Comic Books: A Generational View (part 2, Censorship comes to Comics)

Comic Books: A Generational View (part 2, Censorship comes to Comics)

September 23, 2016 10:57 am 0 comments


In part one, The Golden Age, we saw the dawn of the superhero.  Two of America’s most patriotic symbols in Captain America and Superman were born during that era and pitched in to support the troops during World War II.  DC introduced a slew of heroes as well as the superhero team concept when the Justice Society of America debuted in 1940.  However, the end of the war dealt a sharp blow to our heroes.  With the conflict ended, people returned to what was then more traditional genres; romance, horror, crime, westerns, science fiction.  Many of the superheroes born in the Golden Age saw their titles cancelled.  The period directly after the war also saw a sharp uptick in juvenile crime.  Many made a direct correlation to the content in comic books (of all genres) and the criticism came from a spectrum of sources:

  • Educators viewed comics as an impediment to children’s reading development skills.
  • Religious groups viewed much of the content as immoral and detrimental to the spiritual well being of a person.
  • Cities organized public burning events and some adopted an outright ban on certain genres like horror and crime.
  • Lastly the psychiatric community weighed in on the matter.  Specifically a book published in 1954 by Dr. Fredric Wertham titled The Seduction of Innocence is commonly attributed as the catalyst for an investigation on the content of comic books by the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency in mid-1954.

Seeing government regulations on the horizon, the majority of comic book publishers collaborated to create the Comics Magazine Association of America (CMAA).  They published guidelines on approved content for comic books and publishers were encouraged to submit books for review prior to going to print.  If the book met all the guidelines, the publisher was allowed to print the book with the seal (see image above) of approval telling parents the content was wholesome and safe for kids.  Remember, we’re still talking 1954, so a lot of what was “taboo” then would be laughed at by today’s society.  Yet read through some of the examples below.  While common today, would it be all that bad if these rules were still in place?

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • All scenes of horror, excessive bloodshed, gory or gruesome crimes, depravity, lust, sadism, masochism shall not be permitted.
  • 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.
  • Divorce shall not be treated humorously nor represented as desirable.
  • Respect for parents, the moral code, and for honorable behavior shall be fostered. A sympathetic understanding of the problems of love is not a license for morbid distortion.
  • Liquor and tobacco advertising is not acceptable.
  • Advertisement of sex or sex instruction books are unacceptable.
  • Advertising for the sale of knives or realistic gun facsimiles is prohibited.

While all the major publishing houses of the time with the exception of Dell, who only produced family friendly, all ages content, adopted the code to ensure their continued presence in the market, there are always non-conformists.  The 1960s saw the rise of “underground comix”.  Note the “x” at the end.  This was a way to differentiate themselves from mainstream books, but also signified the content as x-rated.  The 60’s being a turbulent period in America, the subject matter typically reflected the counterculture population.  These books were printed by smaller publishers, never submitted for the CCA seal (duh!), and typically sold in records stores (remember vinyl?), head shops (if you don’t know what these are, Google it), or through mail order.  As popularity continued to grow for comics into the 70’s and more content came to market, eventually the dedicated comic book store was born.

For the mainstream publishing houses and the CCA, as society and people’s appetites changed, the Code was revised and “updated”.  In 1971 you could again draw and talk about things like vampires and werewolves, but zombies were still off-limits.  The code was also modified to allow the depiction of drug use as long as it was clearly presented in a negative fashion and both Marvel and DC published story arcs sanctioned by the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare in an effort to combat the war on drugs.  The 1980s saw more changes and a loosening of the code to try to keep current with cultural changes in the country.  The guidelines on things like how much gore or violence was allowed broadened as did the industry’s view on homosexuality.  Eventually, the public became so desensitized to so much of what was in the CCA guidelines, that many publishers stop submitting their titles in 90’s.  In 2001, Marvel announced it had developed its own set of guidelines and would no longer submit its books to the CCA.  A decade later, DC Comics followed suit announcing its withdrawal from the CCA and adoption of its own set of guidelines.  The following day, the final publisher withdrew and the CCA was no more.

By: Just-A-Bill, resident comic nerd justabill



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