After diligent research on comic book censorship and the Comics Code Authority, we found Jamie Coville’s article, “Seduction of the Innocents and the Attack on Comic Books.” It perfectly pertained to the topic we wanted to discuss in our editorial. We also sought Coville out in the following interview in order to assist us in understanding comic book history and Judgment Day’s censorship.
Jamie Coville is a Canadian writer and business analyst who has been writing about comic book history since 1998. Jamie has attended numerous comic book conventions and has conducted interviews with multiple comic professionals. He has been published in various books, catalogues, and magazines, and has worked in the comic book press since 1998.
– Nastasia Porras, Daniel Soto, & Christopher Walds
Nastasia Porras, Daniel Soto, & Christopher Walds: What are the origins of the comic codes? Why were they created?
Jamie Coville: The comics code was actually initially suggested by Bill Gaines. It was in response to intense political and media pressure to curtail the crime and horror comic books that were being blamed for the rise in juvenile delinquency. Gaines’ vision of the comics code was more of a public relations gesture and not a dictatorial censorship organization. Other publishers took up Gaines’ suggestion and turned it into what it became.
NP & DS & CW: How were the comic codes enforced?
JC: Publishers had to submit their art to the comics code first, people hired there would review it and send it back with changes required. If the changes weren’t made, they wouldn’t be allowed to use the Comics Code on the cover. Publishers felt they had no option but to comply or distributors wouldn’t distribute their books to the newsstands for their readers to purchase.
NP & DS & CW: How did the comic codes affect major comic book publishers such as Marvel and DC?
JC: They had to make changes to their art and stories. Most of their crime and horror stories were fairly tame by industry standards so how many changes there were I cannot say, but they undoubtedly had to make some. They also started looking for other genres of comics to publish since the usual genres of crime, horror, and romance were now being censored and watered down.
NP & DS & CW: Did the Comics Code Authority administrators favor certain companies over others?
JC: I suspect publishers who were doing kid friendly books like Archie or Harvey likely had less issues with the Code than publishers aiming at an older audience. That said, even Archie artists said they had to tame their art due to the code.
NP & DS & CW: Why was the CCA so intent on censoring Judgement Day by EC Comics?
JC: Their purpose was to drive Bill Gaines out of business. After his testimony at the Senate Hearings on Comic Books and Juvenile Delinquency he became the face of the “evil” comic book publisher who was “corrupting” kids and turning them into juvenile delinquents. While all publishers’ books went to the general censoring staff, EC’s books went straight to the administrator Judge Charles Murphy, who was looking for anything to censor in order to make Gaines life difficult and get him to quit publishing comic books.
NP & DS & CW: How did readers react to the comic codes?
JC: I’m not sure if we have any documented reaction from readers to say definitively what they thought about it. I know that die hard comic fans from that time did not like the code and preferred “pre code” comics. We know that sales dropped considerably, some of that was likely due to distribution but some of it was also due to declining sales. A lot of artists just left the field of comics due to a lack of work, and artists that remained said they were regularly being told that they’d have to accept a lower pay rate in order to keep working in comics.
NP & DS & CW: When and why did comic book distributors stop placing emphasis on whether a book had the CCA seal of approval?
JC: The comics code changed, for what we believed to be the last time in 1989. By then the direct market was significantly more important to publishers than the newsstands in terms of sales and profitability. The direct market distributors and retailers didn’t care that much about the comics code, at least not enough to stop distributing and selling comics like the newsstand distributors of the 1950s did. Much of that industry was made up of comic fans who did not like the code censoring comic books. Many publishers using the direct market had been making comics for adult readers and selling them, sans comic code, for several years by then. Marvel stopped using the code in 2001; DC and Archie followed in 2011.
NP & DS & CW: How do you think the history of comics would have been different if the Comics Code was never created?
JC: I’d like to think comics in America would have developed more like comics in Japan and Europe did, with a mix of genres aimed at different demographics. It may have developed like the magazine market did with publications for all age groups.
NP & DS & CW: What kind of legacy or effect have the codes had on the comic book industry?
JC: It turned comic books into a children only medium. A lot of baby boomer adults wouldn’t have been caught dead reading a comic book, believing it was for kids only. I think it set the comic books back by at least 50 years in terms of developing as a medium like movies, music, books, etc. that could’ve produced a wide variety of entertainment for people to enjoy.
NP & DS & CW: Is there anything you would like to add?
JC: One of the things that gets missed when talking about the comic code and those who were in charge of enforcing it is that they didn’t just enforce the code, they went way beyond it. Judgement Day is a perfect example of this. If you read the 1950’s comic code there is nothing in there forbidding black astronauts or black astronauts sweating, which were the objections that Judge Charles Murphy had about the story. Once the code administrators had the power to censor, they censored anything they didn’t like for any reason. Even though the comics code is no longer around, there are still people today attempting to censor comic books, which is why I encourage comic lovers and first amendment advocates to support the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF.org) as they defend our medium against censorship.