitary — I was the only kid reading comic books in my high school, that I know of, the early round of Lee/Kirby/Ditko Marvel comics — a unified feeling about Dr. Wertham and what he represented grew up among fans. In the late eighties, when Bill Mumy, Miguel Ferrer, Steve Leialoha and I put together a rock band to appear at comic cons, the name of the group was immediate: “Seduction of the Innocent.” Miguel, who’s in the new Iron Man film incidentally, came up with it. In a flash. To mix in another comics reference.
The Jack and Maggie Starr series was designed to do two things — first, to pay homage to Nero Wolfe, Archie Goodwin and Rex Stout; and second, to give me a platform to explore areas of comics history that interested me. My Nathan Heller series deals with 20th Century unsolved or controversial crimes in this fashion, and the Starr books were a kind of sideways spin-off.
Do you you think the witch-hunt had any merit or was it just misguided clueless politicians and others? Or something in between?
No merit whatsoever. Just politicians and dogooders beating the drums and their gums. This is not to say some comic books weren’t in poor taste, but the premise of the witch hunt — that comic books were inherently bad for children — was false. Comic books at that time were widely read by adults, particularly under-30 adults, in part reflecting GIs coming home from the war with the comics habit. Comics, which were sold at PXs, were portable and easy to read. The notion that Tales From the Crypt was aimed at the same audience as Little Lulu is beyond absurd. Wertham, though obviously a publicity hound, may have been well-meaning, but he only shows that the dangers of censorship come from both the right and the left. McCarthy represents the right-wing lunacy of that era, Wertham the left-wing lunacy.