Reggie and Me – The Comics Code Authority

Today’s piece is going to focus more on the “craft” of Reggie and my work.  This will likely be a less emotionally-charged article… but is important for me to share, in that I credit the creation of the work we’re about to discuss as being the bedrock of most every creative endeavor I have engaged in since.  I owe much of those “nuts and bolts” to Reggie’s vision… and confidence.  It might go without saying, that I’m not the most confident person when it comes to my “work”… to say I have an inferiority complex would be greatly underselling it.  Reggie… knew what he was talking about… what’s more, he knew he knew what he was talking about.  This is a story about how he and I “zigged” when much of the established comics commentary community continued to “zag”.

When we decided to break Weird Comics History out from being “just a segment” on the Weird Science DC Comics Podcast, we knew we had to launch in a meaningful way.  A month or so prior, once we got our first few segments done, we knew exactly the topic we’d want to discuss if and when we ever upgraded to standalone program… and that topic was a biggie.

The Comics Code Authority.

We were both fascinated by it and everything surrounding it… and, we were both kind of annoyed how any discussion of the topic would almost inevitably devolve into a bunch of angry comic book fans shaking their fists in the air complaining about “that damn Wertham!”  Ya see, there’s a lot more to the story than Dr. Frederic Wertham and Seduction of the Innocent… not that all that many people seem to know that, given the usual shallow and reactionary coverage the subject gets.

We sought to fix that.

Did we find the perfect way to expand upon this story?  I don’t know… maybe?  All I know is, the work we put into this initial multi-part episode, which ultimately weighed in at 7 hours, 35 minutes, and 11 seconds (and a bullet-point script in the triple-digits)… is still, even to this day, one of the things I’m most proud of being a part of.  I tell you one thing, it kind of ruined other podcasts for me.  But, we’ll get there.

Reggie had the format down for this series of shows within minutes of us deciding to go through with it.  Five episodes… each focusing on a different piece of the CCA puzzle.

The First – Life Before the Code… here is a snippet of our “mission statement”:

This was all I had to read to know we were going to be taking this in the direction I was hoping we would.  We never considered ourselves “provocateurs”, but… talking about Wertham in a somewhat positive light?  That might make us Public Enemy Number One to the wider comics community (who would listen to our little pop-up show, that is).

Taking a step back.  During my first year as a sophomore in college (I was working full-time, had to space out my classes a bit) I was told I needed a humanities course.  I decided to take an American Literature class that had a focus on comic books.  The first quarter of that class was basically an inch-deep/mile-wide look at The Comics Code Authority… which could be summed up in two phrases:

  • Seduction of the Innocent
  • Trauma to the Eye motif

That was it… and, this was a class I was paying for.  This is what “civilians” think the Comics Code Authority was all about.  When I told that to Reggie, he laughed through his nose… and, told me we’re gonna do better than that.  And, I can say without hesitation… we did.

We did so, by beginning our series with a somewhat disjointed first “chapter”.  It was sort of split between discussing what comic books were during the Golden Age… and how things changed after World War II.  Then, we talked about the 99% of Frederic Wertham’s life that had nothing to do with comics.  This… might not have been the best approach, at least if we look at this as a “single episode”, but… maybe this was just a case of us “podcasting for the trade” realizing that, when it was all said and done, it would make perfect sense.

We put in the work.  We both loved research so much… and this was our first opportunity to engage in a “limitless” sort of way.  Prior to breaking out of our segment-form, there were a lot of rabbit-holes and story-strands we would shy away from… simply due to time constraints.  We never wanted to give “partial” information… so, if it was something we wouldn’t be able to give full attention to… it was going to have to be “cut”.  It wasn’t perfect… but, it was what we had to do.

Here, however… as a standalone program, the sky was the absolute limit.  We had an “unwritten” rule of trying to keep the shows under 90 minutes (which wouldn’t last long), but that’s still plenty of time to fill.

And so, we did the research… crossed our T’s, dotted our I’s… and presented to the world: Frederic Wertham, Social-Justice Warrior.

Talk about a crisis of confidence.  Even in spite of all of our research… everything we found out by digging through old journals, old court documents, old research papers… it still felt as though we were doing something “wrong”, since everything we were delivering kind of flew in the face of the “conventional wisdom” and established narrative surrounding Wertham.

There were times I sorta wanted to pull back.  I was still very young in this hobby, and felt I wasn’t “established” enough to present this information.  Heck, it’s a half-decade later, and I’m still not.  Reggie… man… he was confident.  He knew we knew our stuff… and we could site our sources if and when we were questioned.  He told me, flat out, there were going to be people out there who absolutely hate this… and, by extension… there are going to be people out there who absolutely hate everything we do.  We don’t worry about those people.

So long as we put out work that we’re proud of… and can back up… that’s all that matters.  Once again… he was right.

For that first episode, we presented Wertham as a highly-educated and caring man.  We wanted to establish that there was a reason why people of the day put so much stock into his words.  He didn’t just “come out of nowhere” as an anti-comics activist… as much as it hurts the easy/lazy narrative, Wertham isn’t… and wasn’t “the Boogeyman”.

We talked about the Lafargue Mental Health Clinic, the first Mental Health facility in Harlem, New York… which emphasized providing low-cost services to the poor (visits would cost 25-cents).  Completely unsegregated (in staff and patients)… in 1946.  Any guesses who might’ve started it?  Yup, the Boogeyman.

We discussed Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, which established that segregation in schools was Unconstitutional.  Any guesses who might’ve provided research and testimony for that landmark decision?  Yup… him again.

We didn’t want to come across as Wertham “cheerleaders” or anything… we simply wanted to establish him as a credible figure of his time.  There was a reason why his words carried so much weight.  So when his interview in Collier’s Magazine (1948), his various comics symposiums, and Seduction of the Innocent (1948) did come out… they hit like hammers.

Which, took us into Part Two of our series: Seduction of the Innocent.  But, I think we’ll talk about that tomorrow… I really wasn’t expecting to go this long talking about a single episode… but, it was very important one, on several different fronts.  It allowed me to show a little bit more of Reggie the Mentor.  How his confidence, and the way he carried himself as a content creator… it was contagious.  Together we broke away from the “narratives”… we took the extra steps, we put in the work… and we uncovered historical pieces that, maybe don’t get enough mention.

We never viewed ourselves as provocateurs… nor sensationalists.  We only wanted to paint as clear a picture of the “gestalt” of the day… and, I’m completely biased, but I think we did a damn good job.  The only complaint I could possibly have is… it sorta ruined comics podcast listening for me.

I want to thank you for reading.  This piece was more “process heavy”, but… in the overall scheme of things, this is and was a very important piece of my relationship with Reggie.  There was a lot of learning in this first episode… for both of us.  Although Reggie was most definitely the “pro” during this series, he encouraged my contributions… he validated them… he made me feel like we were a team.  In standing outside the greater Weird Science podcast, he made sure I knew that we were partners in this project… equals.  This was a good time in my life.  I miss it dearly.

0 thoughts on “Reggie and Me – The Comics Code Authority

  • Billy Hogan

    I look forward to learning more about Wertham. While I've read a little bit about how his research for Seduction Of The Innocent has been discredited, I was surprised to learn about how he was a strong advocate of integration. There was more to him than just comic books.

    • Thank you, Billy! Yes, there was much more to Wertham than the comics. And yeah, "Seduction" was a trash-tier book… full of so many convenient anecdotes and lies of omission. It definitely had an agenda and a narrative it was trying to spin! I hope you're digging the follow-up pieces!

  • I must tell you that I am a fan of behind the scenes stuff. Getting to know the thought processes behind why things were done the way they were done. For me these pieces about Reggie and you making the decisions that made your podcasts are fantastic.
    Now for an odd piece of synergy. I got up this morning and had to clean up the kitchen. My wife hasn't been feeling well and the dishes were piled up. Normally when I do something like this I will put on a you tube video for background noise, but today I thought let's go check out the Cosmic Treadmill back catalog and see what interests me. What i chose to listen to was the very episode you are talking about today. I never knew Wretham's back story and found your program to be insightful. My view of the man has always been one sided, and now thanks to you two I know the rest of his story. Maybe later today I will put on part 2 of the series. Great topic.

    • Thank you, Chris… and sorry for my delay in responding. Just starting to get my "legs" under me again.

      That's awesome that you listened to this very episode on the day this piece came out on the blog! I'm also glad we were able to fill in some of the blanks in Wertham's dossier. We never say he's a perfect human… but, there's definitely more to him than "Comics Boogeyman"!

  • Like Chris U said, this behind the scenes look is fascinating. The Code episodes were some of the first old episodes I went back to and listened to after I discovered the podcast. To this day I think they are some your and Reggie's best work.

    • Thank you, brother. The CCA series was definitely one of our "tentpole" series' (along with the History of Underground Comix, the Direct Market, etc.) I feel like we definitely made set our goals high with our first big topic!

  • Charlton Hero

    One of the first episodes that got me hooked on Treadmill! This is where you guys separated yourselves from Podcasts that ramble on with a loose narrative as compared to your guys well researched library archive of a podcast.

    Love these look backs. These retrospectives should see an audio version as well!! Just sayin!!

    Great stuff buddy!

    • Thanks brother. You never know… this might get the audio treatment when I'm back to feeling up to being behind the mic again!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *