The Comics Code

comic-code

 

“What I didn’t know at the time was that a few years earlier the comic book industry had been gutted by a series of Senate House Committee hearings. Groups of pious, right-thinking people had pressured our elected government officials into a witch hunt on comic book creators. The focus of this exercise in First Amendment bashing was, of course, EC Comics, the grand masters of the horror genre. But the entire industry suffered because of these hearings. Companies went out of business, respected writers and artists were forced to find employment in other fields, some of them forever after denying they ever had anything to do with the funny book business.”

“What was left of the industry survived by forming the Comics code, a self-regulated organization whose job (and still is) to keep the American kids reading matter pure and wholesome.”

Extract from the foreword of “Batman The Cult” by Jim Starlin

 

The comic Code Authority (CCA) was set up in 1954 by the Comics Magazine Association of America an alternative to government regulation, to allow the comic publishers to self-regulate the content of comic books in America. Its code, commonly called “the comic codes” lasted until the early 21st century. Many have linked the CCA’s formation to a series of Senate hearings and the publication of psychiatrist Fredic Wertham’s book Seduction of the innocent.

The code was revised a number of time during 1971, to allow for, among other things, the sometimes sympathetic depiction of criminal behaviour and corruption among public officials but only as long as it is portrayed as exceptional and the culprit is punished, as well as permitting some criminal activities to kill law enforcement officers and the suggestion but not portrayal of seduction. The revised code also allowed Vampires, ghosts, werewolves to be in comics only if used in the classic tradition seen in books written by authors such as Edgar Allan Poe, Conan Doyle and many other respected authors. Zombies were still banned as they lacked any credible back ground in books.

“The eighties brought on a more adult version of comics. The readership was getting older and demanded stories with more meat on them. Writers leapt at the chance to expand the depths of the imaginary characters they’d grown up with and whose destinies they now directed. Some pretty nice stuff came out of this new freedom: Moore’s Swamp Thing, Miller’s Daredevil and Batman, Byrne’s Superman and many others.”

Extract from the foreword of “Batman The Cult” by Jim Starlin

 

By the early 2000s, new publishers bypassed the CCA and Marvel Comics abandoned it in 2001. By 2010, only three major publishers still adhered to it: DC Comics, Archie Comics, and Bongo Comics. Bongo broke with the CAA in 2010. DC and Archie followed in January 2011, rendering the code defunct.

In 2001 Marvel Comics withdrew from the CCA in favour of its own rating system designating appropriate age groups and in 2010 Bongo comics ceased using the code. In January 2011, DC Comics announced that they would be dropping the code and start using a system very similar to Marvel Comics.

 

“After the Comics Code was forced upon Batman, the Dark Knight was stripped of his fearsome anger and forced to be something he wasn’t: a happy, smiling father figure chasing aliens around a Day-Glo Gotham City.”

Extract from the foreword of “Batman The Cult” by Jim Starlin

 

The 1954 CCA criteria

 

 

  • 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.
  • If crime is depicted it shall be as a sordid and unpleasant activity.
  • Policemen, judges, government officials, and respected institutions shall never be presented in such a way as to create disrespect for established authority.
  • 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 comic magazine shall use the words “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 used or 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, cannibalism, and werewolfism are prohibited.
  • Profanity, obscenity, smut, vulgarity, or words or symbols which have acquired undesirable meanings are forbidden.
  • Nudity in any form is prohibited, as is indecent or undue exposure.
  • Suggestive and salacious illustration or suggestive posture is unacceptable.
  • Females shall be drawn realistically without exaggeration of any physical qualities.
  • Illicit sex relations are neither to be hinted at nor portrayed. Rape scenes as well as sexual abnormalities are unacceptable.
  • Seduction and rape shall never be shown or suggested.
  • Sex perversion or any inference to same is strictly forbidden.
  • 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 or morals.
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