Jan 27, 2011

The End of the Comics Code Authority: Archie the First In and Last Out

Well, it's official. The Comics Code Authority is dead. First Marvel Comics dropped it in 2001 and replaced it with its own rating system, then Bongo Comics dropped it a year ago, then DC Comics dropped it last week, then Archie Comics followed suit. With Archie Comics doing so, it seems that the Comics Code is now closed, and the first one in has left and turned off the lights.

The Comics Code Authority was formed in 1954 after the congressional hearings spurred by Dr. Fredric Wertham's book, Seduction of the Innocent, which, among other things, claimed that comics were the primary reason for juvenile delinquency. His arguments made no sense at all, but he had the word "Dr." in front of his name and it was in the McCarthy era, so people listened.

The CCA's rules were as follows:

  • 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.
  •  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 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 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. Violent love 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.

And as you can imagine, this really neutered the medium. And there were other things. For example, in order to prove that Batman and Robin  weren't gay, they hung out more with girls. (Remember Aunt Harriet from the Adam West show? She was created so that Wayne Manor wouldn't be all men.)

How their aversion to dating these two women proves their heterosexuality,
I'm not so sure.

No publisher was affected more than EC Comics, which tried replacing their wildly successful crime and horror books, like Crime Suspenstories:

Johnny Craig is the artist for this one.

With titles like MD and Psychoanalysis:

I'm sure these books were good for what they were, given the talent in EC's bullpen, but come on.

No publishers were required to submit to the CCA, but for a really long time, most distributors wouldn't even carry a book if it didn't have the CCA seal of approval. 

Interestingly, the CCA, the universal comics-censoring board, was brought into being behind the scenes by one of their own: Archie Comics. Although opinions on motivations vary, John Goldwater, founder and then-editor and publisher of Archie Comics, was one of the founders of the CCA and was one of the people who drew up the aforementioned guidelines.

The interesting urban legend is that Goldwater did it at least partly out of spite for Harvey Kurtzman, who, in TALES CALCULATED TO DRIVE YOU MAD #12, printed "Starchie," a hilarious spoof of Archie.

The concept of Starchie was simple: take Archie's tagline as "America's typical teenager" and treat that with honesty. The rumor is that the satire really stung Goldwater, so he reported EC to Congress (this is a bit of a stretch, if you ask me) and then helped found the CCA. Because what's the one publisher that would get really neutered by censorship? EC Comics. And what's the one publisher that would likely not get neutered at all, aside from Dell Comics which was publishing Disney? That's right, Archie Comics.

In any event, true or not, with Archie Comics dropping the CCA, it means that this censorship body's closing time has come, and the people who built it have just turned off the lights.

I feel bad for the guys at the CCA though, for no other reason than it must really suck to leave a job that actually requires you to read comics.

See also: The comics that ended the CCA!


plsburydoughboy said...

So is the Comics Magazine Association of America dissolved as well?

Duy Tano said...

I should've clarifed - they're not officially dead; it's more a case of "Well, there's no one left to oversee." So I don't know how this affects their organization specifically.

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