Comics Code Authority

From Academic Kids

Missing image
The seal of the Comics Code Authority, which appears on the covers of approved comic books.

The Comics Code Authority (CCA) is an organization founded in 1954 to act as a de facto censor for American comic books.

In the 1950s there was a public outcry against crime and horror comics, as well as the sexual innuendos of "good-girl art." To placate their critics, most of America's major comic book publishers joined together to create an organization that would censor their own comics. While the CCA never had any legal authority over other publishers, magazine distributors often refused to carry comics without the CCA's seal of approval.

The CCA's strict code prohibited depictions of gore, sexuality, and excessive violence; it required that authority figures were never to be ridiculed or presented disrespectfully, and that good must always win; it prohibited any scenes with vampires, werewolves, ghouls or zombies. The code also prohibited advertisements of liquor, tobacco, knives, fireworks, nude pin-ups and postcards, and "toiletry products of questionable nature".

There were critics. Dr. Frederick Wertham, whose book Seduction of the Innocent helped enflame public antipathy against comics, dismissed the code as an inadequate half measure. William Gaines, head of EC Comics among whose best selling titles were Crime Suspenstories, The Vault of Horror and The Crypt of Terror, complained that clauses prohibiting titles with the words "Terror", "Horror", or "Crime", as well as the clause banning vampires, werewolves and zombies, all seemed targeted to put EC out of business.

Most comics historians believe the CCA had a damaging effect on the medium, with artists allowed to create only simplistic morality tales. This drove away much of the adult readership and stigmatized the medium (in North America) as fit only for children.

The code held sway for years, with mainstream publishers like Marvel Comics managing to devise idioms that allowed for some relevant expression. In the late 1960s, the underground comic book scene arose with artists creating comics (sans code) that delved into formerly unthinkable subject matter.

In 1971, Marvel Comics editor in chief Stan Lee was approached by the United States Department of Health, Education, and Welfare to do a comic book story about drug abuse. Lee agreed and wrote an appropriate Spider-Man story. The CCA refused to approve the story because of the presence of narcotics, deeming the context of the story irrelevant. Lee, with the approval of his boss Martin Goodman, published the story anyway in Amazing Spider-Man #96. The story was so well received that the CCA's influence was undercut.

This wasn't actually the first time narcotics were mentioned in a post-Code mainstream comic. An earlier Strange Adventures story featured Deadman fighting criminals who used a travelling circus they worked for to smuggle "snow", a euphemism for either heroin or cocaine that the CCA appears to have overlooked.

Following the embarrassment of Marvel's Spider-Man drug story, the code was revised in 1971 to permit the depiction of "Narcotics or Drug addiction" if presented "as a vicious habit." Also newly allowed were vampires, ghouls and werewolves, "when handled in the classic tradition of Frankenstein, Dracula, and other high caliber literary works written by Edgar Allan Poe, Saki, Conan Doyle and other respected authors whose works are read in schools around the world." Perhaps because no such respected authors depicted the walking dead, zombies remained forbidden. However, Marvel Comics skirted the zombie restriction in the mid-1970s by calling the apparently deceased mind-controlled followers of various Haitian super-villains "zuvembies."

Despite the CCA revising the code to keep up with fashion over the years, its influence on the medium has diminished. DC Comics, Marvel, and other CCA sponsors have published lines of comics intended for adult audiences, without the CCA's seal, and there is no indication that the presence of the seal has any bearing on whether a comic is placed on sale or not.

In 2001, Marvel Comics withdrew from the CCA in favor of its own ratings system which was seen as yet another step in the CCA's decline into irrelevance. As of 2005, the CCA's stamp-shaped insignia is rarely seen on covers and is barely visible on those which it does appear. DC Comics is the only major company with some titles still sporting the CCA insignia.

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