Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Crazy Comics Code, and How It Made Great Comics

Ever notice how when we talk of great films, we talk about the "Golden Age" of film?

They had great stories and some especially adult themes - try watching Casablanca or Gone With the Wind and count how many sexual subtexts there are - but they also were under a fierce watchdog: the Hayes Commission.

You had to mind your manners. You could tell the story, but you could not violate good manners and taste. It HAD to be viewable by kids and adults. It had to be available to all.

Then the ratings system came in and that all changed. Still, today, if you want to make the MOST money, you keep it fairly clean. Economics are on the side of the "Let's take the whole family to see this" on Friday nights. Add to that the voice of the church groups and school outings, and you can see that keeping a broad market gives you more chances to make your money back and even find venues to sell your film.

We had a watchdog when I was growing up. It was The Comics Code Authority, and it made sure that comics - designed for kids - were acceptable to their parents.

Now somehow, every one thinks having restrictions is BAD for creativity. Au contraire!

It is the creative writer who has to come up with a new way of saying "Shoot!" or "Darn!" or "You could've knocked me over with a feather!" who finds the strength to meet the challenge.

I mean, outside of comics, I have NEVER heard anyone say "Oh my stars and garters!"

Have you?

[Love ya, Beast! Image courtesy of Thank you - I had this issue, but you saved me the trouble!]

The Comics Code was a reaction against horror and gore and crime comics that were going a WEE bit too far. And as sinful as all human hearts are, you cannot read a single thing about this reaction that's positive in the minds of comic-lovers.

Well, I haven't yet.

But I submit it was NOT insane or crazy or fascist to put our collective foots down on this stuff that was appealing to baser instincts and aimed at children, esp. young boys. Still, the praise for the end of the Comics Code Authority by the so-called enlightened moral relativists of this generation seems to be echoing through the web.

Folks, we just hate to be told "No." We don't even care what the reason is. We just don't want ANYONE telling US "Nope. Sorry. Can't do that." And when you want to change that sentiment to "I don't want anyone telling me what to do..." you go too far again.

Editing out gore and crap and especially visceral horror elements is NOT the same as "telling you WHAT to do" - it is simply telling you the boundaries to abide within.

And why is it necessary?

Because we care about what kids read, imagine and put into their mind. We care about that more than lining your fershlinger wallet, you moron.

And I want to present to you this terrible, fascist code that SOMEHOW we are better off without (sarcasm) - keeping in mind of course, that without this general, all-must-comply code, we kids would NOT have had comics to read for mere pennies on the racks at every magazine stand, drug store, 7-11 and Walgreens.

You see what I am saying? Like the "Golden Age" of movies, under the restrictions of the Hayes Commission, comics also had a "Golden Age" and it was so powerful, some our BEST creations occurred UNDER those restrictions - and those restrictions enabled superheroes to fill our homes and offices, 'cause they were safe.

Well, I've said enough. Read the following code and tell me how many violations we accept today REALLY 'enhance' the comic genre:

Here ya go, True Believers. I think you will find these guidelines... enlightening.


Source: Comix, a History of Comic Books in America, by Les Daniels, copyright 1971 by Les Daniels and Mad Peck Studios.

Code For Editorial Matter
General Standards Part A:

1) 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.
2) No comics shall explicitly present the unique details and methods of a crime.
3) Policemen, judges, government officials, and respected institutions shall never be presented in such a way as to create disrespect for established authority.
4) If crime is depicted it shall be as a sordid and unpleasant activity.
5) Criminals shall not be presented so as to be rendered glamorous or to occupy a position which creates the desire for emulation.
6) In every instance good shall triumph over evil and the criminal punished for his misdeeds.
7) Scenes of excessive violence shall be prohibited. Scenes of brutal torture, excessive and unnecessary knife and gun-play, physical agony, gory and gruesome crime shall be eliminated.
8) No unique or unusual methods of concealing weapons shall be shown.
9) Instances of law enforcement officers dying as a result of a criminal’s activities should be discouraged.
10) The crime of kidnapping shall never be portrayed in any detail, nor shall any profit accrue to the abductor or kidnapper. The criminal or the kidnapper must be punished in every case.
11) The letters of the word “crime” on a comics magazine shall never be appreciably greater than the other words contained in the title. The word “crime” shall never appear alone on a cover.
12) Restraint in the use of the word “crime” in titles or subtitles shall be exercised.

General Standards Part B:
1) No comic magazine shall use the word “horror” or “terror” in its title.
2) All scenes of horror, excessive bloodshed, gory or gruesome crimes, depravity, lust, sadism, masochism shall not be permitted.
3) All lurid, unsavory, gruesome illustrations shall be eliminated.
4) Inclusion of stories dealing with evil shall be used or 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.
5) Scenes dealing with, or instruments associated with walking dead, torture vampires and vampirism, ghouls, cannibalism, and werewolfism are prohibited.

General Standards Part C:
All elements or techniques not specifically mentioned herein, but which are contrary to the spirit and intent of the Code, and are considered violations of good taste or decency, shall be prohibited.

1) Profanity, obscenity, smut, vulgarity, or words or symbols which have acquired undesirable meanings are forbidden.
2) Special precautions to avoid references to physical afflictions or deformities shall be taken.
3) Although slang and colloquialisms are acceptable, excessive use should be discouraged and wherever possible good grammar shall be employed.

Ridicule or attack on any religious or racial group is never permissible.

1) Nudity in any form is prohibited, as is indecent or undue exposure.
2) Suggestive and salacious illustration or suggestive posture is unacceptable.
3) All characters shall be depicted in dress reasonably acceptable to society.
4) Females shall be drawn realistically without exaggeration of any physical qualities. [ED: Not anymore!!]

NOTE: It should be recognized that all prohibitions dealing with costume, dialogue, or artwork applies as specifically to the cover of a comic magazine as they do to the contents.

Marriage and Sex:
1) Divorce shall not be treated humorously nor shall be represented as desirable.
2) Illicit sex relations are neither to be hinted at or portrayed. Violent love scenes as well as sexual abnormalities are unacceptable.
3) Respect for parents, the moral code, and for honorable behavior shall be fostered. A sympathetic understanding of the problems of love is not a license for moral distortion. [ED: Oh, I love this one!]
4) The treatment of love-romance stories shall emphasize the value of the home and the sanctity of marriage.
5) Passion or romantic interest shall never be treated in such a way as to stimulate the lower and baser emotions.
6) Seduction and rape shall never be shown or suggested.
7) Sex perversion or any inference to same is strictly forbidden. [ED: Ooooooo... guess what THAT excludes, kiddos?]

Code For Advertising Matter:
These regulations are applicable to all magazines published by members of the Comics Magazine Association of America, Inc. Good taste shall be the guiding principle in the acceptance of advertising.

1) Liquor and tobacco advertising is not acceptable.
2) Advertisement of sex or sex instructions books are unacceptable.
3) The sale of picture postcards, “pin-ups,” “art studies,” or any other reproduction of nude or semi-nude figures is prohibited.
4) Advertising for the sale of knives, concealable weapons, or realistic gun facsimiles is prohibited.
5) Advertising for the sale of fireworks is prohibited.
6) Advertising dealing with the sale of gambling equipment or printed matter dealing with gambling shall not be accepted.
7) 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.
8) To the best of his ability, each publisher shall ascertain that all statements made in advertisements conform to the fact and avoid misinterpretation.
9) Advertisement of medical, health, or toiletry products of questionable nature are to be rejected. Advertisements for medical, health or toiletry products endorsed by the American Medical Association, or the American Dental Association, shall be deemed acceptable if they conform with all other conditions of the Advertising Code.

Comics may have better art and better coloring and better paper and my even be more respectable in many ways today.

But they also lost loyal readers - and perhaps a humility that made them worth buying by the dozen.

Think about it.


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