I have a question about the Comics Code.

§ January 23rd, 2011 § Filed under comics code, retailing § 27 Comments

Not to kick a code when it’s down, but just out of curiosity…has anyone reading this experienced any kind of real-world impact of the Comics Code Authority? I don’t mean the behind the scenes stuff, where maybe the publisher altered some art at the CCA’s request, or they objected to some content and the publisher just put out the book anyway, sans approval stamp. I’m sure that happened all the time.

What I’m talking about is people running shops or newsstands who explicitly said that they would not carry comics without the Comics Code stamp on the front cover. Or parents who specifically looked for the stamp on the cover before allowing their children to read it. That sort of thing.

As I can recall, I’ve only run into it once in my century or two of comics retail, where a parent told her child to just look at the comics with the stamp on the front. However, I don’t think that counts, since I’m pretty sure we told her about the CCA stamp. She was getting pretty antsy about her kid’s interest in funnybooks and we reassured her that so long as the code was on the front cover, there probably wasn’t anything objectionable inside…so relax and enjoy!

Anyway, if any of you folks have any stories like that, I’d be interested, particularly if it’s from the last, oh, decade or so. But if some of you out there have…experienced more of life, and have got any tales of CCA woe from the ’50s or ’60s, I’d be curious about that, too. Please drop ‘em in the comments if you’ve got ‘em. It doesn’t even have to be anything drawn out and complicated…even if it’s just “my mom wouldn’t let me read non-code books,” that would be fine. I’m just kind of curious what sort of actual impact the CCA had in the marketplace, especially in recent years.

In the meantime, let’s congratulate DC and Archie on finally reclaiming that extra square quarter-inch of cover space!

27 Responses to “I have a question about the Comics Code.”

  • Gnubeutel says:

    I have been thinking the same. The Comics Code had lost its impact decades ago. There’s no reason to pay some stuck up people to read comic books all day unless anyone cares about it.

    There used to be a time when great stories were being blocked by the code (Speedy’s and Harry Osbourne’s addiction comes to mind). Back then the code was seen as the enemy by most mature readers.

    But! On the other hand i wish that some stories using rape and torture without any moral value had been blocked by the code in recent years. Just like on tv this has become just another story element in comic books.

    And what about all the accusations of pedophilia against comic readers? If these comics had passed some sort of review and been approved, it would be easier for readers to not accidentally fall into that category. If you buy unapproved books despite of that, i can’t help you.

    So, in short:
    I think there would be some value in a (new) comics code, IF parents/shop owners were aware of it.

  • Roger Green says:

    Buying comics in a comics shop for decades, i’d forgotten about the CCA.

  • Bear says:

    I didn’t even realise DC was still using the CCA.

  • DanielT says:

    Bear, DC was only using the code on a few titles, the bigger name ones like Superman and Batman.

  • First off… I think the most damaging thing about that Punisher cover Mikester linked to isn’t the threat of death to the wee lad, but the image of “Jazzercise Punisher” in the corner-box.
    Ye Gods!

    As for the topic at hand, my parents loathed my reading comics – PERIOD.
    Had to sneak them into the house via crazy stealth tactics.
    I doubt they even knew of the code’s existence.

    My saga of early comics exposure was the subject of a blog post which can be read at the following linkee:
    http://tinyurl.com/Dorkwin-origin-of-geeksies

    Filled with fun facts, and interactive Q&A segments… Q&A… not T&A. Sorry.

    I now return you to your comment section, already in progress.
    ~P~

  • Patrick Joseph says:

    Around 1985 I had a neighbor who was about 2 or 3 years younger than me. I was 14, maybe 15. Anyway, his mom objected to the issue of ‘Mazing Man that ran with no code due to the zombies in it. This resulted in her taking a hard look at other comics he had purchased, which happened to include Swamp Thing 22. As his older friend I inherited that and a couple of other comics that she found objectionable. Free Alan Moore is good.

    Six months later I let him read the Swamp Thing issue where Constantine finds out what Judith did to Frank. The scene really freaked him out, so maybe his Mom was on to something.

  • Bryan says:

    This doesn’t really answer your question, but I had one of my own after reading this. Were direct market shops outside of the scope of the comics code? I only ask this because when I started buy comics when I was 9 in the mid-1980s, Marvel had two sets of issue numbering systems going on: drug stores, grocery stores, etc. had the number box and beside it the comics code, whereas issues sold in a comic book store only had the issue number and info written in a giant “M”, so technically nothing had the stamp of approval.

  • BobH says:

    I think the effect of the code was mostly restricted to distribution, certain places not carrying anything unless it was code approved (I think Dark Horse submitted their Star Wars books to the code for a while when the first prequel came out, in order to get into places like Walmart).

    I’m not 100% sure this was code related, but back in the early 1990s there was a small store near my place, literally on the way home, which carried some newsstand comics, while the nearest decent comic store was an hour away, so I’d buy a few comics at the local store every few days, going to the comic store maybe once a month. Distribution was kind of spotty anyway (and I think was usually two weeks behind the comic shops), but I remember one issue of a series they missed, which I didn’t notice until the following issue came out, and then took me a few months to track down. Wish I could remember the series, but when I did finally get it I noticed that the missing issue wasn’t code approved, while the rest of the series was. So I guess anyone who only had newsstand sources available to them, it was just a skipped issue.

  • philip says:

    I always wondered if there were some CCA office somewhere with real-live people in it reading comics all day and approving (or not) the ones that passed muster. Or is there some miserable CCA agent traveling around to comic book publishers with his rubber stamp and everybody just rolls their eyes when he shuffles in, grumbling about the funny books.

  • Wayne Allen Sallee says:

    About the only way you’d know about the CCA was from the cover, right? Up until my early teens, I got the majority of my comics when we visited Streator, Illinois, and one drugstore owner had BOXES of comics missing the title portion of the front cover. I know the guy was getting credit back in some way, but where else could anyone KNOW OF the CCA if its not displayed next to the title?

    When I was old enough to ride a bike to Main Street, I bought the Atlas-Seaboard comics that were displayed on the same shelf as Truckers Gals and Floppers.

  • Boosterrific says:

    My practical experience with the CCA is the same as yours, Mike. When I worked in a comic book store (now defunct, sigh)in the 1990s/early 2000s, the only time the CCA would come up was when we the staff pointed it out to ignorant but well-intentioned parents.

    However, that shouldn’t be taken as evidence that it was otherwise irrelevant. Just because a customer never told me that he bought a book because it had the code on it doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen. Lack of evidence does not constitute proof.

    If nothing else, even in the 21st century, the Code still had value in the respect that it allowed us to more easily reduce barriers between children and comic books. I hope that DC’s new system will work the same way (maybe even better, if they are going to once again apply it universally across their publications).

  • Kid Nicky says:

    I’m 31,and I started rally reading comics when I was,say 8 or 9,so we’re talking late eighties. My parents had probably pretty typical standards for media,i.e. I shouldn’t watch R rated movies,shouldn’t read porno mags,listen to music with swears,etc. Sure,stuff got through the cracks (or I slipped it through the cracks lol) but for the most part they tried to pay attention.

    That said,I’m sure they had NO idea what the comics code was/is. Honestly,until I started reading comics related websites in the early 2000′s,I had assumed the code was some sort of quality seal,not rating. I never heard anyone in my peer group mention it,and absolutely my parents never talked about it. I’m pretty sure that to this day my parents think the comics I invest so much time and money in are similar in content to the Adam West Batman TV series.

    Has the Code actually done anything for the last say,20 or 30 years? Aside from the way DC have had a story where Dr. Light commits rape,and since then they seem unwilling to publish stories that don’t refer to that one,according to the code as I understand it,MOST of the seemingly tame stuff they publish shouldn’t be allowed. What about Power Girl or Phantom Lady? What about Arsenal’s dead kid,or Jason Todd for that matter? What about Arsenal’s ED,or drug abuse? The infamous fridge?
    Don’t get me wrong,I don’t think DC’s output as a whole is worse than a hard PG-13 movie,but the CCA guidelines,again at least the version I’ve read seem like Sesame Street would have a hard time getting through,let alone Blackest Night.

  • “…the CCA guidelines,again at least the version I’ve read seem like Sesame Street would have a hard time getting through,let alone Blackest Night.”
    The code rule you read, were probably the original rules from the mid-50s. The code rules had at least 1 major revision, in the mid-70s.

  • Tom Mason says:

    Mike – I’d file this under “CCA: No Idea How To Run A Business.” In the ’90s Malibu Comics made a big push to be on the newsstands and pushed a number of titles through that system for several years. At no point did the newsstand distributor ask any questions about the Code – since it wasn’t important to them, it certainly wasn’t important to us. More importantly, at no point did anyone from the CCA contact us to set up a meeting, make a pitch for joining or outline a business strategy about their necessity. None of the places we dealt with – Paramount, 20th Century Fox, Sega, Galoob, Sony – for licensed comics brought it up either.

    It seems to me that if the CCA was a real business at the time, the appearance of new titles on the newsstand that didn’t have the Code would be a trigger to get the CCA to contact the publisher and actually try to do some business. And they would also make a pitch to the general public about how scary it would be to expose children to comics without their seal of approval to ensure that publishers signed up.

    [This is all from memory - if anyone out there has a copy of a Malibu/Ultraverse title on it with the Code seal, let me know!]

  • suedenim says:

    I can no longer remember WHERE I read this exactly, but it seemed like a reliable source that knew the facts. Anyway, my understanding is that the “Comics Code Authority” basically consisted of a single Archie Comics employee, and wasn’t even her full-time job.

  • Thelonious_Nick says:

    “I always wondered if there were some CCA office somewhere with real-live people in it reading comics all day and approving (or not) the ones that passed muster. Or is there some miserable CCA agent traveling around to comic book publishers with his rubber stamp and everybody just rolls their eyes when he shuffles in, grumbling about the funny books.”

    In David Hadju’s book “The Ten-Cent Plague” he quotes comics employees from the 1950s, I think they were EC, taking pages to the CCA office in NYC. Apparently there were half a dozen old ladies who literally read comics all day with a red pen, and then the EC guy would go pick the pages up the next day and all the changes required would be marked on the pages, necessitating they be re-done. Not only was it a hassle, but also expensive because now artists had to redo the page, even if the required change was fairly minor.

  • g23 says:

    I remember a comic writer somewhere saying that he had trouble with the Comics code once. He wrote an Archie story called “ERROR TERROR” …something about making too many mistakes on a high school test or something. Anyway, he couldn’t use the word “TERROR” in the title, because that would cause American youth to riot in the streets, not clean up their rooms & learn about the sins of the flesh.

    And of course, now I can’t remember who this author was to save my life.

  • WizarDru says:

    I don’t think the code really had relevance after the 1960s. It was a practice done so that no one would raise any eyebrows, but by the end of the 1950s, it had already done what it was designed to do. After the code update in 1971 and subsequent changes, it was a non-issue. Besides which, most comics had already operated under the CCA without much modification already. It wasn’t until the B&W explosion of the mid-80s and the rise of the comics retailer that it suddenly held relevance again, since now there were lots of comics that didn’t have the CCA stamp. (And folks may have forgotten the kerfluffle about the ‘Mature Audiences’ labels).

    But honestly, with the rise of cable tv, the internet and even simply the addition of PG-13 ratings, the CCA’s importance has diminished to almost nothing. Especially since the average comic reader’s age has increased from 13 to like 35. DC’s recent announcement was just the final nail in the coffin.

  • Joe Williams says:

    I always had a feeling that the seal was just left on the mechanicals and no one actually reviewed the comics. Case in point, this Steve Ditko panel I scanned from an old Charlton horror comic.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/willceau/4100020792/

    Was this reviewed? Was somebody asleep at the wheel?

    I’m not sure what comic it was, but I’m pretty sure the seal was on the cover. I have to root through my comic boxes to find it again.

  • adam barnett says:

    My parents had no clue what the CCA was, so the seal (or lack thereof) wasn’t a factor. I only had to worry if they saw something on the cover that caught their eye, which rarely (if ever) happened. As a child, of course, I really didn’t pay attention to whether it was there or not.

  • ExistentialMan says:

    Sorry about the late post. I can’t help but picture that Sluggo panel from two days ago as being somehow related.

    Sluggo Smith, the LAST CCA censor, reading a copy of Tiny Titans #35 in his corporate treehouse office.

    Oh, the humanity!

  • Scott Rowland says:

    When I donate comics to Goodwill, or give them to folks for their kids, I do look for th3e code seal. that’s not the only thing I consider, but the absence of it means a comic that looked questionable might get a second look before I decide whether to add it to the stack. And yes, there are some code-approved comics that i still wouldn’t pass on to small children (Deodato drawn Wonder Woman comes to mind).

  • m4 says:

    Zuvembies.

  • g23 says:

    Oh, man… that JPEG from the Newsarama story is priceless: http://i.newsarama.com/images/Comics-Code-Brochure_02.jpg

    “All comics are reviewed by humorless old ladies who will make sure that nothing remotely fun is published in comic books…”

  • Alan Bryan says:

    I am very certain that my mom never knew what the CCA was or what that stamp on the cover meant. In the 60s and 70s she bought me any comic book I wanted from age 6 on up.
    One of the first comics she ever bought me was the Million Dollar Debut of Batgirl in Detective….so my mom was pretty special.

    I don’t know of any parents being aware of the Comics Code.
    I do know one funny tale. While playing “Legion of Super Heroes” Gary’s mom didn’t want her son to be “Alter Boy” since they were not Catholic.
    I had to explain to her that we were calling him “Ultra Boy” and I was certain Ultra Boy was Protestant.
    True True True.

  • Joe Williams says:

    Followup: The Steve Ditko panel is From The Many Ghosts of Doctor Graves No. 32. Published by Charlton in 1972.