Code that Killed the Golden Age
(first published Spring 1989 issue
of Once Upon A Dime.com)
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.
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.
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.
Comics' line of Horror and Terror comics was thought
to be the most egregious offender in those days
some of the very specific requirements in the Code
it's hard not to imagine they were being directly
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
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
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
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
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
6) Seduction and rape shall never be shown or suggested.
7) Sex perversion or any inference to same is strictly
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
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.