March 01, 2005

The Code of the Comic (plus some trivia)

by Alan Beatts

There is a change you may notice at the end of the book listings in this issue.  One of the suggestions made in the recent survey was that it would be nice to have a list of upcoming titles so that one could place pre-orders.  At the end of the book listings you'll find a short list of upcoming titles.  For now we've kept to small presses but in the future we may expand it to include more mainstream publishers.  If you have time, let me know what you think of the addition.

Recently I've been thinking about comics, in part because of going to WonderCon for the first time last month and in part due to two comics I've read recently: (GRIMJACK, which is reviewed later in this newsletter, and Y: THE LAST MAN, which I'll review next month).  It's really fascinating how they have changed in my lifetime.  I started reading comics in the 70s and continued, off and on, until the mid 90s.  I still read them occasionally, usually when prompted by my 12-year-old daughter, but it's an infrequent thing.  But, during the time that I was reading them, there were some profound changes in the style, content, and quality.

In the 70s they were pretty much simple "super hero" stories, entertaining in their own way but limited.  However by the 90s we had comics like SANDMAN and THE WATCHMEN, which were testing the limits of the form and meeting (honestly, often exceeding) the bar for genre fiction.  Though there are several factors that contributed to this evolution, one of the major ones (perhaps _the_ major one) was the demise of the Comics Code.  The Comics Code, which may have been one of the most despicable cases of censorship in US history, was successful in a major part because it was self-censorship on the part of the comics industry and also because the majority of people affected by it (to whit, the readers) were unaware of the details behind it.  Now, not too many years after its end, many people still don't know much about it or have started forgetting it.  Of course, the peril in forgetting about such embarrassing episodes in the past is the chance that they may be repeated.  In that spirit and if you feel like a laugh (perhaps a nervous one), follow this link ( ) and take a look at the original text of the code.  And while you're doing that, say a little thank you to companies like First Comics (the original publisher of GRIMJACK) and DC Comics, who were willing to risk violating the Comics Code and made the current state of comics and graphic novels what it is today.

For more information about the Comics Code see ( ) (and following articles) and, for more detail, see ( )

Until next month, remember -- "Inclusion of stories dealing with evil shall be used 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." (The Comics Code, General Standards Part B, section 4)

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