Comics Code: Alive and Well Until 2011

Comics CodeI’ve been reading a LOT of books about comics lately: four in fact, at one time.  I read one chapter a day and then switch to a different book the next day. This is working really well because the four books I’m reading all have to do with the history of comics, and more specifically, the era of the “comics code”.  In fact, I’m even reading Fredric Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent. Hard to have an opinion on something if you’ve never read the source, so I’ve been slogging my way through that one as well (my original opinion has not changed much).

This weekend I found myself on the final three chapters of Seal of Approval: The History of the Comics Code by Amy Kiste Nyberg, and I decided I wanted to finally FINISH one of the four books, and I did.  My impressions of the book? Honestly I was thrilled and relieved to find that it was not just another rehashing of Fredric Wertham and his crusade against the comic book industry.  Of course he’s included and in fact has his own chapter, but the entire book is NOT focused on him.  

Nyberg enlightens the reader by detailing the NUMEROUS events, organizations, and people that had a hand in the establishment of a comics code.  Wertham is never far from anyone’s mind when discussing the code; his hatred (yes, that’s a strong word and one I rarely use, but in this instance I believe it is warranted) of ALL comics, even and maybe even especially Superheroes, is well documented and impossible to ignore, but it was more than Wertham when it comes to the code.

Religious groups and politicians began voicing their concerns over comics even before Wertham entered the picture.  When it comes to the code, people want to point to Wertham, but the truth is that it was a very complicated issue involving popular culture, fear, and authority, and Nyberg does a great job of presenting the issues that surrounded the advent of the code.

thumbnailAs I finished the book, I was taken aback that Nyberg kept referencing the codes existence today.  I flipped to the front of the book and found the publication information: 1998. “Wow” I thought, “the code was still around in 1998, but surely it went away soon after, right?”  So I googled “comics code” and was shocked, even flabbergasted (much more jaw-dropping than “shocked”), to learn that the code did not become defunct until 2011: a little over two years ago.  In fact, my beloved DC Comics was one of the last two standing (Archie Comics being the other), and they announced on January 20th, 2011 that they would no longer submit any of their comics to the Comics Magazine Association of America (CMAA) for the Comics Code of Approval Seal.  Marvel had pulled their comics out in 2007, so I’m still wondering why DC would pay the extra expense of having their comics approved when no one else except Archie was still doing so.  This is a question that will likely go unanswered.

Nyberg’s final statement in 1998 reads thus:

Retaining the comics code, in some form, is a defensive mechanism that publishers cannot yet afford to abandon; until the comic book is able to recreate itself as a legitimate art form and change the public perception of it as juvenile entertainment, the seal of approval will remain a necessity.

Have we evolved to this point?  It’s hard to say, but the current rating system for most comics seems to be working for now.

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