Comics Code Authority is dead

57 years after the Comics Code Authority was created to certify that comics bearing its seal had been censored and did not contain anti-authoritarian, sexual or counterculture content, it has finally died. The CCA was formed in response to the moral panic brought on by the Seduction of the Innocents, a medical hoax perpetrated by American psychiatrist Fredric Wertham who testified that comics were a serious cause of juvenile delinquency. (Paradoxically, Wertham was also a pioneering civil rights campaigner -- he apparently believed in freedom but just wasn't interested in sharing).

As of February, no major comic will bear the CCA seal any longer -- February being the month that Archie drops the iconic serif A. When Archie no longer cares about your certification of squeaky cleanness, you are truly dead.

But Pellerito said Archie's decision has nothing to do with content, and there will be no editorial change when the code leaves the front of the Archie books.

"The code never affected us editorially the way I think it did other companies," he said. "You know, we aren't about to start stuffing bodies into refrigerators or anything. We have to answer to Archie fans."

Currently, everything Archie Comics publishes is "all ages." And Pellerito said that, if Archie comic ever skews to an older audience, the publisher will let the readers know.

"If we ever do anything that we feel might be too far out, we'd put some type of rating on it," he said. "For instance we're relaunching Sam Hill, and it's a little more action adventure. That might be a 'teen' book, if we put a rating on it. But by and large, our stuff is built for everyone to read.

"Our goal is to make every Archie comic a must-read comic for kids, and a guilty pleasure for adults," he said.

ARCHIE Dropping COMIC CODE AUTHORITY Seal in February (Thanks, Tony!)

(Image: Approved by the Comics Code Authority, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from 9516941@N08's photostream)


  1. Perhaps now Archie Comics can finally document the torrid off-camera love affair between Veronica and Jughead.

    And show us Betty’s tits.

  2. That “stuffing bodies into refrigerators” comment was a pretty telling thing, I think–it refers to this. There have been a lot of great comics that weren’t published under the CCA, but there has also been an awful lot of crap shoveled out, as well.

  3. Fredric Wertham gets a little bit of a bad rap.

    I know, I know, I know, censorship is terrible, and it’s always wrong to tell someone what they can and can’t say, but the right to free speech isn’t the same thing as the right to say anything you want to 8 year olds.

    Comics in the 50s weren’t adult entertainment. They were on the bottom shelf of grocery and drug stores and marketed squarely at under-14s. A great many of the comics discussed in the panel were truly exploitive, glorified murder, and were borderline pornographic. And the code was never actual censorship. As the 60s underground comics showed, publishers were more than free to print anything (and I mean ANYTHING) as long as they sold them to adults. The code was a convenient way for retailers with no personal interest in comic books to sell them to minors without worrying that they were peddling filth.

    The code went too far, of course, but it was written with the moral standards of the 50s, not the 2000s in mind.

    In general I’m more sympathetic to the much maligned think-of-the-children arguments than most folks around here. There really are things that people under the age of 16 or so shouldn’t be exposed to, and industry standards organizations and labeling are really the only practical solution to the problem. The idea that parents can or should read, watch, and play every single piece of culture their kids encounter is absurd. Kids are voracious consumers of media with few constraints on their time, and adults with lives and jobs really can’t keep up.

    1. Actually, people DID get arrested for selling underground comics in the 60s. Making them too, I believe.

      Part of the government’s pogrom against the “Counterculture”. Where they didn’t find pot they’d often plant it, where it was free expression they’d scream ‘obscenity’.

      Wertham was nothing more than a moral panic feeding scumbag who used public fear to bolster his own practice. His “Law” and it might as well have been was more or less targeted at EC comics and worded so that Archie comics would slip right through them.

    2. “A great many of the comics discussed in the panel were truly exploitive, glorified murder, and were borderline pornographic.”

      This is true. When I was a kid in the early 70’s, mom worked out that comics would keep the kids quiet in the back seat on long road trips. She resented the cost however (a whole quarter? Gasp!) so my comics were purchased on the road for a nickle from small-town used book stores and back-woods garage sales. That’s how I stumbled into the occasional pre-code “gore comic.”

      Frankly, they were gross. No shocked adult took them from my childish hands but I self-censored and discarded them because I simply didn’t like them. They were ugly in ink and spirit. In retrospect I can see that they were a reaction to their times – a bloody and angry lashing out against the nice Leave-It-To-Beaver culture they inhabited.

      And this is why censoring them (and *any* reactionary censorship, whether sexting or baggy pants) is/was a fruitless and an ultimately pointless decision. Had the Code not existed, that whole genre would not have survived the 60s. They’d have passed as all fads pass.

      And anyway, we got Mad Magazine out of the deal, so society came out ahead in the end.

  4. Don’t get me wrong, i’m all for clearly labelling content, and producing content clearly aimed at specific demographics. I’m pretty open to some horrible things in my media enjoyment, but i respect the wishes of more square folks to know what their kids are getting into at a glance, and i try to keep my assaults on their paradigm to a minimum. As a new parent, i know my kid is going to get into plenty of stuff i’ll wish she hadn’t, but as a kid, i was weaned on a collection of old Mad, Eerie, Tales from the Crypt, and all that stuff. The feeling of getting away with something subversive is a great joy in a child’s life, and i hope i can feign alarm enough to make it worthwhile for my daughter when she decides to start digging around through my bookshelves one day.

    i hated the code. i thought it stripped a lot of great ideas of their ability to run wild and it made for decades of some pretty saccharine shit, garbage every bit as worthless as the gore trash it was trying so hard to stamp out. That said, it did force them to be more creative in other aspects, and while it drove a lot of fantastic talent underground, it did give us all that “authority” we loved to skirt in the first place.

    that said, when Archie wants to do that story about the bodies in the fridge, i hope they give me a call.


  5. Could you explain what you mean by calling Seduction “a medical hoax?” Though you might well disagree with him, Wertham appears to have been serious about this issue.

    1. It is a hoax to assert that there is a medically provable link between reading violent comic books and juvenile delinquency.

      1. It doesn’t seem to be *supported*, but not every unsupported idea is a hoax. Much like the people who blame video games for violent shootings today, Wertham had an overly simplistic idea of entertainment influence.

      2. Not to beat this to death but a hoax is a trick. It implies malicious or at least mischievous intent to deceive. That doesn’t apply here.

  6. Wertham was serious about the issue, and like a lot of well-meaning folk, was incredulous about what was done with his work. He was no great fan of the CCA, and favored a rating system, much like DC will be employing.

    That’s the missing piece of the “ZOMG Wertham championed civil rights?” conundrum.

  7. Note that the news that Archie Comics is dropping the Comic Code, comes just a few days after DC Comics announced they were dropping the Comic Code on January 20th:

    After DC Comics dropped it, Archie Comics would have been the only company left using it (Marvel dropped it a number of years ago) and I guess they figured it then had no point (especially when there are dues to pay to the Comic Code for the service). DC Comics similar to Marvel will have their own custom rating system.

  8. I think Cory is confusing simply “being wrong” with the term “hoax”.

    Cory: A hoax is when one intentionally misleads others. What you described above is just “being wrong”.

    If you want people to take you seriously when you post your next call for everyone to write to their representatives, I think you need to explicitly back up accusations of malice instead of just implying it and moving on. When you get something like that wrong, the people that do what you tell them to might end up looking stupid, and then you’ll lose influence over them.

    1. Having a wrong opinion is one thing. Saying, “I am a doctor, and I know what I’m talking about, and based on no evidence, I’m concluding that there is a causal link between violent comics and delinquency’ is quite another thing that ‘being wrong’ doesn’t really cover.

      1. Actually, what you stated is also just another egregious case of being wrong. For it to be a hoax, the person would have to know they are wrong and make the claim anyway. Your hypothetical person can be a doctor, claim to know what they are talking about (and be wrong), and claim that there is a causal link between A and B (and be wrong because it is based on no evidence), with no intent to deceive.

        It’s not just petty semantics, either. It makes Cory’s description sound a lot better because it adds a whole extra accusation in there which makes an assumption about his subject’s intent. Right now it’s rather trivial, but if he were talking about some actionable subject (as Cory often does), it would be deceptive.

        1. No a person who claims to belong to a profession that is based on science, cannot stand on that profession and profess things based on no evidence, and then claim that there is no intent to deceive. That is a nonsensical position. The deception in the authority that is being assumed.

  9. wait, they still publish Archie? i what time warp is it remotely relavent to anyone, anymore?

    i honestly thought they stopped making that drivel 30 years ago.

    1. Not only do they still publish Archie, it is one of the few comics still sold regularly in grocery stores and doing well.

      Archie comics launched their own mobile app before Marvel or DC and just a few weeks ago they were boasting to have been downloaded 1.8 million times. They are also one of the first majors who across their line of comics, be releasing digital versions the same day as print. (Most digital comics have some sort of delay after the print version, for fear they might cut into print sales).

      Back to the main topic, note that the Comic Code forbid the use of “crime”, “horror”, and “terror” in the title of the comic, which seemed to be specifically targeting EC Comics and it’s best-selling titles “Crime SuspenStories”, “The Vault of Horror”, and “Tales from the Crypt”.

      If that wasn’t enough they banned vampires, werewolves, zombies, ghouls and other supernatural creatures from comics. In 1971, the Comic Code revised their rules allowing vampires, werewolves, ghouls because of literary works such as Frankenstein and Dracula. Unfortunately, zombies didn’t have famous novel, so they were still not allowed. Marvel got around this by calling their zombies “zuvembies”.

      That’s how lame the whole thing was, however, it’s worst moment is pointed above by Mister44, when they tried to edit reprinted comic because the lead character was a black man, in a sci-fi comic that was making a commentary about race relations, no less!

  10. Right at the target age for comic books, I discovered the undergrounds. I was lucky enough to find poorly supervised comic book shops that would sell “Zap Comix” to a 14 year old.

    So what was the result of my exposure to that overwhelming tidal wave of filth? What did S. Clay Wilson, Robert Crumb and Robert Williams do to my virgin mind? They made superhero comic books seem trite. I seldom read about the folks in tights although I love comics to this day.

    I have a special admiration for newspaper comic strips that somehow manage to be entertaining under a code more extreme than the one imposed on children’s television cartoons. There’s a code that badly needs updating.

  11. Additionally, to say that the moral panic was brought about by Seduction is to ignore the time line. The moral panic over comic books had already begun, and the Congressional hearings on juvenile delinquency were already scheduled to start, long before Seduction was ever published. It certainly didn’t help things, but it wasn’t the cause.

    That said, it’s unsurprising that Archie and the rest are dropping it. The Code served two main purposes: to allow the drug store/corner store/&c. sellers to not have to check every single book sold, and to drive EC Comics and the other primarily horror and crime publishers out of business. (Who was principally behind the drafting of the code? Archie and National Publications, the two publishers losing the most ground to horror and crime. Why do you think superheroes weren’t targeted as heavily as other genres even though Wertham thought them to be no different than traditional crime comics?)

    The former isn’t really a market for comics any more (save Archie), and the latter is a long dead issue.

  12. The Code was always a big silly.. but personally speaking it did have one big advantage. I like to give out comic books at Halloween. I gave out about 300 last year. They are “overbuys” from my collection (duplicates or those I didn’t want when buying bulk). The Code was an easy way to see if they were “safe” to hand out to kids (in theory at least.. I’ve had to go through one at a time on more recent books. The amount of violence and gore in “safe” comics has gone up exponentially the last few years).

    Just means a little more work before I can pass them out from now on.

  13. I have this picture in my head, of this once-grand office suite somewhere in Manhattan, staffed now by one ancient secretary and a doddering prudish gentleman whose job it is to periodically review a comic publisher’s works and sign their CCA certificates.

    He’s got a bottle hidden in one of his desk drawers, and in another, a tube of lotion and a box of kleenex. Ooooh, that Betty . . .

  14. I believe there was some ‘evidence’, but it was more correlation than causation. Think about all the other crap believed in the field of psychology at that time.

    1. No it was not even about correlation vs. causation — that’s giving Wertham too much credit. Wertham based his conclusions on a study of juvenile ‘delinquents’ only. He did not study or concern himself with studying the comic reading habits of non-delinquents. To say that he found a correlation is entirely overstating it because he did not even look for a correlation. He simply looked at violent kids and concluded on the basis that they read comics, that comics caused the violence. The case was so empty of any genuine scientific rigour that it is very difficult to see it s anything other than intellectually dishonest. Wertham simply constructed an argument that concluded what he wished to conclude, and did not bother himself with trifles like any scientific method — but then he stood on his scientific authority to proclaim these views. This is dishonest, and in fact, a hoax perpetrated on the Senate, where he testified.

  15. P.S. The reason Wertham objected to the final form of the Comics Code Authority is that it did not go far enough for him. This was not some civil rights white knight who was in horror at the effects of his own views. That is standing history on its head.

    Wertham supported civil rights in one context but did not see the application of the principle in another context. This is not unusual at all for human beings, and requires no explanation nor rehabilitation of his image.

    Human beings will often oppose themselves to a particular expression of discrimination, while being perfectly fine with other methods of discrimination and censorship. If you need proof, just check out all of the coimics sites celebrating the ‘death’ of the comics code authority and talking as if finally we absolutely don’t have to worry about comics ever being censored anymore, when there is a huge 800lb censorious gorilla in the room and it is leading comics into the digital age — I’m talking of course about Apple.

    People unfortuantely like to make their principles very context dependent so that they can continue to see themselves as ‘good’ and supporting ‘freedom’ while still supporting their favourite types of people and companies even though those people and companies absolutely do not support freedom. It’s quite common and requires no special explanation to render Wertham into a consistent human being.

  16. I once put a severed head in a laundromat drier. (Armed and Dangerous 1 for Acclaim comics.) I’m glad the comic was labeled as adult fare although I would have reveled in that particular panel when I was a kid. After years in the industry I really wasn’t aware the code was still there. I think the major accomplishment was that my mom tore up ALL my comics in the mid to late 50’s thus depriving me of what would have been a healthy retirement fund.

    Bob Hall

  17. Wasn’t a part of the problem that a part of the comics market, at the time of all the fuss, was adults of poor literacy? They could cope better with the picture/text combination than with stories composed of text alone. And they didn’t want stories aimed at kids.

    That’s one of the stories I heard, told with a slightly superior attitude, based on the concept that those America (from where “horror comics” were being imported) was somehow defective. But other parts of the world, generally not English-speaking in culture, don’t seem to have the “just for kids” view.

    It’s a bigger market than we might think, even today, but television seems a more effective medium for reaching it.

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