Now that Congress is taking up the issue of gun control due to recent violent events in the U.S., we can expect they’ll be looking for someone or something to blame these terrible occurrences on. Some already have come out and said that they think violent video games are at fault, desensitizing players using rapid-fire guns to murder large groups of “people.”

Some cities and states recently introduced legislation to tax these games in an attempt to make them more expensive and thus less available to children and teens. As with everything in this debate, people on both sides of the issue have strong opinions about whether this will be effective as a deterrent or not.

All this leads me to ask: Can censoring of comics be far behind?

Before you laugh at this idea and say, “They’ll NEVER do that!” it has already happened once in the history of comics in America.

Approved_by_the_Comics_Code_AuthorityThere was a time when all comics had to bear the seal of approval from the Comics Code Authority (CCA), an organization set up to show that the book was okay for children to read, as noted here. (This began in the 1950’s, at a time when children were the largest block of comics readers.)

This code banned graphic depictions of violence and gore in crime and horror comics as well as sexual innuendo. Fredric Wertham’s 1954 book Seduction of the Innocent was considered the catalyst for the outrage felt by parents across the country. The code was an attempt to prevent government intervention and censorship.

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 shown. 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. Depictions of “sex perversion,” “sexual abnormalities” and “illicit sex relations,” as well as seduction, rape, sadism and masochism were specifically forbidden. Instead, more “wholesome” images, including the sanctity of marriage and resolving conflicts in ways besides violence, were required.

It took several decades, but eventually the market changed, and the Comics Code Authority lost its influence. By the early 2000s, newer publishers bypassed the CCA, and Marvel abandoned it in 2001. By 2010, only three major publishers still followed their rules: DC Comics, Archie Comics and Bongo Comics. Bongo broke with the CCA in 2010. DC and Archie followed in January, 2011. However, even though the vast majority of comics produced today are consumed by adults and stores try to separate books for kids from those for adults, it doesn’t take much imagination to see that once video games are cowed, movies, TV and comics are likely not far behind.

I’m reminded of a recent Washington, DC, Fox TV report on DC’s “New 52” in which the reporter went after early issues of the Catwoman comic specifically for being sexually graphic. She actually took a copy of the book and stood across the street from a local school, showing it to pre-teens who would talk with her. (Of course, this took place months after the book had been released. Also, I’m sure she was that far from the school because they wouldn’t allow her to do this inside their walls.)

The report is no longer available online, but you can check out the commercial for it here:

Sound familiar? It should!

Am I jumping the gun here, so to speak? Are comics in the sights of lawmakers in the States? Not yet! Things aren’t the same as they were during the Comics Code Authority’s heyday, but personally I can see some handwriting on the wall. I hope I’m wrong, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if you start seeing reports of how bad comics are for fans and readers alike on your local television screen before long.

We may want to enjoy the freedom of reading today’s comics as long as we can, in my opinion!

The Author

Wayne Hall

Wayne Hall

Wayne Hall creates the Wayne's Comics Podcast. He’s interviewed Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, John Layman, Kyle Higgins, Phil Hester, Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray, David Petersen, Christos Gage, Mike Grell, and Matt Kindt. Each episode also includes reviews, news and previews. On this site each week, he writes his "Comics Portal" column (general comics comments and previews) and reviews comics.

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3 Comments

  1. April 15, 2013 at 11:42 pm — Reply

    I think we’ve been down and back this road before (as you state) and I don’t think anyone has the political clout to pull off anything serious.

    The industry is regulating itself just fine at this point, I guess I just don’t see the writing on the wall that you do.

    Still, it has been interesting seeing the interaction between comiXology and Apple regarding self-censorship in the app store.

  2. Frank
    April 16, 2013 at 11:27 am — Reply

    My impression is that we will see censorship on a corporate level from the creating company (ie Marvel or DC) or distributor channels (local stores, chain stores or Apple and Comixology)

  3. SpiderLover
    April 16, 2013 at 8:56 pm — Reply

    No…kids don’t read comics. So let’s put that to rest right now. Comics as an industry isn’t really big enough at this point to be worth the time to place something like that a on it. At least not in this day and age.

    Video games are the comics of yesteryear. Also the bans, so to speak or just to enforce the ratings that are already available. IE I’ve been to stores that have sold M rated games to youngsters. Its not against the law, but usually against store policy. It is what it is, everyone cries for freedom but doesn’t want to pay the price of freedom.

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