Okay, the title of this post is a vicious and unnecessary potshot at someone I like. But it is my blog, so sue me.
Everyone knows the kid I’m talking about. The one that sits at the front of the classroom and is the first one to put his hand up when the teacher asks a question. Well, in the blog business, people visit but don’t want to go on the record and comment, so THANK YOU so much for the kid in the front of the room. Thanks to Paul for posting yet another question in my little experiment called ASK THE DWO.
Paul asks …
“What was the deal with that “Comics Code Authority” stamp on the cover of all my comics from the 1970s … the one we don’t see any more. Was there really an authority, a board of wise philosopher kings that reviewed every book and then put a stamp on it, or was it just some graphic they slapped on the cover without any actual oversite?
DWO answers …
In an effort to avoid a boring history lesson on Wertham, Seduction of the Innocent, and the senate Kefauver hearings, I’m going to attempt to limit myself exclusively to the words in your question. There was an authority that was exerted by committee and there was a bureaucrat that was put in charge. In response to threatened government censorship (a little more trivia on that subject later) the Association of Comics Magazine Publishers morphed at some point into the Comics Magazine Association of America and formulated the Comics Code as a means of self-regulation. Many comic publishers joined the CMAA, which means that the publisher members had representatives on something called a “permanent committee.”
When a publisher submitted a comic to the CMAA, it hoped for approval, which would then allow that particular title to carry the Comics Code Seal. The seal was important because many distributors and retailers wouldn’t sell comics from particular publishers without the seal. The “wise philosopher kings” you refer to was a bureaucrat called the “code administrator”, who read the comic and either approved it or sent it back for revisions according to the strict wording of the code. If the code administrator and the publisher came to an impasse regarding requested changes/revisions, the content of the comic would then be reviewed by the permanent committee.
The decision about whether that comic carried a seal or not was then decided by the permanent committee, which was composed of the senior editors of each publisher/member. So, to answer your question, YES, there was oversight provided by the editors of competing publishers.
Now, let’s get to some of the interesting trivia. According to one source, “Two companies, Dell and Gilberton, already regarded as publishers of wholesome comics such as the Disney and Classics Illustrated titles, remained exempt from the Code.” Most other sources say that Dell and Gilberton simply refused to participate. This means of course, that these companies had such clout with distributors and retailers that they could afford to publish without the seal.
Another fanatical trivial anecdote is this. The official report of the famous senate hearings was inconclusive as it stated, “Surveying the work that has been done on the subject, it appears to be the consensus of the experts that comic-book reading is not the cause of emotional maladjustment in children.” Despite this fact, the CMAA formed the Comics Code Authority and the Seal anyway.
It is important to remember that at the same time, movies were subject to the Hayes restrictions for film decency. So entertainment companies being sensitive to public sentiment and the threat of government censorship was in the air, comics were just a part of it.
One last trivial fact: in early 2001, Marvel Comics announced they would be dropping the Comics Code Authority logo from all their comics, and start their own ratings system. According to Marvel, the CCA is outdated, and it’s time for a new, better system.
NEXT: The return of Miscellaneous Monday !!!