Hey everybody, I was in something of a melancholy mood today – and decided to revisit the series of essays I’d written about Reggie and My coverage of the Comics Code Authority shortly after he passed. I figured it might a good idea to compile them here, in case I ever wanna revisit them again… or, if anyone out there discovers it!
If you’ve never read/heard these bits before, I hope you enjoy… and maybe learn a thing or two about the “Boogeyman” of Comics!
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
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.
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.
Yesterday, I began my reflection on Reggie and my first “big” project. One of the “tent pole” series of the Chris and Reggie Channel. I had expected it to be a “one and done” piece, however, I found I had a lot more to say about our craft than I thought I would. Today, we will look even deeper into our methodology, and also discuss how quickly our little show, that we figured we’d only spend an hour or two a week working on… became quite a bigger part of both of our lives.
Rather than be just two more comics podcasters who lambaste Seduction as being unfounded trash… we took the extra step and, get this… we actually read it. So often, when Seduction comes up in conversation… people can tell you that it was bad for comics, but very few… even those who were purporting to “learn you something” could tell you anything specific. Like Reggie said, we could do better than that.
Also like Reggie said, so long as we can site our sources, and back up what we say… we’re okay. And so, I suggested that we hit up the “ultimate source” for this subject. The one people view as the root cause of the establishment of the Comics Code Authority. We managed to “find” copies of Seduction… and we spent a better part of a week working our way through this book… while filling in our notes in the script.
Here was our “mission statement” for Episode 2:
I know to this point, we’ve been pretty… I don’t want to say “pro-Wertham”, but we haven’t outright dismissed him or run him down. Folks, Seduction of the Innocent… sucks. I can say that as someone who actually put the work in and read it. It sucks, but… it sucks on purpose. It’s not written as a peer-reviewed academic piece… it’s written with very basic vocabulary, and is absolutely loaded with anecdotes.
The inherent “goodness” of Dr. Wertham is something that could be debated. His intelligence, however… I think that’s just something even the most fervent Wertham haters are going to have to accept. This book had a message… and an agenda… and he knew how to cast as wide a net as possible so that his words could be heard.
Thing is… he was hardly the first person to posit that comic books led to juvenile delinquency.
- Sterling North (May, 1940)
- “A National Disgrace (and a Challenge to American Parents)” – Chicago Daily News
- Referred to comics magazines as “a poisonous mushroom growth” and a “violent stimulant” for children
- This article, which might be our “patient zero” would be reprinted in over 40 newspapers and magazines of the day
- Remember, this is just two years after Superman makes his first appearance
- Stanley Kunitz (April, 1941)
- “Libraries, to Arms!” – Wilson Library Bulletin
- Compared comics to violent and narcissistic “Nazi training manuals”. Saw comics as an “aesthetic monstrosity” that stifled development
- John Mason Browne (1948)
- “Seeing Things” – Saturday Review of Literature
- Comics are… “the marijuana of the nursery; the bane of the bassinet; the horror of the house; the curse of the kids; and a threat to the future.”
- Colliers Magazine (March 27, 1948):
- “Horror in the Nursery!” by Judith Crist
- “We do not maintain that comic books automatically cause delinquency in every child reader, but we found that comic book reading was a distinct influencing factor in the case of every single delinquent or disturbed child we studied.”
- Studies were provided from Wertham’s own Lafargue Clinic
- “The Psychopathology of Comic Books” (1948)
- A symposium delivered by Wertham
- Later Printed in the American Journal of Psychotherapy
- Claims that children might identify with the heroes in the comics… and may project their own problems on to them. If a hero kills a villain, the reader may equate their problems with the villain. If the villain ends up maimed or killed… well…
- “The price being only a few cents apiece, and the distribution national, every city child can, and does, read from ten to a dozen of these pamphlets monthly, an unknown number of times, and then trades them off for others. If there is only one violent picture per page–and there are usually more–every city child who was six years old in 1938 has by now absorbed an absolute minimum of eighteen thousand pictorial beatings, shootings, stranglings, blood-puddles, and torturings-to-death, from comic books alone. The fortification of this visual violence with similar aural violence over the radio daily, and both together in the movies on Saturday, must also be counted in. The effect–and there are those who think it has been a conscious intention–has been to raise up an entire generation of adolescents who have felt, thousands upon thousands of times, all the sensations and emotions of committing murder, except pulling the trigger. And toy guns–advertised in the back pages of the comics–have supplied that.”
- Saturday Review of Literature (May, 1948)
- “The Comics… Very Funny!” by Wertham
- In this piece, which would be reprinted (in part) in Reader’s Digest, Wertham provides anecdotes from his cases at the Lafargue Clinic.
- “I examine a boy of fourteen referred to the clinic for stealing. I ask him: do you think your stealing had anything to do with the comic books? And he answers: “Oh no, in the comics is mostly murder.” This is like the arguments used by experts under subsidy from the comic book industry.”
I want to start today by thanking readers of this site for indulging me in this change in direction for the time being. It’s been nearly a week since Reggie’s passing… and, I feel as though taking the time to revisit and reflect upon our early days has helped me greatly with the coping process. It still doesn’t feel “real”… but, I suspect our residing on opposite coasts might have something to do with that. Distance is a weird thing…
Today, we’ll finally get into some of our notes regarding our deep-dive into the pages of Seduction of the Innocent (1954). Another “craft-heavy/emotion-light” piece… but one that is vital in the foundation of my and Reggie’s work.
Yesterday, we looked at some anti-comics crusaders who predated Wertham, and floated the theory that our “Boogeyman” might’ve used some leading questions in order to ride that trend. After publishing some thoughts on the subject in magazines and journals… Wertham wrote a book. You may have heard of it… but, you probably haven’t read it. To make our program as complete as possible – we did.
For brevity’s sake, I’m doing to refrain from going into full-on “essay mode”, and just try and deliver the more salient points.
According to Frederic Wertham…
- The comics format was an “invitation to illiteracy”
- Comics create an atmosphere of cruelty and deceit
- Comics create a “readiness for temptation”
- Comics stimulate unwholesome fantasies
- They suggest criminal or sexually abnormal ideas
- By furnishing a rationalization for them
- Comics suggest the forms a “delinquent impulse” may take… while supplying details
- Comic books may “tip the scales” toward maladjustment or delinquency
- The “injury to the eye motif”
- Advertisements for “violent toys” in comic books
- Damsels in distress… in fire
- History being rewritten
- Classic literature being modernized
- Femme Fatales
- Batman: “Like a wish dream of two homosexuals living together”
- Superman: “A disregard for democratic processes combined with the idealization of vigilantism.”
- Wonder Woman: “physically very powerful, tortures men, has her own female following, is the cruel ‘phallic’ woman.”
- Racial and ethnic stereotypes were given “nourishment” and “perpetuation” in comic books
- Children, when shown comics they haven’t yet read… and asked to pick out the “bad man” – they would often immediately choose based on ethnic or racial stereotypes
- Juvenile gangs at the time tended to attack “dark-skinned others”
- White women were always drawn with their breasts covered, while “colored girls have their breasts fully exposed”
- Heroes were “Nordic-looking strongmen”, which emboldened an impression of “human perfection”
- In this way, Wertham would compare comics to the Nazi magazine, Der Sturmer… which taught antisemitism
- To “pad” his numbers as they pertain to juvenile delinquency, Wertham classified such things as daydreaming, restlessness, masturbation, and nightmares as being signs of maladaptive behaviors… and therefore acceptable cases for his study.
- Wertham would cite cases from Bellevue and Queens County Hospital… from children and adolescents with histories of mental imbalance and illness, skewing the data in his favor
- “I like the one where a man puts a needle in a woman’s eye” – a cherry-picked statement from a mentally disturbed girl, who had been admitted to Kings County Hospital for fantasizing about murdering her younger brother.
- More cherry-picked statements, this time regarding the Batman and Robin homosexual relationship claim:
- “I think I put myself in the position of Robin. I did want to have relations with Batman.” said a sixteen year old homosexual.
- “The only suggestion of homosexuality may be that they seemed to be close to one another.” said his seventeen year old partner
- Wertham chose to omit “… like my friend and I.” from that last statement.
Before starting this project, I had never heard of an Estes Kefauver. When Reggie suggested we include the “Kefauver Hearings” into our research, I assumed “Kefauver” was some far off Eastern European city-state with a courthouse in it. Or maybe, it was a street in Washington, D.C. with a courthouse on it. I really had no clue. It’s here I want to remind you that shortly before we started this venture, I paid for a college course about American Literature with a focus on comic books. Kefauver never came up.
Like most folks, all I knew was the inch-deep, mile-wide on the Comics Code Authority: From out of nowhere came a Boogeyman, who wrote a book (that I hadn’t yet read)… bada-bing, bada-boom – the Code! That’s the easiest way to look at it… it’s also the laziest.
Here was our game plan for this episode:
With this third chapter, many of the building blocks of what the “Chris and Reggie Channel” would become were established… but, we’ll get there.
First, let’s take a look at Panic #1 (1953)… founded by Al Feldstein, and published under Bill Gaines’ (of EC Comics) Tiny Toy Imprint. Panic was in the vein of MAD, which had launched two years prior. It was unspectacular in many ways, however… it included this one story: a straight re-telling of The Night Before Christmas/A Visit From St. Nicholas, by Clement Moore.
This story featured some “visual embellishments” from Bill Elder… which sort of poked fun at the holiday, Santa, and many of the festive trappings. Christians and Catholics were displeased at the, what they felt to be, “desecration” of the holiday… and its depiction as Pagan in nature.
On December 18, 1953 – the Governor’s Council of Massachusetts called for a statewide ban on Panic #1. Less than two weeks later on December 28, employees at EC Comics were arrested (presumably on indecency charges). The charges would not stick… but, I’m sure the raid ruined their day.
Used to be, around Christmastime on social media… I’d see the cover of Panic #1 getting shared around. I’d make a comment regarding how it was banned in Massachusetts… or how it was vital in the establishment of the Comics Code Authority. I’d usually be “corrected”/”educated” by whoever posted it… and referred back to Seduction of the Innocent. I’ve since given up trying.
Next, let’s meet Senator Estes Kefauver (D-TN). He was something of a shining star in the Democratic party… and was fresh off a failed bid for the Democractic Presidential nomination. He actually managed to beat sitting President Harry S. Truman in the New Hampshire Primary in 1952!
Truman ultimately wound up withdrawing, as this would have been his third term in office. The 22nd Amendment to the Constitution was still new at this point, and Harry would have been able to claim “grandfather clause” to run a third time.
Kefauver would win the bigger states in the primary, including New York, California, and Illinois… and yet, somehow lost the overall nod to Adlai Stevenson (I don’t talk current-year politics, but you might compare this to something that happened during the 2016 Democratic Primaries). Stevenson would lose his bid against Ike. Two years after the Hearings we’re about to discuss, Kefauver once again threw his hat in the ring… and fell short to Stevenson. This time, however, Adlai chose Estes as his running mate. Together, the lost to Ike.
So, Estes Kefauver was a “name”… it was just a name I’d never heard of! Before getting into American politics, Estes graduated from Yale Law School… and would practice law in Chattanooga, Tennessee for over a decade. Now, among Estes’ main concerns was… taking down organized crime. Come to find… many organized crime “families” had printing “interests”… and, one might have had some nebulous (or maybe not-so-nebulous) connection to DC Comics/National Comics founders Harry Donenfeld and Jack Liebowitz.
Reggie and I, from very early on in our partnership, always had our eyes on putting together a book. The founding of DC/National… and the stories of Donenfeld and Liebowitz was at the top of our list. I still have a folder full of Donenfeld information… including some bits and bobs from his FBI file. That was going to be a wild ride.
Back to Kefauver. He became something of a national celebrity for taking part in the first-ever televised trial: the Frank Costello case. Frank Costello, by the way, is who Orson Welles’ speaking pattern in The Godfather was inspired by.
The trial began in May, 1951… and would go on for several months. It was aired live throughout twenty cities… causing sales of television sets to double. It was estimated to have been viewed by 20-30 million Americans. As part of a deal made with the Defense, Costello’s attorney insisted that the TV cameras not show their client’s face during his time on the stand… only his hands. Look at that image above… do those look like innocent hands?
After this, Estes Kefauver was viewed as a “Crusading Crime-Buster”… and an opponent of “political corruption”. He would go on to appear on the popular game show What’s My Line? and would even get a bit part in the Humphrey Bogart film, The Enforcer. This was 1951… and three years (and a failed Presidential bid) had passed. Kefauver needed a hit!
The United States Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency was put together by Senator Robert Hendrickson (R-New Jersey) in 1953. On April 21, 1954 the hearings would begin in Washington, D.C.. Estes Kefauver would loom large throughout… and (crime/horror) comic books would be his primary target.
Richard Clendenen, the Executive Director of the United States Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency would open with the following:
- “The increase in craven crime committed by young Americans is rising at a frightening pace”
- The trial is not an “attack” on Freedom of the Press
- Claims to have received mail from parents regarding the “influence” crime/horror comic books were having on their children’s behavior
- Statistics: Between 75-100 million comic books were sold every month
- Kefauver claimed that approximately 20 million of those were crime and horror
- “It is not my feeling that the solution to delinquency or emotional disturbances in children is to be found in the banning or elimination of comic books. Rather, I feel that parents do have a responsibility for remaining alert to the kinds of reading material and viewing material, including the comics, being utilized by their children.”
Exhibit B – A Study of 1,313 gangs in Chicago (that we could not actually find… though, we never doubted its existence). Whatever the case, this study posited that comic books did influence the behavior of these groups. Again, I wish we had been able to find this piece of research, as we were sure it’d been a pip. Many more pieces of anecdotal evidence were included, mostly with an anti-comics stance, before people were called to give testimony.
Dr. Harris Peck – Director, Bureau Mental Health Services – Children’s Court:
- Wasn’t convinced either way about the effects of comic books on behavior… or, at the very least, didn’t feel strongly enough one way or another to go “on record”.
- He’s here to discuss the first “Comics Code”, which was in place from 1947-1948. It stated the following:
- Sexy, wanton comics should not be published
- Crime should not be depicted in a sympathetic light
- No sadistic torture should be included
- Vulgar/obscene language forbidden. “Slang” kept to a minimum
- Divorce should not be depicted as neither humorous nor glamorous
- No overt racism or anti-religious attacks
- More or less recaps Seduction of the Innocent, before veering into a rant about the merits of sex-education in public schools
- He just might’ve been “over” comics at this point
- Some Boogeyman, right?
This back-and-forth was the first time Reggie and I engaged in “voice acting”. I played Bill Gaines, while Reggie got his Estes on. Gaines, on the stand, wasn’t really able to keep up with Kefauver. Estes showed a blatant disregard and dismissal of every rebuttal… and really illustrated how agenda-driven this entire clown-show was. This hearing feels more and more like a means to an end… simply a way in which the Senate Subcommittee could say they weren’t attacking Freedom of the Press… while in reality, I suppose that’s something we could argue.
Walt Kelly, Milton Caniff, Joseph Musial – National Cartoonist’s Society:
- They’re here to discuss the National Cartoonist’s Society’s “internal code”
- They are not allowed to draw obscene or horror “stuff”
- They’re basically here to run down popular EC artist Johnny Craig – the man responsible for that Crime SuspenStories cover included above.
- Craig would leave comics in embarrassment shortly thereafter
- Wrote an article titled, Comic Books Help Curb Delinquency (April 17, 1954)
- Illson is not present, however his article is added into evidence
- This article is reliant on a small sample size and anecdotal evidence
That’s marks the end of Day One of the “Kefauver Hearings” aka. the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency. We’ll continue with more tomorrow. It feels so weird to revisit this research. On a personal level, I’m not sure I’d ever felt such “creative synergy” to this point. This was a topic Reggie and I were both so passionate about… and the research, while sort of “all-encompassing” for the weeks and months we were doing it, never felt like a burden or a chore.
It’s here where we’d learn something very valuable about the research process as it pertains to an audio offering. I think it’s safe to say we’ve all performed research… whether for school, work, or personal curiosity. When you’re writing an academic paper… there’s (almost) nothing more demoralizing than spending several hours researching a particular “thread”… finding the information you seek… then realizing that, all the time you spent will ultimately result in like… I dunno, 2-3 additional sentences in your paper.
When you apply that sort of situation to audio… it’s more of a 1:1 comparison. We’d spent literally hours researching particular bits of this Trial (and everything surrounding it)… which, would wind up only adding five or so seconds to our production. If this was something we weren’t passionate about or enjoying… that’d probably have been enough to shut us down completely! Instead… it only seemed to fuel us on more.
Some Chris and Reggie-isms established with this episode:
- Researching “side” information to provide as deep a contextual background as possible. Connecting comic book history to real-world history
- Role-playing characters, reading dialogue
- Spending many hours looking for intricate details/confirming facts… which may only add a second or two to the actual broadcast
Before we get into today’s piece of reflection, I’d like to share a different kind of story with you, if you’ll indulge me. Yesterday, I had the privilege of attending a virtual sitting Shiva in the memory of Karl (Reggie). It was organized by some of his oldest and dearest friends, and I was honored to be included.
I had the opportunity to meet some of those who were closest to him in “real life”, and spent several hours listening to wonderful stories and memories… and even shared a couple of my own. I left this Shiva with a feeling of lightness and peace. It really felt as though the gathering was less to mourn a loss and more to celebrate a life. It was very helpful to own personal coping and acceptance process.
Over the course of the past week, several of my friends have reached out… assuring me they’d be there if I needed to talk. I decided not to burden any of them… and that, that was a mistake. I’ve never dealt with loss before… and so, I don’t really have a “process”. All I knew was the concrete… nothing that anyone could say would bring him back. I didn’t realize how (metaphorically) wrong I was to think that.
Day Two of the Senate Subcommittee Hearings on Juvenile Delinquency took place on Thursday, April 22, 1954… and opened with a man taking the stand. A man whose name we had a lot of fun with.
Gunner Dybwad (which we pronounced “dipwad”) – Executive Director, Child Study Center of America:
- The Child Study Center of America were consultants for DC and Fawcett Comics, and were part of creating DC Comics’ “Internal Comics Code” (which was entered into the proceedings as Exhibit 21)
- Some of that code read:
- Sex: Inclusion of females in stories is specifically discouraged. When included, they should be drawn realistically.
- Language: No taking of the Lord’s name in vain. Heroes cannot use slang. Slang is only to be used by crooks/villains.
- Bloodshed: Never show bleeding. Never show dead bodies.
- Torture: No chains, whips, etc. No sexual sadism
- Kidnapping: No kidnapping of children allowed, limited kidnapping of women… so long as there is no implication of sex.
- Killing: Heroes never kill. Villains can only die by their own machinations. Only Police Officers can kill. Women cannot use lethal weapons.
- Crime: Justice must triumph in every case. Crime should be depicted as sordid and unpleasant.
- Friedman gave the Senators a bit of lip… and plays dumb when shown some violent comics images.
- Not appreciating the “cherry picked” evidence, he interrupted the Counselor with:
- “A whipping boy is being made out of one particular facet of the means of information…”
- Council and Friedman would continue to interrupt one another with just about every breath, until the latter was allowed to leave.
- Her “day job” was working with children at Bellevue Hospital
- She received $150/mo (around $1,500 in 2020 money) as a Board Member for DC Comics
- She, unsurprisingly, defends DC Comics… and, even calls out the court for the “overwhelming broad statements” being made regarding juvenile delinquency.
- She continues to call out the court for the way they treated Mr. Dybwad during his testimony.
- Claims that Superman is a good influence for children… and if there was, in fact, any horrifying imagery included in DC Comics, she herself would have called the company out for it.
- The way she’s handling herself during this circus, we tend to believe her!
- 15 “teen-age” books
- 9 war books
- 9 westerns
- 2 “anti-crime” books
- 8 “weird” or sci-fi books
Froehlich seems to be on the stand to discuss disparity between the subject matter in the comics and advertisements aimed at children. He claims there isn’t any disparity… and that the advertisements are changed in accordance to demand for whichever book they appear in. He maintains throughout his questioning that nothing that can be put into a comic book could/would be detrimental to a child’s development.
- Openly hates Bill Gaines… and seeks for there to be a law passed banning crime/horror comics nationwide
- Really did not appreciate Panic #1, and claims that satirical comics were just as, if not more, detrimental to a child’ development as horror and crime.
- Richter started the Long Island Stationary Owners Association, in order to combat distribution of books he did not like
- Basically collected $2/mo (about $20 in 2020) from each partner outlet as “dues”… for whatever that was worth
- He’s really only here to promote his company’s “good” books
- Stravon also published Mademoiselle Fifi and the Sexcapades… but, Segal assures the Counsel that those books stay separate from the “kids fare”
This “testimony” adds… less than nothing to the proceedings?
- Roth had been imprisoned on obscenity charges
- He “pleads da fifth” here
- Dell Publications, claiming “Dell Comics are Good Comics” refused to join the Comic Book Association… as they feared they would wind up “lumped in” under the umbrella of publishers of horror/crime comics. They would run “A Pledge to Parents” in their books to assure them that they’ll only find clean and wholesome stories in Dell books.
- The book shows “repeated disdain” for its own readership
- The Police are depicted as looking foolish
- It contained the “complete and utter perversion” of a man dressed in women’s clothing
- Santa Claus is depicted as being divorced
- “I am going to depart from our usual procedure here. We have been swearing in witnesses, but we are not going to swear in a member of Canadian Parliament. You are one of us. We are grateful to you and grateful to Canada.”
- Subsection 1 of Section 207 of Criminal Code chapter 36
- “… prints, publishes, sells or distributes any magazine, periodical, or book which exclusively or substantially comprises matter depicting pictorially the commission of crimes, real or fictitious, thereby tending or likely to induce or influence, youthful persons to violate the law or to corrupt the morals of such persons.”
- 16 National Distributors
- 950 Wholesale Distributors
- 270 Independent Distributors
- 100,000+ Retailers
- “Distributors don’t have the time, manpower, or interest to read every mag they ship to appraise its moral value. Returns are all handled the same… as unsold books. Nobody cares about the content at the distribution level… that’s best left for editorial.”
- Assembly #401, state of New Jersey (dated: 04/12/1954)
- Supplement to Chapter 170 of Title 2A of New Jersey Statutes:
- A $25 fine to anyone selling, or giving a crime or horror comic to anyone under the age of 16.
Today’s piece will take a look at the Kefauver-penned Senate Interim Report from March, 1955… and will end with some wisdom that, time and again, Reggie would attempt to impart on me.
Senator Kefauver opened his Report with an introductory piece, in which he basically describes the scope and goal of what he is trying to do as it pertains to curbing crime/horror comics.
From here, he includes a brief history of early comics and comics publication:
- 1896 saw the first Yellow Kid strips by Richard Outcalt
- 1911 saw the first publication devoted to comics, when The Chicago American offered reprinted Mutt and Jeff strips in pamphlet form for clipping coupons
- 1935 was the first “present day” comic book, with New Fun Comics #1
- 1938 saw Superman debut in Action Comics #1
- There were 112 different comics publishers (most based in New York City)
- Minimum comic print-runs were 300,000
- There were approximately 95,000-110,000 active newsstands nationwide
- “Bottoms Up” from Story Comics
- In which, an alcoholic husband steals money from his wife in order to buy hooch from some bootleggers. She finds out, and… kills him with an ax. She then returns the alcohol to the bootleggers… only, with her husband’s body parts stuffed into the bottles
- “Frisco Mary” from Ace Comics
- Mary runs a violent gang, and murders an already wounded Police Officer
- Violence/Murder is premeditated, there is ample “lead-up”
- Use of supernatural phenomena in everyday life
- Portrayal of supernatural beings
- Language and verbiage used in narration and dialogue both stimulates the reader and reinforces their belief/acceptance of both the supernatural… and violence
- “The Subcommittee intends to watch with great interest the activities of this association and will report at a later date on this effort by the comic book industry to eliminate questionable comic books.”
We shared this episode on social media… and, ya know… we were still very young in the game, and even at our “height” we never got all that much in the way of “word of mouth” (relatively speaking). So, we put it out there… and a few hours later, some knucklehead retweeted it to a podcast quite a bit higher up on the “totem pole” than Reggie and I would ever be. This knucklehead told this other, far more popular show, that they should do a show “just like this one”.
It was there that I my pride turned to protectiveness. I had this revelation that… with all of our hard work… all of the hours we’d spent absolutely buried in this Comics Code material… at the end of the day, all we really did was make it that much easier for a more popular show to just slide in, take what we did… and do it again themselves. Only difference between them and us is: they have an established audience and a “clique”.
I got pretty hot at this. I couldn’t understand why this knucklehead… who had, I would assume, already listened to our program… run to a bigger show and ask them to do the same thing we did. I saw this… and, got a hold of Reggie… and I think this was the first time he saw me as the sorta paranoid goofball that I was/am. I wanna say he got a bit of a kick out of it… as it showed him how much our project really meant to me.
Thing about Reggie… he was always so cool. This sort of thing didn’t bother him at all. He allowed himself to be proud. He knew what we put out there was quality… and for him, that was enough. I, on the other hand, was getting really bogged down in details… things like podcast-plagiarism, which isn’t really a “citable” thing when you’re as small as we were/are… things like being given credit… which, again if it’s a big podcast taking material from a small one… more often than not, that small one ain’t getting a nod.
I told him here, maybe for the first time, that I wished I could be more like him. To learn to “enjoy the ride”… to allow the “intrinsics” to feed my self-actualization. That, unfortunately, was a bit of wisdom that never made its way into my creatory-makeup… and it certainly wasn’t from a lack of trying on Reggie’s part. I still try and keep his advice in the back of my mind… but, I guess I’m just not as secure in my abilities as he was.
In the years that followed, there would be several occasions where our work would be “lifted” (always without credit)… sometimes verbatim. Now, I do believe in coincidences… but when someone delivers one of our lines with the exact verbiage and cadence that we did? That’s probably not a coincidence.
Time and again, I’d get hot. Reggie would always settle me down. That is one of those things I’m going to have to adjust to not having anymore. Reggie’s overall coolness and confidence was huge to me. It helped me to put things into perspective. His was an opinion I highly valued… and, basically… if he was happy with what we did, it told me that we were successful in whatever project we set our sights on. If not for his confidence and positive attitude, I doubt I would’ve been able to stick with this project/these projects for as long as I have.
After around a hundred pages of notes, months of research and several hours of audio… we’re finally at the actual Code itself.
The “mission statement” for this fourth chapter of our coverage was:
Following the Senate Subcommittee Hearings and Estes Kefauver’s Interim Report, the fate of comic books… insofar as their “regulation” was left in the hands of the publishers themselves. Turns out, it was Public Enemy Number One (from all sides of the argument), Bill Gaines who would first suggest the publishers convene and self-regulate. He felt, somewhat naively, that if left to their own devises, censorship would be kept to a minimum. If he only knew…
At the first meeting of the new Comics Code Authority… it was made pretty clear to Gaines that the “Code” basically painted a target on EC Comics and himself specifically. He’d leave the meeting, however… when the Code was eventually enforced, he had no choice but to submit his stuff. Non-Code Approved books were being returned by distributors without even being opened.
John L. Goldwater, then-President of Archie Comics, was made the first President of the CCA. Charles F. Murphy, New York Magistrate was appointed the Administrator of the CCA. By the time the dust settled, just about every publisher you might’ve heard of joined up. Two notable exceptions were Dell/Gold Key and Disney. Dell, since “Dell Comics are Good Comics”, and Disney because… well, they’re Disney.
Because of the Code, comics were going to take a hit in popularity… there was little doubt about it. It wouldn’t be the only reason why comics would wane, however… gotta remember, this is the mid-1950’s, and there was about to be more competition for the free-time of the American youth: television. Entering the decade, there were approximately 15,639,872 sets-in-homes nationwide. Leaving the decade, that number blows up to around 67,145,000!
Between the Code’s establishment and other entertainment being more readily available… by 1958, 24 out of the 29 comics companies that originally made up the Comics Magazine Association of America, Incorporated… were out of business! All that were left (notably speaking), were Archie, Harvey, DC Comics, Charlton, American Comics Group, and Marvel Comics. Dell/Gold Key and Disney were still kicking… but, as mentioned, were not part of the CCA. Gilbertson, the company responsible for the absolute borefests known as Classics Illustrated were still around as well, mostly doing reprints at this point though.
- Sales overall declined 45% from 1955 to 1961
- In 1962, sales were down 56% from a decade prior
- Crimes shall never be presented in such a way as to create sympathy for the criminal, to promote distrust of the forces of law and justice, or to inspire others with a desire to imitate criminals.
- No comics shall explicitly present the unique details and methods of a crime.
- Policemen, Judges, Government Officials and respected institutions shall never be presented in such a way as to create disrespect for established authority.
- If crime is depicted it shall be as a sordid and unpleasant activity.
- Criminals shall not be presented so as to be rendered glamorous or to occupy a position which creates a desire for emulation.
- In every instance good shall triumph over evil and the criminal punished for his misdeeds.
- Scenes of excessive violence shall be prohibited. Scenes of brutal torture, excessive and unnecessary knife and gunplay, physical agony, gory and gruesome crime shall be eliminated.
- No unique or unusual methods of concealing weapons shall be shown.
- Instances of Law-Enforcement Officers dying as a result of a criminal’s activities should be discouraged.
- The crime of kidnapping shall never be portrayed in any detail, nor shall any profit accrue to the abductor or kidnapper. The criminal or the kidnapper must be punished in every case.
- The letters of the word “Crime” on a comics-magazine cover shall never be appreciatively greater in dimension than the other words contained in the title. The word “Crime” shall never appear alone on a cover.
- Restraint in the use of the word “Crime” in titles and subtitles shall be exercised.
- No comic magazine shall use the word “Horror” or “Terror” in its title.
- All scenes of horror, excessive bloodshed, gory or gruesome crimes, depravity, lust, sadism, masochism shall not be permitted.
- All lurid, unsavory, gruesome illustrations shall be eliminated.
- Inclusion of stories dealing with evil shall be published only where the intent is to illustrate a moral issue and in no case shall evil be presented alluringly, nor so as to injure the sensibilities of the reader.
- Scenes dealing with, or instruments associated with walking dead, torture, vampires and vampirism, ghouls, cannibals, and werewolfism are prohibited.
- Profanity, obscenity, smut, vulgarity, or words and symbols which have acquired undesirable meanings are forbidden.
- Special precautions to avoid references to physical afflictions or deformities shall be taken.
- Although slang and colloquialisms are acceptable, excessive use should be discouraged and, whenever possible, good grammar shall be employed.
- Ridicule or attack on any religious or racial group is never permissible.
- Nudity in any form is prohibited, as is indecent or undue exposure.
- Suggestive or salacious illustration or suggestive posture is unacceptable.
- All characters shall be depicted in dress reasonably acceptable to society.
- Females shall be drawn realistically without exaggeration of any physical qualities.
- Marriage and Sex
- Divorce shall not be treated humorously nor represented as desirable.
- Illicit sex relations are neither to be hinted at nor portrayed. Violent love scenes as well as sexual abnormalities are unacceptable.
- Respect for parents, the moral code, and for honorable behavior shall be fostered. A sympathetic understanding of the problems of love is not a license for morbid distortion.
- The treatment of love-romance stories shall emphasize the value of home and the sanctity of marriage.
- Passion or romantic interest shall never be treated in such a way as to stimulate the lower and baser emotions.
- Seduction and rape shall never be shown nor suggested.
- Sex perversion or any inference to same is strictly forbidden.
That covers an awful lot. A theory we floated, though I don’t think it made tape, was that this entire endeavor sought to stifle “maturation of society”. There’s plenty here that hasn’t aged well… and it’s easy to cherry-pick those details. “Sex perversion” and “sexual abnormalities” are probably where most eyes go if they bother to scan this piece. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what they’re hinting at here… but, it was a different time. Heck, the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) still referred to those “abnormalities” as mental illness back then.
- Liquor and tobacco advertising is unacceptable.
- Advertisement for sex and sex instruction books are unacceptable.
- The sale of picture postcards, “pinups”, “art studies”, or any other reproduction of nude or seminude figures is prohibited.
- Advertising the sale of knives or realistic gun facsimiles is prohibited.
- Advertising for the sale of fireworks is prohibited.
- Advertising dealing with the sale of gambling equipment or printed matter dealing with gambling shall not be accepted.
- Nudity with meretricious purpose and salacious postures shall not be permitted in the advertising of any product; clothed figures shall never be presented in such a way as to be offensive or contrary to good taste of morals.
- To the best of his ability, each publisher shall ascertain that all statements made in advertisements conform to fact and avoid misrepresentation.
- Advertisement of medical, health, or toiletry products of questionable nature are to be rejected. Advertisements for medical, health, or toiletry products endorsed by the American Medical Association, or the American Dental Association, shall be acceptable if they conform with all other conditions of the advertising code.
From cover-to-cover, the Code’s looking at it all. The advertising guidelines… I don’t feel all that strongly about. You’d hope that the average comic book reader would be able to tell, at a glance, which ads were legit… and which were scams, but I suppose that’s probably asking too much. If you’re looking to scam kids with your miracle drug… ehh, you probably deserve to get the boot.
- “Therefore, I would greatly appreciate your calling to my attention any new trends that might be open to criticism. It would also be helpful if you could send me (…) any other material which you feel would guide us in our work.”
- Vampires, ghouls, and werewolves shall be permitted to be used when handled in the classic tradition such as Frankenstein, Dracula, and other high calibre literary works by Edgar Allen Poe, Saki, Conan Doyle, and other respected authors whose works are read in high schools around the world.
- Narcotics or drug-addiction shall not be presented except as a vicious habit. Narcotics or drug-addiction or the illicit traffic in addiction-producing narcotics or drugs shall not be shown nor described if the presentation:
- Tends to any manner to encourage, stimulate, or justify the use of such narcotics or drugs; or
- Stresses, visually, by text or dialogue, the temporary attractive benefits; or
- Suggests that narcotics or drug drug habit can be easily broken; or
- Shows or describes details of narcotics or drug procurement, or the implements or devices used in taking narcotics or drugs, or the taking of narcotics or drugs in any manner; or
- Emphasizes the profits of the narcotics or drug traffic; or
- Involves children who are shown knowingly to use or traffic in narcotics or drugs; or
- Emphasizes the taking of narcotics or drugs throughout, or in a major way, of the story, and leaves the denouement to the final panels.
The times they were a-changing. Somehow horror comics were no longer the “bane of the bassinet”… and attentions turned to late/post-sixties drug culture. We’ll discuss a couple of stories from Marvel and DC (you know the ones) that “pushed back” on this tomorrow.
- Healthy, wholesome lifestyles will be presented as desirable. However, the use and abuse of controlled substances, legal and illicit, are facts of modern existence, and may be portrayed when dramatically appropriate.
- In general recognizable national, social, political, cultural, ethnic and racial groups, religious institutions, law enforcement authorities will be portrayed in a positive light. These include (…) social groups identifiable by lifestyle, such as homosexuals, the economically disadvantaged, the economically privileged, the homeless, senior citizens, minors, etc.
I really wasn’t expecting to still be talking about this early project for quite this long. I figured by now I’d already be sharing some stories from 2018-2019. Guess that’s just another sign of how much graham we would cram into our shows. I hope readers are enjoying this trip down memory lane… I know they’ve been immeasurably helpful for me.
I’m at the point where I’m trying to get motivated about the future… both of this site and the podcast channel. I have a lot of mixed emotions about continuing on… but, I’d also face a lot of guilt if I just called it a day. Whichever way it ultimately winds up going, there’s likely to be quite an emotional challenge ahead of me.
Yesterday we went through the original Comics Code… and, I received a question from loyal reader and pal Chris U. in the comments. He asked if I felt leaving the regulation of the industry to the publishers themselves resulted in harsher guidelines than had the government actually intervened. That was the perfect question, as it leads pretty much into what we’re going to discuss today.
Reggie and I had posited that, had the government actually stepped in… the guidelines would likely have been far more lenient. Government officials and offices weren’t going to dedicate the time and manpower to judge the worthiness of comic materials. Also, the verbiage in the code would have likely been a bit less nebulous/subjective.
Comics, as they still do to this very day, over-corrected in the face of adversity. Rather than put up any sort of fight, or try and compromise with their “accuser”, the industry just, to put it crassly, bent over. People criticize comics for [insert whatever], and comics immediately change course. I could go into the “insecurities” of the comics industry (then and now)… but, if I start… I doubt I’ll be able to stop anytime soon.
So, do we have an example of over-correction in the early days of the Code? We sure do! Let’s look at a little story called “Judgment Day”, that appeared in Weird Fantasy #18 (April, 1955) from EC Comics… Bill Gaines is back again!
This story was flatly rejected by the Comics Code Authority (Judge Charles Murphy specifically)… and Gaines was told it would pass only if they changed the final panel. Ya see, this was a story about an astronaut… who, in the final panel, was revealed as being a (dun dun dunnnnnn) black man.
Al Feldstein, writer of the piece, would say:
- “Judge Murphy was off his nut. He was really out to get us.”
- “I went in there with this story and Murphy says, ‘it can’t be a black man’.”
- “But that’s the whole point of the story!”
- “This is ridiculous! I’m going to call a press conference on this. You have no grounds, no basis to do this. I’ll sue you.”
- “If they do not give that issue the Code Seal, I would see that the world found out why.”
- “They (the CCA) said, ‘Oh no, you can’t do this story’.”
- When asked why not, ‘According to the rules of the Code Authority, you can’t mention drugs in a story’.”
- We would do more harm to the country by not running the story than by running it.”
- “I felt the United States Government somehow took precedence over the Comics Code Authority.”
- The Code was totally rewritten because of Stan and that cover within the month.”
- “We could have done it first and been the ones to make the big move. Popping a pill and walking off a roof isn’t the sort of thing that happens (this is a reference to the events of the Spider-Man story), but heroin addiction is; to have it happen to one of our heroes was potentially devastating. Anyway, the publishers at DC, Marvel and the rest called a meeting, and in three weeks, the Comics Code was completely rewritten. And we did our story.”
- “Stan took the ball and nobody said no. It became the thing to talk about. DC Comics was fit to be tied. They had it in the palm of their hands and they dropped it!”
As we were getting into the final chapter, wherein we would both allow ourselves to editorialize and opine… I was getting pretty nervous. Not that we had some huge following or audience that we might “turn off” with our hot-takes or anything… it’s just that I had never expressed any controversial statements on-the-air before. Even if just one listener had clapped-back, I would have really been affected by it.
Reggie, as always, was cool about it. He invited me to share some of my takeaways… told me we’d do the recording, and afterwards… anything either of us didn’t feel comfortable with… would be edited out. Working very much “with a net”, I was able to allow myself to be honest… even if my honest opinion was one that might not be appreciated by a listener or two.
Here’s a look at our “Mission Statement” for Part 5:
Today’s blog post will be focusing on the very last line.
A story that kept creeping back into my head as we were preparing for this piece was one that… honestly, I can’t remember if it made air or not. I haven’t been able to go back and listen to our back catalog… I’m not really ready for that yet, ya know? The story was about the time I’d gotten into an contentious discussion a few years prior at, of all places, an anime and manga message board.
A man had been taken into custody for importing some digital manga (doujinshi, fan-made manga images, actually) into Canada… which, had been jumped on by the “commentary community” of the day… and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. These images, it’s worth noting, were… unsavory. Not the sort of thing you’d want left out on your coffee table when Grandma comes to visit. He was accused of having well, “kiddie” stuff due to the “moe” style of the art. That’s… an argument I’ll leave for other folks to discuss.
The person involved was, by all accounts, treated quite poorly by Canadian Customs, and it was an all-around horrible situation. Again, the actual content of the doujinshi (which you can find online, if you’re interested) isn’t something I’m going to be covering here. It’s more the fallout on this particular forum… wherein, one of the more notable members (an Admin, actually) wrote this scathing screed about censorship… and, as is often the case, blamed the entire thing on American Conservatives (this case, again, didn’t happen in the USA). This Admin found themselves lost in the weeds… completely forgot the plot, and was just all-around nasty to anyone who might’ve held an opposing political opinion.
So, on this forum… this notable member was able to foment this very pointed movement… and narrative about how, any time censorship had been invoked in the 20th Century, it always came from the political-Right (emphasis on always). I’m not one to carry the water for any political ideology… but, that’s just plain untrue. I added to the conversation, in as non-confrontational a way as possible in order to offer up a few examples of why this was, ultimately, a flawed position… and one that would only serve to divide and make people angry, rather than actually helping.
The two that immediately popped into my head were the semi-recent (within the past quarter-century at least), Parental Advisory stickers on music albums and the ESRB code on video games. The Music Industry had gotten push back for explicit lyrics from Tipper Gore, then-wife of then-Senator Al Gore (D) and the Parents’ Music Resource Center, which ultimately led to those stickers getting stuck… and probably for that Butthole Surfers album getting its new K-Mart-friendly “Squirrel cover”.
Video games, around the time of Mortal Kombat and Night Trap, faced a ton of criticism in Washington, D.C. Led by Joe Lieberman (D), Herb Kohl (D), and at the time-First Lady, Hillary Clinton. I’m not seeing any Conservatives just yet (not to say there weren’t any involved). Again, I’m not one to carry anybody’s water, and I was by no means attempting to make a blanket statement… I was just trying to add some context in order to stop everyone else from doing the same. There is a productive discussion to be had here… we just gotta peel back the layers of political partisanship in order to actually get there.
Naturally, I was exposed as a witch on that forum… and run off (banned actually, which… when you’re talking “censorship” is kind of a hoot) as a George W. Bush supporter/sympathizer (which, is a most laughable accusation).
Now, in learning all about Senator Estes Kefauver (D) throughout this project… this was yet another attempt at regulation coming from the American political Left. I figured, since this entire series of episodes was predicated on challenging established narratives (Wertham the Boogeyman, Seduction of the Innocent, etc.), it might not be the worst idea to bring some of these concepts into the light. I mean, we were already going to mention regulatory “Codes” in other media… but, without any sort of actual background discussion.
I was worried though. I wasn’t looking to attack anybody or any political “side” (I personally don’t have a dog in that fight)… this was going to be a simple presentation of facts. Actually, it was going to be one of the least editorialized “bits” of the episode… because, we were certainly not looking for any sort of political debate. But still… it’s politics on the internet, which is a scary slope to slide down. Since we’d be sharing this on social media… I grew even more trepidatious. Because, there are certain truisms on social media: nobody shops at Walmart, nobody eats at McDonald’s, everybody is a good driver, and everybody votes Democrat.
Granted, nothing ever came of this… we were never “called out” for our presentation of the facts… nor, looking back, was that really ever something to be worried about. We never took a position, which… when strictly presenting facts, is really the only way to be. Reggie was supportive, and honestly, I might’ve been most nervous about presenting this “bit” to him, as he was further to the Left politically. Seeing as though we were simply presenting facts, without any sort of snide opinion, he didn’t see anything wrong with it.
Now, the main reason we wanted to introduce Self-Regulation among other forms of media (music, video games… even television and the movies) into the conversation was to point out one thing in particular. American industries who regulate themselves don’t have to answer to the United States Constitution. This is something we touched on yesterday, regarding the harshness of the CCA vs. had the government actually intervened.
If the government had been forced to get involved, and judge every piece of media (comics and otherwise) being produced… they would have to be led by the First Amendment of the Constitution and likely, quite often run in with the U.S. Supreme Court. That’s a lot of effort… and, as we posited… not the sort of effort the Feds were looking to expend.
Here’s a bit from our notes:
Over the next couple of days, we’ll wrap this subject up once and for all… we still have to look at the end of the CCA (and life after the Code), talk about Frederic Wertham actually coming around to comics (and comics fandom) in his later years, and discuss perhaps the diciest subject of all: The “new” Comics Code Authority aka. social media.
- ALL-AGES – Self-explanatory
- T (or) A – Appropriate for most Readers (9+)
- T+ – Teens 13+
- PSR: PARENTAL ADVISORY – Older Teens
- MAX: EXPLICIT CONTENT – 18+
- E – Everybody
- T – Teen
- T+ – Teen Plus
- M – Mature