Trouble Thinking

January 24, 2011

DC Comics Drops Comics Code Authority! Wait, I Thought That Was Dead Already….

Filed under: Comics — Tags: , , — Durandal @ 2:07 pm

Oh! Oh right, no. Marvel Comics dropped the Comics Code Authority seal of approval in 2001. But I guess it’s news again because DC finally dropped it, presumably mad because they had to keep the dripping flesh-ribbons off of the Corpse Gate to Hawk-World in Brightest Day.

You thought I was joking.

What’s the Comics Code Authority? I’m glad you asked!

In the 50’s, comics were actually popular. Million-sellers were common, and kids who didn’t even wear glasses held together with masking tape were eating them up.

This may be because in the 50’s comics were the most gruesomely terrifying shit you could get your hands on.

This is completely insane, and yet it's one of the less brutal covers.

Seriously, the 50’s horror/crime comics make slasher flicks look like grade-school performances of A Charlie Brown Christmas. To make a long story short: when people finally noticed how hilariously over-the-top disturbing comics could be, they went a bit crazy. Most of the credit for popularizing opposition to comics goes to Dr. Frederic Wertham, who wrote a book called “Seduction of the Innocent” that focused on the corrupting nature of modern culture on youth and how it could lead to violence and disenchantment. Comics -being more popular among children than anything save being beaten in the 50’s- figured heavily in that argument. He somewhat ridiculously blamed them for directly causing youth violence, sex, drug use, and general bad behavior.

Sufficiently stoked, the hysteria came to a head in the Senate Subcommittee Hearings on Juvenile Delinquincy in 1954. Seeing how badly the hearing was going, the comic industry decided that rather than be subjected to government regulation, they’d construct a self-regulatory body not unlike the ESRB rating system for games. Only this rating system simply had a single up-or-down vote. And it was insanely strict in the way that only 50’s popular culture could be:

  • Crimes shall never be presented in such a way as to create sympathy for the criminal, to promote distrust of the forces of law and justice, or to inspire others with a desire to imitate criminals.
  • If crime is depicted it shall be as a sordid and unpleasant activity.
  • Criminals shall not be presented so as to be rendered glamorous or to occupy a position which creates a desire for emulation.
  • In every instance good shall triumph over evil and the criminal punished for his misdeeds.
  • Scenes of excessive violence shall be prohibited. Scenes of brutal torture, excessive and unnecessary knife and gunplay, physical agony, gory and gruesome crime shall be eliminated.
  • No comic magazine shall use the word horror or terror in its title.
  • All scenes of horror, excessive bloodshed, gory or gruesome crimes, depravity, lust, sadism, masochism shall not be permitted.
  • All lurid, unsavory, gruesome illustrations shall be eliminated.
  • Inclusion of stories dealing with evil shall be used or shall be published only where the intent is to illustrate a moral issue and in no case shall evil be presented alluringly, nor so as to injure the sensibilities of the reader.
  • Scenes dealing with, or instruments associated with walking dead, torture, vampires and vampirism, ghouls, cannibalism, and werewolfism are prohibited.
  • Profanity, obscenity, smut, vulgarity, or words or symbols which have acquired undesirable meanings are forbidden.
  • Nudity in any form is prohibited, as is indecent or undue exposure.
  • Suggestive and salacious illustration or suggestive posture is unacceptable.
  • Females shall be drawn realistically without exaggeration of any physical qualities.
  • Illicit sex relations are neither to be hinted at nor portrayed. Violent love scenes as well as sexual abnormalities are unacceptable.
  • Seduction and rape shall never be shown or suggested.
  • Sex perversion or any inference to same is strictly forbidden.
  • Nudity with meretricious purpose and salacious postures shall not be permitted in the advertising of any product; clothed figures shall never be presented in such a way as to be offensive or contrary to good taste or morals.

    “Females shall be drawn realistically without exaggeration of any physical qualities” is probably the best one on the list, though. Obviously the first to go. Some publishers honestly had no trouble with this. If they were already basically adhering to the Code before it was enacted, all this meant was a boost in sales from disappointed youngsters finding that the fun had gone out of Tales from the Crypt. “No comic magazine shall use the word horror or terror in its title” is basically an obvious shot at William Gaines, publisher of “Crime SuspenStories” and “The Vault of Horror”. Let it not be said that people within the industry let the chance to screw each other pass them by.

    I will mention that it’s unfortunate Dr. Wertham has become exclusively associated with this. He was, by all accounts, a really stand-up sort of guy. He campagined relentlessly for civil rights, as well as for decent treatment of those hospitalized for mental illness. He went so far as to testify to the psyhcological harm of Seperate But Equal schooling during the Brown v. Board of Education hearings. He was one of the few people in the psychiatric profession willing to actually attempt to help reform and treat sex offenders, and he opened a clinic for low-income families in Harlem. The guy just liked helping. The problem is, like anyone over the age of 40, he saw a thing that just seemed very obviously damaging and wrong and set out to correct it without pausing to consider the fact that he might just not be understanding the entire picture. He wanted dearly to help solve very real and damaging social problems through as simple a method as cleaning up dirty comic books. In the process, he helped to murder comics as a popular medium. The top-selling comics of today are lucky if they break 60,000 copies sold, not 6 million.

    Since 1954, comics “Approved by the Comics Code Authority” steadily ignored more and more of the rules laid down, until finally Marvel Comics broke with the rating in 2001, simply labelling using an ESRB-like system of All-Ages through Mature. DC is apparently heading that direction too, which shouldn’t actually hearald a major shift in content as they’ve been using rape and graphic violence as key plot points for years now. Good riddance, I suppose. I guess now the acid-blood that the Red Lanterns vomit on people will create much cooler looking horrific wounds.

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