As the 1940s came to a close, comic books were at the height of their popularity in the United States. Unfortunately for the comics industry, anxieties over the negative influence of comic books on children were also at an all-time high. The public was particularly concerned with the violent content found in the increasingly popular horror genre of comic. As the 1950s neared, organized comic book burnings and calls for government censorship of comics were becoming more and more common. In response to these growing concerns, and out of fear of government intervention, comic publishers organized to form the Association of Comics Magazine Publishers (ACMP) in 1947.
In an attempt to encourage publishers to regulate their books, the association, following ‘s example, released a “Publishers Code” in 1948 . Publishers largely ignored this code, however, and continued releasing comics featuring controversial content. As a result, comics continued to be denounced and protested across the U.S., and in 1953, the U.S. Senate launched a subcommittee to look into matters of juvenile delinquency. Not surprisingly, the comic book industry was directly in the subcommittee’s sights. The 1954 publication of psychiatrist Fredric Wertham’s book that argued that comics were a major cause of juvenile delinquency, only spurred this investigation and increased public concern.
Fearful that the Supreme Court investigation may eventually lead to the government censorship of comics, the AMCP reorganized as the Comics Magazine Association of America (CMAA) and created a self-regulating body, the Comics Code Authority (CCA). All member publishers would submit their comics to the CCA who would ensure that the books abided by the Comic Book Code which restricted the level of violent or sexual content that could appear in a book. All comics that passed the CCA’s screening received a seal of approval to be displayed prominently on the front cover of the book. Although comics could still be published without the seal, many distributors and advertisers refused to support any books that did not receive CCA approval. In practical terms, then, the CCA served as a censoring body throughout the Comic Book Code’s existence.
Stan Lee Discusses The CCA
The Code was revised in 1971 and again in 1989, but the Code was not completely abandoned until 2011. The abandonment of the Comics Book Code did not mean the end of self-regulation, however, as individual publishers, such as DC and Marvel, now apply their own rating system to their books. With such a history, is it any surprise that the comics industry came out in support of the video game industry during the recent Supreme Court case?
Many Doubt Comics Spur Crime (New York Times November 12, 1950)
Comic Crime (New York Times, December 26, 1953)
Horror On The Newsstands (Time, September 27, 1954)
The Dirt And Trash That Kids Are Reading (Changing Times, November 1954)
That Comic Book Question (New York Times, May 20, 1955)
Local Comic Dealers Boycott Objectionable Works (Los Angeles Times, May 24, 1955).
Comic Book Rule Is Put To Parents (November 22, 1955)