Fast on the heels of the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency investigation into the dire influence of comic books, innovative and transgressive E.C. Comics released its brief educational, edifying New Direction series. One of the New Direction titles was Psychoanalysis, beginning in May 1955, illustrated by Jack Kamen and depicting psychoanalytic therapy sessions as story lines. It was an unusual idea to present such a realistic, near-clinical drama, and neither readers nor wholesalers knew what to do with it. The comic lasted only four issues before it was cancelled along with other “wholesome” New Direction titles (M.D., Valor, Extra!, Incredible Science Fiction, Aces High, and Impact).
According to Life Hacks’ Vaughan Bell:
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.
Each issue followed the stories of three patients’ psychological issues and how they were quickly cured through traditional Freudian psychoanalysis. Polite Dissent‘s Polite Scott described the basic concepts behind the plots: “First, everything is the parents’ fault. Second, any mental problem can be cured by psychoanalysis. Granted, this is before there were any effective medications for such problems, but several of these patients would benefit from medication.”
Here is a summary of one of the nameless psychoanalyst’s patients and her rapid progress:
Issue #1: Ellen is clearly a very anxious person. She is also troubled by a recurring dream. This dream, which is incredibly detailed, recounts young Ellen trying to get into a walled garden. A kilted Scotsman bars the way and won’t let her enter until she passes a written exam. She fails the exam, but sneaks into the garden anyway, only to find it is dead and barren.
Issue #2: Ellen Lyman was an anxious young woman who had a recurring dream of a empty garden. The psychiatrist explained that the dream meant that she was jealous of her older sister and wished her harm. In this issue, Ellen comes to the office complaining that her life is hopeless. She knocked over the water cooler at work and her boss yelled at her. This reminded her of her father. Digging deeper, the psychiatrist discovers that her father often yelled at Ellen, and her mother routinely ignored her in favor of her older sister. During childhood, Ellen had a couple of accidents that landed her in the hospital. Much like Freddy’s psychosomatic asthma, the doctor informs Ellen that she caused these accidents herself trying to gain the attention of her parents. Furthermore, her other symptoms are due to the fact that she feels guilty because she blames herself for the fact that her parents always fought. The psychiatrist informs her that this is all nonsense, her parents simply did not love each other and it was never her fault. “Oh doctor!” says Ellen. “I feel as if a great weight has suddenly been lifted from my shoulders!”
Issue #3: Ellen Lyman believes that she is ugly and unlikable despite the fact that she is quite beautiful and friendly. By interpreting her dream of standing before a hallway of full length mirrors in a prom dress, the psychiatrist is able to deduce that the only person who considers Ellen ugly is herself. The reason Ellen is unable to have a meaningful relationship is that she does not like or love herself. This revelation strikes Ellen like a thunderbolt and thanks to the doctor’s insight, Ellen announce that she is ready to love herself and start dating. The doctor pronounces her cured.
Comic books are evil: ‘50s anti-comics propaganda: