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Approved by the Comics Code Authority

The CCA Seal of Approval

The Comics Code Authority (or CCA) was established in 1954 by the Comics Magazine Association of America to regulate the content of comic books published in the United States. Members who wanted their comics to have the Comics Code seal would send the comic to them; if it was in compliance with the criteria then it would get the CCA seal. However, major comics publishers eventually abandoned it and it became defunct in 2011.

Overview[]

The code was voluntary; there was no law requiring its use, although some advertisers and retailers looked to it for reassurance. Some publishers including Dell, Western, and Classics Illustrated never used it.

History[]

The Comics Magazine Association of America (CMAA) was established in September 1954 after a widespread public concern over graphic violence and horror imagery in comic books. It named New York magistrate Charles F. Murphy (1920–1992), a specialist in juvenile delinquency, to head the organization, devising a self-policing "code of ethics and standards" for the industry. He established the Comics Code Authority (CCA), basing its code upon the largely unenforced code drafted by the Association of Comics Magazine Publishers in 1948, which in turn had been modeled loosely after the 1940 Hollywood Production Code, also known as the "Hays Code".

Before the adoption of the CCA, some cities already organized public burnings and bans on comic books[1]. The city councils of Oklahoma City, OK and Houston, TX, passed ordinanced which banned crime and horror comics, even though an attempt by Los Angeles County, CA, was deemed unconstitutional by the courts[1].

In this introduction to Archie Americana Series Best of the Fifites, editor Victor Gorelick reminesced about the code, writing, My first assignment as a new art assistant was to remove cleavages and lift up low cut blouses on Katy Keene[2]." He also wrote about of Harry Lucey that, "His sometimes– almost cost him his job. When his pencilled stories came in, the characters were dressed on one page only. The inker, a woman by the name of Terry Szenics, would have to clothe them on the remaining pages[3].

Even though the CCA had no official control over the comics publishers, most distributors refused to carry comics which did not carry the seal[4]. However, two major publishers of comics, Dell Comics and Gold Key Comics, did not carry the seal because their output was subject to a higher authority: their licensors, which included Walt Disney and the productors of many shows aimed at children[5].

Criticism and enforcement[]

Some publishers thrived under these restrictions, while others adapted by cancelling titles and focusing on code-approved content; still others went out of business. In practice, the negative effect of not having CCA approval was lack of distribution by the comic book wholesalers, who, as one historian observed, "served as the enforcement arm of the Comics Code Authority by agreeing to handle only those comics with the seal."

Publisher William Gaines believed that clauses forbidding the words "crime", "horror", and "terror" in comic book titles had been deliberately aimed at his own best-selling titles Crime SuspenStories, The Vault of Horror, and Tales from the Crypt.

Wertham dismissed the code as an inadequate half-measure. Comics analyst Scott McCloud, on the other hand, later commented that it was as if, in drawing up the code, "the list of requirements a film needs to receive a G rating was doubled, and there were no other acceptable ratings!"

"Judgement Day"[]

In one early confrontation between a comic-book publisher and the code authorities, EC Comics' William Gaines reprinted the story "Judgment Day", from the pre-code Weird Fantasy #18 (April 1953), in Incredible Science Fiction #33 (February 1956). The reprint was a replacement for the Code-rejected story "An Eye for an Eye", drawn by Angelo Torres, though "Judgment Day" was itself also objected to because of the central character being black. The story, by writer Al Feldstein and artist Joe Orlando, was an allegory against racial prejudice, a point which was necessarily nullified if the lead character was not black. Following an order by code administrator Judge Charles Murphy to change the final panel, which depicted a black astronaut, Gaines engaged in a heated dispute with Murphy. He threatened to inform the press of Murphy's objection to the story if they did not give the issue the Code Seal, causing Murphy to reverse his initial decision and allow the story to run. Soon after, however, facing the severe restrictions placed upon his comics by the CCA, and with his "New Direction" titles floundering, Gaines quit comic book publishing to concentrate on Mad.

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.

1960s-1970s[]

"Wolfman" and credits[]

Writer Marv Wolfman's name was briefly a point of contention between DC Comics and the CCA. In the supernatural-mystery anthology House of Secrets #83 (January 1970), the book's host introduces the story "The Stuff that Dreams are Made of" as one told to him by "a wandering wolfman". (All-capitals comics lettering made difficult to distinguish between "wolfman" and "Wolfman".) The CCA rejected the story, flagging the "wolfman" reference as a violation. Fellow writer Gerry Conway explained to the CCA that the story's author was in fact named Wolfman, asking whether it would still be in violation if that were clearly stated. The CCA agreed that it would not be, as long as Wolfman received a writer's credit on the first page of the sotry; leading DC to begin crediting creators in its supernatural-mystery anthologies[6].

Updating the Code[]

The Code was subject to several revisions in 1971, initially on 28 January 1971, in order to allow for, among other things, the sometimes "sympathetic depiction of criminal behavior... [and] corruption among public officials" ("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 clause "suggestive posture is unacceptable" was removed and newly allowed were "vampires, ghouls and werevolves... where handled in the classic tradition such as Frankenstein, Dracula and other high calibre literary works written by Edgar Allan Poe, Saki, Conan Doyles and other respected authors whose works are read in schools around the world". Since zombies lacked the requisite "literary" background, they remained taboo. To circumvent this restriction, Marvel in the mid-1970s called the apparently deceased, mind-controlled followers of various Haitians supervillains "zuvembies". This practice carried over to Marvel's superhero line: in The Avengers, when the reanimated superhero Wonder Man returns from the dead, he is refered to as a "zuvembie". DC Comics published their own zombie story in Swamp Thing #16 (May 1975), where the deceased rise from their graves, while a soul-devouring demon appears in Swamp Thing #15 (April 1975).

Around that time, Marvel Comics' editor-in-chief Stan Lee was approached by the United States Department of Health, Education and Welfare to do a story about drug abuse. He agreed and wrote a three-part Spider-Man story, portraying drug use as dangerous and unglamorous. While depiction of drugs was not specifically forbidden by the Code, a general clause prohibited "All elements or techniques not specifically mentioned herein, but which are contrary to the spirit and intent of the code, and are considered violations of good taste or decency". The CCA had approved at least one previous story involving drugs, the priere of Deadman in Strange Adventures #205 (October 1967), which clearly depicted the main character fighting against opium smugglers[7]. However, Code administrator Leonard Darvin "was ill" at the time of the Spider-Man story, and acting administrator John L. GOldwater, who was a publisher of Archie Comics, refused to grant Code approval to said story due to the depiction of narcotics being used, regardless of the context, whereas the Deadman story depicted only a whoesale business transaction.

Confident that the original government request would give him credibility, and with the approval of his publisher Martin Goodman, Lee ran the story in The Amazing Spider-Man #96–98 (May–July 1971), without CCA approval. The storyline was well received, and the CCA's argument for denying approval was deemed counterproductive. "That was the only big issue that we had" with the Code, Lee recalled in a 1998 interview:

I could understand them; they were like lawyers, people who take things literally and technically. The Code mentioned that you mustn't mention drugs and, according to their rules, they were right. So I didn't even get mad at them then. I said, 'Screw it' and just took the Code seal off for those three issues. Then we went back to the Code again. I never thought about the Code when I was writing a story, because basically I never wanted to do anything that was to my mind too violent or too sexy. I was aware that young people were reading these books, and had there not been a Code, I don't think that I would have done the stories any differently.

Lee and Marvel drew criticism from DC head Carmine Infantino "for defying the code", stating that DC will not "do any drug stories unless the code is changed". As a result of publicity surrounding the Department of Health, Education and Welfare's sanctioning of the storyline, however, the CCA revised the Code to permit the depiction of "narcotics or drug addiction" if presented "as a vicious habit". DC itself then broached the topic in the Code-approved Green Lantern/Green Arrow #85 (Sept. 1971), with writer Denny O'Neil and artist Neal Adams beginning a story arc involving Green Arrow's teen sidekick Speedy as a heroin addict. A cover line read, "DC attacks youth's greatest problem... Drugs!"

1980s-present[]

A late adopter of the code was Now Comics, which began displaying the Code seal on titles released in early 1989.

Long term effects into the 1990s[]

Not mentioned or referred to in official sources, the downfall of the United States comics industry by the censorship imposed by the Comics Code and the Authority would be extremely significant in what most comic book historians would refer to as the Dark Age of American Comics. Although many publishers and authors began to resist the code thanks to Stan Lee and Spider-Man's anti-drug special in the 1970s, culturally, comic books were heavily derided in the American public eye since the 1950s as childish nonsense and disposable entertainment for children, as well as stigmatized as "un-American" and "satanic" due to a wide mix of McCarthyism, excessive American military culture stemming machismo, conservative Christian leanings, the rise of Morality In Media groups, and disillusionment to materialistic infatuation with the American Dream upon the economic inflation and hardships of the 1970s and the 1980s. With no want to attempt to combat these stigmas or even to break free from the restraints and long term effects of censorship onto comic books, comic books largely were regulated to the outcast fringes of society as niche "nerd" and "geek" fare.

As such, comic books within the world of American art were "not art", and was largely overlooked and derided as well within the American artists community. This lead to a lack of interest of talent, from writers to artists, to believe comic books could never be but never more than what it was judged by the American majority stigma. In addition, comic books were largely tied to as "only" superhero or cheap licensing promotional fare due to the comic book industry and its staff not wanting to "rock the boat" or risk challenging their restraints for the sake of profit over the last few decades. While superheroes were still admired within the American public, this would eventually lead to the start of events that snowball into what would be known as primarily, "The Dark Age of Comic Books".

The Death Of Superman[]

By the 1990s, an idea spread around the writer's room at DC Comics, entertaining the idea of "What if we killed Superman?" While jovial and comedic at first, this would soon turn into a joint decision by the writers at DC. As such, the Death of Superman was released in 1992. Featuring Superman dying in his fight against Doomsday, the story would be a thrilling yet emotional conclusion to many readers, in where the Man of Steel would be put to rest. Unbeknownst to many readers, DC planned for his revival. Though monumental and of great shock to the comic books world, this drove sales of the Death of Superman to some of the highest in decades.

The Comics Crash of 1993[]

At the same time of the release of The Death of Superman, the comics collectors market was at an all time high by the 1980s, where an emphasis on comics being instead monetary investments and capital was focused on by the American comics industry than actual quality of work or reversing the long existing stigma against comics in the American populace. What many investors and the industry did not grasp was that it was older comics that lasted since the their conception, as well as Golden Age comics from the late 1960s and early 1970s that were of any monetary worth, mainly from being the origins of major heroes like Superman, Batman, The X-Men, Iron Man, and Spiderman, as example. Because The Death of Superman became one of DC's best sellers, and combined with this sensational speculation, this lead as example for other comic businesses to make first edition issues with various gimmicks, including flashy holographic covers and "radical reimaginings" of comics to try and sell. In turn, the American comics industry by 1993 was flooded by a glut of these "first edition issues", and as the supply was greater than the demand, this lead into many comic shops and distributors losing money upon their investments, and cut many of related franchising projects short as profit was not realized.

The Dark Age of Comics[]

Going back to "radical reimaginings", as well as The Death of Superman, the lack of literary and storytelling integrity for comic books lead to a fervent backlash against rather conservative and American politics rooted morality slingshotted upon the end of the gung-ho pro-Made In America 1980s, ranging from languishing malaise of the decadence of yuppie and adult working life culture, corporate control over the media, untreated and often misdiagnosed issues of crime, including the growing trends of drug use, gang violence, and unresolved socio-economic causes, and the growing national lack of morale in American influence within Generation X. With superheroes having been intertwined as the strongarms and figureheads of government power in order to prove their "American loyalties", being essentially their enforcers of the soft power aspects of the state, there was growing disdain against superheroes for being "the man" by youth by the 1990s. Though there were more relatable "unconventional" heroes like The Punisher, The Question, and even RoboCop, the biggest story regarding the fall of the American superhero is that of Watchmen by Alan Moore, which was intended to be a deconstructive jab at superheroes and a "realistic" look at what their influence would bring to modern day society. However, Watchmen was instead received as a "cool new take" on superheroes upon its reception, rather than its critical commentary at the position superheroes were beginning to take in American society. With this lack of insight and critical thinking, and in some part due to comics not being able to overcome the cultural inertia of being regarded only as flashy entertainment, this began to influence comic book writers and creators to instead create what would soon emerge as the "dark anti-hero"- And along with other various stories like The Death of Superman also indicative of the "death" of American conservative "truth, justice, and The American Way", would further spur what would be known as the "Dark Age of Comics".

Though the idea of an anti-hero was not uncommon nor is a flaw by conception, the superhero based anti-hero was mostly ill conceived as vicious, selfish, and an irresponsible all powerful entity that wouldn't seek to use any means necessary to uphold their views of justice, and often this would come off as them being merely supervillains in all but name. Being mainly published by Image Comics, the vast majority of them were of this rather stereotypical yet existent mold, outside of more successful anti-heroes like Spawn, Lobo, The Maxx, and Gen13. In addition, their menacing, brutish, and machismo filled aesthetic and image came to isolate themselves from potential readers outside of teenage male youth and adolescents, and further cemented additional stigmas against comics being only for young and teenage boys. The Dark Age of Comics nevertheless uses the 90s Anti-Hero as a figurehead of this age of sequential literary decline, despite other more major aspects than just the 90s Anti-Hero.

The 1996 Collapse and Rebirth of Marvel and DC[]

There are many causes for the financial bankruptcy of Marvel and DC before 1997; many including when the Death of Superman and similar themed stories spurred Marvel and DC to create "replacement updated" and "relevant 1990s based" superheroes like Superboy and Nightwing, Malibu Comics influencing Marvel and DC to attempt a multi-media crossover heavy universe akin to its Ultraverse series of superhero comics, losing profits and face when their attempt to match Image Comics by trying to bank on the collector's money rush boom of the Comics collecting speculation bubble of the 1980s, and inadvertently causing many homegrown comic book stores to fold shop and close their doors when their comics could not push sales for themselves and their distributors. Marvel was also said to have suffered from Disney's lackluster ticket sales at the box office, which dramatically impacted their licensing sales with Disney.

By December 27, 1997, Marvel Comics filed for bankruptcy. DC did not file for bankruptcy, but their reputation took a hit due to inadvertently spurring the struggles comic books would face through the 1990s. Marvel Comics would be bought out by Montreal based toy manufacturing company ToyBiz, reforming into Marvel Enterprises. DC would late buy Jim Lee's WildStorm imprint and its properties in 1998, bringing them over from Image Comics.

A New Challenger Arises: Anime and Manga[]

Unexpectedly, the United States and its comic industry would be given a sidelining blindside from entertainment from another side of the world, being Japanese anime and manga. While interest in anime and manga has been noted to have interest with an American audience since its birth into the late 1960s and the 1970s, by the 1990s, anime and manga grew to prominence as a result of the alternative media boom and the failures spurred by the longtime effects of the Comics Codes leading newer and disenfranchised fans to its presence. Anime and manga began to swell in popularity in the United States as a result of anime and Japanese video games with shared consistent sense of unity and quality, and not being as heavily restricted and repressed in its content, leading to anime and manga to have freedom of expression and creative artistic integrity as much as any other form of entertainment and media. By the 2000s, anime and manga made an explosively ascending foothold into the United States as a result of its artistic quality and uncompromising presentation as comics and sequential art bringing the sales than merely the ideas of merchandise, brand recognition, and consumption speculation based sales that were forced to be turned to as a result of the Comics Codes.

Due to its qualities and undeterred excelling aspects, anime and manga were able to bypass many of the restrictions and challenges comic books faced at this time, from being able to be sold at bookstores than newstands and comic book stores due to them having content on par with books, having an audience and fans who were adamant and vocal against any form of censorship imposed upon an author's work, not needing to answer to oppressive American "morality in media" and "decency committees" for its story content, and dared to go against the grain and challenge American stigmas against drawn media that were extremely prevalent during the late 1990s and the early 2000s. Thus, by its existence and attributes as comics, manga proved that comics could be successful without the Comics Codes and challenged its oppressive presence upon comics in the United States.

Abandonment[]

By the 2000s, advertisers no longer made decisions to advertise based on the appearance of the stamp. Most new publishers to emerge during this time did not join the CCA, regardless of whether their content conformed to its standards.

In 2001, the CCA rejected an issue of the Marvel Comics series X-Force, requiring changes to be made. Instead, Marvel stopped submitting its comics to the CCA.

In 2010, Bongo Comics discontinued using the Code without any announcements regarding its abandonment.

The CMAA, at some point in the 2000s, was managed by the trade-organization management firm the Kellen Company, which ceased its involvement in 2009. In 2010, some publishers, including Archie, placed the seal on their comics without submitting them to the CMAA. Archie Comics President Mike Pellerito stated that the code did not affect his company the way that it did others as "we aren't about to start stuffing bodies into refrigerators".

On January 20, 2011, DC Comics announced that it would discontinue participation, adopting a rating system similar to Marvel's. The company noted that it submitted comics for approval through December 2010, but would not say to whom they were submitted. A day later, Archie Comics, the only other publisher still participating in the Code, announced it also was discontinuing it, rendering the Code defunct.

On September 29, 2011, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund announced that it would acquire the intellectual property rights to the Comics Code seal from the defunct CMAA.

The Comics Code seal can be seen at the beginning of the 2018 superhero film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse as part of the production logos. Later in the film, when Miles is reading Spider-Man's origin (a slightly altered take of Amazing Fantasy #15), the CCA logo is replaced with a similar logo reading "Approved by the Cabin Fever Production Code," a reference to the Senate hearings and formation of the CCA.

In May 2021, Binge Books announced that it had used the seal on the one-shot comic Heroes Union, produced by Roger Stern, Ron Frenz, and Sal Buscema.

References[]

  1. 1.0 1.1 Costello, Matthew J. Secret Identity Crisis: Comic Books and the Unmasking of Cold War America (Continuum, 2009), ISBN 978-0-8264-2998-8, p. 32
  2. Gorelick, Victor (1992). "Introduction". Archie Americana Series Best of the Fifties Volume 2. Archie Comic Publications. p. 4.
  3. Gorelick, page ?
  4. Silberkeilt, Michael, cited in Costello, page ?
  5. https://issuu.com/twomorrows/docs/alterego144preview
  6. https://web.archive.org/web/20110719015214/http://goodcomics.comicbookresources.com/2007/09/06/comic-book-urban-legends-revealed-119/
  7. http://goodcomics.comicbookresources.com/2009/09/24/comic-book-legends-revealed-226/

See also[]

  • Hays Code, a similar set of censorship rules once used for the film industry.

External links[]

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