Comics Code Authority

Interview: Stan Goldberg

Archie Marries... (click to buy from publisher Abrams ComicArts)

Speaking with comics artist Stan Goldberg was an honor, and I’m very grateful for his generosity with his time. I definitely did not expect this to go 45 minutes but he had a lot to share, and it’s worth it to hear him talk about all of this. His love for his work comes across quickly. He really loves what he does. It’s clear that this is a man still enjoying and exploring his craft and the process of storytelling despite already being a master at it.

I was also struck with how unfortunate it is for someone who has lived and breathed the Archie characters for the last 40 years, who has been the artist on their most commercially successful and buzz worthy books (for good reason), now finds himself with some uncertainty. Fortunately he’s still immensely talented. His abilities not only haven’t diminished, but may be stronger than ever. And he remained classy throughout, with not a bad word to say about his former employers. Already plans are in the works for the next phase of his career, and that to me is exciting. With over 60 years in the biz, he still has a lot of creativity to give.

Here’s the audio of our interview:

MP3 Download

Here’s a breakdown of what he talked about:

  • His 40-year career with Archie Comics, characters he clearly loves and respects, and his recent departure from the company.
  • Creating the color designs for Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four (the Thing is colored like “a wrinkled orange”), the Hulk (his pants were meant to be magenta, not purple), and the rest of the Marvel Comics universe, including the villains like Dr. Doom.
  • Being asked by Marvel to draw the Fantastic Four 50 years after coloring the first issue in 1961.
  • His work being reprinted in prestige hard cover books: Archie: The Best of Stan Goldberg [Amazon link] and Archie Marries… [Amazon link]
  • Being mentored by Stan Lee the art director in the ’50s
  • Using the Marvel Method for Millie the Model
  • Creating Kathy the Teenage Tornado (reprint this, Marvel!)
  • On the comics industry during the Senate hearings of the 1950s and the industry’s response: “It almost destroyed the whole industry.” He says the Comics Code Authority, the industry’s content watchdog, went overboard: “They made some corrections, but I guess they had to show what they were then getting paid for.” Marvel even lost their distributor for a time, which resulted in Stan having to go freelance.
  • His work on Millie the Model influencing women in fashion design and magazines like Cosmopolitan, McCall’s and others.
  • Collaborating with Michael Uslan on last year’s “Archie Marries…” story starting in Archie #600, which sold 50% better than Marvel & DC comic books at the time. His pure penciled artwork for the covers of those six issues was reprinted in IDW’s recent Archie: The Best of Stan Goldberg
  • The story of the surprise debut of Archie Meets Punisher and the plans for a sequel that never came to be.
  • And perhaps most exciting of all… teasing a future project he’s creating with a writer.

Archie: The Best of Stan Goldberg (click to buy from publisher IDW)

(Also a cameo by my cat Cleo climbing up the back of my chair if you listen carefully. I should also apologize for the volume disparity between his voice and mine. Fortunately once we get started, it’s mostly him. Ah the joys of technology. I’ll try to work that out for the next interview.)

FF #1 variant cover by Goldberg (50th Anniversary of Fantastic Four #1, Marvel Comics)

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.