UPDATE: It was announced yesterday that Archie Comics will be dropping the Code in February. Archie Comics President Mike Pellerito stated “The code never affected us editorially the way I think it did other companies” This is true. Archie was one of the publishers who put the stamp on their covers simply to show parents their comics were age appropriate. Archie Comics has always been known to be an all ages, family friendly group of comics.
In 1954 the Comics Code was created in an attempt to get the federal government and pro-censorship foot soldiers, lead by Dr. Frederick Wertham, off the backs of the comics industry. All this started in the 1950’s when Dr. Wertham created a firestorm claiming that comics that depicted crime and horror was a direct factor in the perceived increase of juvenile delinquency. He hated comics that depicted crime, horror, heroes, strong women…pretty much EVERYTHING that appeared in comics.
Batman and Robin promoted homosexuality while Wonder Woman was wrong to show that women could be strong and stand for themselves (he also tossed in a lesbian argument for good measure).
Superman was wrong because he took the law into his own hands and showed the police and other law enforcement agencies as being unable to handle criminals.
That was just a sample of how heroes were attacked. If you look at how the more popular horror comics were attacked, well, that was a different matter all together. The top publisher of horror and crime comics at the time was EC Comics and at one time their titles were outselling Superman. Titles that are legend now: Tales From The Crypt, Weird Science, The Haunt Of Fear, Crime SuspenStories and many more. They covered a wide range of stories and even wandered into morality tales on more than one occasion.
Tales Of Terror! a book that details some of the history of EC Comics, reprints the original code. Here is a sampling of how the code was in it’s original form:
Code For Editorial Matter: General Standards, Part A, Number 3: Policemen, judges, government officials and respected institutions shall never be presented in such a way as to create disrespect for established authority.
Parts 11 and 12 covered the use of the word “crime”: The letters of the word “crime” were never to be larger than any other words and would never appear alone on the cover. Editors were also to use ‘restraint’ in using the word in titles or sub-titles.
General Standards, Part B, Number 5: Scenes dealing with, or instruments associated with walking dead, torture, vampires and vampirism, ghouls, cannibalism and werewolfism are prohibited.
Part C, though it might sound like a joke, it wasn’t: All elements or techniques not specifically mentioned herein, but which are contrary to the spirit and intent of the Code, and are considered violations of good taste or decency, shall be prohibited.
So, if it wasn’t covered in the Code, they basically reserved the right to make it up if the people who were enforcing the Code, the head of which was never involved with the Comics before this, didn’t like it.
As for updating the Code…well, it was updated all of TWICE since it was created: 1971 and 1989. It was really good at keeping up with the times.
So, moving forward a few years, the Comics Industry and the Code had a few fights over things, including Marvel taking a stand in 1971 when the Nixon Administration asked Stan Lee to write a story showing the evils of drugs. Even though it was a request from the President, the Code said NO. Then publisher, Martin Goodman told Lee to write and release the issues without the Code. Amazing Spider-Man #96-98 were released and the world still went on.
In 2001, Marvel made the decision to drop the code entirely after X-Force #116 had problems passing the Code’s standards. Marvel soon announced they were dropping the stamp from their cover and were creating their own rating system.
Now, a decade later, DC Comics announces they will drop the code and replace it with their own ratings system. In a press release from DC, they explained the situation:
FROM THE CO-PUBLISHERS…
by Jim Lee
As of January 2011, DC Comics titles will no longer carry the Comics Code Authority Seal of Approval. In 2011, DC Comics will employ a rating system consistent with that of the rest of the industry, as well as with our digital releases, which already utilize a rating system. As for our Vertigo comic books, they will not utilize the rating system, because they will continue to be labeled as “For Mature Readers”.
Beginning with our April 2011 titles, all DC comic book covers will utilize the following rating system:
E – EVERYONE
Appropriate for readers of all ages. May contain cartoon violence and/or some comic mischief.
T – TEEN
Appropriate for readers age 12 and older. May contain mild violence, language and/or suggestive themes.
T+ – TEEN PLUS
Appropriate for readers age 16 and older. May contain moderate violence, mild profanity, graphic imagery and/or suggestive themes.
M – MATURE
Appropriate for readers age 18 and older. May contain intense violence, extensive profanity, nudity, sexual themes and other content suitable only for older readers.
Jim and Dan
What does this mean for the industry and for DC? Who can say. But looking at what Marvel has done since they dropped the Code ten years ago, I think we likely won’t even notice a change in anything other than a certain stamp will no longer appear on the covers.