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Comics Code Authority

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The Comics Code Authority is an organization originally founded to monitor the content of American comic books and act as a de facto censor for the medium.

The organization came about in the 1950s when there was a general public backlash against controversial content in comic book medium, particularly in the crime and horror genres. In order to placate the public mood, a number of comic book companies decided to create an organization that would act as a censor to the medium. While the CCA had no legal authority over the publishing houses, magazine distributors were encouraged to flatly refuse to carry any comics that did not have the Code's seal of approval.

As part of the CCA's role of a censor, a content code with draconian strictness was adopted. Not only were there the expected prohibitions of depictions of violence, gore and sexuality, but it went much further than that. The code also dictated that authority figures were never to questioned or ridiculed, illegal drugs were never to be depicted under any circumstance, good must always win and all standard gothic monsters like vampires and werewolves were prohibited.

Although the CCA got most of the publishing house on board, there were critics. These included Dr. Frederick Wertham whose book, Seduction of the Innocent[?], enflamed much of the public antipathy, dismissed the code as an inadequate half measure which did not address the harm of comic book in his opinion. William Gaines, head of EC Comics complained that a code clause that specifically prohibited "Terror" or "Horror" on comic titles as well as the above monster ban seemed specifically targetted to put his best selling company out of business.

Most comic historians note that the CCA had a profoundly damaging effect on the artistic medium with the talent being shackled by the code to do only simple morality tales with little sophistication. This drove away much of the previously large adult readership and stereotyped the medium in North America as fit only for children.

The code held sway for years with mainstream publishers like Marvel Comics managing to find venues that would allow for some artistic expression. Meanwhile, the underground comic book scene arose with talents creating comics that ignored the code while delving into previously unthinkable subject matter.

In 1971, Marvel Comics editor in chief Stan Lee was approached by the National Department of Health to do a comic book story about drug abuse. Stan Lee agreed and wrote an appropriate Spider-Man story. When the CCA refused to approve the story because of the presence of narcotics, Stan Lee defied the code and published the story anyway. The event got such positive publicity for Marvel Comics that the CCA's influence was undercut.

In reaction over the years, the CCA has revised the code multiple times to loosen it up and its oversight of the medium became much more lax. Major companies like DC Comics and Marvel began to publish whole lines of comics that simply ignored the code to present material for adult audiences.

In 2001, Marvel Comics withdrew from the CCA in favour of their own ratings system which many saw as yet another step to the organization's decline into irrelevance.



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