Take this cover to The Vault of Horror. It is overtly sexual. There is nothing subtle about it. Yes, there is a very creepy ghoul coming out of that wishing well. That ghoul is also clearly keeping that guy from grabbing a hand full of booty. Oh, and do you notice how nice the art is? It's beautiful and ghastly.
The first comic books to be produced in the 1930's were mostly adaptations of popular novels. Conan, Tarzan, John Carter of Mars. You get the drift. The comic book publishers then began to produce original content. This is when super heroes as we know them today were introduced. They were a smash hit, and there was every type of super hero you could think of. This is the Golden Age period, and the market became over saturated with super heroes. It wasn't too different than what we have today.
The Golden Age lasted from about 1938 to the late 40's early 50's. By the late 40's, the appetite for super heroes waned. You couldn't throw a rock and not hit a comic book publisher that wasn't putting out another trite superhero. A lot of the titles ended. The exception being Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. They're probably the only super hero characters that have been in regular publication since before and during World War II. (And their constant state of publication creates a huge continuity problem that will be for a future card. You get a brownie point if you know what it is.) There were still some out there, but the bread and butter of comic book companies became westerns, romance, crime, fantasy, science fiction and horror. Very much like now, the kids who were reading comics in the 30's and early 40's, grew up. Their appetite changed. So the industry changed with that. There were no video games. No movies and TV with CGI. Comic books were a visual medium where you could see the fantastical happen. If you were a child, a young adult, a teenager, then you were a comic book reader. These books were selling millions of copies.
There were also no checks and balances. The company that was the head of the pack for this time was EC. Chances are very likely that you have no idea who they are. If you've ever seen an episode of Tales from the Crypt, or read an issue of Mad Magazine, then you know who they are. Many episodes of Tales from the Crypt were adapted from issues of EC comics. Below are the last two pages from a 1953 Tales from the Crypt #38 story called Only Skin Deep.
Only Skin Deep, was adapted into an episode of Tales from the Crypt where Lita Ford was the masked woman. The story goes, Herbie meets Sue at a Mardi Gras party and they fall in love. They meet at the same party every year, have a one night affair, and go along their way till the following year. This year, Herbie can't take it anymore. The anticipation is too much. In the end, you see what happens. These comics almost caused the downfall of the industry. Mostly due to the crime comics. Every title came under attack, but the crime comics in particular didn't paint a pretty picture of society. You can say that they painted a realistic picture of society. They did glamorize the things that just weren't talked about. The things that were shamed. They pushed the envelope.
Even pre code Archie Andrews wasn't such a goodie two shoes.
The ban hammer was eventually dropped. It was actually about 10 years in the making. The 1950's was the McCarthy era. So what happened is understandable. Even after WWII, there were people who were against the content in comic books. Across the country there were communities where young people would go door to door, collecting comic books to be burned. Girl Scout chapters held comic book burnings. There were communities where comic books banned.
As usual, it's always for the kids right? Whenever some form of censorship is considered, it's for the sake of the kids. That is the argument that was made against comic books. That these depraved books were being read by children, and creating a generation of juvenile delinquents. Crimes across the country were being cherry picked as examples of the dangers of these books. What was never discussed is that it wasn't just children reading this stuff. It was adults as well. Lots of them. The damage was done though. Once the flames were lit, the industry panicked. The publishers were scared shitless after 90% of their books were being returned from the distributors. They had to do something, and the last thing they wanted was for the government to come in and create regulations.
The Comic Code Authority. It was established by the The Association of Comics Magazine Publishers. It was the industry itself. If they wanted to survive though, they had to do so. Pretty much it went like this. The major publishers at the time got together and created rules that they would abide by. They then hired an outside agency where they would submit their work to, to make sure that the rules they made were followed.
This is from the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund
"The Comics Code, the bible of comic book censors, went far beyond addressing concerns about crime and horror comics to implement broad regulations that addressed what CMAA President John Goldwater, of Archie Comics, identified as “problem areas.” The 41 provisions purged sex, violence and any other content not in keeping with critics’ standards. Respect for government and parental authority was stressed, and censors even became the grammar police, eliminating slang and colloquialisms. Comics books received the Seal of Approval only if they were suitable for the youngest readers.
As the controversy over comics died down, the Seal of Approval became less prominent on comic book covers. The enforcement of code provisions, however, continued to restrict the potential of the medium. Nothing inherent in the form of comics prevents comic books from telling stories for different audiences, but the perception of comic books as juvenile literature was reinforced by the Comics Code."
The Comics Code is why in the Silver Age, good guys were good, and bad guys were bad. There was no in between or shades of grey. Every cop was a good guy. Parents and families were like Ozzie and Harriet. Youth obeyed authority. Here's the real sin against art though. Read the following comic from an issue of EC's Weird Science, and just try to find what is so offensive and profane about it.
Did you find it? This story was the final straw the broke the back of EC Comics. Well, not break it, but they dropped all of their titles, and focused on MAD Magazine. This was a reprint of a 1953 Weird Fantasy issue. It was actually a replacement for a non code approved story in a 1956 issue, but was also objected because the astronaut was, OMG he's a BLACK! A judge said the story broke the rules of the comics code, but if the astronaut was white it could get published. The publisher argued that him being black is the whole point of the story, and is what makes it work. That the astronaut couldn't be white because then it's just preaching about racism. But with him being black, it shows that we can move past the bigotry and what is possible when we do. No one wanted to hear that shit, and EC said screw this. We're focusing on the funny book.
Of course, what's past is prologue. There were senate hearings in the 1980's over rock lyrics. 2 Live Crew got in trouble over it's lyrics and imagery. That ultimately led to the parental advisory on albums now. Well, what's left of them now that most music is downloaded or streamed. The mid to late 90's the video game industry got theirs. That lead to the ratings system. As usual, it's for the kids right?
But you know, if it wasn't for people overacting, and a Comics Code Authority wasn't created, maybe we wouldn't have a Spider-Man and Marvel comics. Where the industry is at right now, is where I think it would have found itself years ago, if it weren't for what happened. One of the top comic books right now is The Walking Dead. What we see in the independents now, that are popular and selling, is where we would have been. It's finally catching up.