The Comics Code Is Dead: DC and Archie Drop Out
The dominoes fell quickly. From comic institution and infamous legacy of kneecapping a medium in order to “protect the children” to irrelevant and unused in just two days.
The Comics Code Authority was an industry trade group formed to promote self-regulation and fend off government censorship. The code was first adopted by publishers in 1954 in response to Fredric Wertham‘s Seduction of the Innocent and Congressional investigation into lurid and excessive comics, often horror titles.
A comic was submitted to a group of readers, who would then evaluate whether that issue was suitable to carry the CCA seal, shown here. Concerned parents were supposed to look for this stamp on the cover to be sure they were getting something suitable for their children. The size of the seal varied over the years, from taking up significant cover real estate during periods of concern to smaller than a stamp at other times. Many purchasers in the current age had no idea what it was about. Historians of the field now bemoan it as restrictive and controlling.
The first chink in the code happened in 1971, when Stan Lee pushed through the publication of The Amazing Spider-Man #96–98 without the code seal. This story, about how terrible drug abuse was, demonstrated the problem with blanket rules. If you said that narcotic use, for instance, couldn’t be shown in a comic, you also couldn’t do a story about its evils. For much more on the history, including copies of the code in its different revisions, read Seal of Approval: The History of the Comics Code by Amy Kiste Nyberg.
In 2001, Marvel announced that they were quitting the group and would not be using the seal, instead adopting their own rating system. (At first, they ran into trademark issues, as they copied the movie ratings, which are protected as intellectual property to prevent movie companies from self-rating.) Since independent companies rarely used the CCA, aiming to sell to older readers through the direct market instead of attracting the young on newsstands, that left just a few big publishers as members.