The Code that Killed the Golden Age
(first published Spring 1989 issue of Once Upon A

A lot of people talk about the Comics Code Authority and the effect it had on the industry. But I don't think very many people have actually read the code. Of course its intention was noble and there are many laudable ideals set out in it. Other restrictions may seem laughable to our modern tastes but we have to bear in mind it was a more innocent age and critics of the comics industry were scared the four color arts were all too speedily ending the innocence of America's youth.

The Code was established in 1954 as the industry's self policing response to criticisms led by psychiatrist Fredric Wertham. Wertham's 1953 book, Seduction of the Innocent, raised nationwide concerns about crime and horror comics, and the effect they might have on American children and teens.

The outcry grew so loud the U.S. Senate Judiciary formed the Subcommittee to Investigate Juvenile Delinquency, chaired initially by Senator Robert C. Hendrickson of New Jersey, then by Senator Estes Kefauver of Tennessee, with comic book content as its focus.

EC Comics' line of Horror and Terror comics was thought to be the most egregious offender in those days and reading some of the very specific requirements in the Code it's hard not to imagine they were being directly targeted.

And although EC nearly went out of business (saved only by switching Mad to a magazine format -- thus neatly sidestepping the code), they were by no means the only company affected. Commander Courage escaped relatively unscathed -- although Liberty Lad quickly gained some longer pants and both he and the Commander spent more time in the company of single attractive women.

Standards of the Comics Code Authority*

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.

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.
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.

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.

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


--Donald Swan

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