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Comics Code

Cover of Tales from the Crypt, published during the 1950s

Comics Code

The Comics Code Authority (CCA) is an organization founded in 1954 to act as a de facto censor for American comic books.

In the 1950s there was public outcry against crime and horror comics. To placate their critics, most of America's major comic book publishers joined together to create an organization that would censor their own comics. While the CCA never had any legal authority over other publishers, magazine distributors often refused to carry comics without the CCA's seal of approval.

The CCA's strict code prohibited depictions of gore, sexuality, and excessive violence; it required that authority figures were never to be ridiculed or presented disrespectfully, and that good must always win; it prohibited any scenes with vampires, werewolves, ghouls or zombies. The code also prohibited advertisements of liquor, tobacco, knives, fireworks, nude pin-ups and postcards, and "toiletry products of questionable nature".

There were critics. Dr. Frederick Wertham, whose book Seduction of the Innocent helped enflame public antipathy against comics, dismissed the code as an inadequate half measure. William Gaines, head of EC Comics among whose best selling titles were Crime Suspenstories, The Vault of Horror and The Crypt of Terror, complained that clauses prohibiting titles with the words "Terror", "Horror", or "Crime", as well as the clause banning vampires, werewolves and zombies, all seemed targeted to put EC out of business.

Most comics historians believe the CCA had a damaging effect on the medium, with artists allowed to create only simple morality tales. This drove away much of the adult readership and stigmatized the medium (in North America) as fit only for children.

The code held sway for years, with mainstream publishers like Marvel Comics managing to devise idioms that allowed for some relevant expression. In the late 1960s, the underground comic book scene arose with artists creating comics (sans code) that delved into formerly unthinkable subject matter.

In 1971, Marvel Comics editor in chief Stan Lee was approached by the National Department of Health to do a comic book story about drug abuse. Lee agreed and wrote an appropriate Spider-Man story. The CCA refused to approve the story because of the presence of narcotics, deeming the context of the story irrelevant. Lee, with the approval of his boss Martin Goodman, published the story anyway. The story was so well received that the CCA's influence was undercut.

(Incidentally that wasn't the first time narcotics were mentioned in a post-code mainstream comic. An earlier Strange Adventures story featured Deadman fighting some criminals who used a travelling circus they worked for to smuggle "snow" -- either heroin or cocaine. This drug euphemism seems to have caught the CCA napping.)

Following the embarrassment of Marvel's Spider-Man drug story, the code was revised in 1971 to permit the depiction of "Narcotics or Drug addiction" if presented "as a vicious habit." Also newly allowed were vampires, ghouls and werewolves, "when handled in the classic tradition of Frankenstein, Dracula, and other high caliber literary works written by Edgar Allan Poe, Saki, Conan Doyle and other respected authors whose works are read in schools around the world." Perhaps because no such respected authors depicted the walking dead, zombies remained forbidden. However, Marvel Comics skirted the zombie restriction in the mid-1970s by calling the apparently deceased mind-controlled followers of various Haitian super-villains "zuvembies."

Despite the CCA revising the code to keep up with fashion over the years, its influence on the medium has diminished. DC Comics, Marvel, and other CCA sponsors have published lines of comics intended for adult audiences, without the CCA's seal, and there is no indication that the presence of the seal has any bearing on whether a comic is placed on sale or not.

In 2001, Marvel Comics withdrew from the CCA in favor of their own ratings system which was seen as yet another step in the organization's decline into irrelevance. As of 2004, the CCA's stamp-shaped insignia is rarely seen on covers and is barely visible on those which it does appear. DC Comics is the only major company with some titles still sporting the CCA insignia. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comics_Code_Authority [Apr 2005]

American comic books

American comic books are typically small magazines containing fictional stories in the artistic medium of comics.

Throughout their history, a huge number of comic books have been produced in the United States. It is difficult to say much in general about them, because of their huge range in quality, subject matter and audience through the past. However, a number of historical changes have influenced American comic books in general at different times. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_comic_book [Apr 2005]

EC Comics

Entertaining Comics, was headed by William Gaines but is better known by its publishing name of EC Comics. The firm was a publisher of comic books specializing in crime, horror, war, and science-fiction comics from the 1940s through the 1950s. It also published MAD and other satire comics which evolved into MAD Magazine.

The firm, first known as Educational Comics, was owned by Max Gaines, who published [[Picture Stories from the Bible]] and biographies of important figures from science and history in comic book form.

When Max died in 1947 in a boating accident, his son, William Gaines inherited the business. He had no previous interest in publishing, being a student studying to become a science teacher at SUNY. After a time, he began to enjoy publishing, but only after turning the company into a more successful publisher. He did this by focusing on horror, suspense, science fiction, war, and humor comics. With this new content, the company needed a name change, and so it became Entertaining Comics.

The firm had success with its many titles, and pioneered in forming relationships with its readers through its letters to the editor and its fan organization, the National E.C. Fan-Addict Club.

After the comic book industry imploded during the 1950s in the wake of the hysteria caused by Dr. Frederick Wertham's book [[Seduction of the Innocent]] (and, just as important, a shakeup in the distribution companies who sold comic books and pulp magazines in America), most of EC Comics' titles were cancelled. William Gaines attempted to revive a few of the science fiction based EC comics, watering down the story lines and artwork in order to conform to the newly founded Comics Code. However this was unsuccessful, and instead the company shifted its focus to publishing the comedy and satire magazines.

William Gaines waged a number of battles with the Comics Code, in an attempt to keep his magazines free of censorship during the later days of EC. One notable incident involved his threatening the members of the Comics Code board with a lawsuit after being ordered to alter the climactic scene of a science fiction story, so that one of the characters would not be seen sweating. When EC found a large audience of young readers embracing its humor magazine [[Tales Calculated to Drive You MAD]], the company abandoned its other titles and focused exclusively on publishing MAD magazine for the next four decades. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Entertaining_Comics [Aug 2004]

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