CCA – The Comics Code Authority!

Hrm…this comic is MISSING something. Can YOU spot it?Another thing that I’m NOW discovering is the meaning behind a symbol that I’ve been so used to seeing on the front of comics in my youth, that I’ve never even questioned what it meant. I’m talking about this logo:

That is the logo for the Comics Code Authority. It’s pretty much the comic book equivalent of the MPAA and the ESRB – aka, CENSORSHIP! The original CCA rating was put into place in 1954, and wouldn’t see any revisions until 1971. It was put into place just as comics were gaining major popularity and beginning to explore more adult subject matter such as extreme violence, gore, and sexual themes. Public outrage was growing, and people even went to the extent of banning comics in geographically. Comics with the new CCA logo were instantly more popular than those without it, prompting some places to ONLY carry comics approved under the CCA. While some underground comics rebelled against it, it’s obvious why DC and Marvel comics remained the forerunners of the comic book industry. This gave the two companies time to develop characters that everyone could love and continue to enjoy today, while blacklisted comics struggled to find an audience.

This system was originally put into place in order to calm the storm and regulate a newer format of literature, but as I look back, it did had a negative effect on comics – it REALLY seems to have stifled the creativity! Many of my own gripes reading these early stories stems from these restrictions.

Here’s a rundown on the original Code that lasted from 1954 to 1971:

  • 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.
  • If crime is depicted it shall be as a sordid and unpleasant activity.
  • 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.
  • Scenes of excessive violence shall be prohibited. Scenes of brutal torture, excessive and unnecessary knife and gunplay, physical agony, gory and gruesome crime shall be eliminated.
  • No comic magazine shall use the word horror or terror in its title.
  • All scenes of horror, excessive bloodshed, gory or gruesome crimes, depravity, lust, sadism, masochism shall not be permitted.
  • All lurid, unsavory, gruesome illustrations shall be eliminated.
  • Inclusion of stories dealing with evil shall be used or shall be published only where the intent is to illustrate a moral issue and in no case shall evil be presented alluringly, nor so as to injure the sensibilities of the reader.
  • 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.
  • Suggestive and salacious illustration or suggestive posture is unacceptable.
  • Females shall be drawn realistically without exaggeration of any physical qualities.
  • Illicit sex relations are neither to be hinted at nor portrayed. Violent love scenes as well as sexual abnormalities are unacceptable.
  • Seduction and rape shall never be shown or suggested.
  • Sex perversion or any inference to same is strictly forbidden.
  • Nudity with meretricious purpose and salacious postures shall not be permitted in the advertising of any product; clothed figures shall never be presented in such a way as to be offensive or contrary to good taste or morals.

That is a rough breakdown of the Code, but it even included specifics such as this one:

“The letters of the word “crime” on a comics-magazine cover shall never be appreciably greater in dimension than the other words contained in the title. The word “crime” shall never appear alone on a cover.”

I decided to bold three of the above rules that demonstrates why comic villains usually always had the same qualities. It was because of the Code that every villain seemed like a mustache twirling baddie, and it was because of the Code that they were never allowed to get away with their crime without some kind of downfall. As for the “excessive violence”, sometimes the villains death at the hands of the hero could be deemed excessive, so most of the time we end up with a Scooby-Doo ending. There’s also the ending where the villain loses everything, but gets away and has to start over. His punishment is his loss, so his escape is fine.

After a series of revisions in 1971, there would be another revision in 1989. These two revisions, as well as the change in popular interests, lead to comics getting away with darker, more complex storylines, and blending more adult themes into the plots. Also, specialty shops began selling more comics that didn’t have the CCA logo at all, and to much success. Eventually, Marvel would abandon the Code in 2001, and DC would do the same in early 2011. Archie Comics was the last to drop the Code, which now makes the CCA logo part of comic book history.

When Archie Comics finally dropped the Code they said “let’s just open up the damn floodgates!

The reason I’m writing this article NOW, is because I just read Fantastic Four #8. I will eventually post my review of that issue, but I must say that it had the MOST INTERESTING ending for a Marvel comic to date (between 1961 and 1962, at least). It found a way to side-step the CCA, while also managing to stick to the Code. It made the issue a breath of fresh air, and I hope that there’s similar instances of this to come!

(This article originally written on May 15th, 2011 at comicbookcurios.blogspot.com)

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