Comics shed scarlet letter

Seal of Approval gone from comics (click for Washington Post article)

Last week, DC Comics announced they are no longer submitting their comic books for approval by the Comics Code Authority. The CCA is (or was, I suppose) a content review board created by the comic book industry in 1954 to reassure parents and newsstand dealers that comics with the Seal of Approval on their cover were safe for children.

Starting in April, DC Comics will instead utilize their own in-house grading system, modeled somewhat after the rating system used for video games by the Entertainment Software Rating Board. This is similar to Marvel Comics‘ decision made in 2001.

The day after DC’s announcement, Archie Comics responded to an inquiry by announcing their own abandonment of the Comics Code starting in February. They had apparently stopped submitting their comics for review over a year ago.

LA-based Bongo Comics, publishers of Simpsons Comics, made a similar move last year without any fanfare. They replaced the Seal of Approval with a simple “All Ages” rating, as observed by Bleeding Cool.

Most other comic publishers never bothered to submit their comics to the Comics Code Authority for review and approval.

While an important moment, this is mostly symbolic. Newsstands refused to carry comics without the Comics Code Seal of Approval in the 1950s, but most people today don’t even know what it means. That’s if they even notice the Seal. Publishers have been shrinking its size on their comic book covers for decades.

The Comics Code Authority was set up by the Comics Magazine Association of America, which itself was meant to be a trade organization for the comic book industry. The establishment of both was in response to the damaging Senate hearings on comics’ effects on juvenile delinquency. While the Senate subcommittee found no direct cause and effect between the content of comics and delinquency in children, the proceedings were a manifestation of a growing PR problem for the industry and comics in general. Magazine articles, TV programs and books were sending parents a lot of messages that comics were toxic for children. Local politicians starting taking action, attempting to ban or curb the sale of comics. This went so far as to incite comic book burnings in several towns across America.

It all came to a head with the televised Senate hearings in New York, and the creation of the Comics Code, which demanded that publishers join the Comics Magazine Association of America for a fee. The alternative was to lose distribution, since newsstand dealers began refusing carrying comics without the Seal of Approval, not wanting the risk of a lawsuit from an angry mother. Seemingly in an instant, hundreds of publishers and artists were finished. Readership plummeted. And an entire medium and art form was tainted as unsafe, unintelligent trash.

Comics barely survived. Public opinion has been slowly turning around thanks to transcendent work from all corners of the industry. So while the Comics Code Authority lost its authority a good 15-20 years ago or more, it is encouraging to see it finally whither away. After 57 years, the symbol of a simplistic generalization and dismissal of comics as a legitimate art form, comics’ scarlet letter, is gone.

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