During a tide of public concern about the effect of comics on children, in 1955 EC Comics created a series of new ‘more wholesome’ titles. One of which, was a four part comic series about psychoanalysis.
The public concern was largely in response to the views of psychiatrist Fredric Wertham. He argued, in his book Seduction of the Innocent, that the gaudy comics of the time were a major cause of juvenile delinquency.
Themes of sex, drugs and violence were supposedly represented subliminally in the stories and artwork of popular titles.
This sparked a Congressional inquiry which eventually led to comic book companies toning down their material, despite the unlikely nature of Wertham’s claims.
One result was that EC Comics produced comics about more ‘respectable’ topics, such as hospital medicine, or in this case, psychoanalysis.
The Psychoanalysis series depicts the therapy sessions of three people: a troubled young boy whose father thinks he’s a “sissy”, an anxiety ridden woman with a recurring dream, and a television writer who has panic attacks and is frustrated in his job.
Interestingly, another EC Comics series, M.D., also touches on mental distress. In M.D. #3 a suicidal man is diagnosed with manic depression, taken to hospital, sedated and given electroshock therapy. Supposedly, this makes him ‘forget’ his depression which is blamed on his argumentative parents.
Critics have noted that psychiatry is poorly represented in these stories, although they do give a fascinating insight into 1950s attitudes towards people with mental illness and their treatment.
Despite the fact mental illness is a recurring theme in many contemporary comics, few modern titles have attempted to seriously educate their readers about mental health issues.
One exception is The Secret of the Brain Chip, which is aimed at people who have experienced, or are experiencing, a psychotic episode.
It describes the experiences of Paul, a young man who comes to believe that there is a chip in his brain, implanted by scientists to control his thoughts.
He begins hearing voices and becomes paranoid, and is eventually admitted to hospital and is prescribed antipsychotic medication, which helps him recover and even, in the last frame, get the girl.
The story is interspersed with facts about psychosis, and notes several famous people who have also become psychotic.
The comic largely explains psychosis in biological terms (a ‘chemical imbalance’) and warns patients not to stop taking their medication.
Those of a slightly cynical nature might note, however, that it is partly funded by pharmaceutical company and producer of antipsychotics Janssen-Cilage.
Link 1 and Link 2 to info on Psychoanalysis comic series.
Link to info on M.D. #3.
Link to article on representation of madness in Batman.