Issue #13 of 35   INDEX

Joel Grineau
by: Joel V. Grineau
Overview Of The Comics Code Authority

As stated last column, the Comics Code Authority of 1954 was created to halt the perceived 'seduction of the innocent'.

The Code gives editorial dictums for publication. It is structured into several parts, including general standards on: the visual and literary depiction of crime, horror, religion and race, costume, advertising, marriage and sex.

On the surface level, the Code is quite straight forward. For example, the Code was intended to stop any link between depictions of crime in comic books and juvenile delinquency: therefore, we read "No comics shall explicitly present the unique details and methods of crime."

However, there is a second level to the Code. Let's look at several selected dictums.

  • "Policemen, judges, government officials and respected institutions shall never be presented in such a way as to create disrespect for established authority."

  • "Nudity with meretricious purpose and salacious postures shall not be permitted in the advertising of any product; clothed figures shall never be permitted in the advertising of any product in such a way as to be offensive or contrary to good taste or morals."

  • "Respect for parents, the moral code, and for honourable behaviour shall be fostered. A sympathetic understanding of the problems of love is not a licence for morbid distortion."

  • "All characters shall be depicted in dress reasonably acceptable to society."

  • "Inclusion of stories dealing with evil shall be used or shall be published only where the intent is to illustrate a moral issue and in no case shall evil be presented alluringly nor as to injure the sensibilities of the reader."

  • The treatment of love-romance stories shall emphasize the value of the home and the sanctity of marriage. [bolding is mine]

Although juvenile delinquency and sexual perversion were the fears which caused the creation of the Code, and they are addressed in the Code, there is more going on here.

Look at the key words: established authority, good taste or morals, respect, the moral code, clothing acceptable to society, a moral issue, value of the home, and the sanctity of marriage. Were these not the values of white middle class America in 1954? This Code was really, an attempt to legislate the beliefs of the 'moral majority'. (No, it was not legislation in the proper sense and yes it is anachronistic to label them the 'moral majority; but hey, it's my column.)

One last Code dictum has plagued the medium for decades: "In every instance good shall triumph over evil and the criminal punished for his misdeeds." This moral dictum has had large literary implications; it made comic book stories not much more than simple morality tales.

Created in 1954, the Comics Code Authority is a document which had comic book publishers trying to appease a white middle class America, which was desperately trying to maintain its values and morals.

Joel Grineau is a former Writer/Contributing Editor for "Chaos" Magazine. "Iron Man" 146 (purchased in the spring of 1981) was his first comic book, and time has not worn down his enjoyment of them. Joel holds a BA from the University of Guelph and an MA from the University of Saskatchewan. He is currently an officer with the Canadian Forces.

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Text © Joel V. Grineau, 1997,1998.
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