Comic Book History: Comics Code Authority

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Posted by inferiorego (23212 posts) - - Show Bio

Although you may not notice it as much on comics today, except for maybe on kids books from DC, Bongo, and Archie, between the mid-50s and early 00s, almost every comic had a stamp on it, somewhere on the cover that read "Approved by the Comics Code Authority." As a kid, in the wistful 80s, I never really understood what that meant. I always imagined a room full of old men reading comic books and after each one yelling "approved!" or "hogwash!" Sadly, as I got older and found out exactly who and why this was on each comic book, I realized I wasn't too far off.
 

Brief History of the CCA

The Comics Code Authority (CCA) was a list of don'ts and more don'ts for content within comic books and was established in 1954 in order to try and clean up the supposed cesspool of immorality that was in each comic of that time. Led by  Fredric Wertham, a psychiatrist and author of the book Seduction of the Innocent, the goal was to let morality shine through in comic books to create a moral and innocent youth. Although the CCA had no legal authority over whether or not comics could be printed without the approval of CCA, it caught on. Places that sold comics wouldn't pick up books that didn't have the CCA logo on the cover. So eventually, anyone that wanted their comics in the mainstream had to follow these rules.
== TEASER ==

Rules of the CCA

The complete list of original rules is on our CV Comics Code Authority page; however, there are a few more ridiculous rules to bring light to this miserable moment of history. "No comic magazine shall use the word horror or terror in its title."  A lot of EC Books were using those words in their titles. Horror books were big business, at that time, and I could never understand how cutting out one singular word could make everyone more "moral."
 "Scenes dealing with, or instruments associated with walking dead, torture, vampires and vampirism, ghouls, cannibalism, and werewolfism are prohibited." If there's one problem this country (America) has had over the years, it's the amount of werewolf comics coming into good American homes and corrupting kids. This was a different time, and although we may find werewolves tacky and cheesy now, they were pretty terrifying fictional characters. Again, fictional characters. There is a rumor going around the internet (whether its true or not, I couldn't tell you) that Marv Wolfman wasn't allowed to use his last name because of this rule.
"Divorce shall not be treated humorously nor represented as desirable." Because people that get divorced never really want to get divorced? I just made a joke about the rule about not making jokes about divorce. Am I in trouble? No? Well, it was more of a quip than anything.
On the other side of the fence, there are actually some rules that make sense: no cussing, no nudity, and restrain from using the word "crime" as much as possible. Ok, that last one is terrible, but they do have a couple of understandable rules. 
 

Why It's Bogus

It's censorship, plain and simple. It's actually above and beyond that. These sets of rules create cut and dry stories that are boring and redundant. Bad guy attacks someone, good guys beat them, end of story. If this was something that just lasted during the 50s, I wouldn't have a huge problem with it; however, the group still exists to this day. They have no where near the pull that they used to. Marvel dropped off in 2001, and DC seemingly still submits stuff to them, but they put their comics on store shelves regardless of whether the CCA approves or not. As I stated before, Johnny DC, Bongo, and Archie Comics still have that CCA label on the cover. This is fine. It's comics for children. The rest of us shouldn't be subjugated to this though. Comics aren't for kids anymore. They cater to a more adult crowd. There's violence, cursing, occasional nudity, just like real life. 
 

Censorship vs Ratings

You can't do nothing and expect complacency from the masses. One of two things should be done. You can either censor the material, like the CCA did for almost 50 years, or you can simple be in charge of your own rating system, much like Marvel does now. It's not hard to put a ratings stamp onto your books so a parent can see if said book is appropriate for their child. True, it should be all about the parent's responsibility, but if you were a parent, and didn't care for comics, would you want to read every single book to make sure it was cool for your kid?
 
That's the CCA in a nutshell, an abridged version of it at best. To keep this light hearted, check out the CV CCA page and let us know what your favorite CCA rule is.
 
 
~Mat "InferiorEgo" Elfring is a comedian, teacher, writer of Gorgator, and comic store employee.~
Staff
#1 Posted by MysterioMaximus (931 posts) - - Show Bio

I've got several books on this, I wish more people knew about the industry itself and this insane moment. So I love this article, great one Inferior!

#2 Posted by inferiorego (23212 posts) - - Show Bio
@MysterioMaximus: thanks!
Staff
#3 Edited by ComicMan24 (147085 posts) - - Show Bio

Censorship in any form, is one of the worst thing of our days. I've read about the CCA in Wikipedia and I'm glad to see that less and less comics carry this seal. Nice article.

#4 Posted by spiderguylll (620 posts) - - Show Bio

F#%K the code!!!

#5 Posted by sora_thekey (8161 posts) - - Show Bio

Wait so the CCA still works?
I though that was something left in the past!

Moderator
#6 Posted by inferiorego (23212 posts) - - Show Bio
@sora_thekey:  they are still in business, but they don't have "pull" anymore.
Staff
#7 Posted by No_Name_ (17403 posts) - - Show Bio

FANTASTIC ARTICLE!

#8 Edited by EdwardWindsor (14428 posts) - - Show Bio

lol why do they still exist? when they clearly dont affect the industry as much anymore. I for one am glad since some of the stuff you mentioned is refrenced in some of my favorite arcs and storylines. Great job on article to

#9 Posted by ComicMan24 (147085 posts) - - Show Bio

They are remnants of older times, I'm sure they won't exist for long. Their end is near!

#10 Posted by Theodore (3445 posts) - - Show Bio
@spiderguylll said:

" F#%K the code!!! "

 
#11 Posted by Yumulu (762 posts) - - Show Bio

Oh well it good that the CCA doesn't have the power they had, it just sad that we can't say the same about MPAA.

#12 Posted by dr.x (553 posts) - - Show Bio

"Approved by the Comics Code Authority."    is  Evil  ,EVIL I SAY  strike it  down  , I say Nay  there shall not be any more, Boo Boo, Hiss

#13 Posted by .Mistress Redhead. (27117 posts) - - Show Bio
@inferiorego: wow.... just wow.... possibly one of the best articles you have done! that was informative and very cool! 
 
I have so many old issues of Archie with that logo on it, I always thought nothing of it! thanks Matt!
#14 Posted by Nova`Prime` (4165 posts) - - Show Bio
@inferiorego: @inferiorego said:
" @sora_thekey:  they are still in business, but they don't have "pull" anymore. "
To be fare they never really had any real pull to begin with. It was a way  for the comic industry to get ahead of the government when comics came under fire in the 50s. They were more self imposed limits by the publishers, but by the 90s the way society viewed different things comics where able to drop, for the most part, the "Approval" stamp.
#15 Posted by ComicMan24 (147085 posts) - - Show Bio

MPAA?
#16 Posted by couzinit99 (169 posts) - - Show Bio

well most comics anyway break a lot of those rules, thank god. It never occured to me how horrible the CCA is until i read this. This is some really pathetic on their part.  Thank god they don't have as much power as they had.
#17 Posted by Comiclove5 (1258 posts) - - Show Bio

Great article inferiorego. I didn't know much about the comics code authority before this article. Thanks for the info.
#18 Posted by Silkcuts (5272 posts) - - Show Bio

Your right (Mat "InferiorEgo" Elfring)!  Comics are changing.  They are for adults now.  Imprints like Vertigo had to be created because the writers wanted to write more complex and adult stories.
 
Now all writers have to have a certain edge dealing with the Mainstream comics.  What was once only found in Vertigo pages we see now in a lot more accessible comics.  That could explain why guys like Swamp Thing no longer sell.  Imprints like Vertigo, who sold the violence and the sex are struggling because Marvel and its Marvel Knights and Marvel Max has given access to that once fringe world.
 
So why read a fringe book, when I can get guts an Gore in Green Lantern books?
 
Times have changed where the Comics Code Authority has to change with it.
 
 Cheers!
  - Silkcuts

#19 Posted by InnerVenom123 (29499 posts) - - Show Bio
@spiderguylll said:
" F#%K the code!!! "
@ComicMan24 said:
" Censorship in any form, is one of the worst thing of our days. I've read about the CCA in Wikipedia and I'm glad to see that less and less comics carry this seal. Nice article. "
@MysterioMaximus said:
" I've got several books on this, I wish more people knew about the industry itself and this insane moment. So I love this article, great one Inferior! "
What they said :D
#20 Edited by MysterioMaximus (931 posts) - - Show Bio

In many ways, though it never got as carried away as the Comic Code, this is very similar to the war some have on video games today, which is usually the analogy I most often use for people unfamiliar. I know that in reality the Comics Code primarily was introduced because of EC Horror comics which...even to my surprise...were incredibly graphic even by today's standard. And perhaps, in a manner I can understand not wanting little kids to see that, the most famous example being a cover featuring a headless housewife and an axe murderer, but...that should be in parental control. While I agree that kids will see this stuff, just like I came across "Hefty Humpers" in the woods behind my home with my old gang of friends...and was forever traumatized...it'll get exposed to children someday. But parents should totally emphasize the difference between fantasy and reality, plus I've always argued that video games and fantasy have been the best deterrent from crime, a proverbial "stress ball" for the mind. Get all your aggression out on the Nazi's, super villains, and space aliens...not your coworkers and neighbors. So I totally never subscribed to this "fantasy causes criminals" ...but sadly the superhero comic was attacked, severely limited, and almost laughably picked on with utterly stupid accusations. It felt as if you were safer being caught with a playboy under your bed than a Batman, what was then accused of spawning latent homosexuality...the greatest fear of the 1950's conservative parent. Hah! I don't think a lot of people even really know the severity of the code, it really ruined entire careers and blacklisted, essentially, brilliant artists and writers. Thank god for Stan Lee, Comic Code slayer!

#21 Posted by inferiorego (23212 posts) - - Show Bio
@Nova`Prime` said:
" @inferiorego: @inferiorego said:
" @sora_thekey:  they are still in business, but they don't have "pull" anymore. "
To be fare they never really had any real pull to begin with. It was a way  for the comic industry to get ahead of the government when comics came under fire in the 50s. They were more self imposed limits by the publishers, but by the 90s the way society viewed different things comics where able to drop, for the most part, the "Approval" stamp. "
They couldn't enforce the rules, but they did get many, what we would consider retailers by today's standards, to only carry books with the stamp on it at first. After a while, it became common placed.
Staff
#22 Edited by ComicMan24 (147085 posts) - - Show Bio
@MysterioMaximus:
You have a point. Parents should spend more times with their kids, not let TV raise them.I 've read comics, watched movies and played video games but I never became a psycho-killer. It's easy to blame others.
#23 Posted by reaper2923 (2778 posts) - - Show Bio

Glad it's gone, but wasn't it reformed over time

#24 Posted by inferiorego (23212 posts) - - Show Bio
@reaper2923 said:
" Glad it's gone, but wasn't it reformed over time "
yes, but that's a whole other article in itself. It gets pretty prejudice and dicey too. They banned all homosexuals from comics up until 1989
Staff
#25 Posted by reaper2923 (2778 posts) - - Show Bio
@inferiorego said:
" @reaper2923 said:
" Glad it's gone, but wasn't it reformed over time "
yes, but that's a whole other article in itself. It gets pretty prejudice and dicey too. They banned all homosexuals from comics up until 1989 "

Yeah sometimes I like to think about what Marvel Zombies would have been like with the comic code.
#26 Posted by ComicMan24 (147085 posts) - - Show Bio

They had to change Nightcrawler's intended origin because of the CCA. BTW what MPAA means?
#27 Posted by inferiorego (23212 posts) - - Show Bio
@reaper2923 said:
" @inferiorego said:
" @reaper2923 said:
" Glad it's gone, but wasn't it reformed over time "
yes, but that's a whole other article in itself. It gets pretty prejudice and dicey too. They banned all homosexuals from comics up until 1989 "
Yeah sometimes I like to think about what Marvel Zombies would have been like with the comic code. "
non-existent. 
@ComicMan24 said:
" They had to change Nightcrawler's intended origin because of the CCA. BTW what MPAA means? "

The MPAA are the idiots (yes, I call them idiots) that rate films in America. To learn more about why they are terrible watch the documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated.
Staff
#28 Posted by ComicMan24 (147085 posts) - - Show Bio
@inferiorego:
Film rating, another soar subject. Maybe this could be your next article.
#29 Posted by Omega Ray Jay (7711 posts) - - Show Bio

It's a good job Mary Whitehouse never got wind of this organisation (or at least I have no knowledge that she did) other wise the fate of comics could have been a fair bit worse. Always seems like it's those who have little to do with the medium that are so intent on protecting others from it's so called harm.

#30 Posted by Joey Ravn (385 posts) - - Show Bio

Nice. I actually did a little essay last year on comic books and censorship from a Historicist perspective and I obviously talk quite a lot about "The Code" *cue Imperial March*

#31 Posted by inferiorego (23212 posts) - - Show Bio
@ComicMan24 said:
" @inferiorego: Film rating, another soar subject. Maybe this could be your next article. "
wrong site for that... Although, I could just find my old college paper on the hypocrisy of the MPAA and post it...
Staff
#32 Posted by haydenclaireheroes (9009 posts) - - Show Bio

Ya this could of murdered the comics industry forever

#33 Posted by zombietag (1494 posts) - - Show Bio

rating is cool. id rather not read comics with a ridiculous amount of cursing or nudity. i mean, your right, some of that makes comics more realistic. but theres a ton of comics that put a ton of cursing/sex/whatever and use things like that just to sell more copies. i dont have to name names. 
 
so it would be cool to be able to pick up and a book and tell from something on the cover what to expect. yes, i know marvel has a rating system and that most comics that are "really bad" have a big 'ol MATURE READERS stamp on it, but theres a problem.  
 
the rating system doesnt really work! ive read "rated A" comics with scenes that i wouldnt want my (future) kids to read, and ive also read MATURE COMICS that didnt have much of anything in em except for 2 or 3 swear words. so as annoying as it might be, some type of universal rating system might be kinda cool. 
 
but CCA? lame. bad idea. glad it flaked out eventually.

#34 Posted by TheBug (1111 posts) - - Show Bio


Great article. 

Because DC doesn't age label their comics like Marvel, all of their titles are stuck in a very strange pg-13 realm. I asked Dan Didio about it at this years Megacon, and he said that was something DC was looking to fix.

#35 Posted by zombietag (1494 posts) - - Show Bio

i like this one: 
 
 (8) To the best of his ability, each publisher shall ascertain that all statements made in advertisements conform to fact and avoid misrepresentation.  
 
has anyone ever read an actual comic from like the 60s? not a reprint, the real deal. they have ads for things like X-RAY GLASSES and WEIGHT PILLS and MAGIC COINS hahaha 
 
yeah those definitely "conform to fact" 

#36 Posted by xerox_kitty (15762 posts) - - Show Bio

Thinking about it, the controversial Spectre issue (that offended the silly woman who gave the issue to her son) must have had the CCA stamp on it. 
 
On pre-1980's comics, there's a circular CCC logo instead.  I'm not quite sure what the extra C stands for, but I can guess.

Moderator
#37 Posted by aouric (188 posts) - - Show Bio


It's great to see Marvel and other comic book companys have decided to incorperate their own rating system to help parents make good decisions on purchasing comics for young readers, and us leaving adults to enjoy the creative talents of writers and artist of today. 

 

Great article Inferiorego, may the CCA rest in peace.  
 

 
 
 

#38 Posted by aztek_the_lost (28224 posts) - - Show Bio

haha, Garth Ennis alone has broken probably ever rule on there, thank you CCA for fading into oblivion!

Moderator
#39 Posted by SuperGamera (565 posts) - - Show Bio

Always show politeness to cops and other public officials even if you're a criminal
#40 Posted by MysterioMaximus (931 posts) - - Show Bio
@ComicMan24 said:
" They had to change Nightcrawler's intended origin because of the CCA. BTW what MPAA means? "
That's really interesting! I didn't know that! What was his original origin?
#41 Posted by AirDave817 (809 posts) - - Show Bio

"If crime is depicted it shall be as a sordid and unpleasant activity."  
 
As opposed to the crimes that actually pay...like on Wall Street or a Ponzi scheme or somethin'...      

#42 Posted by emif (19 posts) - - Show Bio

I still don't understand why they don't can the CCA and go with a rating system like movies, games and TV.

#43 Edited by Illuminarch (244 posts) - - Show Bio

I don't see how you can call this censorship, which implies actual coercion, when the Comics Code Authority was entirely self-inflicted. If they "had" to do it in order to sell the comics because their distributors wouldn't carry books without the seal, then there's not much to complain about. They're responding to consumer demand, and their re-sellers have every right to hold them to whatever standards they deem appropriate.

#44 Posted by crazywolf (653 posts) - - Show Bio

An excellent article, mr ego. It's quite an engaging article that makes somebody think about the issues. Nice work. This part of comic book history always intrigued me. It had such a huge impact in the 1950s, the genre and the people behind comics. 
 
It got me somewhat interested in censorship's origins and the progess of censorship since the 1950s in other media. I am wondering why the CCA is still in place.
 
Some comics with graphic content already have an Explicit Material warning on the cover. Somewhat like the  Parental Advisory warning stickers on music CDs that started in 1985 then later on video games. The CCA is just not needed or wanted anymore. 
 
I looked at the rules on the CCA page and thats a lot of rules. Going to finish it later. Gonna watch the Good Guys on FOX. I did read a few rules that made me lol though. This one is probably my favorite so far.

(4) Females shall be drawn realistically without exaggeration of any physical qualities.



I'm trying to imagine Liefeld working under these rules.
#45 Posted by leokearon (1792 posts) - - Show Bio

The Rough Guide to Superheroes mentions the CCA and some of it's 1950's rules man they are funny
#46 Posted by ComicMan24 (147085 posts) - - Show Bio
@MysterioMaximus:
Claremont originally wanted Nightcrawler to be the son of Mystique and Destiny, with Mystique transforming into man to impregnate Destiny but CCA didn't allowed that to happen.
#47 Posted by 00 Raiser (442 posts) - - Show Bio

Im surprised the company is still around. I mean they would have had a field day with Blackest Night and if they saw any one of Michael Turner's drawings oh they would flip a script.

#48 Posted by ComicMan24 (147085 posts) - - Show Bio
@00 Raiser:
If the CCA still had any power, Blackest Night wouldn't exist even as an idea.
#49 Posted by ForbushBug (496 posts) - - Show Bio
@ComicMan24 said:
" @MysterioMaximus: Claremont originally wanted Nightcrawler to be the son of Mystique and Destiny, with Mystique transforming into man to impregnate Destiny but CCA didn't allowed that to happen. "
Was it the CCA or Jim Shooter? He had has own views he made mandate over at Marvel.
 
See Also: Northstar the Fairy
 
Speaking of Marvel, I'm not a fan of their rating system. The "Poor, Poor Tigra" issue of New Avengers was rated A, for ages 9 and up. Yeah, I don't think so...
#50 Posted by ComicMan24 (147085 posts) - - Show Bio
@ForbushBug:
I think it was both of them.

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