Of Sneetches and Robots, Orange and Blue

« “Good grief!” yelled the ones that had stars at the first.We’re still the best Sneetches and they are the worst. But, now, how in the world will we know,” they all frowned, “if which kind is what, or the other way round?” » — Dr. Seuss‘ The Sneetches (1961)

A few days ago, this news item piqued my interest: « The assistant director of communications for Olentangy Local School District abruptly stopped the reading of the Dr. Seuss book “The Sneetches” to a third-grade classroom during an NPR podcast after students asked about race. »

Naturally, since this sorry episode made its way around the world and rightly gave rise to quite the furore, the school district has since thrown its patsy under the bus.

This mention of Dr. Seuss’ timeless classic The Sneetches made me think of another slightly earlier parable of systemic racism, Bill Gaines, Al Feldstein and Joe Orlando‘s Judgment Day (1953), and the similarly telling reaction would-be guardians of bluenose morality had to it.

Initially, I thought posting such an already eminent story as ‘Judgment Day’ was a trifle too obvious. But then again, how famous can a standalone comic book story published seventy years ago be, in the true scale of things? Really, it can never be famous enough.

In the course of an excellent article, CBR.com’s Brian Cronin summed up the skirmish (spoiler alert! you may want to read the story first if you haven’t already):

« The last traditional comic book produced by EC Comics was 1955’s Incredible Science Fiction (a series that had just begun a few months earlier, taking over the numbering from Weird-Science Fantasy) #33.

The last story in the issue, “Eye for an Eye,” had to be pulled at the last minute due to objections by the Comics Code Authority.

So Gaines and editor Al Feldstein decided to reprint “Judgment Day” in its place.

However, Gaines and Feldstein were then told that this replacement story ALSO violated the Comics Code.

Judge Charles Murphy (administrator of the Code) said that they would have to change the astronaut from black to white if they wanted it to be included. This was not part of the Code at the time. Feldstein and Gaines felt that Murphy was just deliberately messing with them.

After being told that, clearly, the color of the astronaut’s skin was practically the whole point of the story, Murphy backed down a bit, but said that they would at least have to get rid of the perspiration on his skin. It could possibly be that Murphy felt that it was exploitative. I do not know, and neither did Feldstein nor Gaines, who only had their suspicions that they were being screwed with.

Feldstein and Gaines both refused to comply (I believe the terms they used included at least one use of the word “fuck“), and Gaines threatened a lawsuit and/or a press conference to shine a light on why exactly the story was objected to.

The story ran as is. »

And so here it is (boasting superior reproduction, thank you, technology):

Originally published in Weird Fantasy no. 18 (Mar.-Apr. 1953, EC). Beautifully understated, it’s easy to understand why its creators considered it a high point of their respective careers.

As is generally the case with such anecdotes, there are other accounts and explanations:

« At least three versions of the story about Gaines’ dispute with the CMAA exist. In an interview, Gaines said a story showing a black astronaut with sweat on his face was rejected because the code forbid ridicule of any religion or race. When he threatened to sue, the code administrator backed down. A second version of the story suggests that Gaines was not able to get approval for the comic, but printed it with the seal anyway. A third account, told by Gaines’ business manager, said the EC story was rejected because it featured robots, which challenged Code Administrator Charles Murphy’s religious beliefs that only man was granted the ability to think. »

I like that, no matter which angle or reality we consider, Judge Murphy never fails to, er… rise to the occasion.

In closing, here’s a scrumptious cartoon anecdote about Messrs. Orlando and Gaines.

« Here’s Sergio Aragones‘ version of one of the many outings Joe Orlando and his publisher/pal Bill Gaines made to the best restaurants in Paris. While on one of the now famous MAD trips, Joe and Bill would eat 4 or 5 times a day! They went from restaurant to restaurant, always ordering the specialty of the house — with appropriate wines, of course! Yep — they’ve been on a very strict diet since (… but it hasn’t helped!) » Originally published in The ‘Special Joe Orlando Issue‘ of Amazing World of DC Comics (no. 6, May-June 1975, DC).

-RG