The strange rules of The Comics Code Authority

Who knew there were so many rules to comic book writing?

Believe it or not there was a time when comic books and comic book properties weren't glorified money-printers. In 1954 comic book sales were at an all time low and the American congress were even in discussion about banning them for the effect that they supposedly had on young people (much like the discussions about violent video games held by Donald Trump's government). With this in mind all of the major comic book publishing houses joined together to create the Comics Code Authority, which stood to ensure that a set of rules was adhered to by every writer, illustrator, and publisher in order to keep the comic book industry alive.


Enough with the history lesson, I'm done teaching you actual semi-interesting information, I'm really here to show you some of the funniest and weirdest rules that the Comic Code Authority put in place.


No more horror:

1971 bought us two great things: The Oregon Trail and Morbius. You're almost definitely wondering "Was there a specific reason we had to wait until 1971 to see fan favourite character and the star of the best comic book movie of all time?" If that's what you're wondering then wonder no longer. Yes there was a reason. Up until 1971 all depictions of Vampires, Zombies, Ghouls, Torture, Cannibals, and Werewolves were banned by The CCA after being deemed unsuitable for a comic book audience. Witches, mummies, dinosaurs, and ghosts were the most popular replacement during this time but Morbius the living dinosaur doesn't have quite the same ring to it.


No corrupt police or government:

Can you imagine watching The Batman if this rule still existed? In fact almost all modern Batman content would have to go straight out the window. This one is for obvious reasons but just comes across as a bit 1984 Big Brother is watching. The caveat that makes this so odd is that you could write about corruption in the police forve and governement but it had to have been caught and stopped by the overtly good policemen and politicians so as to not make them look bad, so no superhero interventions allowed.


No scary titles:

Weird, terror, and horror. What do these three words have in common? You guessed it, they were all banned by the Comics Code Authority in 1954. Nothing corrupts American youths like the concept of scary things, nothing. Many horror titles and publishers simply ceased to exist, such as Entertainment Comics (or EC) and their titles. There is even a theory that the rules that essentially banned horror were put in place to drive EC out of the market as all of their major titles had a heavy horror element. This theory begins to make even more sense when you remember that these rules would have been set by some of their biggest rivals.


The hero always wins:

There would have been no such thing as the iconic Death of Superman or Infinity Gauntlet or Civil War if the Comics Code Authority was still around today. If the heroes literally cannot lose then there are no stakes to anything, in fact some of the very best comic books of all time see the heroes lose. The eventual collapse of the Authority and the inevitable push back on rules such as this saw writers take it to the other extreme and classics like Watchmen (still one of the greatest books of any kind of all time) and X-Men: Days of Future Past came to be.


Astronauts could not be black:

This wasn't an officially written rules but when EC (I could probably write a whole article on their relationship with the CCA) were publishing Judgement Day in 1955 they were initially stopped by the Comic Code Authority. Judgement Day is basically a story about a colony of robots who apply for status in the Galactic Republic only to be turned down due to a dispute between Robots of different colours within this colony, so far it's obviously a thinly-veiled anti racism story much like the X-Men so clearly nothing harmful. The Administrator of the Comics Code Charles Murphy took issue with the story and contacted EC publisher Bill Gaines to stop publication of the issue. Now you might think that it comes down to something trivial or stupid such as a word in the title or the use of scary themes, but you would be wrong. Charles Murphy took issue with an astronaut being black. Who knows why this was an issue, the obvious reason is that the people in charge were blatant racists but I can't work out why the issue specifically is that it's a black astronaut.


Unsurprisingly publishers began to ignore the rules of the CCA in the 80s and 90s and in the 2000s the major publishers ignored the CCA entirely and stopped going through them before publishing. In 2011 it had been dropped by every publication entirely although the approval stamp has been used on some legacy and archive releases after this point(and even at the start of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse). There's absolutely no doubt that the world of comic books is better off without the CCA's ridiculous rules.


That brings us to the end of today's article. It's a slightly different kind of article but comic books and the history of them are easily one of the most interesting things to write and this one felt more topical than ever with the Morbius movie just around the corner. In fact, if you want more Morbius content you can click right here for an article delving into all things Morbius movie.



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