The Comics Code: How Psychiatry Almost Ruined Comics
I don’t know how many people find the subject and history of the Comics Code Authority very interesting, but it’s something I have found endlessly fascinating. In 1954, hot on the heels of Joe McCarthy’s hearings on communism, Congress began taking aim at the comics industry. This move was spurred on by a fame-seeking psychiatrist named Fredric Wertham whose book, Seduction of The Innocent, blamed comic books for everything from crime to homosexuality. In his book Wertham bombastically states, “I think Hitler was a beginner compared to the comic-book industry.”As long time comic book nerd, in high school I always wished there’d be a class all about comics history, but now this panel has finally fulfilled that wish for me.
Focusing on what led to the creation of the comics code and what eventually would lead to its demise, Panelists Trent Hunsaker, Joshua Butterfield, Andrew Malin and Chris Hoffman offered a playful look into the effects of Wertham’s outcry on the comics industry and how devastating of a blow it was. The panel took several deviations from the main topic of the comics code, like discussing the current monopoly comics distributer Diamond has on the industry. We learned tidbits like the fact that Mad Magazine transformed from a comic book into a magazine just to escape the comic authorities’ grasp, or that Frankenstein was allowed, but Zombies weren’t because they had no literary basis. The panel was full of fun information on the topic. We learned that, after the code was instituted, it wouldn’t be until 1971 that Stan Lee and Marvel comics decided to tackle the thorny issue of teenage drug use, that any major company published a book without the codes seal of approval. Following Lee’s lead, DC Comics soon had their own warning against drugs by having Green Arrow’s side kick, Speedy, become a drug user. This time, however, the code gave their seal of approval, and this marked the slow decline of their power in the comic book world. The now-defunct comics code holds a strange and peculiar place in history. I don’t know if everyone would want to be lectured on the past of the Comic book industry, but this was great time diving into some rich comic book history.