Under pressure from Congressional investigations, in 1954 comic book publishers formed the Comics Magazine Association of America. With New York City magistrate Charles F. Murphy at its head, in October 1954 the organization publish one of the most restrictive codes of conduct every promulgated by an American media industry. The code was revised in the 1970s, but remained incredibly paternalistic. In May, marvel Comics became the latest to abandon the code in announcing that it would develop its own code of content and label its comics accordingly.
If anything, it is amazing that the code lasted as long as it did, but its abandonment has generally come down to economics. Given the huge changes in what was acceptable in film, music and fiction during the 1960s and 1970s, the code looked like an antique by the mid-1970s (when it was revised to allow for comic books to portray police and other authority figures as sometimes corrupt!)
Marvel’s Joe Quesada’s comments hit pay dirt,
In retrospect, thinking about the Code and the CMAA, I just think the CMAA did a very poor job with respect to letting people in the general public know that there were comics other than the one for kids, thus, I think in a lot of ways perpetuating the CMAA, and Marvel was a very big part of it.
As an aside, it is fascinating to look at the rhetoric which led to the clampdown on some of the best comic books ever published — especially the EC Horror comics — and notice that the rhetoric has survived almost unchanged, except directed at today’s popular youth obsession, video games and film. When Sen. Joe Lieberman gives a speech calling for an FTC investigation of the film and video games industries, his comments could have lifted almost verbatim from Frederic Wertham’s classic anti-comic book rant, Seduction of the Innocent (and it is worth remember that, like Lieberman, Wertham was not a member of some far right conservative movement, but instead was a progressive best known for his work with poor and minority communities in New York).
Marvel drops the code. Comicon.Com, May 16, 2001.
Comic Book Nation: The Transformation of Youth Culture in America. Bradford W. Wright, Baltimore, Maryland: The John Hopkins University Press, 2001.