In 1954, Dr. Fredric Wertham published "Seduction of the Innocent", a book purporting that comic book reading causes juvenile delinquency. In true McCarthy-era fashion, the U.S. Senate holds hearings to investigate Wertham's claims. Dr. Wertham was called to testify at the hearings, as were other juvenile delinquency experts, representatives of the major comic companies, some of their advertisers and distributors, and the representatives from National Cartoonist Society.

Dr. Wertham came out on top. He had a lot of experience testifying in front of government committees. Most of the representatives from the comic companies were business men who knew very little about the editorial content of the comic books, so their answers about those topics were vague and seemed evasive. But they did know about the complex workings of their companies, and for that reason they were sent.
The one exception to this was William Gaines, publisher of EC Comics (who published most of the horror comics). William Gaines had a teaching degree, and was able to answer the questions clearly and state his side rather well. The National Cartoonist Society representatives, Walt Kelly, Milton Caniff, and Joe Musial all distanced themselves from comic books and gave a general condemnation of them.

The result is that on October 26, 1954 the Comics Code Authority is formed, prohibiting any controversial comics, and a bit later the first guidelines to which comics would have to meet to get the seal of approval were published. Stores and newsstands didn't want to sell any comics that didn't have the seal of approval, so the comics that didn't meet the guidelines had to be toned down. Not every publisher wanted to do that, so some of them went out of business. Others changed the format from comic books to magazines, so the Comics Code Authority didn't have any authority over them. But most of the comic books were toned down.

In 1971, the Comics Code was a bit changed to allow the resurgence of horror comics, and in 1989 the code was updated again, with more modern standards.

These days, the Comics Code Authority has lost its importance. The stamp has been reduced in size so much that sometimes readers don't even see it anymore. If the book doesn't meet the Comics Code Authority standards, it usually gets published anyway, since the publishers don't even bother with it anymore. What some publishers will do instead is write something like "suggested for mature readers" on the cover, if the book contains offensive language or nudity.

Here are the three different versions of the Comics Code Authority guidelines:

In early 2001, Marvel Comics announced they would be dropping the Comics Code Authority logo from all their comics, and start their own ratings system. According to Marvel, the CCA is outdated, and it's time for a new, better system.

As far as I understand it, Wertham's proof that comic books caused delinquency was based upon the fact that he interviewed a large number of delinquents and asked them if they read comics.

He did not use control groups or interview a general cross-section of the juvenile population. As most children at the time read comics it was hardly surprising that most of the delinquents he interviewed did.

There have been several instances of comics being published without the stamp (in at least one case because it fell off the original of the cover and no-one noticed).

Particularly, three issues of Spiderman published in 1971 that showed a character on drugs (though in a very negative manner) did not carry the stamp. This actually led to a modification of the code.

Also Swamp Thing had the stamp permanently removed when the Authority actually read an issue and discovered what they had been rubber stamping for months. DC Comics simply refused the rewrites, removed the stamp, and never submitted another issue of Swamp Thing.

The strangest ruling by the authority that I know of is regarding the artist Kevin O'Neill, a Brit who worked in 2000 AD and various American comics including Marshall Law. Most recently he drew the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (written by Alan Moore). The Comics Code Authority basically said at one point that his artistic style was totally unacceptable and they would not pass any book which he drew.

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