How Much Do You Know About Pre-Code Horror?
Updated: Nov 27, 2019
This symbol played a big role in the history of comic books.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about this stamp is that it was self-imposed by the comics industry. It was never mandated by government (though there was a U.S. Senate hearing), and there was no big-brother ratings agency tasked with the regulation of the increasingly popular comic book medium.
Previous to 1954, comics in the horror genre were printed by several innovative publishers, the king of which was probably EC, denoted with the circle seal "An Entertaining Comic". Even Marvel dabbled in the genre at the time, changing Submariner into Amazing Mysteries, and Captain America Comics into Captain America's Weird Tales.
Shocking illustrated tales about eerie crimes and undead monsters were becoming a significant portion of all comic sales, and with that popularity came heavy criticism from those who would see them censored into nonexistance.
One particular man, a psychologist and author, nearly succeeded. Dr. Fredric Wertham wrote a now infamous book titled Seduction of the Innocent (SOTI). Dr. Wertham collected samples of published comics he thought were among the most egregious examples of gore, violence, and sexuality, whether explicit or implied. His aim was to bring negative attention to an industry he thought was corrupting its young readers. He went so far as to use anecdotes from children in psychiatric centers to build his case for comics as an influence for bad behavior.
Wertham's book garnered exactly the kind of widespread attention he desired. Shortly after its publication in 1954, the United States Senate would call him and several horror publishers to testify at a hearing as part of its own investigation into juvenile delinquency.
Because of this high-profile pressure, publishers in the industry came together and established a list of things they agreed not to depict in their comics going forward. A code. Their comics would then be marked with the Comics Code Authority seal.
William Gaines would shut down EC soon after the hearing, and go on to publish MAD Magazine. Horror comics from that period would become highly prized by collectors looking to preserve a part of comics history. The code would be revised in the 70's and 80's when the heat died down, and by 2011 all publishers would drop out. Marvel and DC have since written their own codified standards.
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