Back in the fifties, comic book content and their covers were under fire. The public thought they were going too far. Over-sexualizing females and placing them in victimizing positions on top of outright gore sent the powers that be into action. In 1954, Comics Magazine Association of America (CMAA) came into existence and spurred the creation of a code that banned “graphic depictions of violence and gore in crime and horror comics, as well as, the sexual innuendo”. This came about on the heels of a book written by Fredric Wertham named Seduction of the Innocent which took the position that the comics that were coming out added to juvenile delinquency. But, instead of allowing the government to control them, they, instead, self governed themselves with the Comic Codes Authority. It, of course, went much farther than the original intent.
“CCA prohibited the presentation of "policemen, judges, government officials, and respected institutions ... in such a way as to create disrespect for established authority." But it added the requirements that "in every instance good shall triumph over evil" and discouraged "instances of law enforcement officers dying as a result of a criminal's activities." Specific restrictions were placed on the portrayal of kidnapping and concealed weapons. Depictions of "excessive violence" were forbidden, as were "lurid, unsavory, gruesome illustrations."Vampires, werewolves, ghouls and zombies could not be portrayed. In addition, comics could not use the words "horror" or "terror" in their titles. The use of the word "crime" was subject to numerous restrictions. Where the previous code had condemned the publication of "sexy, wanton comics," the CCA was much more precise: depictions of "sex perversion", "sexual abnormalities", and "illicit sex relations" as well as seduction, rape, sadism, and masochism were specifically forbidden. “
As time went on, of course, they eased up a bit allowing criminals to be sympathetically depicted, crooked police to be allowed to be shown and, of course, monster characters like Vampires, Werewolves and the sort returned to comic print. Today, the Code has been abandoned for self government within each company. And, for the most part, it has worked. But we have had a few snafus.
In the last few years we’ve seen public outcry rock comics like no other time. Why is this? Social Media. That and the early access of covers on the internet have led to a relative sea of fans who have become judge, jury and, for the most part, executioner. Used to, the comic would see print long before anyone cried for it to be pulled. But now, with instant access and the open forum of Facebook and Twitter, the fans have found that, if they cause a big enough stink, they can stop the covers from ever being printed. This sets the order of things on its head. Before, the market would dictate whether or not a cover should have been printed. Stores would ban it and fans would avoid it like the plague. But now, we never know if the comic would have sold or not. The market has no say. Instead we have corporations running scared, cowtowning to the squeakiest wheel.
Now, am I saying that there shouldn’t be some alterations on the state of women’s clothing in comics or the ways in which they are posed? Not at all. Being an old school fan, I think it’s past time that we show some diversity in body types of women as well as look for a bit more modesty in the way females are depicted. I encourage the change. I just think that with the growing female fan-base, they could have done this via the market. Voice your displeasure all you want, but let your dollars tell the companies where to make the changes. Comics like Ms. Marvel, Batgirl and a myriad of other female character driven books have a strong female fan base. And those fans along with the male fans who feel the same way can make a difference at the store; instead of showing up with torches and pitchforks and trading death threats maybe.
And speaking of Batgirl.
The variant cover could have been handled without all of the ranting and raving. You don’t like it; don’t look for it or buy it. Because, you would have to go looking for it. It wasn’t going to be on every shelf and it wasn’t going to go cheap. In fact, if you make a stink without demanding they censor themselves and drop it, the price would have risen sky high and most wouldn’t be able to purchase it anyway. There’s plenty of time afterward in the public forum to discuss the ins and outs of that cover.
The new Comics Code Authority seems to be mob rule on the internet. Death threats and name calling seem to be the order of the day from both sides. And the strange thing is that you can’t tell just how this would have affected the sale of the cover at all. Those that petitioned…wait, no, demanded that the cover be pulled would have obviously never bought it. And, without all the noise, it’s hard to say how many of the covers supporters would have actually bought it either. All we have is a lot of yelling and ranting that didn’t get us very far. All in all, the most it did was send the companies running for cover (see what I did there?) and fixed it where they will be afraid to push the envelope ever again.
Instead of having any kind of intelligent discussing about where comics need to go, we end up with a polarizing campaign of he said, she said. I hope we can do better as a fan base. I supported the cover for the mere fact I couldn’t stomach censorship. But I understood why it hit the nerve it did. Wrong place, wrong time. And I support those who take offense at it. Hopefully, that didn’t sound too wishy washy.
Let’s just try and play nice together people. Let’s have the discussion about where comics need to go without all of the line drawing and rock throwing. I just don’t want to see this all go the way of the early days where the publishers were scurrying around trying to survive the attack of public opinion. We don’t need the comic companies worried more about how things look versus telling the story. (And that’s the bottom line with Batgirl. It was about the story. It was just the wrong story at the wrong time. More about that a bit later) If we don’t talk about it, True Believers, our comics will probably become a throwback to a guarded age like the early days of comics where tough subjects could never be breached due to public sensibilities.